My Favorite New York City Museums

New York has an absolute wealth of museums to visit. In my 10 years living in New York, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in many of them, so I thought this might be a good place to share some of my favorites, as well as a few I think you should skip.

The Met

What to see: No trip to New York is complete without a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have been to this museum at least a 20 times over the past 10 years, and see something new every time I visit. It is so vast in scope that you’ll never be able to take everything in during one visit—I highly recommend you pick 3-4 sections to see, otherwise you may suffer extreme museum fatigue. If it’s your first visit, start with the Egyptian Wing. The recreation of the Temple of Dendur is one of the most stunning rooms in the building and well worth the stop. I also enjoy the 19th and Early 20th Century European Paintings, where you’ll find the Met’s Impressionist artists like Monet, Degas and Van Gogh. The Arms & Armory section of the Medieval wing is also cool, with its display of mounted knights in full regalia. If you are visiting during the summer, the rooftop exhibit is not to be missed. It’s always unique, and the rooftop affords a view of Central Park and the surrounding city skyline that’s just as captivating as the artwork. Plus, you can enjoy a glass of wine or beer from the roof garden bar before continuing your visit. Also during the summer, you’ll find the museum’s annual fashion exhibit, which is usually its most popular and anticipated show of the year.

My Favorite New York City Museums - Met Rooftop

Do I need a guide? You don’t need a guide to enjoy the Met—the exhibits include lots of informative placards. But, if you’ve been to the Met a few times before and want to see it in a new light, or discover some of its hidden gems, I highly recommend a Museum Hack tour. These interactive, high-energy tours will show you some of the overlooked treasures in the museum. Some even have themes, like the Badass B*tches tour, which focuses on female artists in the museum, and the newly introduced “Boy Wizard” tour, which unveils occult and magical artifacts and artwork in the collection.

What’s the admission? Previously, the Met had operated under a “suggested admission” system, but starting in 2017, non-New Yorkers will be charged the full admission fee of $25. (New York state residents with valid ID can still operate under the old system and pay what you wish.) It may seem steep, but it is absolutely worth the price. If you only have time to see one museum in New York, this is the one you should choose. Plus, your $25 admission includes admission to two of the Met’s sister museums—the Met Breuer across the street and the Cloisters uptown—over 3 consecutive days, so if you want to get your money’s worth, you can hit up all 3 over the course of your weekend.

What about food? Other than grabbing a drink at the roof garden bar, I do not recommend you eat at the Met. The food is overpriced and not very good—it’s just standard sandwiches or sad salads with a hefty price tag. If you need a lunch spot after your visit, take a stroll to Dos Toros Tacos or Le Pain Quotidien for casual eats, or Flex Mussels or Flora Bar for more upscale fare. Or, swing by Butterfield Market or E.A.T. and pick up food for a picnic in Central Park to complete your classic NYC day.


What to see: The Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, stocked with everyone from Picasso to Pollock, is impressive and worth your visit alone, but be sure to check what special exhibitions are on display during your stay. The majority of the museum real estate is taken up by these rotating shows, so what you see will vary greatly based on what’s on display at that time. Also, don’t skip a stop in the museum store before you leave. MOMA’s Design Store is a mecca for well-crafted and artistic gifts, including unique housewares, striking jewelry and plenty of prints.

Admission: $25

What about food? MOMA has a couple great spots to eat right in the museum. Cafe 2 is a cafeteria-style eatery serving rustic Italian fare, and Terrace 5 is a sit-down cafe with views of the Sculpture Garden below. Both have good food—a little expensive, but that’s to be expected at a museum. One of the best fine dining restaurants in the city is also located inside MOMA: The Modern. You don’t need museum admission to visit The Modern, but you will almost certainly need a reservation.


My Favorite New York City Museums - Guggenheim

What to see: The Guggenheim is one of the most unique art museums in New York, and a joy to visit because of its one-of-a-kind design. The building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the main gallery is shaped like the inside of a seashell. Pro tip: Take the elevator to the very top, and wind your way down. You’ll be moving against the flow of traffic, but you get to walk downhill instead of up! You have the unique opportunity to view the artwork from multiple angles—up close as you pass it, and from across the room as you gaze across the balcony. The Guggenheim is also a museum of manageable size—you’ll be able to see the entire collection in about 2 hours without feeling overwhelmed.

Admission: $25

Met Breuer

What to see: The Met Breuer is one of the Met’s sister museums, and worth a visit all on its own. It is located just across the street and down the block from the Met’s main location, so if you’re ambitious you could try to see both in one day (though you may suffer from museum fatigue). This museum houses the Met’s collection of late 20th and 21st century art. Check their website to see what’s on view.

