15 Best Museums in New York City You Must Visit

Last Updated on October 02, 2023 by Nikki Jain

The fact that the best museums in NYC number in the double digits is a testament to the city's massive size. We have put together 15 NYC museums for our list, which still doesn’t cover all of them, spread throughout the city’s five boroughs.

The smallest borough in NYC is 13.5 miles across, and the population density is over 27,000 people per square mile. In other words, there are a lot of people in NYC, so the number of museums starts to make sense when looking at it from that standpoint. And, like everything in New York City, these museums are incredible.

From the grand, sweeping architecture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the sad and heartbreaking memories inspired by the September 11th Memorial, here are NYC’s best museums, in no particular order.

Best NYC Museums

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1: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Since we mentioned it in the introduction, it only makes sense to throw the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the first spot.

This is easily one of the best museums in NYC; you can tell that just by standing across the street. The building has been in place since 1870, and the architecture of the time was of a grand variety.

Walking beneath the massive archways that tower above the grand staircase(designed and constructed in the late 1800s by Richard Morris Hunt) is a preview of the incredible artwork you'll find within.

It's the largest museum of its kind in America and houses over 2 million works.

These works are divided into 17 departments, and you can spend days in front of the endless exhibits without ever coming close to appreciating them all.

From classical antiquity to the ancient Egyptians and forward to modern works, the Metropolitan Museum of Art covers all the ages of humanity.

Accommodation: Where to stay near Metropolitan Museum of Art

Address: 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028

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2: American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History
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If you’ve never been to the American Museum of Natural History, you’ve probably seen it before (or, at least a representation of it) in the movie, Night at the Museum. It's actually more impressive in real life than anything Hollywood magic could convey. 

Over 5 million people will walk through the front doors on an annual basis—there to view the 1,020,000 specimens on display.

The Museum has more than 33 million, but only 3% are viewable at any given time. The entry hall is gigantic and houses two dinosaur skeletons. 

As you move farther into the building, you'll come across exhibits that lay out the entire history of the world, all the way to the modern day.

There's a massive underwater display known as the Hall of Ocean Life, and it's one of the premier attractions in the American Museum of Natural History.

Address: Central Park West & 79th St, New York, NY 10024

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3: Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art

The best museums in New York City are often just as impressive on the outside as they are on the inside.

MoMA is a different kind of museum reflected on the exterior, with a far more modern look than the Greek-style types that typically represent the hallowed halls of historical collections.

Though it contains the word modern, the museum was founded in 1929 and is located in Mid-Town Manhattan.

The museum includes a wide variety of art going back to the late 1800s, though that art was considered "modern" for its time.

The Museum of Modern Art is also the sight of thousands of screenings for new art flowing into the museum and making their way onto the walls for viewing by general audiences.

There are also educational programs on offer, including hands-on art, primarily for families.

Address: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019

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Also Read: 20 Best Art Museums in the USA

4: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
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It may not be the easiest name to pronounce but, if you’re a fan of Apple, you’ll love the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

This is a different kind of art and it's so reminiscent of Apple’s iPhone and iPad design concepts over the last two decades that it's hard to shake the comparison. 

No, that's not a hidden advert for Apple, simply a comparative observation.

Solomon features many different categories of art, including sculptures, drawings, prints, textiles, various interactive programs, and a ton of activities both for families and individuals.

The building’s exterior has as much to do with the attraction of the museum as the objects within.

The building’s exterior resembles a series of thin cylinders stacked on top of each other, each additional cylinder being slightly larger than the one beneath it. It's an impressive design and a major attraction from without.

Address: 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128

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Also Read: Unique & Unusual Things To Do in NYC

5: Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
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Most NYC museums are all about what’s inside. The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum places the focus outside, with anything and everything related to the U.S. Airforce, Navy, NASA, and civilian agencies that operated in these environments over the years. 

The USS Intrepid, a U.S. aircraft carrier, is docked here in all of its former glory, along with fighter jets (historically to modern), antique submarines, and even British aircraft in the form of the Concorde.

