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New York City

Top Museums In New York City

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Some of the best museums in the world are in New York City. Spanning history, arts, culture and entertainment, these top institutions educate and inspire. Whether it’s an internationally renowned art museum or science or history establishment, there’s something for everyone. Here are the most iconic museum stops to include on your itinerary.


Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as "The Met," is one of the world’s largest and finest art museums and encompasses everything from ancient classics to modern masters from every culture, time period and medium. Its collections include more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe. The museum includes the Main Building on Fifth Avenue, The Cloisters museum and gardens in northern Manhattan, and The Met Breuer on Madison Avenue and 75th.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by a group of American citizens including businessmen and financiers as well as leading artists and thinkers of the day. Its earliest roots date back to 1866 in Paris, France, when a group of Americans agreed to create a "national institution and gallery of art" to bring art and art education to the American people.

What to See

Seeing it all is almost impossible. The permanent collection contains more than two million works divided into 17 curatorial departments.

  • There are so many notable and celebrated paintings it’s hard to select a few. Some highlights are Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, Wheat Field with Cypresses by Vincent van Gogh, Autumn Rhythm by Jackson Pollock and Young Woman With a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer.
  • The Costume Institute’s collection of more than thirty-five thousand costumes and accessories features seven centuries of fashionable dress, regional costumes, and accessories, putting fashion in an art context. The Costume Institute organizes one or more special exhibitions annually.
  • The Temple of Dendur is the centerpiece of the Egyptian Collection. Up close, you can see ancient carvings and hieroglyphics on the temple's surface, and a pool of water nearby is meant to evoke the Nile.
  • Some popular must-see sculptures are the marble head of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Edgar Degas’ mixed media sculpture The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, whose body is made of bronze, while the skirt is made of cotton and the hair ribbon of satin.

What to Do

  • Choose a suggested itinerary to help navigate the many thousands of works on view. Each itinerary includes a map of the route and an estimate of the time it will take to complete. All of the itineraries feature masterpieces from the Museum's vast collection and offer interesting insights and stories to engage and inspire you during your visit. Some options include a Family Itinerary for children ages 5 and up, A Visit to Egypt, Visitor Favorites or a Celebrity Tour among others.
  • Guests can explore the museum in guided tours led by trained volunteers in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish.
  • Made for, with and by kids, #metkids is a website that helps kids explore the museum with interactive maps, behind-the-scenes videos, a time machine, at-home projects, and fun facts about artworks. Check it out before visiting the museum and visit it after to keep learning.
  • Download the Met APP from the App Store or Google Play to access maps, recommendations on what to see, listings of exhibitions and events.

Eat and Drink

  • A hidden gem in the city offering views of Manhattan’s skyline and Central Park’s foliage, the Rooftop Garden Café and Martini Bar is open May through October weather permitting and is a highlight of the dining offerings at the museum.
  • Other options include a cafeteria, cafés, The Great Hall Balcony Bar, Balcony Lounge, and a Member’s Dining Room and Patrons Lounge.

Nearby

  • The Met is located on the Eastern edge of Central Park and on the stretch of 5th Avenue known as the Museum Mile, which is chock full of museums and fine art institutions. The Guggenheim is just a few blocks away.
  • Take the 79th Street Transverse through Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History, almost directly due west from The Met. Along the way you’ll see the Belvedere Castle, the Shakespeare Garden and the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.
  • The Ramble, a heavily wooded, 38-acre section of Central Park with rocky outcroppings, laced with walking paths, is also near the 79th St. Transvers and East Drive.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, or simply, "The Guggenheim," is an internationally renowned art museum known for not only the art inside but just as well for the building itself. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the building is wider at the top than the bottom and features a unique ramp gallery that spirals up from ground level to just under its famous skylight.

Founded on a collection of early modern masterpieces, the Guggenheim today is an ever-growing institution devoted to the art of the 20th century and beyond. The museum was established by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939 and was first known as The Museum of Non-Objective Art (abstract art). In 1959 it moved from rented space to its current building on Fifth Avenue.

Wright is said to have created more than 700 sketches of the building, and, though it’s considered iconic today, it wasn’t received entirely well at the time. The museum is closed every Thursday.

What to See

  • The story of the Guggenheim collection is essentially the story of several very different private collections that have been brought together. Visitors will see art from the mid-19th century to the present.
  • The Thannhauser Collection includes masterpieces by Cézanne, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Picasso, Pissarro, Renoir, and Van Gogh.
  • A Long-Awaited Tribute: Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian House and Pavilion is an ongoing exhibit and pays homage to the first Frank Lloyd Wright–designed structures in New York City.
  • The ascending ramp is occupied by rotating exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. These are changed frequently and have focused on various works of art like contemporary photography, retrospectives and even motorcycles.

