From the big and famous to the tiny and totally obscure, these are some of the coolest museums to visit while you’re in NYC!
One of the things I really fell in love with about New York was the sheer number of museums and art galleries in the city.
There seems to be a museum for everything in the Big Apple! Delve into the story of the city’s rich migrant history at the Tenement Museum and Ellis Island, or learn more about the infamous New York crime syndicates at the Museum of the American Gangster.
Insta-fans will love snapping photos at the Ice Cream Museum or the Museum of Illusion, while families with kids might want to check out the iconic American Museum of Natural History or the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
Whatever you’re into, I’m pretty sure you’ll find a museum for it in the “city that never sleeps”!
Although I’ve visited NYC several times, I’ve still not been able to see all of the city’s coolest museums. So, I asked some top travel bloggers to chip in with their recommendations.
As a result, you know that all the awesome museums on this on this list have been tried and tested by real-life travellers. You’ll find all our favourite quirky and cool New York museums below, as well as a map to help you plan!
Map: The Coolest Museums in NYC
Map provided by Wanderlog, a road trip planner
All the musumes
21 of the Coolest Museums in NYC
1. American Museum of Natural History
Yes, it’s probably the most famous museum in the city – especially thanks to its starring role in Night at the Museum. But the American Museum of Natural History is still one of the coolest museums in NYC!
This is the largest natural history museum in the world. With collections dedicated to exploring human cultures, the natural world, and the known universe, there’s plenty to discover inside!
From one of the biggest museums in the city, to one of the smallest. Mmuseumm was, for a long time, one of NYC’s best-kept secrets. It’s better known these days, but is still very much off the beaten path. Especially because this tiny museum is housed inside a freight elevator in Tribeca!
Inside, you’ll find a rather bizarre and utterly fascinating collection of random objects. Although some appear to have no reason for being included, others have some cultural significance. For example, the shoe that was thrown at George W Bush in 2008.
3. Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC)
Recommended by: Heather, Trimm Travels
There are several things that make the Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC) in New York City “cool” (get it?!). Besides the obvious, there are lots of yummy taste tests, fun games, a three-story slide, and the ever-popular pool of sprinkles to jump in!
All of this is fun for both kids and kids-at-heart! The entire experience will hold your interest from the time you enter until the time you leave.
4. Museum of the American Gangster
New York has been the setting of some of the most iconic movies (and video games) about gangsters and organised crime – but the reality is often far grittier. At the Museum of the American Gangster in the East Village, you can discover the dark history of organised crime in New York. You’ll also learn all about some of the city’s most notorious gangsters.
5. City Reliquary
The City Reliquary is a non-profit community museum in Williamsburg – although it looks a bit like a second-hand shop! Inside, though, it’s one of the quirkiest – and coolest – museums in NYC.
This is a treasure-trove of New York’s history! The bizarre collection of artefacts ranges from baseball memorabilia to old signs from some of the city’s most famous buildings.
6. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is situated on board an aircraft carrier. So it offers a seriously up-close look at US military history and science.
There’s a huge and varied collection of aircraft, as well as other military vessels.You can tour the Submarine Growler for a first-hand look at life aboard a submarine. In addition, the space shuttle pavilion offers a look at the Enterprise. There are loads of interactive exhibits, so this is a great place to learn more about
7. The Tenement Museum
Love nosing through other peoples’ homes? The Tenement Museum in Lower East Side is perfect for you! It’s a five-storey tenement building dating from 1863 which has been repurposed as a museum, so that visitors can get a glimpse of life through the decades.
Inside, you can explore restored apartments – and also interact with “residents” played by actors in costume. The museum brings to life the story of the immigrant experience in New York, so it’s a great way to get an idea of what life was like in the city between the 1860s and 1930s.
8. Museum of Street Art
Recommended by: Sue, Travel For Life Now
New York City is home to some of the best street art in the world, including the Bushwick Collective. The Museum of Street Art (MoSA) is a must-see museum which captures an important moment in New York’s rich and fascinating street art history.
There was a building in Queens called 5 Pointz covered in wonderful street art. The owner whitewashed the building, then demolished it. A common story in street art. The artists sued the owner and, surprisingly, won.
The MoSA murals were painted by 20 of the 5 Pointz artists. It starts on the 20th floor and goes all the way down to the ground floor. Every corner you turn reveals another mural. It’s free, though best to sign up online to get a time slot. After seeing the murals, stop by the rooftop bar for great views of the city.
9. The National Museum of Mathematics
Recommended by: Christine Knight. Check out her top things to do with kids in NYC for loads more great tips!
