Save on admission to the top New York City attractions
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, known simply as "The Met," is one of the largest museums in the world and the largest art museum in the United States. Spanning 5,000 years of art from every culture in the world, from Ancient Greek sculptures to modern American photographs, it constantly tops "best museums in the world" lists, both art and otherwise. It’s no wonder The Met is the most visited museum in the United States!
The Met is actually three separate buildings: the main building, The Cloisters, and The Met Breuer. But it’s the main building that holds one of the largest and most varied collections of art, hosting over two million works in its permanent collections in two million square feet of gallery space. There’s simply no way to shortcut this cultural hub, and it’s easy to spend an entire day here. With CityPASS, you can skip the admission lines and fully immerse yourself without wasting time.
What To Do
The American Wing contains the most comprehensive collection of American artwork, including over 1,700 paintings, sculptures, stained glass, and even architecture and furniture. Spend some time in the Charles Engelhard Court, an enclosed courtyard garden with a view of Central Park.
One of the most popular Met attractions is the Fashion Wing. Displaying art beyond the canvas, the Met has two floors full of historic fashion. The 20-foot train of a bride’s dress in Karl Lagerfeld’s Wedding Ensemble, the contrast of fashion sewn with human hands versus a sewing machine, and the unique ways designers worked with fabric throughout the centuries can all be seen in this unique exhibition. The fashion collection will leave you with a new appreciation for the art of style.
Another exhibit that garners a lot of enthusiasm is the Arms and Armor collection. From the intricately detailed sword grips to the heavy-duty chainmail helmets, the Arms and Armor collection tells the deeply woven story of battle and war in human history.
Know Before You Go
The Met is such a massive museum, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. To make your trip to The Met more fun and educational, purchase an audio tour. You’ll find it’s much easier to navigate the museum, and better yet, you’ll get a taste of the story and historical significance behind each art piece.
As one of the most visited museums in the world, it will probably get busy. Beat the crowd and arrive early, especially if you plan to see as much of the museum as you can in one trip. This is definitely a full-day adventure, so plan ahead.
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest museums in the world, containing over 32 million animal, plant, and fossil specimens. It even has samples from space. At the American Museum of Natural History, visitors get a glimpse of the fascinating reality of our planet that is impossible to reach without the use of a time machine or a space ship.
The American Museum of Natural History hasn’t always been a famous and beloved attraction. In the early years, the museum was actually at risk of closing down for good because the meager "curious" collections that were featured in the beginning were considered boring. But, museum president Morris Jesup was no quitter. He ventured into the "golden age of exploration," with the discovery of the North Pole, dinosaur fossils, and more. These groundbreaking discoveries vastly improved the worth of the museum’s collection, and visitors began to flock.
What to Do
A fan favorite inside the American Museum of Natural History is the Hayden Planetarium’s exhibit "Dark Universe." In Dark Universe, vivid renderings of the cosmos flash in the darkness. The American Museum of Natural History’s team of researchers and astrophysicists are presenting their data to the public, delving into the mysteries of dark energy in our universe.
At the American Museum of Natural History, it is the vast halls of dioramas that continue to amaze crowds of all ages time after time. Taxidermy animals of all habitats, the famous "Lucy," the most complete skeleton of an early female hominid, and the grand blue whale that floats frozen in time in the ocean blue of the first floor are all exhibits that give the American Museum of Natural History its notoriety. It’s also one of the most well represented museums in popular culture, appearing in literature, movies, and TV shows since the 1970s.
Know Before You Go
The Night at the Museum fans can enjoy a self-guided tour that features the real exhibits that inspired or were featured in the films. Visitors can also prepare ahead of time and utilize museum apps to personalize tours and immerse themselves in the most anticipated exhibits. The space shows are every half hour, IMAX showings are every half hour beginning at 10:30 and ending at 4:00pm, and the museum is open from 10:00am to 5:45pm every day (except Thanksgiving and Christmas).
