New York City is where to visit for a museum holiday in the US. It’s no secret that the city is crammed with history and culture. And this cultured environment makes it incredibly well-suited to museums thanks to all the topics and stories it can cover. Its range of museums are some of the city’s most awesome things to do.
New York has everything from a Jewish Museum to the Tenement Museum and New York Transit Museum. New York City is iconic, and its museum scene is too. So, before you get any further, our first advice is to dedicate as much time as possible to seeing the best museums in NYC.
Top Museums in NYC
You might have a love for contemporary artists. You may want to glimpse New York’s maritime history or a time machine-like transportation back to the Middle Ages. In this guide, we’ll give you the lowdown on where to visit to get your museum fix. These top 18 museums are the best in New York City.
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Top Museum Tickets And Tours in NYC:
1. 9/11 Memorial & Museum
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is the most famous of all the museums in New York and, arguably, the most somber too. The museum stands next to where the Twin Towers fell, with two massive pools marking their foundations. Undoubtedly, the 2001 (and earlier 1993) terrorist attack is one of history’s most catastrophic events. The complex story is already familiar to many. After the hijacking of two planes in a nationwide attack, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were targeted in a terrorist attack.
Flying the planes directly through the towers, the 2001 attackers caused an estimated death toll of 2,977 people. A massive group of firefighters, paramedics, and office workers lost their lives, and mid-way through the rescue proceedings, the towers tragically collapsed, causing unprecedented further loss of life.
The museum is a harrowing but beautiful ode to the individuals who lost their lives and survived the ordeal. Some highly impactful accounts of the tragedy include Michael Hingson, who was led from the tower and saved by his guide dog, Roselle. It also covers the other attacks orchestrated across the US on the same day. United Flight 93 famously crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers sabotaged the hijacker’s efforts – saving the lives of those in the proposed target area of Washington, DC.
Walk amongst the exhibits and allow at least 3 hours to process and thoroughly explore the museum. There is such great attention to detail, so expect lots of little exhibits, individual stories, and some videos.
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Opening times: Closed Wednesdays, open 10 am until 5 pm Sunday to Thursday, and 10 am until 9 pm Fridays and Saturdays Cost: $30. Get Your Tickets Here.
Get ready for a big statement; the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a big deal. It’s one of the grandest art galleries in the world – of all the art museums in New York, the Metropolitan Museum is the most revered. To be honest, its mix of ancient modern, and contemporary art is astounding. The museum covers over 5,000 years of artwork and art history. You’ll find everything from old master paintings to Egyptian statues. ‘The Met,’ as it is affectionally called by local New Yorkers, is the largest art museum in the city and the third largest museum.
Alongside its substantial permanent collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a range of temporary exhibits. These include exhibits like the fabulous Van Gogh’s Cypresses and the African Origin of Civilization. The Met is somewhere you can visit to browse more generally or look ahead and pick temporary exhibits to treat as special events. This makes the Metropolitan Museum of Art extremely exciting for serious artists. While for those who aren’t usual art enthusiasts, it can be helpful to cherry-pick what to see.
3. American Museum of Natural History
Opening times: 10 am until 5:30 pm Cost: Suggested $25.
Every major city has a museum dedicated to the natural world. And the American Museum of Natural History is a museum located in New York City dedicated to doing precisely that. The museum features everything from dinosaurs to space history. If you want a full day out, it is the perfect solution.
Just to walk the exhibits takes around 3 hours. But then the museum has special shows and exhibitions, each taking upwards of an hour. And there’s a gift shop at the end. It’s best to visit with the restriction of a time limit looming over your head, so leave a day for this museum. The American Museum of Natural History hit the ground running in 1869 and has continued accumulating exhibits and the latest research information since. David Attenborough would be proud; let’s just put it that way.
The American Museum of Natural History is part of the Smithsonian Museums’ institution. It is conveniently located just off of Central Park. It is an excellent museum to combine with an early morning Central Park stroll.
4. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is one of the most exciting museums in New York City. The museum covers three major topics: sea, air, and space. So naturally, it features famous exhibits from each three, including an aircraft carrier called Intrepid and a space shuttle called Enterprise. It provides a real ‘show and tell’ approach to sea, air, and space education. And young children especially will find this exciting approach more engaging.
