The 14 Best Museums in Manhattan

| @renolaithienne
Nick Dauk

Senior Travel Writer

Manhattan’s museums are as lively, diverse and distinctive as the steel sentinels towering over the city’s streets. Within this lone New York borough, you’ll discover an entire world of art, history and culture. Few could argue that visits to the Guggenheim, MoMA or the Museum of the City of New York aren’t worth your time; and even then there are dozens more like the Morgan Library that vie for the top spot of local favorites. To explore further, these museums in Manhattan showcase the relics of yesterday and the emerging talent of today and will show you countless sides of New York City.

1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum, Park, Shop, Church, Building, Theater, Art Gallery

Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
@robertbye / Unsplash
The Met is the museum in Manhattan for art lovers. More than 5,000 years of culture await behind these doors. It’s been a Central Park fixture since 1870 and only grows by the day as European masterpieces by Vermeer join Bronze Age artifacts from China and the finest Islamic art. The Met is a commanding presence, stretching along Fifth Avenue from 80th to 84th, making it well-deserving of your entire day.

2. Museum of Chinese in America


If you’re dining out in Chinatown, amplify your experience beyond the cuisine with a visit to the Museum of Chinese in America. Here, the Chinese-American diaspora is documented in more than 85,000 artifacts, including recordings and oral histories from the early 1900s. These archives do more than tell the story of the Chinese communities in New York; they help redefine the narrative on what it means to be Chinese-American.

3. The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, New York


Auction of Duke Ellingtons Personal Treasures at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem
© Getty Images
Get to the soul of Harlem at the National Jazz Museum. Collections include hundreds of hours of live radio broadcasts, featuring Ella Fitzgerald and other jazz legends in their prime. The fluid nature of the music itself is reflected in the museum’s diverse experiences that seek to make jazz accessible to the world. Free in-person educational programs for students and live performances are available in the museum and online, allowing fans to tune in to the genre.

4. New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex


Transit Museum, Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, Nueva York, EE. UU.
@chalogallardo / Unsplash

While others rush through Grand Central Terminal, you’ll have no qualms about missing your train to visit the petite New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex. It’s incredible to wonder how drastically different NYC would be without the mass public transit – the photographs, maps and artifacts show just how vital the subway system is to everyday life in New York. Vintage subway cars and public buses are also on display at the museum proper in Brooklyn as well.

5. Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York

Memorial, Museum, Park, University

Not to be confused with the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is a living memorial to the Holocaust. The extensive collection of more than 30,000 items includes toys, musical instruments, memoirs, diaries and testimonies – all painting intimate pictures of those who lived and lost their lives. Nazi propaganda and rhetoric are also represented; their messages only add to the sorrow one feels when walking through this important, impactful museum.

6. Museum of Sex

Museum, Shop

For an uncensored look at the evolution, history and cultural significance of human sexuality, the Museum of Sex bares all. Over 200,000 pieces of art, clothing, film and other historical ephemera are kept on permanent exhibition, granting an extended life to objects that would have been disregarded elsewhere for their sexual content. Visit their interactive exhibit, Superfunland, and just like that, you can write you own version of Sex and the City.

7. The Cloisters

Building, Monastery, Museum, Park

An extension of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Met Cloisters sit at the tip-top of Manhattan, in the neighborhood known as Inwood. Meander by foot or car to the top of Fort Tryon Park where the museum is situated – a beautiful stone building surrounded by gardens. The Cloisters is home to medieval art from the 12th through to 15th centuries. The museum focuses on architecture from this time period from both ‘domestic and religious’ sites. Don’t be surprised if you experience an ‘out-of-New-York’ experience at The Cloisters, for it is easy to forget that you’re even in a city while standing on top of the hill in Fort Tryon Park, immersed in forestry, and gazing at the Hudson. Recommended by Bridget Kiley

8. Museum of the City of New York

Museum, Library

Soak up all you ever needed to know about New York City history at Museum of the City of New York located in East Harlem on 5th Avenue. The museum is dedicated to representing New York life, people, and culture from the past and present. Museum of the City of New York is known for benefiting the community in many facets. You can take a workshop on New York’s history taught solely through paintings or enjoy a lecture from a visiting speaker. Visiting this museum is a great option if you’re new to the city or have friends and family in town who are unfamiliar with New York. The expansive collections and events provides visitors with lots of insight on life in NYC.