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, known as "The Guggenheim," is as well-known for its collection of art as it is for the architectural masterpiece of the building itself. It holds an extensive permanent collection of modern, impressionist, and abstract art from around the world.
Architecture master Frank Lloyd Wright designed The Guggenheim and insisted on being involved in the design of every detail of the museum. Though plans and ideas changed throughout the museum’s development, it was the final design that struck the wrong chord with NYC Building Commissioner Robert Moses who pushed for Wright to change it. Despite Moses’ general dissatisfaction with the building, most everyone else has found it to be a fresh and unique building in the heart of NYC. In fact, the Guggenheim was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008.
The Guggenheim was originally called The Museum of Non-Objective Painting, but when the founder passed away in 1952 the name changed to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in his honor.
What to Do
The spiraling ramp inside the museum allows visitors to stroll in a circular direction to view the art with a sense of movement. The unique gallery space makes the Guggenheim not only one of the most unique and beloved museums in New York, but also in the world, especially for Frank Lloyd Wright fans. But the art inside is just as impressive: timeless originals from Monet, Kandinsky, and Picasso grace the circular walls and there’s always an exciting temporary exhibit of contemporary work.
Perhaps the most famous permanent exhibit in the Guggenheim Museum is the Thannhauser Gallery. Justin K. Thannhauser was the son of an art dealer and worked with his father to build an impressive gallery featuring impressionist and post-impressionist artwork. Thannhauser perpetuated his enthusiasm for great art by opening two galleries, his first promoting the first major Picasso piece. The visions of Solomon Guggenheim and Thannhauser were similar, and Thannhauser generously donated a majority of his collection (which included over 30 Picasso originals) to the museum. After his death, the rest of his collection became a part of the Guggenheim Museum.
Know Before You Go
At the Guggenheim Museum, establishing new exhibits in a space where much of the gallery is centralized can be difficult. When this is happening, pieces will often be removed or inaccessible while the new exhibit is set-up. Always check their website to stay up-to-date on current and upcoming exhibits. There are self-guided audio tours available for visitors who wish to explore the museum with interesting information at hand. The Solomon Guggenheim Museum is closed on Thursdays.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
The Intrepid is a museum now, but as an aircraft carrier it fought in and survived World War II, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War, and even served as a NASA recovery vessel. As a museum, the Intrepid gives visitors a first-hand look at the aircrafts that allowed human beings to soar the skies of planet Earth and beyond.
The USS Intrepid is often considered to be the most victorious ships in U.S. history, surviving numerous attacks (including a torpedo strike). The honorable Intrepid was saved from demolition in 1974, when one citizen defended the battle-hardened aircraft carrier and rallied for it to be turned into a museum, so that anyone could understand and honor its importance in US history.
It also served as temporary headquarters for the FBI investigations of the 9/11 attacks in New York.
What to Do
While the Intrepid holds many maritime vessels and educational exhibits about deep sea and deep space, many visitors have greatly enjoyed touring the carrier itself. The flight deck contains more than two dozen restored aircraft. The hangar brings visitors into the time period when the Intrepid was most active with historic footage, interactive exhibits, and authentic artifacts.
There are dozens of permanent exhibits on the Intrepid for fans of space exploration, deep sea exploration, and American military vessels. NASA fans will love to visit the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the ship that paved the way for America’s space shuttle program. Former "top-secret" submarine USS Growler is the only publicly accessible American guided missile submarine that shows what Navy life was like under water. There are also a few different flight simulators available (extra ticket required) so you can feel what it’s like to fly a supersonic jet.
Know Before You Go
There are many guided tours made to enhance your Intrepid Museum experience. The Space Shuttle Enterprise guided tour will take visitors on an in-depth experience through the first space shuttle. Every other tour adds a whole new level of engagement to each shuttle, plane, and ship, and for only $15 per tour. Before you go, download the Intrepid Museum’s app and explore the space shuttle Enterprise even more with unlockable interactive adventures.