Get excited about the amazing role of maths in the world around us at the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath). This hands-on science centre is dedicated to mathematics. It explores the role maths plays in our daily lives through interactive exhibits and fun activities.
The museum is spread over two floors, with exhibits exploring concepts including statistics, patterns, velocity, formulas, parabolas and number probability. While the museum is extremely popular with kids, especially school groups, there is a section on the lower floor that is geared towards adults with a series of complex puzzles. So don’t think you need a kid with you to visit!
10. Ellis Island
Recommended by: Sage, Everyday Wanderer
Like 40% of Americans, my ancestors arrived in this country via Ellis Island. Fleeing persecution, they consolidated their worldly possessions into a few steamer trunks and boarded a massive steamship headed to a new country.
For nearly a week, they ensured deplorable conditions in the belly of the ship as it made its way across the Atlantic Ocean. And when they disembarked on a rectangular island in the Hudson Bay, they hoped for the opportunity to work hard and achieve the American dream.
After processing 12 million immigrants, Ellis Island shuttered its doors in 1954 and the red-roofed buildings quickly fell into repair. But in 1990, the restored main building opened as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.
From the first Europeans to set foot in North America to the millions admitted through Ellis Island to the immigration challenges facing the country today, the museum helps visitors understand the history of immigration in the US from a variety of perspectives.
11. Merchant’s House
Recommended by: Carole, Travels with Carole. Check out her guide to the best restaurants in NYC for more great tips!
Constructed of red brick and white marble in 1832, the fashionable row house that is the Merchant’s House Museum was once home to a hardware merchant and his family.I was impressed that it is left pretty much as it was, so inside I could feel the relative smallness of the 4-story space.
A loose-leaf binder is your guide, providing information about each room. It became a museum in 1936 and has been carefully preserved with original furnishings.Today, the neighbourhood that surrounds it is once again fashionable, though now the house is squished between high-rise apartment buildings and condominiums like in the children’s book “The Little House.”
12. The New Museum
Recommended by: Stella, Around the World in 24 Hours
The New Museum has an important mission. It is the only museum in Manhattan exclusively dedicated to contemporary art. Many museums in Manhattan promote artists who are already famous. But the New Museum showcases worthy up-and-coming artists. The building itself is just as exciting as the works inside. It looks like a group of boxes precariously stacked against each other.
Some artists who have been showcased in the New Museum include Massimiliano Gioni, William Kentridge, and Andrea Zittel. All of these artists are more famous after being exhibited at the New Museum. That’s why the New Museum is one of the best places to go to discover amazing artists before the rest of the world hears about them.
13. The AKC Museum of the Dog
Recommended by: Candy, boogiethepug.com (a pet travel blog)
If you’re a dog lover, this is the museum for you! The AKC Museum of the Dog celebrates the human-canine relationship, with one of the largest collections of canine-related fine art and artefacts in the world. There’s everything from paintings, to sculptures, drawings, and ceramics, and all dog-related.
Besides their permanent collection, they also feature special exhibitions, interactive experiences, and special events, like painting workshops and doggy meet and greets. There are tours three days a week, and a full-scale library. While only service dogs and invited demonstration dogs are allowed in the museum, they do open their doors to all dogs on Furrsday – the first Thursday of every month.
14. Interference Archive
Recommended by: Megan, Your Brooklyn Guide
One of the coolest under-the-radar museums in NYC is the Interference Archive in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Interference Archive is a community-run library, gallery, archive, and collection of historical information and artefacts from activism and social movements throughout time.
Before its expansion, this educational experience began in a private home with a personal collection of social movement memorabilia.The collection was so impressive that even PhD students would come to study the archives.
After the owners of this private collection were invited to put their archives on public display as a part of an exhibit at the Exit Art Gallery in Manhattan, they were able to turn their pieces of history and social movements into a full museum.
15. Museum of Illusion
Recommended by: Eileen, FamiliesGo!
TheMuseum of Illusions, yet another small novelty museum that’s opened in the city, was clearly created with Instagram in mind!The Museum is two compact floors with interactive exhibits that demonstrate different types of illusions. You can photograph your friends appearing to do a handstand on a park bench or with their heads on a platter. There are infinity mirrors and a human kaleidoscope.
There were a few illusions that my naked eye couldn’t pick up but my phone camera could, which I found intriguing. You can do it all in 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how busy it is and how much time you spend taking pictures and trying things out. Admission starts at $15 and you can often find discounts on Groupon. You can take a guided tour for an added fee, but I can’t imagine what it would add to the experience.
