The 20 Best Museums in New York City

By Devorah Lev-Tov

We forgive you if you tend to associate museums in New York with Serena Van Der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf on the steps of the Met — those scenes were iconic! But remember: NYC’s museum scene goes far beyond Gossip Girl.

The city has some of the best museums in the world, with more than 80 to choose from when you visit. Whether you want to scope some cool art or history or check out some of the city’s memorable memorials, there’s truly something for everyone. Consider this your guide to the best of the best museums in New York City that are worth adding to your must-visit list on your next trip. And if you want to live like a true local, don’t forget your airpods— wandering around museums while vibing out to your own playlists is a classic NYC activity.

1. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Affectionately known as The Met, this museum and its famous steps have been featured in so many movies and TV shows, it’s easy to forget it’s actually a world-class museum that remains a bucket-list destination for travelers visiting NYC. You can spend an entire day cruising the incredible art there, from the Egyptian Wing to the Astor Court to the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Feel free to reenact your own version of the Met Gala red carpet as you enter; no judgment here.

2. Museum of Modern Art

Fun fact: This museum has the largest collection of contemporary art in the country. So if you’re into all things modern, this is definitely your spot. From paintings by luminaries like Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo, to the installation seen here of the gallery Picasso, Rousseau, and the Paris Avant-Garde (Gallery 503), you’ll see it all. And if you happen to be visiting NYC during the summer, you cannot miss the weekly outdoor music and art party at MoMA’s sister site, MoMA PS1, in Long Island City, Queens. Known as Warm Up, the celebration takes place in MoMA PS1’s courtyard and is always a good time, with performances from incredible musicians and exclusive art installations. If you can’t make the party, no worries—MoMA PS1 also has cool experimental work worth checking out year round.

3. American Museum of Natural History

Ross Gellar stans, this one’s for you. The American Museum of Natural History is where it all happened for our favorite paleontologist, but of course, the 150-year-old institution is also considered a gem among actual New Yorkers and tourists worldwide. The gigantic 94-foot-long blue whale hanging above the Hall of Ocean Life is unforgettable—not to mention the star of the show in the eyes of New York City children—and the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs features the bones of an imposing T. Rex and dozens of other dinosaurs. But as an adult who may or may not be as into dinos as our boy Ross, you might be more drawn to the recently redesigned Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals (pictured above), which is a glittering showcase for the museum’s impressive collection of more than 5,000 gems and minerals sourced from 98 countries.

4. The Frick

If you want to learn more about European art history during your visit to NYC, look no further than the sweeping collection of Old Master paintings and European fine and decorative arts at the Frick. Founded by the industrialist Henry Clay Frick in 1935, the museum has works by all sorts of famous European artists, from Rembrandt to Goya to Vermeer. And while its permanent location is at the historic Henry Clay Frick House, in what was the wealthy businessman’s (insanely large) Manhattan home, the museum is currently undergoing renovations until around 2023, so the collection is temporarily housed at Frick Madison on Madison Avenue. Seen here is the installation view at Frick Madison of Francesco da Sangallo’s St. John Baptizing (center), and Veronese’s Choice Between Virtue and Vice (left) and Wisdom and Strength (right).

5. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Thanks to starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright’s impressive work, the Guggenheim is one of Instagram’s most popular museums for its cool modern architecture alone—and is definitely worth ogling from both the outside and in. The white circular building sort of resembles a spaceship, with an indoor spiral ramp that leads up to a skylight and creates epic bright light all around. Once inside, start at the top and make your way down the circular paths, stopping at paintings and sculptures and, of course, to drop a ‘gram of the view over the massive atrium. Hosting exhibits by artists ranging from Marina Abromovic to Jean-Michel Basquiatthrough the years, the Guggenheim remains a place to see intriguing and varied art—and some amazing architecture, too.

6. Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney is the premier NYC museum for American art, featuring artists as diverse as Edward Hopper and Mickalene Thomas. In the art world, this museum is most known for its Whitney Biennial, an exhibition of lesser-known, up-and-coming American artists that takes place every two years. As an artist, it’s a huge deal to get into the Biennial—which makes it even more exciting to check out who made the cut. As it happens, 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of the influential Biennial survey, making this year a perfect time to visit. Plus, the museum’s Meatpacking District location makes it ideal for exploring between brunch at Pastis and a walk on the High Line. Shown here is the installation view of the past exhibit Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019.

7. The Met Cloisters

If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air and a quick escape from the hustle of the city, this historic sister site of the Met is well worth the trek up to Fort Tryon Park, at the tippy-top of Manhattan. Expect stunning gardens and incredible art and architecture from medieval Europe, including the amazing Unicorn Tapestries, a series of seven intricate tapestries that feature unicorns…as well as a bit of mystery. Donated to the Cloisters in 1937, they appear to have been designed in Paris, though no one knows for sure, and they also feature the letters “A” and “E” in multiple places, but no one really knows what they stand for, despite multiple theories. The significance of the unicorns themselves is also TBD, as the mythical creatures had multiple meanings in the Middle Ages. True crime, but make it art!

8. The Tenement Museum

One of the city’s most unique museums, the Tenement Museum preserves two actual tenement buildings (small buildings that housed multiple immigrant families in less-than-ideal conditions) on the Lower East Side that visitors can experience. Instead of wandering around on your own, all visitors take building tours of the restored and recreated homes of former residents, who lived in the buildings between the 1860s and the 1980s—it’s estimated they were home to around 15,000 different people through the years. There is also a short walking tour of the surrounding neighborhood, which was home to thousands of immigrants over the last few centuries.