What to Do

  • Tours are included with the cost of admission. Self-guided audio tours are also available. Daily at 11am and 1pm there are free guided tours that lead visitors through the highlights of the Guggenheim's permanent collection, as well as current exhibitions. Self-guided audio tours are also available.

Eat and Drink

  • The Wright provides premier food and service in an upscale environment within the world famous museum for both visitors and neighbors. It offers American bistro a la carte and prix fixe menus and is open for lunch service until 3:30pm each day.
  • Cafe 3 is an espresso and snack bar adjacent to the permanent Kandinsky Gallery offering sandwiches, pastries, coffee, tea, wine and beer. The café is open from 10:30am to 5pm

Nearby

  • The Guggenheim is located on Fifth Avenue along the Museum Mile; nearby attractions include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of African Art, The Jewish Museum and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
  • The Guggenheim is adjacent to the heart of Central Park and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. There is a 1.58-mile track around the body of water popular for jogging.
  • Fifth Avenue itself is considered one the most stylish neighborhoods in the city and features no shortage of shopping.

MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, located in Midtown Manhattan houses one of the world’s most prestigious modern and contemporary art collections. The museum is dedicated to the conversation between the past and the present, the established and the experimental.

Founded in 1992 as an institute dedicated to being the foremost museum of modern art in the world, the museum covers six floors of galleries featuring special exhibitions and pieces from the permanent collections. In addition to the many masterpieces, the museum features changing displays of exhibitions showcasing modern artists in the subject of paintings, sculpture, film, music and more.

What to See
  • MoMA’s evolving collection contains almost 200,000 works of modern and contemporary art by over 10,000 artists.
  • A star of the museum collection, Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is probably one of the most recognizable works of art in the modern era, along with Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory (think melting clocks), Monet’s Water Lilies, Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, depicting the world’s oldest profession, Jackson Pollock’s One, and perhaps the piece that sparked the cubist movement, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans.
  • Many of the windows in the museum offer views of life in New York. You can see St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the top of 30 Rockefeller Center and other notable buildings.
  • The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at MoMA is an open-air courtyard set on two levels. It provides a kind of city oasis in the middle of Manhattan and features works by Matisse, Thomas Schutte and more.
What to Do

  • Movie screenings are included in the cost of admission, but separate tickets are needed and go on sale two weeks prior to the screening date.
  • Free gallery talks are available to visitors daily at 11:30am and 1:30pm and the topics change frequently. Groups are limited to 25, so arrive early. Participants are given a sticker.
  • Audio tours are available and included with admission. Just exchange your ID to get one. There’s a series geared toward children that is interactive and entertaining for both kids and adults.

Eat and Drink

  • The Modern is a fine-dining restaurant overlooking the sculpture garden. It falls under the Union Square Hospitality Group operated by Danny Meyers and features executive chef Abram Bissell.
  • Terrace 5 and Café 2 are full-service cafés offering seasonal menus; both cafés are open until 5pm Saturday through Thursday and until 7:30pm on Friday.

Nearby

  • MoMA is located a few blocks from the southeast section of Central Park, where there is plenty to see close by, like Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock, Radio city Music Hall, Times Square, Carnegie Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the New York Public Library.

Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney Museum of American Art presents a full range of twentieth-century and contemporary American art, with a special focus on works by living artists. Directors at the museum explained that The Whitney has always believed in the importance of the present.

It was the first museum dedicated to the work of living American artists and the first New York museum to present a major exhibition of a video artist. Such figures as Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, and Cindy Sherman were given their first museum retrospectives by the Whitney. The museum has consistently purchased works within the year they were created, often well before the artists became broadly recognized. The "new" Whitney Museum, designed by Renzo Piano, reopened in 2015 and is located in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan along the Hudson River.

What to See

  • Its permanent collection comprises more than 21,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, films, videos, and artifacts of new media by more than 3,000 artists.
  • With floor to ceiling windows, the museum itself offers views of the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline.
  • Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning was part of the museum’s founding collection. The Whitney owns 3,157 Hopper artworks.
  • Several works by Thomas Hart Benton are part of the permanent collection, like Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire) and The Lord is my Shepherd. Some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works including Music, Pink and Blue No. 2 and Morning Sky are often on view.
  • Cindy Sherman is known for turning her camera on herself and best known for her conceptual portraits. Many of her photographs can be seen at the Whitney.