16. John Browne House
Recommended by: Karen, writer at Wanderlustingk and Moon Travel Guides
One of New York’s least-known museums is the John Bowne house, hidden in the middle of Flushing, Queens.This quiet house seems out of place with the large apartment buildings surrounding it. However, John Bowne helped create religious tolerance in the US within this very house first built in 1661.
John Bowne was a practising Quaker who was arrested when New York was still New Netherland. He successfully appealed for the right to practice religion as he pleased, which had large implications for the then Dutch colony as a whole.
Today, you can visit the house for $10 on Wednesday afternoons and by appointment on other days. Within it, you can view period furniture to understand what life was like in New York during the Colonial period.
17. Transit Museum
Recommended by: Allison, New York Revealed
If you’re looking for a quirky museum inNew York that’s fun for all ages, be sure to check out the New York Transit Museum, located in Downtown Brooklyn. This museum showcases the history of New York’s public transit system. Exhibits include many real-life vehicles, such as several antique subway cars from several decades ago – complete with the original advertisements and postcards.
They also have photographs explaining the development of the city’s transit system (bus, rail, and more) as well as original buses and signs. The goal of the museum is to showcase the technological innovation that enabled New York to grow and become one of the world’s most important metropolises and enable you to, quite literally, travel through time!
18. Cooper Hewitt Design Museum
Recommended by: Dale, Wander Her Way. Check out her review of the New York Pass to see how you could save money on some of the city’s biggest attractions.
Located on the Upper East Side, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is one of the lesser-known museums on Museum Mile, especially as it’s so often overshadowed by the more popular Met and Guggenheim.
However, Cooper Hewitt is definitely worth a visit if you’re on the Upper East Side. The museum is dedicated to design, as well as decorative arts. More than just a typical museum, Cooper Hewitt encourages interactivity between visitors and the museum’s collections through interactive features like the Immersion Room and Interaction Lab.
The museum also hosts free design workshops that are open to the public. These focus on unique projects such as textile design using recycled materials.
Recommended by: Lindsey, Seven Day Weekender
If you’ve always wondered what it’s like to be Matt Damon in the Bourne Identity, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, or Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow, SPYSCAPE is a unique “only in NYC” experience that must go to the top of your list!
Your espionage adventure beings the moment you walk in and receive your digital wristbands. SPYSCAPE features a multitude of exhibits, as well as real-life stories, Spy Role and Spy Challenge experiences. All of which are recorded on your wristbands so you can track everything.
So you’ll walk in intrigued and walk out (through a hall of digital mirrors which reveal your “spy identity”) knowing where you fit into the world of espionage.
20. Leslie Lohman Museum of Art
Previously the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, the LLM is a visual art museum focused on visual arts created by LGBTQ artists, as well as art about LGBTQ themes and issues.
It was founded during the sixties, when Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman held an exhibit of gay artists in their SoHo loft. Today, the collection has over 30,000 objects, and the museum hosts at least six major exhibitions a year.
21. Museum of Sex
New York’s Museum of Sex is a lot kinkier than the other coolest museums in NYC on this list. But it’s just as educational – and VERY eye-opening!
The museum offers an interesting – but also playful – look at one of our most basic physiological needs. Alongside the exhibitions and information, they have a few fun installations, such as the boob-filled bouncy house.
Best luxury hotels in Manhattan
15 Really Cool Things to do in NYC
Know any more of the coolest museums in NYC that should be added to this list? Scroll down to leave me a comment!
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What is the coolest museum in the United States? ›
- National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
- Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco.
- Art Institute of Chicago.
- The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- National Air and Space Museum, New York City.
- American Museum of Natural History, New York City.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) is the largest museum in New York and also the most-visited. Discover its art collections and its masterpieces.What is cool in New York City? ›
- The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum. 96,120. Speciality Museums • Historic Sites. ...
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 54,933. ...
- Central Park. 133,513. ...
- Empire State Building. 93,278. ...
- Top of the Rock. 79,585. ...
- Statue of Liberty. 43,765. ...
- Brooklyn Bridge. 25,628. ...
- Manhattan Skyline. 21,424.
1. Statue of Liberty. America's most iconic sight, the Statue of Liberty is at the top of every first-time visitor's list of things to do in New York.Where should people go in New York City that's cool and not touristy? ›
- Ride the Roosevelt Island Tram. ...
- Explore Roosevelt Island. ...
- Visit the Met Cloisters. ...
- Check out the Morgan Library and Museum. ...