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is an incredible addition to the many NYC museums, and it would take you an entire day just to explore the immense craft on display.

If you love World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War, and the Cold War history, you will fall in love with this museum.

Address: Pier 86, W 46th St & 12th Ave, New York, NY 10036

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6: Whitney Museum of American Art

Whitney Museum of American Art
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The architecture of the Whitney Museum of American Art is a huge part of what makes it one of the best museums in New York City.

It's essentially a series of triangles—triangle laden with glass. You can walk by the front entrance and see vast museum sections through the gigantic windows.

It's beautiful, modern, and one of the more attractive buildings in the city. It's also full of modern and contemporary art, and it was founded only a year after the MoMA.

If you tire of looking at the art on the walls (that would be incredibly hard to do), step outside onto one of the many terraces.

From there, you have one of the best views of the NYC skyline of anywhere else in the city.

The museum's staff are well aware of that and actively encourage visitors to view the art inside the building and the natural art that's ever-present outside the building.

Address: 99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014

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7: Frick Collection

Frick Collection

The Frick Collection is all about elegance and luxury styles. This simple name represents one of the best museums in NYC.

The museum owes its existence to the late 18th-century millionaire Henry Clay Frick, who built the mansion in which it now exists.

It's primarily an art exhibit; however, the mansion itself is just as breathtaking and historically fascinating as anything else.

All the art giants you've read about in history books are represented here, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Titian.

As you make your way through the mansion, it's hard to ignore the fact that it was once a home.

Despite the luxurious feel of this 18th-century abode, you’ll feel more comfortable and “at home” here than at any other museum in the city.

Address: 1 E 70th St, New York, NY 10021

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8: Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is one of the more well-known best museums in NYC.

As the name implies, the Brooklyn Museum is located in Brooklyn and is easily one of the most famous and popular buildings in the borough and the city. As NYC museums usually go, the Brooklyn Museum is gigantic.

It strongly resembles the capital building in Washington D.C., with huge, semi-circle steps leading up to the front entrance, which sits below towering columns.

With all of that, the Brooklyn Museum is only the third largest museum in New York City. 

It's primarily an art museum, with works of art from all over the planet on display.

Whether you appreciate European, historical art, or art from the African continent, there is something on display for everyone’s taste.

Address: 200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY 11238

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9: New Museum

New Museum
New Museum

There are so many museums in New York City that they must’ve run out of names.

The New Museum is exactly what it implies, a new museum, completed and opened in 2007. Despite its newness, the New Museum has already made its way onto most (if not all) of the best museums in NYC lists.

One of the more interesting aspects of the New Museum is that it doesn’t display permanent exhibits.

All of the exhibits at the New Museum roll through on a temporary basis—on display for a limited amount of time before it's off again, while another exhibit takes its place. 

That's a refreshing aspect for a museum because the odds are good that no two visits will be the same, which is probably the entire point of the effort.

The art on display is not old art either; rather, it's all from contemporary artists and constantly changing.

Address: 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002

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Also Read: The Most Famous Bridges in New York City

10: Museum of the City of New York

Museum of the City of New York
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The Museum of the City of New York is the third museum on our list of NYC museums founded in the 1920s—1923.

What makes the Museum of the City of New York one of the best museums in New York City is its solid focus on the city rather than art from around the world or even the U.S.

NYC museums typically focus on all kinds of things from all over the world, but the Museum of the City of New York is focused on the history and art of the city itself. You’ll find the entire history of New York City laid out among thousands of exhibits.

From artwork in the form of paintings to old photographs and even toys that kids played with over a hundred years ago, the Museum is rife with New York City.

There's even a touch of modernity, with touchscreen displays that provide a more interactive experience.

Address: 1220 5th Ave & 103rd St, New York, NY 10029

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11: National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian

American history is inextricably linked with native history, both the good and the bad. The National Museum of the American Indian places the spotlight on the indigenous history of Native Americans.

The collection here is massive, showcasing everything this museum could get its hands on, from the Arctic Circle to the southern tip of South America.

All of the items on display were acquired and displayed in coordination with the indigenous tribes of America.