9/11 Memorial Museum
The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center pays tribute to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993, where nearly 3,000 lives were lost, including those who died saving others.
The Beyond Ground Zero exhibit showcases a collection of photos and artwork that culminated in the days after the attack. The patriotism in the collection is inspiring, reminding visitors that even after tragedy, a nation can stand united. There are many exhibits within the museum that ring with emotional intensity, providing a solemn memorial.
What to Do
Though the attacks happened in New York, lives from 90 different countries were lost, making The Memorial a must for anyone visiting New York City. Two reflective pools, sitting where the Twin Towers once stood, feature two manmade waterfalls inscribed with the names of the victims of both the 1993 and 2001 attacks. This memorial is a moving and deeply emotional tribute that honors the victims with the peacefulness that bodies of water inspire.
The "Survivor Tree" is a callery pear tree that was discovered severely damaged but alive at Ground Zero. It was removed and rehabilitated, and now stands in the Memorial as a symbol of hope. Visitors will also see the "Last Column," a 36-foot high wall covered with mementos, memorial inscriptions, and missing person posters in the days following the attacks.
The Memorial is free of charge and open daily. The Museum is included with your CityPASS booklet.
Know Before You Go
There are multiple tours you can take at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. The "Understanding 9/11" tour takes visitors through a 60-minute tour that examines the impact 9/11 had on the nation and the world. There is also an early-hours tour, where visitors are guided through the museum before opening hours. For a more personalized experience, visitors can download the 9/11 Museum Audio Guide App, which allows visitors to listen to the stories of those affected by or survivors of the 9/11 attack. The Museum is open from 9:00am to 9:00pm on Friday and Saturday, and 9:00am to 8:00pm Sunday through Thursday.
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.
Ellis Island and the Immigration Museum are a must-see in NYC, but more importantly Ellis Island is a universal destination for travelers from around the world. Nearly half of all Americans can follow their family history and find at least one person in their family tree that has passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island. Ellis Island is one of the major contributors to America’s distinctive and diverse cultural hodgepodge.
The first immigrants to arrive at Ellis Island were three minors unaccompanied by adults.
On New Year's Day in 1892, Annie Moore, a 17-year-old teenager from County Cork, Ireland and her two younger brothers set foot on Ellis Island ready to reunite with their family in NYC. A U.S. Treasury official and a Catholic chaplain welcomed Annie and her brothers with open arms, awarding her a $10 gold piece to mark the first group of many immigrants who would inevitably make their way to America. Now, you can see a statue of Moore and her brothers at the Museum, who are now symbols of the rich history of Ellis Island immigration.
What to See
A trip to NYC isn’t quite the same without a first-hand look at the 151 ft. tall Statue of Liberty holding her torch proudly to the skies. An American icon stationed at Ellis Island, Lady Liberty is the very first "face" many immigrants saw upon their entry to the United States. Today, you can witness and hear the stories of the immigrants who came to this country many years ago with hope for a better life.
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.
The Park Ranger Tour is popular with Ellis Island visitors because it takes them on an immersive 35-40 minute journey through the lives of the many immigrants who took the plunge and left their homes to begin anew. A National Park Service Ranger leads walking tours of the museum.
In addition to the National Park Service Ranger tour, the museum’s 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.
One exhibit that captures the reality of migration is the World Migration Globe. This massive globe traces the patterns of migration around the world and throughout history, giving visitors a true look into the rich history of Ellis Island and its many visitors. The American Flag of Faces is an interactive, animated collage comprised of the faces of individuals and families who, through immigration, became part of American history. The collection of photographs is composed to look like the American flag.
The free movie, Island of Hope, Island of Tears, is a great visual representation of early immigration and a beautiful way to enrich your Ellis Island tour. Many immigrants did not have an easy transition, but sought freedom and liberty on American soil in order to escape the turmoil, warfare, or poverty of their own countries.
