New York is well known as the home of some of the best Museums in the world. The Hallowed halls of these world-famous establishments are lined with artworks, artifacts, and pieces known the world over. But which are most worthy of your time and where can you find the best art?
In our 9 Best Museums in New York City article, we highlight our favorite museums and tell you what to expect when visiting. With so much to see and do in New York, you will only want to spend time seeing new Yorks Must-see Museums and leave the rest for the locals.
9 – The Met Cloisters
- Entry – $25 (entry fee includes Both Museums, the Met Fith Av and The Cloisters)
We Discuss the Metropolitan Museum of Art Later on as it gets a much higher rating than No:9 But the Met is HUGE, and its Collection even HUGER, So much so that even though the Met on 5th covers over 3 City Blocks, that is STILL not big enough to house everything in the Met Collection, here is where the Cloisters steps in, think of it as an overflow Museum.
However don’t think that because of this that the collections are of lower quality, they are still top world-class museums that just focus on different aspects of art.
The Cloisters – Focuses on Architecture, Art, and Artifacts from the Medieval era of Europe. In reality, it’s a beautiful recreation of Medieval buildings resembling Abbeys Monasteries and Crypts. While you wander around the various buildings and grounds the works are presented as you would have found them in their time. It’s a really different take on a Museum and well worth the visit. The main downside is the trek right up to Washington Heights. There is a very convenient Subway stop (A-Train – Dyckman Street) right outside, however.
The Breuer – Was the Met’s Modern Art exhibition. The Breuer Closed in 2020, in part due to the pandemic but it was scheduled to move over to the Frick Collection instead of the Met. The works Most of the important Pieces are now on display in either the Cloisters or the 5th Av locations.
Overall in most Cities, either of these Museums would be heralded as top attractions, only in New York is the wealth of riches so high that these are mere side attractions to the main features. Real art lovers will revel in the collections and as they are both included in the Met’s Ticket price the only consideration is if you really have time to check them out.
8 – Museum Of Sex
- Entry – $20.50
Maybe not what most people expect on a “best museums” list but not everyone wants to spend their days looking at old paintings and stuffed animals.
The Museum of Sex was opened in 2002 and focuses on “the history, evolution and cultural significance of Human Sexuality” …Great, but what does that actually mean? Well, the Museum is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s less about the history of sex and more about the impact sex has on art and culture. It also receives pretty Mixed Reviews, with some people loving it and others a bit let down or missing the point. Our advice is if you feel intrigued by this just go with an open mind and see for yourself what it is all about. It’s far from a Must see but it’s a welcome change of pace from the usual suspects.
7 – Guggenheim
- Entry – $25
The Guggenheim is another Modern Art Museum. Featuring many famous Works by many of the best modern artists it’s a fantastic collection, but the star of the show is the building itself. The Striking circular design allows you to climb to the top floor gradually in a circular motion it’s a real work of art in itself. The Collection contains pieces from greats such as Paul Cézanne, Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, and many more.
The Museum changes its exhibits regularly and it can be an issue if a large amount of exhibition space is devoted to an artist you are unaware of or dislike so plan accordingly.
6 – Ellis Island Museum
- Entry – $19.25 (Included in Statue of Liberty Cruise from Statue Cruises)
America is a country whose recent history is built solely on immigration. If you are not a Native American then you are a result of recent immigration. During the early part of the 1900s Immigration to America was a free for all and people poured in, Mainly from Europe, at rates of over a million people a year, all hoping to build a new life on the American Dream. Many of these people passed through the immigration Facility on Ellis Island. There is up to a 40% chance any American can trace their family back to an Ellis Island entry point!
The Museum on Ellis Island tells the story of this immigration checkpoint and the stories f the people that passed through it and the processes they needed to endure to be accepted into the United States. You can even attempt to trace any relative that may have come through the port using the Islands Records.
It is a hugely important site for American culture and history and is well worth checking out if you have any interest in the Nations history.
There is only one way to get to Ellis Island and its Museum and that is with a Statue Cruise. The good news is this is part of one of New Yorks’s best attractions as the cruise first takes you out to the Statue of Liberty, then on to the island after with the cruise, access to the Statue, and entry to the Museum all included in the £19.25 price. Which is incredible value in our opinion?
5 – Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
- Entry – $33 – Temporarily Closed
The USS Intrepid is a US Navy Aircraft carrier that saw service in both WW2 and Vietnam along with missions to recover the astronauts of early space missions. After her hard and illustrious career, rather than heading for the breaker’s yard the ship was restored and converted to a museum at the now disused docklands of New York.