Even the Indian Motorcycle, which is arguably one of the coolest brands of motorcycles in American history, is prominently displayed here.

Of all the NYC Museums, the National Museum of the American Indian is among the most exciting and awe-inspiring.

Address: 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY 10004

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12: Tenement Museum

Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum is an intriguing variation of museum types, wholly focused on the working-class families that immigrated to the United States in the last hundred years.

The museum itself is built within an existing tenement dwelling, so it already has that well-lived-in, middle to lower-class look.

That’s a huge part of what makes it so hugely popular throughout the area. When you visit the Tenement Museum, it's almost entirely a guided tour, covering several stories of museum exhibits with a singular focus on working-class families.

The homes the tour goes through include residences from the 1860s through the 1930s, and the tour guide is via tenement buildings located on the lower east side of Manhattan. Is an entirely eye-opening experience that still has relevance today.

Address: 103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002

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13: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Cooper Hewitt

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is a historic museum located in the home of one of the great titans of the American industrial revolution, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was a steel tycoon, and his mansion is now home to a fantastic museum.

The museum houses a collection of over 200,000 items that cover 3,000 years of history.

While 3,000 years of history may have little to do with Andrew Carnegie and the industrial revolution, it's still impressive and intensely interesting.

There's also plenty to appreciate outside, with an extraordinary exterior garden that anyone walking by can look at.

Inside are interactive displays, including an Immersion Room, where a series of wall coverings are exhibited.

Address: 2 E 91st St, New York, NY 10128

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14: Museum of Jewish Heritage

Museum of Jewish Heritage

The Museum of Jewish Heritage is one of the more haunting New York Museums designed to be that way. History should never be forgotten.

As the old saying goes, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." The Museum of Jewish Heritage exists to avoid that particular adage.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage celebrated its 25th-anniversary last year. The museum exists to educate visitors about Jewish life, mostly as it revolves around the holocaust, both before and after, and the event itself.

There are over 40,000 items on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and the museum further spreads the important history of the holocaust via public programs to the tune of 60 per year. These include concerts, lectures, and book sales.

Address: 36 Battery Pl, New York, NY 10280

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15: National September 11 Memorial and Museum

National September 11 Memorial and Museum
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Another somber reflection of the dark side of human history, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is built on the ashes of the Twin Towers and stands as a testament to the horrors of that day.

The Museum is more of a park than anything else and includes the largest man-made waterfalls in the country.

The park encompasses 8 acres of real estate and includes hundreds of white oaks, a sanctuary, waterfalls, and pools that are an acre wide on their own.

In other words, it's a quiet, beautiful, and eerie place of silent contemplation and remembrance. 

There is also a building associated with all of the serene exterior beauty, and the building houses many of the artifacts recovered from the wreckage of the fallen towers.

There are also interactive displays, exhibits, and archives to pour over throughout the entirety of your visit.

Address: 180 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10007

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16: New York Transit Museum

New York Transit Museum

New York City is home to some of the oldest transit systems in the United States and the New York Transit Museum is probably one of the world’s best representations of that system.

Though much of the more famous transportation systems in NYC are rail, you will find a lot more than that at the Transit Museum.

Vintage cars, antique signs, old bus benches, and antique items from New York’s old subway system are all well represented here.

It's one of the most fun and exciting museums in the city because there’s nothing like getting a hands-on look at antique cars. 

This is also a museum known for its accommodations for kids. If you have kids or a large family, there is a ton of fun stuff for them to do here.

It also has gift shops, pizza stores, and a free subway ride, the latter of which kids always love.

Address: 99 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

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17: Rubin Museum of Art

Rubin Museum of Art
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Founded in 2004, the Rubin Museum of Art is one of the rare, newer New York museums.

It was constructed in Manhattan, specifically in the Chelsea neighborhood. The Rubin represents art from the Himalayas, at least for the most part.

It includes thousands of exhibits from the Himalayas and Tibet, including wax metal castings, which are always engaging and kind of spooky to look at.

The Rubin is generally a laid-back museum, not nearly as packed out as some other museums on this list.

