10 Must-Visit Museums in New York City

There’s a museum for every kind of traveler in the Big Apple.

The interior of the Guggenheim Museum, filled with people

New York City doesn’t hold the title as the cultural epicenter of the western world for no reason.

Photo by ItzaVU/Shutterstock

New York City has more than earned its title as the Capital of the World, especially as a cultural epicenter. There are more museums than you can shake a stick at in NYC, and there’s a wide diversity of cultural institutions across the city, covering everything from rural farm life (yes, really) to cutting edge, avant-garde art.

Whether you’re looking to dive deeper into the history of the five boroughs or want to spend an afternoon perusing one of the largest art museums in the world, there’s a museum for every kind of traveler in New York City. These are 10 must-visit museums New York City ranging from quirky off-the-beaten-path choices that deserve to make it onto your itinerary.

People looking at artwork in the David Geffen Wing of MoMA.

An installation view of one of the galleries within the David Geffen Wing, “Transfigurations,” at the Museum of Modern Art.

Photo by Iwan Baan, Courtesy of MoMA

1. The Museum of Modern Art

  • Location: 11 W. 53rd St. | Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Sunday–Thursday 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10:30 a.m.–7 p.m.
  • Admission: $28 per person

Would any trip to New York City be complete without a visit to the Museum of Modern Art? Located in Midtown Manhattan, MoMA was the first museum in the city devoted to modern art and is now one of the largest and most well-known cultural institutions of its kind in the world. Today, the museum has more than 150,000 pieces in its collection, including works like Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, self-portraits by Frida Kahlo, and photographs by Cindy Sherman. Thanks to an expansion that debuted in 2109 that was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, MoMA now has 40,000 more square feet, a total of 708,000 square feet of exhibition space. The museum also has an extensive film collection with 30,000 films and 1.5 million film stills. MoMA regularly hosts on-site screenings, which are often paired with talks led by high-wattage directors and stars. Also, check out the gift shop, one of the best in the city.

Museumgoers at the Egyptian Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Egyptian Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo by Shutterstock

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Location: 1000 Fifth Ave. | Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Sunday–Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
  • Admission: New York residents pay what they wish, nonresidents pay $30

Enter New York City’s art titan: The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the most visited in NYC and is the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere. The Met has more than 1.5 million pieces of art in its collection,spanning thousands of years—there are prehistory artifacts here, paintings by the Old Masters, and works by modern artists like Joan Miró. The Met also boasts a healthy roster of rotating exhibitions, a wing devoted to Islamic art, and the Costume Institute, which kicks off its yearly exhibition with the annual Met Gala. And with its memorable architecture (think grand windows, Gothic revival-style embellishments, and those iconic steps), a trip to the Met just to see the building itself is worthwhile. The museum also has a second location, the Met Cloisters, which features medieval art.

Two sculptures at the Noguchi Museum in Brooklyn: (L) an outdoor vertical work; (R) a circle

The Noguchi Museum in Brooklyn was designed by Noguchi himself.

Photo by Michelle Heimerman

3. The Noguchi Museum

  • Location: 9-01 33rd Rd., Queens | Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
  • Admission: $12 per person

Born in New York City in 1904 to an Irish American mother and Japanese father, Isamu Noguchi was one of the most influential sculptors of the past century. Though he worked with materials including marble, stainless steel, and cast iron, he’s probably best known for his Noguchi tables, which are characterized by their curvaceous bases made from carved wood and their freeform glass tops, as well as his Akari light sculptures (washi paper and bamboo lamps now synonymous with modern design). The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City was designed and built by Noguchi himself. Here, visitors will find his abstract sculptures spread across 27,000 square feet of serene exhibition space. Check out the outdoor sculpture garden, which is inspired by traditional Japanese garden layouts—it’s the perfect place to catch a quiet moment of reflection in the city.

The American Art Gallery within the Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is the second largest art museum in New York City.

Photo by Jonathan Dorado

4. Brooklyn Museum

  • Location: 200 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn | Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
  • Admission: $20 per person

Founded in 1898, the Brooklyn Museum is located in a 1897 Beaux-Arts-style building and rivals Manhattan’s Met in its historic collection and late-night events. The collection here spans 3,000 years, and much like the Met, it offers a little from every period of human history. Here, visitors will find galleries devoted to African art, ancient Egyptian artifacts (one of the largest collections of its kind in the USA), as well as contemporary works, with modern and often edgy exhibitions featuring the works of famous contemporary names, like Spike Lee and David Bowie. Another highlight is The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, a unique work of feminist art created during the 1970s; it pays homage to powerful women throughout history.

Exterior of the red-brick Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side

The Tenement Museum focuses on the city’s rough-and-tumble immigrant past.

Photo by Brian Logan Photography/Shutterstock

5. The Tenement Museum

  • Location: 103 Orchard St.| Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Every day 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
  • Admission: $30 per person

Though the Lower East Side is now a trendy place filled with chic bars and restaurants, it was once the most densely populated place in all of Manhattan—packed with tenement buildings where immigrants lived and worked in cramped apartments shared by multiple families. At the Tenement Museum, which focuses on the years between 1869 to 1935, visitors can get a taste of what life was like for immigrants who came to New York City seeking a better life. The Tenement Museum spans two restored tenement buildings from the 19th century and once housed 15,000 people. It includes walking tours and restored, period-accurate rooms.