The Intrepid is not a museum for everyone, but if you have any interest in military, space, naval, or aviation history this is a MUST-see museum. Not only is this a rare opportunity to step foot on an aircraft carrier, which is pretty special as it is, but it is genuinely loaded with some of the real icons of the aviation world. There are warbirds from every era from WW2 right up to the modern F16 Fighting Falcon. Mainly Focusing on the Jet Age, there is the awesome F4 Phantom one of the first mass-produced and most successful Jet fighters, that set many aviation records. The F-14 Tomcat, of Top-Gun fame, Is a big favorite.
Just off the Flight deck is the legendary Concorde, one of the finest aircraft ever built and a true piece of engineering mastery. And right on the back of the Carrier is an A-12 Blackbird, the Pre Cursor to the SR-71. Maybe you know this plane from the Transformers film (Jetfire) but those of us a little older simply know it as the greatest piece of metal ever to fly. It flew on the edge of space at over 2000 mph and is still the fastest and highest-flying plane ever built! Even Elon Musk is a fan, so much so he named his kid, X AE A-XII, after the jet!
If all this was not enough there is also the SpaceShuttle Pavillion that houses the USS Enterprise one of 6 Space Shuttles built and one of the four remaining Orbiters after Challenger and Colombia were lost. It is a great honor to get to see such an incredible collection of recent aviation and Naval History. And it is one of my Favourite places in New York!
Of Course, as we said it’s not for everyone, Kate, who does not share my love of aviation and military history gets a shiver every time I mention visiting Intrepid. To her, it’s just a load of old planes. But for people like me, this is a true wonderland!
4 – Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue
- Entry – $25 (entry fee includes Both Museums, the Met Fith Av and The Cloisters)
The Met is an Icon of New York City and rated as one of the finest Museums in the World. Housing some genuinely staggering artifacts and pieces of art. So to see it as number 4 on our list may be a surprise!
The Met’s Problem is its sheer size! It is a monstrosity of a museum. Spanning nearly 3 City Blocks and several floors it would literally take days to see everything. As such most visits feel rushed and you are not fully taking in and appreciating everything. You will find yourself walking past priceless Ming Vases or an ancient sarcophagus containing an actual mummy and not really pay any real attention. There is just too much to see and too much variety.
It’s a harsh Criticism, as the museum is truly staggering, and the truth is, it is really at number 4 on our list due to the brilliance of the remaining museums rather than the Met’s issues. The Met is really like nowhere else on earth. When people think of an Art Museum they think of galleries of stuffy old paintings by dead people, and while there is plenty of that here, there is SO much more.
Art is a very broad term, and the Met is focused on pretty much every form of art from the entirety of human history! Starting with ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Sculptures, burial art, in the form of sarcophagus’s, even a full Egyptian temple, the temple of Dendar. This is some of the earliest human Art from the Dawn of Human Civilization and recorded history
Ending up at the modern art of artists such as Picasso, Cézanne, Pollock, and Van Gough and Monet. While Encapsulating everything in between. So Greek and Romon Sculpture, Chinese and Japanese Art, Native American art, African, Arab and American Art all have their own collections.
Despite the Huge scope and Variety, the European Paintings collection is the star of the show, and part of what makes the museum so world-renowned. Here you can see examples of paintings by the grandmasters of art such as Rembrandt, El Greco, Van Gogh, Turner, Renoir, Monet, and Picasso.
The Met is a truly wonderful place and we recommend anyone with even a tiny interest in art or even human culture and civilization take a look at the incredible collection. With the Museum taking up over 3 blocks a few hours there is only enough for a brief highlights reel …but it is an incredible highlights reel!
3 – American Museum of Natural History
- Entry – $23
Another World Famous and World-Class Museum. The AMNH is well known for its incredible displays of lifelike preserved animals in intricate and accurate environments. While the Dioramas are the main draw we actually prefer other areas of the Museum and all ways feel a touch uneasy about the Animal Displays.
The Main Hall is the Hall of African Animals and this showcases the megafauna of the African habitats. Think Elephants, Rhino’s, Lions, Giraffes Hippo’s, etc… The issue is these are actual animal skins and at times it’s hard not to think…Wouldn’t it be better if there were not dead, killed for our entertainment! The reality is these animals were killed many decades ago, and at the time many, which are now critically endangered, were actually plentiful. We should not judge the actions of the past by today’s standards, and as such we have no Moral issue with the display. Still, there is a nagging feeling, and this is most intense in the Gorilla Display. Something feels very wrong here.
The conservation work that has been done by the museum, has been a major contributor to stopping these creatures actully going extinct in the wild, so good has come from it in the end. There are also similar displays of New World Animals, Asian Mammals, and several Bird Displays. These are all stunningly created and incredibly realistic. However, there are several other exhibits that we really liked.
The Hall of Meteorites is fascinating, as is the Hall of Gems and Minerals. The Rose Center for Earth and Space features a great planetarium and a cosmic Pathway that shows the evolution of the universe and the passage of time through existence. We are also big fans of the Hall of Human Origins. Here you can see replicas of the fossils of our most ancient direct ancestors. It really is as close to meeting our ancestors as is likely to happen and really is a moving experience. The Ocean Hall is also excellent. Here the Dioramas are replica’s and not dead animals. The Hall gives a fantastic glimpse into the underwater world and while not quite an aquarium it’s still pretty cool.