What to Do

  • Free gallery tours through the Whitney's collection and current exhibitions are offered each day. Tours are free with museum admission, and no reservations are necessary.
  • Mary Heilmann’s outdoor art installation invites visitors to sit, relax and congregate on the scattered colorful chairs on the roof deck on the fifth floor terrace. It offers views of the High Line, Manhattan and the Hudson River.
  • Buy honey from the museum’s shop. There are beehives on the roof, and they are used to produce the honey being sold downstairs.
  • The Susan and John Hess Family Theater features 170 seats in addition to a gallery for film, video and performance art.

Eat and Drink

  • Untitled is a fine dining restaurant from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, helmed by Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern. Untitled is open for lunch and dinner.
  • Studio Café is located on the eighth floor and is led by the Untitled team. It features soups, salads and other light fare. During the warmer months, the café offers outdoor seating with views of the Hudson and High Line.

Nearby

  • The Whitney is located in the Meatpacking District, a neighborhood known for its fashionable outposts for labels like Alexander McQueen, Diane Von Furstenberg and more. It’s also home to hip restaurants and exclusive clubs, but remains true to it’s blue-collar name as many wholesale meat companies still operate out of the warehouses here.
  • The Chelsea Market offers shops, eateries and a collection of gourmet grocers.
  • The High Line is a one-mile long public park built on an elevated railway.

American Museum of Natural History

Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan across from Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History is home to science on a grand scale, with 27 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibition halls. It’s one of the largest museums in the world, containing over 32 million specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, ocean life, plants, fossils, meteorites, gems and minerals, and more… the list could on.

What to See

  • The incredible dioramas in the six Mammal Halls will have you doing double takes. The scenes are meticulously, accurately created, and the animals are stunningly life-like. The variety of animals represented is also impressive, from large Asian mammals such as the Siberian tiger and giant panda, North American Mammals including Alaskan brown bears and moose and American Bison, down to smaller animals such as squirrels, minks and badgers. The Hall of North American Animals alone showcases 46 species, so you can easily spend hours gazing at and learning about these creatures from around the planet.
  • You may have heard of Lucy, a 3.18-million-year-old early hominid skeleton, one of the most complete ever found. (Interesting fact: she was named after the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.) She’s only part of the story of human evolution that’s told in the Hall of Human Origins, which covers millions of years of human history and contains artifacts such as tools, fossils, fossil casts and even an original limestone engraving of a horse carved 25,000 years ago in France.
  • The Milstein Hall of Ocean life is another must-see at AMNH. The hall’s most well-known feature is probably the incredible 94-foot-long 21,000-pound blue whale model that hangs from the ceiling, but you’ll also find models of more than 750 other sea creatures, from whale sharks and walruses to algae and coral.
  • The Fossil Halls at AMNH are an attraction unto themselves. Highlights include the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, home to the formidable Tyrannosaurus rex and Apatosaurus mounts as well as the Glen Rose Trackway, a series of fossilized dinosaur footprints that’s 107 million years old, and the Milstein Hall of Advanced Animals, where you’ll see mammals that lived a little closer to our time, such as mammoths, mastodons and saber-toothed cats.

What to Do

  • The museum has put together a number of self-guided tours (including a Night at the Museum tour for you movie fans!), as well as a several guided tours that are free with admission.
  • Cutting-edge science and state-of-the-art technology combine in the Hayden Planetarium to give you an amazing view of a journey through space, all based on authentic and accurate scientific observations, data and models.
  • Take your little scientists to the Discovery Room to get a hands-on, behind-the-scenes look at the science within the museum.

Eat and Drink

  • With so much to see in such a large museum, you’re bound to work up an appetite. The museum offers multiple dining options from snacks to meals to desserts, plus coffee drinks, beer and wine.

Nearby

  • After all that walking in the museum, you might want to find a nice cozy spot in nearby Central Park and relax while you soak in some sunshine.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Launched in 1943, the former aircraft carrier USS Intrepid fought in World War II, surviving five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike. The ship later served in the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Intrepid also served as a NASA recovery vessel in the 1960s. It was decommissioned in 1974, and today is berthed on the Hudson River as the centerpiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Also included are the space shuttle Enterprise, the world’s fastest jet and a guided missile submarine.

What to See

  • The Space Shuttle Pavilion showcases the space shuttle Enterprise, the prototype NASA orbiter that paved the way for America’s successful space shuttle program. Seventeen dynamic exhibit zones feature original artifacts, photographs, audio, and films that immerse visitors in the science and history of Enterprise and the space shuttle era.
  • Growler first opened at the Intrepid Museum in 1989 and is the only American guided missile submarine open to the public. Growler offers visitors a firsthand look at life aboard a submarine and a close-up inspection of the once "top-secret" missile command center.
  • The fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing by any Concorde occurred on February 7, 1996 and took only 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. This record-breaking plane—the Concorde Alpha Delta G-BOAD—is on display at the Intrepid Museum’s Pier 86.