9. The Neue Galerie

Museum, Park

New York, NY, USA - Dec 24, 2020: Neue Galerie museum entrance dedicated to German and Austrian art at 86th St and Fifth Avenue
© Warren Eisenberg / Alamy Stock Photo
For those who missed Helen Mirren on Broadway, or those eagerly anticipating Tatiana Maslany’s Orphan Black return in April, suffice your angst by visiting the painting that Mirren’s Woman in Gold character, Maria Altmann, fought the Austrian government for repossession at the Neue Galerie. Neue’s founder Ronald Lauder purchased Gustav’s Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I for $135 million from the Altmanns, the centerpiece in a formidable collection of early 20th-century German and Austrian art and design. The piece is on permanent display. Recommended by Patrcia Contino

10. Hispanic Society of America

Library, Museum

Hispanic Society Museum & Library, New York
© Beyond my Ken/Wikimedia Commons
Want to spend the day exploring the many facets of hispanic art? The Hispanic Society of America offers visitors an incredible display of artwork from Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. Discover paintings by Joaquín Sorolla, prints by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, sculptures from the early 12th century, photography, jewelry, and textiles. The museum is also known for its extensive library. Visitors are able to browse periodicals, books, and manuscripts dating back to the twelfth century. The library is a resource for viewing rare materials such as royal letters, sailing charts, and illuminated bibles. These are just a few of the extraordinary artifacts the museum houses. The Hispanic Society of America sits on the cusp of Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights, taking up the entire block between 155th Street and 156th, and to the west Audubon Terrace. Recommended by Bridget Kiley

New York City Fire Museum

Show your support for the FDNY of the present by learning about its past at the New York City Fire Museum. Set in a century-old firehouse in the Hudson Square district, this museum traces the FDNY from the days of the bucket brigades. View the evolution of tools, uniforms and even fire trucks across two floors. It’s a fascinating museum for kids to learn more about their heroes, as well as a sobering experience where the Ground Zero firefighters are memorialized for their sacrifice.

Half Gallery

The East Village is no stranger to emerging artists, and, while not a museum, Half Gallery showcases contemporary art as vividly as possible. If you don’t have the time (or inclination) to trail around the Met or MoMA, this compact space is like a cultural espresso shot, enlivening your senses and getting straight to the point via a roster of rotating collections and artist-led discussions. It’s right by the four-floor Brant Foundation with its landscaped roof terrace and Swiss Institute for experimental art, in case you decide to make a day of it.

The Skyscraper Museum

Discover the history of this concrete jungle and other modern metropolises at the Skyscraper Museum. Right on the South Cove of Lower Manhattan, the Big Apple backdrop is perfect for this sleek museum. Get a bird’s-eye view of Midtown thanks to mini-models. See just how architects pushed the limits of design in the first skyscrapers and skylines. A special exhibit featuring the original World Trade Center and the rebuilding at Ground Zero gives a closer look into the history of this iconic landmark.

Hauser & Wirth

It may not be a museum, but Hauser & Wirth is a unique fixture among the other galleries in the Chelsea Arts District, near the High Line park. The building itself was designed from the ground up to act as a crucible for art and artists alike. Permanent site-specific works join rotating exhibitions of contemporary pieces in a variety of mediums, including unfired clay, full walls and organic textiles. Look out for the gallery’s program of talks, screenings and workshops, too.

This is an updated article originally written by Graham Fuller.

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