There’s no denying that New York City is an absolute mecca for museum-aficionados; the city boasts hundreds of different galleries, some rated as the finest of their kind. While you could certainly indulge a few hours visiting the quirkiest of the lot, like the dirt-filled dungeon aptly called Earth Room, or the Elevator Museum (ironically housed in one of the few buildings in Queens not to have an elevator), consider spending entire days lost in one of the city’s premium digs.
The Best New York Museums
Here’s our pick of the crème de la crème of New York Museums.
The American Museum of Natural History can simply be described as one of the most visually stimulating museums in the world. Never mind the complete dinosaur skeleton which greets you as you enter the building, or the enormous floating blue whale in the Oceans Room; it’s trying to view, admire and somehow absorb the over 30 million exhibits on show which usually sends visitors into sensory overload. The most respected and famous natural history centre on the planet does a fine job of showcasing the evolution of our planet, and its predicted future, through nature, science and technology. The exhibits are organized in distinctive halls, the most popular being mammals, reptiles, humans, amphibians and, of course, fossils. While the idea of a hall per ‘type’ of exhibit makes sense, the interior of the museum kind of doesn’t. As good as this museum is, the sheer size of it makes it one of the hardest to navigate. Getting lost is inevitable and, to add insult to injury, it seems that whoever designed the floor plan also designed the maps, so they’re not much help either. On a positive note, getting lost here may see you visit a corner of the museum you would have otherwise neglected, so take your time, don’t make any lunch-time plans and spend an entire day here.
Once you’ve paid a visit to the finest museum of Mother Nature’s art, it’s time to delve into the finest museum of man-made art. This, you’ll find in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). A visit here is like a historic round the world trip, and that’s the reason so many visitors consider this to be the Magnus Opus of ancient art museums. It may seem a bit of an exaggeration, but one must admit that after seeing the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts outside of Cairo, and the most comprehensive collections of Islamic, European, African, South American, North American and Asian art…there isn’t going to be much in the world left to see. The MET is the most popular tourist attraction in New York City, so if you do have an aversion to astronomical crowds, we suggest you pick the sunniest day of your stay, as most visitors tend to pick the cloudiest. The rooftop restaurant is a great place to enjoy a mid-visit break, good strong coffee and fantastic city views.
While you need not be an art lover to enjoy the MET, we dare say you should probably be one to enjoy a visit to the Manhattan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Aficionados of abstract, unusual, thought-provoking or just utterly baffling art will certainly get their inspiring kicks here at the MoMA. From the kind of Pop-art Warhol was renowned for, to visual, graphic, electronic and media displays, this museum covers the gamut of all things modern art related.
The 5th floor showcases the more classical side of the 20th century art world, with priceless works by Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet on display; while the 6th floor is dedicated to ever-changing bizarre exhibits like massive cake sculptures (yes, the ‘do not touch exhibits’ rule was cruelly enforced) or videos of people voluntarily walking towards a tornado. What the…
The Ground Zero Museum Workshop is a small and intimate memorial centre opened in honour of 9/11 victims and their rescuers. The displays here are mostly photographic, and cover the event from the beginning, right through the clean up process and the eventual re-building of Ground Zero. While most visitors agree that this museum will most probably grow in importance (and size) with the coming years, as a way of preserving the memory for future generations who did not live through it, it is still one of the most visited ‘new’ sites in New York, so may still be worth your while if an extensive tour of the Big Apple and its history is what you’re after.
It is often said that the Guggenheim Museum attracts just as many visitors for its architecture ad it does for its contents. Find any reason to visit and you won’t be disappointed; the Guggenheim would have to be one of the most extraordinary art museums you’re ever likely to see. The cylindrical shaped building, which resembles a twirling ribbon, is considered one of the most significant architectural masterpieces of the last century and was built specifically to house the other masterpieces owned by the American philanthropist and modern-art collector Solomon R. Guggenheim. Nowadays, the museum showcases a plethora of permanent collections of modern, Impressionist and contemporary art and is renowned for its wide array of top-notch temporary displays.
Mr Solomon R. Guggenheim was certainly not the only avid art collector in New York City. One of his philanthropist predecessors, Henry Clay Frick, was himself a hoarder of priceless artwork, albeit of a much more classic kind. The story of Henry Frick is actually rather interesting, not the least because he boasted one of the worst reputations of any American businessman. Thought to be ruthless, unscrupulous and conniving, Frick built a substantial fortune from coal and steel and poured much of his profits into building one of the largest European fine art collections in North America. Upon his death and as per his request, his extensive collection of master paintings, antique French furniture, sculptures and oriental rugs was arranged in his stately home and opened to the public for viewing. The Frick Collection includes works by Bellini, Renoir and Rembrandt among many other notable artists. The splendid art on show and serene ambience of this opulent 5th Avenue mansion make the Frick Collection of the most outstanding art spaces in the whole city.
Medieval art lovers will have a field day at The Cloisters, a branch of the MET and a stunning fort complex built during the 1930s and designed to resemble a medieval castle. Inside, you’ll find a bewildering 5,000-piece collection of 12th century through to 15th century artefacts and artworks from all across Europe. The museum, which you’ll find right alongside the Hudson River in Fort Tyron Park, is one of the least visited in New York yet the one which gifts the best chance to view art and artefacts whilst feeling like you’re reliving the time in history in which they were created. The Cloisters are set amidst an expansive estate and boast gorgeous manicured gardens and, while we do agree it may not quite compare to visiting an actual 12th century medieval castle in Europe, this is a much cheaper option if vacationing in New York!
If you’re more of a science fan, don’t worry, New York’s got you covered too. The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a unique exhibit ideal for all those who are spatially, militarily or scientifically minded. The super high-tech interactive display of submarines, space shuttles, aircraft carriers and planes (including a Concorde SST) are thoroughly engaging and the in-depth tours infinitely interesting. Opt for the audio guide if you prefer to tour the lot in your own time and don’t underestimate the time you’ll need to tour every exhibit at leisure. This is one of those unassuming time-zappers, so don’t be surprised if you end up spending half a day here.
To make your New York museum tour a truly comprehensive affair, don’t miss visiting the National Museum of the American Indian, a befitting institute which pays tribute to the native tribes of North America. Purported to represent a ‘living’ memorial to Native American civilizations, this museum is part of the Smithsonian Institute’s 19 Museum collection and offers visitors a splendid insight into the cultural, social and religious aspects of the most prominent tribes in this neck of the woods. Some visitors may find the collection a little on the stingy side and whilst we can’t help but agree somewhat, this particular museums is one of a few in New York which are free to enter and which offers a free-of-charge audio guide to boot, so there is not a thing to complain about. The museum is housed within the historic Hamilton Custom’s House building, itself an architectural gem worth exploring.
History buffs may want to complete their cultural tour of duty at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, an intensely interesting exhibit showcasing the trials and tribulations of generations of immigrants who chose fame, fortunes or perhaps just a better fate, by making the United States their new home. As with most other museums in New York, this too is housed within the walls of a splendid historic building, one which was used to house immigrants whilst their entries into the country were being processed. Here you’ll see old photos, suitcases, personal belongings and detailed accounts of the ‘immigrant experience’.
Daniel Bonatto via Flickr
Leoncillo Sabino via Flickr
Westher via Flickr
The Guggenheim Museum via Wiki
Rembrandt’s Polish Rider @ the Frick Collection
The Cloisters via Wiki
The USS Growler @ The Intrepid Museum