If you are looking for a quiet and peaceful evening of contemplation and appreciation, the Rubin Museum of Art should be on your list of things to do.

The displayed pieces cover roughly 1,500 years of Himalayan history, including some of the more interesting mid-century artifacts of Indian history.

Address: 150 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011

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18: Neue Galerie of New York

Neue Galerie of New York

The Neue Galerie of New York is considered a museum of lavish style and elegance to the extreme.

Like some of the best museums in New York City on our list, the Neue Galerie is located in an existing mansion, repurposed for the museum’s many exhibits and displays. 

The Neue is a part of the "Museum Mile," an extensive series of museums that rub down the length of Fifth Avenue.

This makes it easier for visitors to hit up a number of impressive museums one after the other without ever having to leave the same street or navigate through New York's complicated metropolis.

The Neue Galerie of New York aims to collect and exhibit 20th-century German and Austrian art. You won't just find elaborate paintings from famous German or Austrian painters either.

This museum also exhibits larger works of art, such as exquisitely designed furniture and decorative items found in rich homes.

Address: 1048 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028

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19: Museum of Arts and Design

Museum of Arts and Design

If you’re looking for an eye-popping tour of swirling colors, modern designs, and archaic jewelry that would stand out in a circus, the Museum of Arts and Design is right up your alley.

This is easily the most colorful museum on our list of NYC museums, and it's not even close.

There are hundreds of exhibitions to find here, including the “Funk You Too” exhibit, curious and extravagant arts and crafts, visually dazzling jewelry with equally fascinating histories, stained glass exhibits, massive clay constructions, and even an entire glass wall full of a massive variety of goblets.

There's something here to draw the eye in every corner. It's as if the museum was going for something that would cause your brain to constantly absorb the wide variety of colors, even when you're focused on a single exhibit.

It's impressive, to say the least, and it's easily one of the most entertaining museums in New York or even the Upper East Coast.

Address: 2 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

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20: Asia Society and Museum

Asia Society and Museum

Asian art is endlessly fascinating and the Asia Society and Museum house everything there is to love about Asian art and culture.

There are permanent exhibits, with everything that rolls into becoming a permanent fixture within the Asia Society and Museum.

According to locals in the area, the art pieces that go into the museum's exhibits are "masterpiece-quality traditional Asian arts."

This includes pictures, paintings, decorations, jewelry, and even videos. Most of these come from contemporary Asian American artists but also some historically significant pieces.

Some exhibits float around to other museums throughout the city temporarily but always return to the permanent collection at the Asia Society And Museum.

It's an awe-inspiring museum with Asian artwork, presented that runs from the tenth century to the twentieth—a massive span of a thousand years of Asian history and culture.

Address: 725 Park Ave, New York, NY 10021

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most visited museum in NYC?

The most visited museum in NYC on an annual business is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. More than 6 million people flow through its doors annually. The American Museum of Natural History ranks second with more than 5 million annually.

What are the big museums in NYC?

The biggest museum in NYC is the American Museum of Natural History, which also happens to be one of the largest museums in the entire world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is pretty large as well. The Frank Lloyd Wright Guggenheim Museum in New York City is also fairly huge. 

What are the free museums in NYC?

Free museums are usually only reserved for residents of New York or New Jersey. Visitors from outside of the city will usually have to pay. This is the case for the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the City of New York. However, the free entry doesn’t include everything, such as IMAX and Planetariums. 

What are the kid's museums in NYC?

The New York Transit Museum, while not necessarily marketed for kids, is considered one of the most kid-friendly museums in the entire state, with a plethora of exhibits designed for entertaining children. There’s also the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and elements of the American Museum of Natural History and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Rounding Up

New York City is home to plenty of museums. As you can see in the FAQs section, there are more museums in NYC than just what is listed here. In fact, there are very few cities in the country that are home to as many museums as New York City.

There is quite literally a museum for just about every kind of taste or preference in the world. No matter what you like, there is probably a museum for it in New York City. It certainly helps that the city also contains some of the most popular and awe-inspiring museums in the entire world.

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