9. Noguchi Museum

[Photo Credit:

Photo: Nicholas Knight. © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, NY / Artists Rights Society]
This under-the-radar museum and sculpture garden celebrates the work of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and it feels like an undiscovered secret. Located on a quiet tree-lined street in Long Island City, Queens, the museum and gardens are a serene oasis in New York City that is populated with the talented sculptor’s thought-provoking creations.

10. Museum of Chinese in America

Originally founded in 1980 with just four small rooms on Mulberry Street in Chinatown, this museum—known as MOCA—spent the next 25 years collecting and documenting Chinese American history. Today, it’s located in a much larger space on Centre Street in Chinatown, and has more than 85,000 artifacts and works to celebrate the living history of the Chinese experience in America. The museum has grown so much that it recently announced its plans to open a new HQ in 2025 designed by world-renowned architect Maya Lin, in partnership with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, a leading museum design firm.

11. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Design buffs will love the Cooper Hewitt, one of just three Smithsonian Museums in NYC and the sole museum in the country entirely devoted to historical and contemporary design. Opened by three granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper in 1897, the sisters were the directors of the museum until 1930. It’s been in its current location, inside the Andrew Carnegie Mansion on the Upper East Side, since 1970. Past exhibitions have included everything from designer Lilly Pulitzer’s prints to American style during the Jazz Age of the 1920s to an exploration of the science of color.

12. El Museo del Barrio

Known amongst locals simply as El Museo, this Upper East Side museum focuses on Latin American and Caribbean multimedia art, particularly works by Puerto Rican artists. Founded by artist, activist, and educator Raphael Montañez Ortiz in 1969 as a way to celebrate Puerto Rican art and culture, it’s one of the city’s top museums today, known for hosting impressive exhibitions in its extensive space. This image is from the current exhibition, Raphael Montañez Ortiz – A Contextual Retrospective, which is dedicated to the founder.

13. The New Museum

A prime example of downtown cool, the New Museum is dedicated to contemporary art. Located on the Bowery—NYC’s oldest street as well as the name of the area around it—its iconic stacked metal building, designed by Tokyo-based architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA, is a local landmark (and often houses a large-scale sculpture on the outside). The museum doesn’t have a permanent collection; instead, it features an extremely diverse roster of rotating and traveling exhibitions of contemporary artists from across the world, including Faith Ringold, Raymond Pettibon, and Genesis Belanger. Mediums range from sculpture to film to performance, and everything in between.

14. Museum of the Moving Image

[Photo Credit: Peter Aaron/Esto. Courtesy of Museum of the Moving Image]

If you’re a fan of old Hollywood glam, head to Astoria, Queens, to visit this fascinating museum devoted to the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media. The museum has tons of old Hollywood relics on display—130,000 pieces, to be exact—like the early projectors pictured in this image. Other exhibits are devoted to luminaries like Jim Henson and Barry Jenkins, and there are ongoing film series screenings with themes like “Disreputable Cinema” and animation.

15. Rubin Museum of Art

Dedicated to the culture and art of the Himalayan regions, this museum displays art from Asian countries including India, Tibet, and Nepal. You can peruse the Buddhist and Hindu sculptures and paintings, and on the third floor, the interactive Mandala Lab invites you to consider the power of your emotions. The museum offers free exhibition tours at 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

16. 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Although it’s painful to relive the memories of 9/11, doing so is the best way to honor those we lost in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center—so visiting the memorial is a powerful and impactful thing to do on your visit to NYC. The moving memorial is made up of two massive fountains on the imprints of where the towers stood, and there’s a museum adjacent to the memorial that delves into the 9/11 attack and its continued impact on the world through media, narratives, and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts. Prepare to be moved by the emotional personal stories of victims and survivors.

17. Fotografiska

Perhaps most famously known for being inside the building grifter Anna Delvey wanted to lease for her foundation (“I’m trying to build something!”), Fotografiska is highly worth visiting in its own right. It’s also NYC’s newest museum (it opened in 2020 right before the pandemic shutdown) and it follows the original Fotografiska in Sweden in its mission and vibe. Devoted to photography, Fotografiska is more than just a museum that displays art; it also hosts a multitude of events, has a buzzy restaurant and bar, and functions as a community gathering place amid evocative photography by diverse artists from across the globe. Pictured above is the installation view of Ellen von Unwerth’s Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women, from the inaugural exhibition.

18. The Morgan Library & Museum

This stunning research library and literary collection started as the personal library of financier Pierpont Morgan, who collected manuscripts and early print editions beginning in the 1890s. Charles McKim of famous New York firm McKim, Mead & White designed the magnificent library adjacent to Morgan’s Madison Avenue residence, and it became a public museum in 1924. In 2006, world renowned architect Renzo Piano designed a 75,000-square-foot expansion, making the museum’s structure double architecturally significant. While you’re there, peruse items like an original Gutenberg Bible, Henry David Thoreau’s signed Walden Pond manuscript, and a handwritten symphony by Mozart.

19. Brooklyn Museum

If you want to try out the Brooklyn life while you’re in NYC, Brooklyn Museum has to be on your list. Located alongside the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, the central branch of the Brooklyn Library, and the Grand Army Plaza entrance of Prospect Park (basically the Central Park of Brooklyn), the Brooklyn Museum is an institution amid Brooklyn’s premier cultural corridor in Prospect Heights. The museum, which has hosted landmark exhibits by artists as diverse as Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Marilyn Minter, and Christian Dior, and on icons like David Bowie, it is also the home of feminist artist Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, which is worth the price of admission alone.

20. The Museum of the City of New York

Spotted on the Upper East Side: you, at the Museum of the City of New York, getting the scoop on the real—and real juicy—story of NYC. This UES museum is dedicated to New York’s history, unique culture, and incredibly resilient and inventive people, via exhibits like New York, New Music and Activist New York. When you stop by, don’t forget to get a shot of the light installation in the rotunda for the ’gram.

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