17 of the Best NYC Museums? Why not 16? How about 20? There are so many museums in Manhattan! Every time I go, I run myself ragged trying to see as many as possible. NYC is known world-wide for its exceptional museums. But for me, there are 17 that every visitor to NYC should experience at least once!
This Blog Post was updated in April 2021.
My Favorite 17 of the Best NYC Museums
Ok, so I know before I get started that there are some museums that are not on my list. I’m not throwing any shade. I didn’t have a bad experience there. I just like what I like. And sometimes, I like a museum as much for the building itself, as its collection. And every museum appeals to a different kind of person. How fantastic to visit a city like Manhattan that has such a vibrant museum scene, with so many interesting and varied choices!
Let’s dive into what I consider to be the 17 Best NYC Museums.
NYC History Museums
I guess it’s true that most people think of art, when they think of museums. But, my absolute favorite kind of museum is a History Museum. I want to know more about the city I am visiting. Artifacts, clothing, furniture, textiles all provide a deeper context to a city and I will always choose a History Museum over any other kind of museum. There are great NYC History Museums in Manhattan. My favorites are:
- The Lower East Side Tenement Museum: Without a doubt, this is a must see for every single person who visits NYC. Bringing American immigration stories to life, the preserved tenement houses are a unique window into New York’s past. Also, the book store is exceptional for finding non-fiction about the immigrant experience. 103 Orchard Street, Lower East Side
- New York Historical Society: Fantastic displays of New York through the ages. Exhibits and artifacts are displayed by theme, such as FDNY, home life, slavery, war, infrastructure, childhood, and recreation. I learn something new every time I visit! 170 Central Park West at 77th Street, Upper West Side
- 9/11 Memorial Museum: The 9/11 Memorial Museum invites visitors to learn about the history of the 9/11 attacks and 1993 World Trade Center bombing at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. The Museum’s dynamic blend of architecture, archaeology, and history creates an unforgettable encounter with the story of the attacks, their aftermath, and the people who experienced these events. This visit is always tough. But it’s important we NEVER FORGET. 180 Greenwich Street, Lower Manhattan
Homes That Are Now Museums in Manhattan
Not to diminish the quality or importance of the collections inside these museums, but I relish the opportunity to visit a museum that was once a home. A glimpse into the past. Excellent collections and exhibits are the icing on the cake. My favorites are:
- The Morgan Library: A jewel in Murray Hill. In 1924 J. P. Morgan, Jr. gave his father’s extraordinary library to the public. The most influential financier in this country’s history, Pierpont Morgan was also a voracious collector. He bought on an astonishing scale, collecting art objects in virtually every medium, including the rare books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, and ancient artifacts that are the core of The Morgan Library & Museum’s holdings. Today, The Morgan Library & Museum is a complex of buildings of differing styles and periods covering half a city block. 225 Madison Avenue, Murray Hill
- Cooper Hewitt: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is located on NYC’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Andrew Carnegie Mansion. Cooper Hewitt is the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historical and contemporary design, and is the steward of one of the most diverse and comprehensive design collections in existence—more than 210,000 design objects spanning 30 centuries. The 64-room mansion, built from 1899 to 1902, is an impressive space designed in the comfortable style of an English Georgian country house. Many spaces are beautifully preserved. 2 East 91st St., Upper East Side
- The Frick Collection: The collection was assembled by the Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and is housed in his former residence on Fifth Avenue. One of New York City’s few remaining Gilded Age mansions, it provides a tranquil environment for visitors to experience masterpieces by artists such as Bellini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Goya, and Whistler. The museum opened in 1935 and has continued to acquire works of art since Mr. Frick’s death. It’s simply gorgeous. 1 East 70th Street, Upper East Side SPECIAL NOTE: The Frick is undergoing a major renovation and expansion. Many of the decorative objects, furniture and gorgeous paintings have been temporarily moved to the former MET Breuer space on Madison Avenue. This new modern space is a wonderful juxtaposition for the Old World Paintings and decorative objects! 945 Madison Ave., Upper East Side
Art Museums in New York City
While many of the museums in Manhattan I’ve already mentioned showcase important art, the following museums are really primarily art museums. These are my favorites:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: I visit the MET every single time I’m in NYC. It’s HUGE. There’s so much to see. And in addition to any special exhibit, I love to choose one daily tour, to learn more about the permanent collections. In this Post I described in detail how you can make the most of your time at the MET. It’s truly fabulous! 1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side
Free NYC Museums
This is not a long list, because anything FREE in NYC is rare.
- The American Folk Art Museum: I would include this museums as one of the Best NYC Museums, even if it weren’t free. It’s absolutely one of my favorites. My husband and I love Folk Art, Outsider Art, and art produced by self-taught artists. We are also collectors. The American Folk Art Museum amazes me every time I visit, with the quality of exhibitions and collections. The staff are friendly, accessible, and bursting with knowledge. And, the gift shop here is by far one of the best museum gift shops in Manhattan. 2 Lincoln Square, Lincoln Square
Interesting and Unique Museums in NYC
Very niche. Very unique. Worth your time to visit! Here are my favorites:
- Museum of Arts and Design: The Museum first opened its doors in 1956 as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, with an original mission of recognizing the craftsmanship of contemporary American artists. The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) collects, displays, and interprets objects that document contemporary and historic innovation in craft, art, and design. In 2019 I enjoyed two exhibits there, one featuring the textile innovator Vera Neumann, and the other a large collection of fashions by Anna Sui. 2 Columbus Circle, Columbus Circle
- New York City Fire Museum: This is a GREAT museum! Adults and kids will love the collection of antique FDNY fire equipment, artifacts, and memorabilia. 278 Spring Street, SoHo
That’s a whole lot of museum hopping, y’all! If you’d like this post in a printable list, simply click here, and get your FREE downloadable PDF with all the museum info in this Blog Post. Enjoy!!!!
Tags: 9/11 Memorial Museum | American Folk Art Museum | Cooper Hewitt Museum | Lower East Side Tenement Museum | Madison Avenue | Manhattan | MET Breuer | Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York | New York City | New York City Fire Museum | New York Historical Society | NYC | NYC History | NYC Museum | The Frick Collection | The Morgan Library