- Get drinks at a hidden speakeasy. ...
- Take an architecture cruise. ...
- Visit the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum. ...
- Visit the American Folk Art Museum.
The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum, education, and research complex, with 19 museums and the National Zoo.What is the number 1 museum in the US? ›
1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York City.What is the most viewed museum? ›
- 1 The Louvre – Paris, France. ...
- 2 National Museum of China – Beijing, China. ...
- 3 Vatican Museums – Vatican City. ...
- 4 The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York, USA. ...
- 5 British Museum – London, UK. ...
- 6 Tate Modern – London, UK. ...
- 7 The National Gallery – London, UK.
NYC's Oldest Museum
Founded in 1804, the New York Historical Society Museum and Library is the oldest museum in New York City. The museum explores the vast cultural, political and social history of Central Park, New York City, New York state, and the United States.
Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) is often considered the best museum in New York City and it's not hard to see why. If you only have time to visit one museum in NYC, this is the one. Plus, it's conveniently located within Central Park, so you don't have to go far out of your way to visit.
What is the most historic part of NYC? ›
1. City Hall Park. New York's City Hall, located in the Civic Center district of Lower Manhattan, is the oldest city hall in the United States that still houses its original government functions. The original city hall was built in 1700; a rebuild was completed in 1812.What is the prettiest city in New York? ›
Technically more of a village than a city, Lake Placid is perhaps the most beautiful town in New York State.
- DO be polite. ...
- DO walk quickly. ...
- DON'T stop in the middle of the sidewalk (or anywhere else people are walking) ...
- DON'T take pictures of anyone without asking. ...
- DON'T stare. ...
- DO watch where you're going. ...
- DO order clearly and quickly. ...
- DON'T make eye contact with the crazies.
1: Central Park
For New Yorkers, Central Park plays an important role in their life, offering a piece of green where they can escape the traffic and noise of the city.
The Getty, the world's richest museum, hunts for wealthy patrons.What is the biggest museum in the world 2022? ›
Grand Egypt Museum, Giza
When it finally opens in November 2022, the Grand Egypt Museum will be the biggest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilisation. It's located in Giza, within snooping distance of the great pyramids and a 40-minute drive from the capital, Cairo.
The Louvre, Paris
There are always long lines at the door, but it's worth the wait to see the world's greatest and most famous museum. Leonardo DaVinci's Mona Lisa is the star, but there are literally thousands of other treasures of human civilization, from Egypt, Asia, ancient Greece and Rome.
The Louvre, Paris
By size, The Louvre, in Paris, France is the largest museum on Earth, with nearly 73,000 square metres of exhibition space. By reputation, it's also one of the best and holds works from antiquity to the 19th Century, including the world-famous Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.
|2.||New York City|
- Louvre, Paris.
- National Museum of China, Beijing.
- Nanjing Museum, Nanjing.
- Tate Modern, London.
- Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, Shanghai.
- Vatican Museums, Vatican City.
- The British Museum, London.
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
What museum has most Van Gogh? ›
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
The world's largest collection of Van Gogh art can – fittingly – be found in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. It is here that art lovers will also find what is considered by many to be the Dutchman's first masterpiece, The Potato Eaters.
The British Museum currently holds eight million pieces of history, art, and cultural artifacts. This collection is the largest in existence around the entire world. Some of the pieces included in The British Museum include: The Inner Coffin of Hornedjitef.What is the oldest mansion in New York City? ›
1 | Morris-Jumel Mansion | Located in what is now Roger Morris Park in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, stands the oldest house in the borough, the Morris-Jumel Mansion.What is the oldest house in New York City? ›
The Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead — 78-03 19th Rd, Flushing, NY 11370. The Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead is the oldest house in NYC. The homestead, which is located in Queens, is still used as a private dwelling. It was initially built as a one-room farmhouse by Abraham Riker in 1654.What is the oldest statue in New York? ›
The Obelisk, also known as Cleopatra's Needle, was created roughly 3,500 years ago, making it the oldest man-made object in Central Park and the oldest outdoor monument in New York City).What are the 5 observation decks in NYC? ›
There are five observation decks in NYC: SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, Edge NYC, the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and One World Trade Center, each offering different views and experiences.What can you do in NYC in 1/2 days? ›
- Central Park.
- Rockefeller Center.
- New York Public Library.
- Grand Central Station.
- Take the East River Ferry back to Manhattan.
- Wall Street.
- The Charging Bull.
- National Museum of the American Indian.
- Stop 1. See the Statue of Liberty.