Know Before You Go
The first boat leaves at 8:30am and a new boat departs every 30-45 minutes throughout the day. Minors have to be accompanied by an adult to board the ferry. Allow at least five to six hours to explore both Liberty Island and Ellis Island fully, and at least two hours if you’re only going to visit one of the islands. With New York CityPASS you’ll get an audio tour on each island. Crown Tickets are available for purchase (reserve yours early, as they sell out well ahead of time) and Monument access passes are available free of charge on a limited, first come first serve basis.
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.
The Museum of Modern Art, often called MoMA, is home to one of the world’s most prestigious modern and contemporary art collections. MoMA has six floors and is never the same museum twice.
Artist Robert Rauschenberg used a taxidermy bald eagle in a 1959 mixed media collage entitled "Canyon." Unfortunately for him, bald eagles are under strict federal protection and the most recent owner of his work was prohibited from selling it legally. The piece was worth $65 million, which would have meant nearly $30 million in taxes and another $11 million in penalties, so the government agreed to drop the issue so long as the piece was given to a museum where it would be displayed to the public. And so, "Canyon" and the bald eagle now reside in Gallery 17 of the MoMA.
What to Do
What makes the MoMA so great for both locals and tourists is the fact that there is always something new to view. All of the temporary exhibits are tied around a central theme, and all are one of a kind.
MoMA does an excellent job of featuring new artists, innovative pieces, and unique mixed media exhibits, but it’s the classics that draw the crowds each and every time. Visitors love the larger-than-life paintings by Monet, Picasso, Pollack, Rothko, and the astonishing "Starry Night" by Van Gogh, as well as many more. These well-known paintings, seen time and time again online and in textbooks, are entirely different when experienced in person.
Visit the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden in the two-story open-air courtyard, sit in on a movie screening, or take a free gallery talk. And don’t skip The Modern, MoMA’s fine-dining restaurant, or The Bar Room, where you’ll find seasonal menus.
Know Before You Go
MoMA is open seven days a week from 10:30am to 5:30pm. For all special exhibitions and films, prices are included in general admission, but visitors are required to get separate screening tickets. Film tickets go on sale two weeks before screening, but don’t be late — you won’t be able to get in if you’re past the 15 minute mark. Find out about upcoming and current exhibits by downloading the MoMA app and build your own multimedia tour as well.
Whitney Museum of American Art
For some reason, fame has a tendency to find artists after death. But the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City makes it their mission to showcase and promote the work of living artists. Just like MoMA, the Whitney Museum features contemporary works from living artists, but maintains a specific focus on American artists with whom many visitors can relate to.
Founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was inspired to start her own museum when the Met rejected her donation of nearly 700 works.
What to Do
The Whitney specializes in 20th century contemporary art. There’s plenty to see, and collections are frequently updated with new works from living American artists. The Whitney continues to be the museum that brings cutting-edge art to the masses. The Whitney collections dwell in an entirely new space that opened to the public in May of 2015. With more gallery space, there are more exhibitions all the time.
The exhibition Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney Collection features works from the early 20th century through now, and reflects on the changes in the art of portraiture. It is a thoughtful collection of works from both well-known and lesser-known artists that captures the longevity of human emotion through portraits of different time periods. This interesting and relevant collection also examines the relationship technology has with portraiture, as photography has now made it possible for portraitures to be created and reproduced with ease.
Nearly every artist featured at the Whitney started as an unknown. But the works that allowed the Whitney to flourish are still present on the minimalistic white walls of the Whitney to this day. Alexander Calder and his delicate sculptures, Cindy Sherman and her conceptual photography, and many other artists continue to make striking statements in the galleries of the Whitney Museum of American art.
Know Before You Go
You can save money on admission by buying your tickets online the night before you arrive. The museum is closed on Tuesdays and is open from 10:30am to 6:00pm every day except Fridays and Saturdays, when the museum stays open until 10:00pm. Tours are free every day and require no reservations. Multimedia guides are available for purchase.
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.