You can see a real submarine and learn how it observes ocean life and plays a military role as a missile submarine. And you can get up close to the world’s fastest jets.
This museum is fascinating, and this is the only museum like it in New York City. Heavily military-focused but also just a great general insight into sea, air, and space history, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a great visit.
5. Ellis Island National Museum
Opening times: 9:45 am until 4:45 pm Cost: $25
It’s no secret; Ellis Island National Museum is one of New York City’s most famous museums and for excellent reason. Find the Statue of Liberty and you won’t be far from Ellis Island. Ellis Island National Museum is in the Upper Bay region of the Hudson River. The museum was once the first port of call for immigrants arriving in New York and was a former processing station. Nowadays, you can retread these footsteps. Passenger records and artifacts give you a clear insight into the individuals and their lives before stepping onto New York soil and starting afresh.
Highly individual-focused and an excellent museum for social history, Ellis Island National Museum is one of the best museums in NYC. We’d also recommend visiting as a way to pass by the Statue of Liberty for free, and it is one of the best attractions to combine with admiring Lady Liberty herself.
6. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Opening times: 11 am until 6 pm Sunday to Monday, 11 am until 8 pm on Saturdays Cost: $25. Get your Tickets Here.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is a haven for contemporary artists. The vast collection is also displayed in one of the city’s most beautiful exhibition spaces – making Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum one of the best museums in NYC for an aesthetic interior. The famous ramp layout is rife on social media, especially Instagram. And the bright white museum spirals up from the floor to the skylight in a ramp around the outside wall, leaving a dizzying drop in the middle. The layout is sublime. And it perfectly fits the post-impressionist, impressionist, modernist, and contemporary art it showcases.
Visiting Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is non-negotiable if you are after iconic and diverse architecture in New York City. As an art gallery, it also fits a perfect niche more anyone wanting contemporary and impressionist artwork. It definitely ticks a highly sought-after box, and it looks stunning while doing it.
7. Brooklyn Museum
Opening times: 11 am until 6 pm Wednesday to Sunday Cost: $16 general admission, $25 ticketed exhibition, and free entry on the first Saturdays of the month between February and August
Brooklyn Museum is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Brooklyn. The imposing Beaux Art landmark is the second-largest museum in the city and is an attraction just because of its architecture. Its exhibits are just as impressive, though, and Brooklyn Museum contains a rotating exhibition of around 500,000 objects.
The museum specializes in world cultures and confronting colonial legacies. So, of course, you’ll see artwork from all over the world, including African art and Egyptian treasures. There’s a massive range in artwork periods, too, with exhibits from the era of Egyptian pharaohs yet also modern art pieces on topics like environmental justice.
Brooklyn Museum is one of the most popular museums in New York. The mix of a substantial permanent collection and the constant refreshing of temporary exhibitions make Brooklyn Museum an exciting spot to visit. And if you want to see a museum that challenges you and your worldview, this is the art gallery to do so.
8. New York Transit Museum
Opening times: 10 am until 4 pm Thursday to Sunday Cost: $10
New York Transit Museum is suitably located in a 1936 subway station, so you enter by heading down steps from street level. The museum features many immersive exhibits, including vintage subway cars you can sit on. Transit history is (admittedly) quite a niche subject of interest. But you don’t need a massive interest in New York’s transit history to enjoy this museum, thanks to its immersive design and layout. NYC history has never been more aesthetic, and the recreated vintage transit scenes are a winning touch.
The New York Transit Museum is ideal for a half-day activity. It only really requires two hours or so, so it’s easy to squeeze into what will undoubtedly be a busy New York itinerary. The subway system is the most prized and influential achievement in New York’s engineering history. This makes it one of the most important things to learn about and celebrate when visiting – especially as you’ll likely be catching lots of subways to get around.
9. Rubin Museum of Art
Opening times: 11 am until 5 pm from Thursday to Sunday, with 11 am until 10 pm on Fridays. Cost: $20
Rubin Museum of Art is much more niche than the other large art galleries in New York City. The museum has an extensive collection of artwork from Himalayan Asia, including exhibits from Tibet and Bhutan. The exhibition space contains everything from paintings to statues – renowned for its diverse approach to showcasing art. Rubin Museum of Art is a beautiful ode to Himalayan Asia’s artistic history.