- Stop 2: Snap a photo with the Charging Bull.
- Stop 3: Wall Street.
- Stop 4: Explore Oculus & Grab a Bite (and a Glass of Wine)
- Stop 5: Commemorate the 9/11 Memorial.
- Stop 6: One World Observatory.
- Stop 7: Take a Walk on the Brooklyn Bridge.
- Stop 1. Grand Central Station.
The most expensive neighborhoods in NYC for 2022 are Noho, Hudson Yards, Tribeca, Central Park South, and Nolita, and the median sales price in all of these areas is above $3 million dollars. As you probably expect, most rich New Yorkers live in Manhattan.What is the oldest thing in York? ›
The Norman House is one of York's hidden treasures, standing in a secluded courtyard accessed through an archway from Stonegate. The house was built of freestone about 1180, and it is the oldest house in York of which any substantial remains still stand in place.
Which part of Manhattan is the most fun? ›
Based on a survey of over 27,000 people, the list crowned Chelsea as not only the coolest neighborhood in NYC but also one of the top 10 coolest in the world. (You can see the neighborhoods that brought home the most votes in every borough here.)What kind of shoes should I wear in New York? ›
Choose classic leather boots with a slight heel, flats with a great shape, or fashionable sneakers. Skip brand new shoes or shoes that are too tight, uncomfortable, or have been known to give blisters. In general, many New Yorkers skip wearing sandals.What should I wear to dinner in NYC? ›
One nice formal outfit and nicer pair of shoes for a formal dinner out (or going out to a nicer club/bar). For women, a black cocktail dress is always a safe bet. If you're not really someone who dresses up much, there are plenty of bars and cafes that don't have a dress code.What is the best month to visit New York City? ›
The best time to visit New York is April to June and November and December. April to June is spring, the weather is pleasant and tourists are fewer than usual. New York is in its best festive mode in November and December with Thanksgiving followed by Christmas and New Year.What is the most famous town in New York? ›
The Empire State is best known for its shining star: New York City, but its real gems are found outside the dazzle of the Big Apple's bright lights. Overflowing with charm and natural beauty, New York's small towns are its heart and, though small, are packed with interesting attractions.How do you dress like a New Yorker 2022? ›
Keep it Simple
As long as you're choosing the right fit, you can't go wrong with a t-shirt and jeans combo. Throw on an oversized, structured coat and apply a bright lip color to transform your basics into an effortlessly chic ensemble. You'll want to look your best when you travel!
New Yorkers dress for comfort, but always add a nice touch or two. Balance relaxed clothing with more structured pieces, keep on eye on the weather, and layer strategically. Try a crisp button-down under a baggy boyfriend sweater, or wear a structured sweatshirt with slouchy trousers and a softly-tailored cocoon coat.What is the most fashionable street in New York? ›
The most famous street for shopping in New York is Fifth Avenue between 49th Street and 60th Street. It's home to luxury brands' eye-catching stores.
MoMA is smaller in size and takes around three hours to explore fully. On the other hand, the Met Museum is much larger and can keep you engaged for more than five hours. If you are short on time but want the satisfaction of having visited a Museum in New York, we suggest you opt for MoMA.What is the most visited museum in the world 2022? ›
- 1 The Louvre – Paris, France. ...
- 2 National Museum of China – Beijing, China. ...
- 4 The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York, USA. ...
- 5 British Museum – London, UK. ...
- 6 Tate Modern – London, UK. ...
- 7 The National Gallery – London, UK. ...
- 8 The Natural History Museum – London, UK.
What is the most visited museum? ›
The Getty, the world's richest museum, hunts for wealthy patrons.What is the most valuable museum? ›
- The Louvre, Paris. ...
- The Prado, Madrid. ...
- The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. ...
- The State Hermitage Museum, St. ...
- The Uffizi Galleries, Florence. ...
- The British Museum, London. ...
- The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. ...
- The National Art Center, Tokyo.
A business casual dress code invites you to be as stylish as the pieces found next door at MoMA. Ladies will want to don a skirt or slacks and gentlemen will feel most comfortable in a button down, though jackets are not required.Is Met no longer free? ›
Free for Members, Patrons, and children under 12. To purchase general admission tickets in advance, choose one of the The Met locations. Admission is free for a caregiver accompanying a visitor with a disability.What is the most famous piece of art at the Met? ›
The Death of Socrates, Jacques-Louis David, 1787
This Neoclassical work is one of the most famous paintings at The Met. It portrays the moments just before the death of the great philosopher Socrates, based on his student Plato's record of the event.