Top New York museums

Best New York museums

New York, New York. It’s hardly surprising that America’s honorary capital is home to a swathe of world-leading museums.

  1. Metropolitan Museum of Art
  2. Museum of Modern Art
  3. 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  4. Tenement Museum
  5. Whitney Museum of American Art
  6. American Museum of Natural History
  7. The Museum of the Moving Image

As well as big-hitters like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art, a plethora of smaller collections afford days of happy wandering. Art, culture, science and social history are all showcased in a spectacular way; and of course, the 9/11 Museum & Memorial, which movingly covers the day that forever changed this city. Start at the Upper East Side, which has a cluster of excellent museums, (and some of its most famous boulevards: Fifth, Madison and Park avenues).

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1. Metropolitan Museum of Art

As a city that blazes a trail for world culture, it’s no surprise that art forms many of the best museums in New York. Set a day aside for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (known as the Met). With over 2 million works spanning the cultures of America, Europe, Africa, the Far East and ancient worlds, you can’t get round it all in one go, so plan what you really want to see. The Dutch painting section is strong, embracing an impressive range of Rembrandts, Hals and Vermeers, such as his Young Woman with a Water Jug. The American Wing is inevitably standout too, from Native American art to the evocative American Realism movement of the 20th century.

Opening hours: Sun–Thurs 10am–5.30pm, Fri & Sat 10am–9pm

2. Museum of Modern Art

Simply put, MoMA holds the most comprehensive collection of modern art in the world, curated in a breathtaking setting of glass atriums and statuary. It has the most complete account of late 19th and 20thcentury art you’re ever likely to find. More than 100,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, architectural models and design objects make up the collection, along with a world-class film archive. Starting with the Post Impressionists, it moves onto Picasso, Braque and Matiss, leading on to surrealists Miró, Magritte and Dalí and ending with Abstract Expressionists like Pollock and Rothko. Familiar works from the more modern canon – Jasper Johns’ Flag, Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media paintings – are usually here too. Temporary exhibitions have covered everything from Warhol’s soup cans and Roy Lichtenstein’s cartoons, to the original set of emoji pictographs.

Opening hours: Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sat & Sun 10.30am–5.30pm, Fri 10.30am–8pm.

3. 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Of all the museums in New York, this is one that will have a lasting impact on you. The names of the 9/11 victims are inscribed on bronze parapets surrounding two pools, in the footprints of the towers, while the contemplative eight-acre Memorial Plaza is filled with nearly four hundred oak trees. The museum (pay-to-enter) is divided into three parts: Historical Exhibition, which tells the story of what happened on 9/11, The Memorial Exhibition, which and provides the opportunity to learn about the people who died, and The Foundation Hall - a room of massive scale, which houses the last steel support column to be pulled out of the debride.

Opening hours: Thurs–Mon 10am–5pm

4. Tenement Museum

Sheer diversity is the bedrock of this city, and it’s what continues to make New York holidays so exciting today. That’s why the Tenement Museum, which covers the citizens’ multicultural make-up and history, is key to really getting to know New York. Housed in a Lower East Side apartment dwelling-turned museum, it brilliantly captures the lives of three generations of immigrants. Various apartments inside have been renovated with period furnishings to reflect the lives of tenants, from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century – when many families ran cottage industries from home. You’ll encounter the crumbling and claustrophobic interior of an 1863 tenement, with its deceptively elegant entry hall and two communal toilets for every four families. Museum guides expertly bring to life the building’s past and present.

Opening hours: The tenement is accessible only by themed guided tours (1hr, every 15–30min; daily 10.30am–5pm).

5. Whitney Museum of American Art

As the anchor of the High Line, this Meatpacking District museum shows off modern American art in an equally modernist building. In fact the architecture’s industrial look, with external stairs and roomy terraces, attracts nearly as much attention as the art. As for what’s on display, a good chunk of the museum’s permanent collection now has room to shine. Look for favourites like Alexander Calder’s Circus and Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning; though temporary exhibitions frequently take top billing.

Opening hours: Mon, Wed, Thurs & Sun (and summer Tues) 10.30am–6pm, Fri & Sat 10.30am–10pm.

6. American Museum of Natural History

You might have guessed by now that New York doesn’t do things by half. So, you guessed it, its natural history museum is one of the biggest in the world. This elegant giant fills four blocks and has 32 million items in its holdings. There are brilliant nature dioramas and anthropological collections, interactive and multimedia displays, and an awesome assemblage of bones, fossils and models. Top billing goes to the Dinosaur Halls. Other delights include the massive totems in the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, the taxidermal marvels in North American Mammals and the giant whale suspended in the Hall of Ocean Life. Go early to miss the crowds for the innovative special exhibits.

Opening hours: Daily 10am–5.45pm

7. The Museum of the Moving Image

New York museums can be rather epic for kids, so wing a trip to Queens for interactive film fun, movie memorabilia and quirky screenings. Part of the old Paramount complex, the Museum of the Moving Image tells the fascinating story of cinema through state-of-the-art theatres, hands-on exhibits and vintage props. The museum’s core collection, “Behind the Screen”, holds old movie cameras and special-effects equipment; sketches and set models from The Silence of the Lambs; and enough Star Wars action figures to make an obsessed fan drool with envy.

Opening hours: Wed–Thurs 10.30am–5pm, Fri 10.30am–8pm, Sat & Sun 11.30am–7pm

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