It is worth watching for the programs and events that the Rubin Museum of Art also runs. In the past, this has included mindfulness and meditation classes. And there are plenty of Buddhist-angled exhibitions to learn more about the practices driving Himalayan artwork. Keep a two-hour block in your schedule for this museum.
10. Tenement Museum
Opening times: 10 am until 6 pm Cost: $30
Tenement Museum is a beautiful concept of a museum on the Lower East Side. The museum captures the stories of working-class history through a series of 19th-century to 20th-century recreated tenement apartments. Tenement Museum is people-focused, raw, and authentic.
The 1863-built building is full of character and, if you like social history, is easily one of the top museums in New York City. Stepping from tenement to tenement is remarkable. And the museum has done a brilliant job of expressing each family’s distinct character and story in each apartment. Each exhibition space has a unique character – such as Mrs. Wang from China and Natalie from Prussia.
Aside from its exhibits, Tenement Museum has virtual and actual walking tours throughout the Lower East Side. This is a unique touch amongst the museums in New York, and you can break out from the confinements of museum walls and see history in the community.
11. Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art is one of the most popular New York City museums. We aren’t exaggerating when we say that New York City is 90% art galleries. However, the Whitney Museum truly stands out within its niche. Whitney Museum solely features American artwork rather than ancient artwork from different countries.
You’ll only find art from the 20th century and the 21st century. In fact, the Whitney Museum is so modern that most of its artists are still living. Most art museums in New York take a posthumous look at artists and their work, a defining marker of individuality.
The museum is in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, an area you’ll likely spend sightseeing in any way. The mix of permanent and rotating exhibitions is also good, as there is always something fresh to see and the permanent exhibits. The Whitney Museum looks corporate and bizarre from the outside, with an oddly-designed stacking layout. It isn’t far from the Museum of Illusions (not featured in this guide but a notable mention) and Carrie Bradshaw’s Apartment. So visiting makes sense.
12. Jewish Museum
Opening times: 11 am until 8 pm on Thursdays, 11 am until 6 pm Friday to Monday Cost: $18 but free on Saturdays
The Jewish Museum is one of the best museums in New York City if you want an experience entirely dedicated to Jewish culture. This niche museum maintains a beautiful documentation of Jewish history and traditions. You’ll find exhibits on traditional marriage contracts and select Jewish experiences like the Holocaust through the eyes of artists – for instance, housing artwork on Anne Frank and mixed media sculptures.
Unlike the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Jewish Museum has a real art focus. The history, community, and individual sentiments are channeled creatively to create a sublime collection of artwork that represents lived experience.
While both the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Museum are excellent museums in New York to visit. We feel like the Jewish Museum is the most wrongly overlooked. The creative lens it uses to document the Jewish experience throughout history is much more abstract. The Museum of Jewish Heritage is more fact-based, with over 40,000 artifacts dedicated to memorializing the Holocaust.
13. American Folk Art Museum
Opening times: 11:30 am until 6 pm Cost: Free
Ready for a wholesome insight into American art history and beyond? This is a museum dedicated to self-taught artists and American folk art. Forget your run-of-the-mill modern art and contemporary American art; these powerful pieces can be anything from watercolors to tapestries. The American Folk Art Museum is intentionally candid and aims to spotlight genuine, raw artistic processes. This is a niche of an art gallery that ticks a particular box. And if you fancy a more ‘organic’ art experience in New York City, this is your prime contender.
The American Folk Art Museum is free to enter (and ‘always will be’). It is a profound, non-stuffy insight into an everyday relationship with art. And a marvelous celebration of self-taught and folk-style pieces.
14. Museum of Broadway
Opening times: 9:30 am until 18:30 pm from Sunday to Friday and 9:30 am until 8 pm on Saturdays Cost: $25. Get Your Tickets here.
The Museum of Broadway is an experiential darling on the New York museum front. The museum covers everything Broadway related, from past to present and future. You walk from room to room, gazing at costumes, listening to throwback music and Broadway backing tracks, and reading written exhibit after exhibit. The exhibited Broadway shows range from The Lion King to West Side Story and everything in between.