What to Do

  • Two different simulators offer guests the opportunity to experience the thrill of flight. Feel the power, thrust and exhilaration of flying a supersonic jet plane in the G Force Encounter. Climb into the 2-person cockpit, grab the controls and fly your very own aircraft with 360 degrees of movement. The Transporter FX uses special polarized glasses to rock, pitch and jolt your way through six minutes of sensory overload.
  • The XD Theater is a 14-seat 4D motion ride where visitors each seat brings a wide range of dynamic 4D simulation and vibration, combined with 3D graphics, high definition sound and unmatched speed.
  • Hear the story of Intrepid and its crew in World War II in a guided tour. Tours available daily.

Nearby

  • Nearby is Pier 83, home of Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises around Manhattan. Times Square is a few blocks away.

9/11 Memorial Museum

The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center bears solemn witness to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The Museum remembers and honors the nearly 3,000 victims of these attacks and all who risked their lives to save others. The Museum serves as the country's principal institution concerned with exploring the implications of the events of 9/11, documenting the impact of those events and exploring 9/11's continuing significance. It’s the story of 9/11 through multimedia displays, archives, narratives and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts.

What to See

  • The 9/11 Memorial plaza is marked by two reflecting pools and fountains that are set in the footprints of the former Twin Towers. The memorial is free of charge and open to the public daily from 7:30am to 9pm
  • A callery pear tree became known as the "Survivor Tree" after enduring the September 11, 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Center. In October 2001, the tree was discovered at Ground Zero severely damaged, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010.
  • In the Foundation Hall stands the "Last Column," a 36-foot high wall covered with mementos, memorial inscriptions, and missing posters placed there by ironworkers, rescue workers and others.

What to Do

  • Guided museum tours led by a staff member are available daily. The tours are 60 minutes long and are oriented for adult and teenage visitors.
  • There is a 45-minute guided tour of the Memorial, exploring a symbolism of the design and the historical significance of the World Trade Center.
  • A number of suggested self-guided pathways are available for free download.
  • A museum guide intended for children ages 8-11 helps them understand the history of the WTC and 9/11.
  • A number of films and live talks happen daily and are free to museum guests. The films include topics like personal stories to world leaders examining 9/11’s impact on global events.

Nearby

  • Nearby is the New York Stock Exchange, Wall Steet, Battery Park and the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • Ellis Island Immigration Museum

    A symbol of American immigration, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and is under the care of the National Parks Service. Visitors can spend hours learning about Ellis Island's history before, during, and after its use as America's immigration station.

    What to See

    • The first floor of the museum features the historic baggage room and introductory exhibits about immigration to the United States.
    • The Journeys exhibit explores the early history of immigration before Ellis Island opened as an immigration station and the "new era" from 1945 to the present.
    • The Registry room or "Great Hall" is on the second floor. Its grand, arched windows offer a calm, well-lit space today, but for immigrants it was often a loud, confusing space. The Registry Room has been restored to its appearance in 1918-24, including several original wooden benches.
    • Ellis Island's numerous dormitories were filled to capacity nearly every night with immigrants who were being temporarily detained. Visitors can see these rooms on the third floor, restored to its appearance in 1908.

    What to Do

    • A National Park Service Ranger and volunteers lead walking tours of the museum. The tours are approximately 30 minutes.
    • The Hard Hat tour is a guided 90-minute walking tour that will take visitors to select areas of the 750-bed Ellis Island Hospital, including infectious and contagious disease wards, kitchen and the mortuary and autopsy room.

    Nearby

    • Nearby are a number of other national park locations, like Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park, which historically served as an immigrant processing station, an aquarium, and finally as a reconstructed fort.

    If you're looking to visit these top New York City museums, consider using New York CityPASS. You'll save nearly half off combined entrance fees to some of the top museums and tourist attractions in New York City. CityPASS holders also get to skip most ticket lines. New York CityPASS includes admission to the Empire State Building, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, as well as three option tickets that give travelers a choice between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise, between the Guggenheim Museum or Top of the Rock®, and between the 9/11 Memorial & Museum or the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Some special exhibits are not included with the CityPASS and may require an extra fee.

    CityPASS can be purchased online or at any of our participating New York attractions. Use New York CityPASS and discover the best museums and things to do in New York.

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