Admission: $25 as part of the Met’s combination ticket, which will give you access to The Met, Met Breuer and the Cloisters over 3 consecutive days.

The Cloisters

What to see: The third museum in the Met’s trio, the Cloisters houses the Met’s collection of European medieval artifacts and artwork. What’s most special about the Cloisters is the building itself: It is a reconstructed medieval cloister dropped into a park overlooking the Hudson River at the very tip-top of Manhattan. The tapestry collection, including the famous Unicorn Tapestries, is a must-see, and the gardens surrounding the museum are beautiful as well.

Admission: $25 as part of the Met’s combination ticket, which will give you access to The Met, Met Breuer and the Cloisters over 3 consecutive days.

Getting there: Getting to the Cloisters is a bit of a trek. If you are staying in midtown, it will take you 45 minutes to an hour on the subway. For that reason, I don’t think the Cloisters should be on your list for a first visit to New York. But if this is your third or fourth trip and you want to do something a little different, the Cloisters is a fabulous way to spend an afternoon.

The Morgan Library

My Favorite New York City Museums - The Morgan Library

What to see: You’ve probably never heard of the Morgan Library, but it’s one of my favorite museums in New York. Why? It’s a book lover’s dream. Their rotating exhibitions always have to do with literature, from Charles Dickens to Alice in Wonderland. The historic Pierpont Morgan Library is also stunning, a fairy tale library come to life, stocked with rare First Folios, Guttenberg Bibles, illuminated manuscripts and more.

Admission: $20

New-York Historical Society

What to see: I was really impressed with the way the New-York Historical Society has incorporated technology. They have a cool exhibit in the main hall that uses augmented reality to tell you more about the objects on display. The rotating exhibits vary greatly, so check what they have on offer. Everything centers on the story of New York, whether it be women’s suffrage, Tiffany glass, or Norman Rockwell. But hey, they sometimes flip the script completely…like with their most recent Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition.

Admission: $21

Don’t Miss These in Brooklyn & Queens…

If you’re up for journeying outside of Manhattan, there are a few truly unique and awesome museums you should add to your itinerary.

Brooklyn Museum

My Favorite New York City Museums - Brooklyn Museum

What to see: I visit the Brooklyn Museum at least once a year—it’s my favorite museum. I think they do the best programming in the entire city in terms of unique and timely exhibits of contemporary artists. In the past few years, I’ve enjoyed shows featuring groundbreaking artists like Ai Weiwei and Kihinde Wiley, and themed exhibits that range from an exploration of the oddities of Coney Island to a celebration of David Bowie. The permanent collection is also wonderful and the galleries are a joy to wander.

Admission: $16

Museum of the Moving Image

What to see: A truly unique museum in Queens, the Museum of the Moving Image features historic looks at filmmaking, cool cutting-edge exhibits on topics like indie games (that you can play!) and the big names of film and television, like a Jim Henson exhibition. Many of the museum’s exhibits are interactive and immersive, which makes it even more fun.

Admission: $15

New York Transit Museum

My Favorite New York City Museums - NYC Transit Museum

What to see: You may find yourself standing on a street corner wondering where the entrance to this museum is. The answer: down! It’s inside a decommissioned subway stop in downtown Brooklyn, so entering the New York Transit Museum is just like hopping on the subway. The best part is the two tracks lined with vintage subway cars that you can hop on and explore, taking you through the generations, including period advertising to complete the mood. This is just a super fun museum for kids and grownups alike.

Admission: $10

There’s one museum I think you should skip…

American Museum of Natural History

Why you shouldn’t go: Yes, you’ll find it on many top 10 lists of things to see in NYC, and it’s certainly always listed in “best museums of New York.” But I just don’t think the American Museum of Natural History is that great. It is dated—some of the exhibits are literally dusty and the paint is peeling on the walls in less-visited areas.  There are a few sections that have been modernized and renovated, like the iconic blue whale exhibit, but even those are kind of boring if you ask me. The majority of the museum is still dioramas of stuffed animal species. The planetarium is fine, but not worth a visit on its own. Some of the special exhibits are nice, but you usually have to pay extra to see these. The dinosaur that greets you when you walk in the main entrance is striking, but the rest of the dinosaurs are housed in a cramped gallery at the top of the museum where they’re practically on top of each other, and there isn’t enough space to appreciate them. The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. is a far better natural history museum.

Admission: $23 general admission; $28 general admission + one special exhibit (including planetarium); $33 general admission + all special exhibits