For anyone with a passion for theater, the Museum of Broadway is a dream. It offers a passionate and thorough insight into New York’s most famed performances, and you’ll absolutely adore it.
15. Morgan Library & Museum
Opening times: 11 am to 5 pm Wednesday to Sunday Cost: $22
Bibliophiles alert; welcome to Morgan Library & Museum, one of the best museums in NYC. Morgan Library is stunning, with walnut bookshelves and total extravagance throughout the premises. Wandering its reading rooms and exhibits is one of the most serene ways to spend a few hours in New York.
It isn’t just its books that make Morgan Library so special either. The museum has that ‘old money’ appeal and, quite frankly, feels like stepping into a film set. Its grandeur is so intense that many people liken entering Morgan Library to a Harry Potter scene. Despite its relatively small size, it is one of the grandest places in the city and carries some serious oopmh. We think (as well as most of the city’s population) that it’s the most beautiful library in New York City – so get it on your itinerary, bibliophile or not.
16. New York Historical Society
Opening times: 9am until 5 pm Monday to Friday Cost: $22
New York Historical Society is one of the most amazing museums New York has to offer from a historical perspective. The museum extensively documents American history. And New York Historical Society boasts a formal museum with exhibits, a research center, and a library open to visitors.
It was founded way back in 1804 and, momentously, is New York’s very first museum.When we talk about starting at the beginning, the New York Historical Society is the definition of it. If you are even slightly historically inclined, this museum will be up your street. The New York Historical Society is a beautiful place to appreciate tons of archives – each representing thousands upon thousands of hours of dedicated research into American history.
The New York Historical Society is located in Upper West Manhattan, just outside the boundaries of Central Park. The 400 years of history is brilliantly combined with a walk in Central Park, where you can process all the knowledge you’ve just received and relax amongst nature and the best hiking trails.
17. New Museum
Opening times: Closed Mondays, 11 am until 6 pm Friday until Wednesday, and 11 am until 9 pm on Thursdays Cost: $20
New Museum is not, in fact, just a new museum. The museum is a stunning contemporary art gallery and further evidence that New York is heaven for the art obsessed. The bright white building is designed like higgledy-piggledy building blocks, oddly stacked on each other with overlaps in random places.
The general consensus is that the best plan of attack is to explore the three levels of exhibits first, head to the cafe after, and then enjoy the roof terrace views. New Museum is suited to art enthusiasts and is a nice place to hang out. It has a lowkey vibe that makes it one of the most relaxed museums in New York to visit.
18. The Skyscraper Museum
Opening times: 12 pm until 6 pm Wednesday to Saturday Cost: Free timed entry
The Skyscraper Museum is one of the only of its kind worldwide. The museum is entirely focused on the history of the skyscraper, specifically concentrating on documenting New York’s journey to becoming the ‘world’s first and foremost vertical metropolis.’ As of 2023, admission is free until the end of the year, although this could change after this point -s o get your visit in ASAP. It is a brilliant way to familiarize yourself with New York’s famous skyline and an excellent niche focus for a museum.
The Skyscraper Museum is in the beautiful Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, where you can take ferries past the Statue of Liberty. This attraction is most definitely already on your list. So consider combining the two and making the most of the free 2023 entry. Whether you enjoy architecture or not, it is a fun, budget-friendly way to get a taste and insight into the skyscrapers that make New York iconic.
These best museums in NYC should keep you ticking over for at least four days or so. New York City is a city of museums. You most definitely don’t want to skip over exhibitions during your stay. And with more knowledge on New York, you’ll be empowered to connect with the city on a deeper level. Through its museum scene, you basically get to know exactly what makes New York tick. And who wouldn’t want to connect more deeply with the one-and-only New York City?
Whether you visit the Smithsonian museums or the Morgan Library, these best museums will keep you entertained and challenge and stimulate you mentally. Looking for more adventures for your stay in New York City? Here is our ultimate five-day itinerary. Don’t forget our guide on where to stay, which includes a rundown of the best neighborhoods depending on your New York itinerary.