10 Must-Visit Museums In Upper Manhattan

Bridget Kiley

As Manhattan rents soar, uptown neighborhoods such as Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood are becoming increasingly popular and undergoing new developments, from restaurants and bars to public spaces. Upper Manhattan is also home to some great historical sites and museums, showcasing local character, art, culture, and New York City history. Here are ten of the best.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Dyckman Farmhouse


If you ever wondered if Manhattan was once anything besides a concrete jungle, here lies your answer. To learn about the families who inhabited the island in the 1600s – who built farms and lived off the land – take a tour of Dyckman Farmhouse. Another gem of Manhattan’s northernmost neighborhood, Inwood, Dyckman Farmhouse is the last of its kind. The museum is a tribute to the transformation of northern Manhattan in the 19th century when the area went from rural farmland into an urban neighborhood like the rest of the island. The Dyckmans were a real family who lived in the house and converted into a museum in order to preserve a piece of the rural culture that used to be northern Manhattan. The museum features the Dyckman family’s two story house and cellar. There are gardens in the front and back of the museum which are free to the public. The museum costs two dollars and is self guided. © Beyond my Ken/Wikimedia Commons

4. 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.

5. Studio Museum in Harlem


The Studio Museum in Harlem is dedicated to African American artists
© White House Photo / Alamy Stock Photo
The Studio Museum in Harlem is a testament to the progress and recognition of artists of African descent since the museums inception in 1968. If you are curious about how Harlem has fostered artistic talent in this neighborhood and the story behind how African-American artists struggled for the recognition they deserved, this museum will satisfy your intrigue. More than showcasing artwork by famous and up-and-coming artists, much of the museums focus is to support local artist and bring their talent to Harlem residents. In fact, Studio Museum in Harlem was founded by a group of artists, activists, and philanthropists to provide visitors with quality artwork while at the same time assisting African-American artists on the rise. The museum does not have any permanent installations, but instead relies on a continuous overturn of new artwork resulting in roughly 2000 paintings, sculptures, watercolors, drawings, pastels, prints, photographs, and mixed-media artwork. This is a one-stop-shop for artistic Harlem both present and past.

6. National Jazz Museum in Harlem


The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, New York
© NewYorkDolls/Wikimedia Commons
Jazz is a central component of American culture and the Harlem Renaissance. The National Jazz Museum in Harlem is concerned with preserving the history of Jazz music in America and bringing new talent in jazz music to the community in Harlem. Part of the museum’s mission is to make sure that jazz music is prevalent in the lives of the young and the old. They seek to do this through live performances held on-site, exhibitions, workshops and kid’s programs, and their jazz artifacts collection. The museum is also a great place to explore rare recordings only available at the museum. Visitors have the opportunity of listening to live recording from the 1930s and 1940s. Be sure to explore the reading room with a wide collection of books on jazz and Harlem. Visiting this museum is a chance to immerse yourself in one of the central components of the civil rights movement and to discover the role that jazz continues to play today.

7. Morris-Jumel Mansion


The Morris-Jumel Mansion is a rare New York treasure. Located in central Harlem in Jumel Terrace, this historical site could easily go unnoticed. However, the mansion is the oldest in Manhattan and is a crucial landmark to American history and the Revolutionary War. It was first built in 1765 by British Colonel Roger Morris. In 1790, it was visited by President George Washington where he dined with Vice President John Adams and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Fast forward to 1976 when the mansion was visited by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip as part of their US tour. The museum is curated to represent colonial-style décor of the upper classes. Inside you will find an octagonal drawing room (one of the first of its kind), a front parlor (considered the most formal of rooms), Madam Jumel’s bedchamber, President George Washington’s bedchamber from 1776, and a colonial kitchen with original hearth and beehive oven. It is not very often that a museum offers such an accurate account of colonial life, especially in Manhattan. Walk in the footsteps of some of America’s most influential historical figures by visiting the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Harlem.

8. American Academy of Arts and Letters


The American Academy of Arts and Letter is specifically curated to recognizing the artistic endeavours of artists in the fields of literature, music, and the fine arts. Members of the institution must be established in their fields and recommended to the organization by an academic reference. There are 250 architects, composers, artists, and writers who are currently members. Visitors have the opportunity of observing the body of work from individual artists. The museum also hosts stage readings and performances. Founded in 1899, some of the first selected academicians were William Dean Howells, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and Mark Twain. The museum boasts a wide collection of paintings, prints, photographs, etc. from its members as well as a reading room with books that have either been written by members or about them. Currently on exhibition is a complete replica of American composer Charles Ives’ studio in Connecticut. Ives wrote – for the last 40 years of his life – in his Connecticut home and the American Academy of Arts and Letters has created a superb recreation complete with the upright piano that he composed on. If you have a special interest in an individual artist or writer, this is the perfect place to get in-depth knowledge of the breadth of their artistic work.

9. Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery

Art Gallery, School, University

© The Fixers/Wikimedia Commons
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery is Columbia University’s premiere gallery showcasing the school’s engagement with the arts community. Students of the university are heavily involved with the gallery’s exhibits and events. The gallery also offers opportunities for students to practice curatorial skills. The gallery works closely with departments in the university such as the Art History and Archaeology Department and Columbia University libraries. The many exhibits portray a wide variety of interests. Currently running is Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin’s Selves, which includes videos, photographs, drawings, and installations that represent her work from 1972 and 1991. New to the gallery is A Curious Blindness, which is an artistic critique on issues of race and politics in modern society and the ways that bodies of color have been misrepresented in the media. The gallery offers visitors a diverse viewing experience and allows people to observe both contemporary and historical works. It offers a more intimate space for those who are seeking a smaller range of exhibits that are consciously chosen to represent the interests of the gallery.

10. Nicholas Roerich Museum

Museum, Building

Nicholas Roerich
© emmeffe6/Flickr
Tucked away on the upper west side in a non-descript building is the Nicholas Roerich Museum. The museum is based solely on the life, career, and artistic work of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. Roerich was born in St. Petersburg in 1874 to an upper middle class family and discovered his love of painting at an early age. A major influence on his work was the avant-garde art scene in St. Petersburg in the 1890s. The museum houses 200 of Roerich’s paintings and seeks to honor his accomplishments in relation to art, peacemaking, and spirituality. Roerich’s works possess mythical elements and encompass his overall belief that peace and the role of culture should be promoted world-wide. A unique characteristic of this museum is that it offers free performances by young musicians as both a way to give exposure to emerging musicians and to provide quality performances free of charge to the public. Whether you are a Roerich enthusiast or new to his work, this museum is thoughtfully curated to teach visitors about Roerich’s body of work and the values he stood for.

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