With the amount of history that can be found within New York City, it’s safe to assume the Big Apple boasts a ton of memorable museum experiences, many of which highlight the culture, arts, and historical significance of the City That Never Sleeps.
10 of the Best Museums in NYC
Given the sheer number of museums in New York, it can be difficult to know which place to visit first, as well as what attractions to see within each. From iconic art galleries to world-famous history exhibits, here are some of the best museums in NYC.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art isn’t merely the best art museum in all of New York—it’s also one of the greatest in the entire world. Boasting celebrated works of art from some of history’s most accomplished creative minds, you can spend an entire day at the Met and still not see everything within the museum’s walls.
A history and art museum rolled into one, the Met’s extensive collection of artifacts dates back to the excavated remains of Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian societies to stunning works of art from more recent decades. Catering to every visitor’s interests, you can bask in the idyllic work of Monet, glimpse ornate armor worn by King Henry VIII, or run your hand against an authentic Egyptian sarcophagus. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.
The Museum of Modern Art
While the Metropolitan boasts a fine collection of classical artistic pieces, the Museum of Modern Art specializes in contemporary art of every shape and size. In particular, visitors can expect to see artwork more conceptual or abstract in nature, including pieces from van Gogh, Picasso, Kahlo, and Dalí.
On paper, MoMa’s focus on surreal and contemporary art might not be as appealing to most visitors as the vast archives of the Met. But it's a museum worth seeing at least once among prospective visitors to New York.
The American Museum of Natural History
Like many of New York’s most remarkable museums, the sheer size of the American Museum of Natural History should not be underestimated. Spanning over 40 galleries, this 1869 landmark chronicles the wonders of the natural world, detailing anthropological curiosities beyond imagination.
Throughout the museum, visitors will come across such marvelous sights as the skeletal remains of a colossal T-Rex, a 94-foot statue of a blue whale, and several fragments of meteorites that crash-landed on Earth. As with MoMa or The Met, you can spend an entire day here and still not see everything the museum has to offer.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum
On September 11, 2001, New York City endured a devastating terrorist attack that triggered the collapse of the World Trade Center, taking the lives of nearly 3,000 people. Today, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum proudly stands where the former Twin Towers once stood, forever commemorating the victims associated with the 2001 attack and a 1993 bombing that claimed six people.
At this hallowed site, visitors will be able to take in the man-made waterfalls highlighting the structural ground of each tower, complete with the names of every victim inscribed into the fountain’s walls. Inside is a museum detailing the fateful events leading up to 9/11, as well as the incredible heroism displayed by first responders who aided in rescue efforts immediately after the buildings’ collapse.
The Whitney Museum of American Art
Since debuting at its new location in Lower Manhattan, the Whitney has done a great job forging a new life for itself as a premiere museum destination. In contrast to most other museums in NYC, The Whitney specifically focuses on curating artwork from contemporary American artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.
More modern in its collection than the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney showcases a grand gallery of artists across multiple generations. The resulting archive offers an almost anthropological study of America’s progression, focusing on our national interests from decade to decade.
The Brooklyn Museum
The Met and MoMa might get all of the attention, but that doesn’t mean the Brooklyn Museum isn’t a fantastic place to visit in and of itself. One of NYC’s largest museums, its collection includes over half a million objects, containing such lauded artistic pieces as Monet’s The Doge's Palace and Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of George Washington.
Like its counterpart, the Met, the Brooklyn Museum also includes significant space for artifacts of Ancient Egyptian and African origin. It’s an expansive museum you can wander through, stopping by everything from modern artwork to sarcophaguses that are literally thousands of years old.
The Morgan Library and Museum
A museum and research library all in one, the Morgan Library and Museum allows viewers to access the personal collection of books and artwork once owned by Gilded Age banker J.P. Morgan.
While the museum might be geared more intrinsically towards staunch bibliophiles, the Morgan Library features items that will interest anyone who walks through the museum’s front doors. On the property, visitors can spot artwork from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, three Gutenberg Bibles, the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the personal letters of Napoleon Bonaparte, and signed musical compositions from Beethoven, Mozart, and Verdi.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Housed within its unique 20th-century exterior facade, the Solomon R. Guggenheim is another treasured art museum in NYC, rivaling other famed locations like the Met or MoMA. Within its galleries, you’ll encounter artwork from a wide range of movements and historical periods, with special emphasis on 19th, 20th, and 21st-century pieces.
With a collection of art that only continues to grow over time, there’s plenty to see inside the Guggenheim, the entire building itself feeling like an intricate artistic work (which, of course, it is). As inspired as Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture is, one shouldn’t forget about the museum’s exhibits on Cézanne, Manet, Klee, and Kandinsky.
The Museum of the City of New York
As one of the oldest cities in the United States, it’s easy to see that New York has one of the most extensive and storied histories in the entire country. A testament to its eventful past, visitors can educate themselves about NYC’s rise from a bustling New World colony into the metropolis of tomorrow at the Museum of the City of New York.
Catering to every historian and art buff’s interests, the Museum of the City of New York totes a slew of items tied to NYC in particular. Standout attractions within the museum include a chair once owned by Sarah Rapelje (the first European child born in the New World) and two furnished rooms from the home of NY millionaire John D. Rockefeller.
Spyscape might not have the same historical significance as almost every other museum on this list, but it’s nevertheless a popular attraction for visitors to stop by on any given day. An “edutainment” attraction that makes its main subjects approachable and entertaining for all, it’s a museum dedicated to the history of international espionage.
Spyscape specifically fuses traditional gallery walkthroughs with a more interactive format, giving visitors an immediate opportunity to judge their own spying abilities. Not only does the museum have permanent galleries focusing on everything from WWII spies to modern cyber warfare, but they also have regularly updated installations built around historical and pop culture-based subject matter.