Leafcutter ants at the Gilder Center, American Museum of Natural History

Leafcutter ants at the Gilder Center use a sealed off skyway to carry leaves back to their nest to grow the fungus that sustains the colony.

Photos by Lyndsey Matthews

6. American Museum of Natural History

  • Location: 200 Central Park West | Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Every day 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
  • Admission: New York residents pay what they wish, nonresidents pay $28

The American Museum of Natural History, located directly across from Central Park, is one of the most iconic museums in the city, if not the world. There are more than 30 million specimens here, and the scope of its exhibitions is nothing if not ambitious: The museum’s focus spans from the Big Bang to the present day. It would be easy to spend a full day at the AMNH. Highlights include the 94-foot-long blue whale replica in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, an enormous collection of taxidermied animals, tons of dinosaur artifacts, the Hayden Planetarium (currently directed by astrophysicist celebrity Neil DeGrasse Tyson), and the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, which opened in May 2023 and has an insectarium, including a live butterfly exhibition, on display.

The interior of the Morgan Library & Museum, with three floors of bookshelves

At the Morgan Library & Museum, you can take a look at the institution’s collection of literary manuscripts, printed books, and drawings.

Photo by Charissa Fay

7. The Morgan Library and Museum

  • Location: 225 Madison Ave. | Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Tuesday‘Sunday 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
  • Admission: $22 per person

Who can resist a good library, especially one as ornate as the Morgan Library and Museum? The Morgan Library was initially constructed in 1906 to house the books of banker J.P. Morgan (yes, that J.P. Morgan). Soon after he died in 1924, his son opened it to the public, in accordance with his father’s will. Today the complex includes the library, an Annex built on the site of Morgan’s residence, a garden court, and a beautiful glass structure designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano in 2006 that connects it all together. Inside, guests will find an ornate interior decorated with murals and plasterwork inspired by the Italian High Renaissance artist and architect Raphael. The library holds an extensive collection of rare books and manuscripts, including annotated and autographed musical scores composed by Beethoven, Brahms, and Chopin; three Gutenberg Bibles; illuminated manuscripts; as well as letters that date back to ancient Babylon. The property also includes an Annex building (constructed in 1928) on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Street as well as Morgan senior’s former residence, a handsome mid-19th-century brownstone.

A reconstructed barn at Queens County Farm in Queens, New York City.

The land on Queens County Farm Museum has been continuously farmed for over 300 years.

Photo by Alan Tan Photography/Shutterstock

8. Queens County Farm Museum

If you’re looking to get away from the busy city for a moment, consider visiting the Queens County Farm Museum. Situated on 47 idyllic acres in Queens’ Floral Park neighborhood, the museum is the city’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland and is one of the oldest continuously farmed and cultivated tracts in the state of New York—it’s been worked for more than 300 years. These days, more than 200 varieties of crops grow at the Queens County Farm Museum, and animals such as sheep, goats, alpacas, and chickens live on the property. There are also several replica historic buildings and vintage farm equipment for guests to explore. Hayrides are available at six dollars per person, and the museum also hosts a healthy roster of seasonal events such as the annual holiday market.

Art exhibit "Mary Heilmann: Sunset," with brightly colored chairs, displayed outdoors at the Whitney in 2015

The new location of the Whitney Museum offers stunning view of the Manhattan skyline.

Photo by Marco Anelli © 2015

9. The Whitney Museum of American Art

  • Location: 99 Gansevoort St. | Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Saturday–Thursday 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m., Friday 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m., closed on Tuesdays
  • Admission: $30 per person

In 2015, the 92-year-old Whitney Museum of American Art (aka the Whitney) got a sort of face lift when it moved into a futuristic new building designed by Renzo Piano in the Meatpacking District. The 63,000-square-foot construction features scenic views of the nearby Hudson and the High Line and also has four outdoor exhibition spaces. But the Whitney is best known for its extensive collection of American art, some 25,000 works, by such modern artists as Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and William de Kooning. The Whitney Biennial, one of the museum’s biggest events, is an ambitious survey show of work in all media occurring over the previous two years.

The front entrance of the Guggenheim museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The Guggenheim’s design is as famous as the art it contains.

Photo by Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont / Shutterstock

10. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

  • Location: 1071 Fifth Ave. | Find on Google Maps
  • Hours: Sunday–Friday 11 a.m.–6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
  • Admission: $30 per person

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and opened in 1939, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is perhaps one of the most architecturally interesting cultural institutions in the world—so much so that it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2019. The Guggenheim is not a rectangle—instead, it has a cylindrical shape. Instead of moving from boxy gallery to gallery, guests instead spiral up the museum, allowing them to view the Guggenheim’s works in a continuous loop. Visitors will find a wide variety of 7,000 pieces at the Guggenheim, ranging from art created by Pablo Picasso to Kandinsky.

Mae Hamilton is a former associate editor at AFAR. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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