Our Favourite part of the Museum, and one of the most popular, is the Fossils hall. The AMNH Has a fantastic display of dinosaur fossils and here you come face to face with T-rex, Triceratops, Brontosaurus (Apatosaurus), stegosaurus, allosaurus, and the newly added Titanosaur a 122-foot long Dinosaur that has only recently been discovered. We love Dinosaurs and the Fossils on display are really excellent and would make a great “bribe” if you want to get kids to behave!
Overall we think the American Museum of Natural History is one of the best museums in the world let alone in New York. The Displays are beautiful, informative, and thought-provoking. We think everyone should see this museum.
2 – MOMA
- Entry – $25
The MOMA is one of America’s premier Modern Art galleries and one of the best collections in the world. The Beuty of the MOMA is the Collection is so focused. You are here to see modern art and that’s what it gives you. Its collection is also truly stunning.
With Standout work from the greatest purveyor of modern art such as Monet, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Picasso, Matisse, and Salvidor Dali. These are works that do not require you to “get” art but simply stand out by themselves as truly stunning artworks.
We are not talking obscure pieces here either these are the standout works but some of the defining works by these artists, such as Dali’s Persistence of memory (Melting Clocks) or Monets, Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond.
The Star of the Show is of Course Van Goghs, The Starry Night. Probably the second most famous painting in the world the Starry Night instantly jumps out at you and is a stunning piece. Worth the entry fee alone in our opinion.
On top of this, there are thousands of pieces on show, many incite much discussion as to what constitutes art and “That’s not art” can be heard all over. But that is the beauty of art it’s all the beholder. And while we found ourselves muttering the phrase often (I mean cutting something out of a newspaper is not art!) It must all mean something to someone, somewhere.
The more concise nature of the museum doesn’t leave you thinking you have missed something major. It’s quite possible in the met to miss entire exhibits completely by accident, due to its size. The Curation at the MOMA feels a little like Ikea. Not in a bad way but in a way that you are led around so you can take the exhibits in and not worry about getting lost and missing things out.
It really is a wonderful experience and not to be missed.
- Entry – $28
It feels a little wrong to include the September 11th Museum on the list or trying to Compare or rate the museum against others, But the Museum is just too important to ignore and if you are to do just one thing in New York it should be this and as such it just has to be number one on the list.
There can be little doubt this is the most important museum in New York City. We dislike calling it the best Museum, as we would rather it didn’t exist and was instead Two Shiney Sky Scapers and 2,996 lives not lost. That is not an option, so instead, we have this incredible testimony to the legacy of that fateful day.
Simply everyone should visit the memorial. That day left an indelible mark on the City both Figuratively and literally! It is engrained in the very fabric of the City and the Memorial is the Focal Point of this. It is, of course, free for all to visit the Memorial and the reflecting pools to contemplate and remember the day. You may look toward the tiny Museum building and think it may not be worth bothering. This would be a mistake as this is nothing more than the entrance Foyer and the actual museum is a cavernous underground Exhibit built around the very foundations of the original towers.
Such an important and terrible event needs a fitting tribute and the Museum really does provide a suitable memorial to the lives lost. The Scale of the Displays is just epic as you wander around the actual foundations of the original twin towers the scale of the devastation really rings home.
It is not a particularly pleasant experience, you are very aware of the gravity and terrible nature of the events of that day and it is sure to bring back a lot of terrible memories. The mood is somber and some displays pretty harrowing. But that is kind of the point, The Museum is not trying to entertain or make you happy, it is there as a permanent reminder and memorial to the lives lost that day. And it does a fantastic job. We really can imagine ways the museum could have failed and felt inappropriate, but it seems to have achieved its task perfectly.
No one should visit New York and not experience the September 11th Museum, a fitting monument to a day that is so important to the recent history of this city, the country, and even the world!
Where to Find Them
Museums Included on Attraction Passes
With so many incredible museums available in New York and with “Must See’s” Starting around number 5 on our list it can have a significant impact on your Trip Budget! Even visiting just the top 4 would cost around $97 per person!
One way to help mitigate the costs is with one of the many Attraction Pass options available in New York. We have a number of articles to help Explain which pass would suit your trip best, All of the Museums above are included on at least one of the passes.
- New York Pass Comparison
- The New York Pass
- New York CityPASS
- New York Explorer Pass
- New York Sightseeing Pass
Have Your Say
Let us know your Favourite Museums in the Comments below. And let us know what you think of our ranking? Do you think we are too harsh on the MET? Is the MOMA Overrated? Let us know below. Any Questions? Just fire away below.