New York City is home to some of the most recognized cultural institutions in the world—offering museumgoers a glimpse at everything from contemporary paintings to historical footwear and just about anything else imaginable. Here are the top 10 must-visit museums.
In Midtown West, The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA as it’s more commonly known, boasts a large collection of Modern and Contemporary works in the realms of architecture and design, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, books, film and digital. Top picks from the permanent collection include several colorful works by Henri Matisse, as well as Henri Rousseau and Vincent van Gogh. After perusing the museum’s many galleries, have a bite to eat at MoMA’s restaurant, The Modern.
Probably one of the most well-known institutions on the Upper East Side’s famed Museum Mile, The Met is home to almost any and every art discipline imaginable, from all four corners of the world (think Gothic Revival and Prairie-style home furnishings; Realist works by artists of the Ashcan School, housed in 73 galleries of The American Wing; an expansive collection of Ancient Near Eastern Art; medieval armor; arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas; The Costume Institute's collection of 35,000-plus costumes; and more).
Also of Note: Nestled in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, The Cloisters Museum and Gardens is a branch of The Met devoted to the art and architecture of Medieval Europe. Daily tours of the gardens are offered thru October, while guided tours of the buildings and grounds at the Cloisters take place all year—except for Saturdays.
Founded in 1869, this Upper West Side institution is home to exhibits of the natural and anthropological variety and also boasts a world-class planetarium—the Hayden Planetarium in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. One standout display is the gigantic whale in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life. The sprawling space is also the ideal locale for dinosaur fans, as the museum includes the largest dinosaur and vertebrate fossil collection in the world. If traveling with the kids, the Discovery Room is the perfect place for little ones to solve scientific puzzles and explore fun games.
Housed on the first floor of an early 20th century mansion designed by Thomas Hastings, of Carrère and Hastings fame, The Frick Collection is an assortment of works that span a number of art movements, years and disciplines. Walking the many galleries, art-lovers are treated to up-close glances at some of the most celebrated masterpieces in art history—from Impressionist watercolors in substantial ornate frames (works of art in themselves), like Claude Monet’s Vétheuil in Winter and Edgar Degas’ The Rehearsal to stately portraits, including Northern Renaissance painter Hans Holbein The Younger’s famed depiction of Thomas Cromwell. Within the expansive galleries, visitors will also find 18th-century French furniture, Limoges enamel, Oriental rugs, decorative art and bookshelves teeming with leather-bound titles. Although you can’t take photos in most of the museum, Kodak moment-worthy opts are granted in the museum’s tranquil Garden Court.
Famous the world over for its cylindrical building—designed by celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright—The Guggenheim includes a comprehensive collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and Contemporary art. Inside, a ramp gallery along the perimeter of the building extends up from ground level in a continuous spiral and ends just under the ceiling skylight.
Strategy: For a less strenuous workout on the ramp, start the tour by taking the elevator to the top of the building and leisurely walking back down to the ground floor.
Devoted to influential, as well as lesser-known, American artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Whitney houses an extensive collection of about 2,000 Edward Hopper paintings, drawings and prints. Given to the museum by Hopper’s widow, the collection is the largest gift the institution has ever received. Works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Rauschenberg, Georgia O’Keeffe, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol are also among the museum’s impressive list of holdings.
In Manhattan’s Financial District, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum honors the memory of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 and Feb. 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing and examines the implications, impact and ongoing significance of the events of September 11—via multimedia displays, archives and more. The exhibition space is located within the heart of the World Trade Center site and a historical exhibition tells the story of what happened on 9/11, including the events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the story of Flight 93; while the memorial exhibition, In Memoriam, honors the victims of the attacks of 2001 and 1993—including portraits of the nearly 3,000 men, women and children who were killed in the attacks.
In Remembrance: While in the area, also make sure to visit the 9/11 Memorial, a tribute of remembrance and honor to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa. and at the Pentagon. The memorial also pays tribute to the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. The Memorial features twin reflecting pools, which rest where the Twin Towers once stood. The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools.
Few places match New York City’s diverse, multi-cultural population; and, since its inception, the city has been the gateway for immigrants from around the world. These travelers made the trip to Ellis Island before embarking on their new lives, and this former federal immigration processing station processed more than 12 million third-class and steerage immigrants between 1892 and 1954. Today, visitors can explore historic areas including the Baggage Room, Registry Room/Great Hall, as well as the Balcony and Dormitory Room, view thought-provoking exhibits and, possibly, learn more about their own ancestors.
In Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Museum houses a large number of Egyptian, Japanese, Oceanic and African antiquities, as well as the large-scale Judy Chicago installation The Dinner Party. While at the museum, visitors can also view European paintings, decorative arts and more.
This East Harlem institution is devoted to the history and culture of the five boroughs. One of the museum’s ongoing exhibitions includesGilded New York, which explores the city’s visual culture at the end of the 19th century—when its elite class flaunted their wealth—through displays of costumes, jewelry, portraits and decorative objects, all created between the mid-1870s and the early 20th century.