Feed Your Head at New York CIty's Best Museums
By Emily Saladino
New York Local Expert
New York City is, without a doubt, an embarrassment of riches. Groundbreaking theatre troupes perform cutting edge debuts from Broadway to Bayside, and musicians bring top-tier entertainment to all five boroughs. What we lack in pastoral resources, we make up for with innovative fitness trends (SoulCycle, anyone?) and enormous swatches of green space courtesy of our expansive city parks. Sports fans too are forced to make some difficult choices. Are you rooting for the Jets or the Giants? The Mets or the Yankees? The Islanders or the Devils? The options are seemingly endless.
Similarly, when it comes to artistic enthusiasms, Gotham’s got an awfully full plate. Hundreds of world-class museums dot the five boroughs, taking culturally minded travelers up several stories to a sculpture garden overlooking Central Park in Midtown Manhattan, or down below city streets to a restored subway station in Downtown Brooklyn. Spanning history, arts, culture and entertainment, New York City's best institutions educate and inspire... And sometimes, through sheer size and scope, these institutions can overwhelm even the most enthusiastic traveler. That’s why we have narrowed it down to our top 10 places for viewing, exploring and experiencing the best the city has to offer. Get ready to get your culture on.
10 The Cloisters
Located in Washington Heights, a northern neighborhood far from Midtown Manhattan's frenetic pace, the Cloisters contain all of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval collection. In addition to the exhibitions within, the grounds of the Cloisters are an attraction unto themselves. Modeled after a monastery, the grounds contain four reconstructed cloisters, each with sculptures, fountains, and artwork donated by New Yorker art barons like the Rockefellers. Highlights include the rose marble fountain in the Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa Cloister, and the Trie-en-Bigorre Cloister, or Unicorn Tapestries Hall, which holds an impressive collection of 15th- and 16th- Century tapestries. 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, New York, NY. 212-923-3700 (212-923-3700)
9 New York Transit Museum
Get ready to get down and dirty at Downtown Brooklyn's homage to the underground. Situated in a former subway station, a visit to the Transit Museum is an immersive experience. The well-marked exhibitions take visitors on a continual descent into the station, and include historical documents, such as news reports and controversy surrounding the original construction of the subway, as well as interactive exhibitions and film screenings chronicling New York City's world-renowned public transportation system. The Transit Museum also has a collection of antique train cars that show the evolution of the equipment and on board experience. Boerum Place, Brooklyn, NY. 718-694-1600 ((718) 694-1600)
8 MoMA PS1
This industrial space in Queens' Long Island City neighborhood specializes in contemporary art deemed too hot, wild or left of center for the more buttoned up crowds who frequent Manhattan's MoMA. One of the world's largest institutions dedicated solely to contemporary art, the museum hosts interactive exhibitions, films and sculptural installations by genre-defying provocateurs like Thierry Geoffrey and Henry Darger. On Saturdays between late June and early September, PS1 hosts an outdoor Warm Up music series, featuring local and international deejays in its courtyard, which is regularly redesigned by the winner of its annual Young Architects Program contest. 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Queens, NY. 718-784-2084 ((718) 784-2084)
7 American Museum of Natural History
The institution that inspired countless sleepover screenings of Ben Stiller's A Night At the Museum is a show-stopping affair. Permanent exhibitions include some 600 dinosaur fossils, dioramas with highlights from Teddy Roosevelt's private taxidermy collection and one 94-foot, 21,000-pound model of a blue whale. In addition, the museum has an incredible, 21st Century science center and planetarium. No Pink Floyd laser light shows here: the $210 million Rose Center for Earth and Space debuted in 2000 and has a planetarium, several theatres and the interactive Helibrun Cosmic Pathway, which traces the timeline of the universe from the Big Bang Theory to today. (212-769-5100)
6 Brooklyn Museum of Art
In this elegant Beaux Arts building in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn's biggest museum (and New York's second-largest) has ample exhibition space for a permanent collection that includes Egyptian antiquities, African and Asian art, American decorative pieces and contemporary photography and performance art. The museum also screens films, hosts readings and has a popular program for schools in the area. Want to follow up a few hours of learning with an afternoon outside? You're in luck. Museum passes also include same-day admission to the adjacent Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which spans 52 acres and includes 200 cherry trees, a Japanese koi pond and the Cranfeld Rose Garden. 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY. 718-368-5000 (718-638-5000)
5 Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Go inside New York City's rich immigrant past, present and future at this historic townhouse that gives new meaning to the term "cramped quarters." A five-story brick building on Manhattan's Lower East Side, this tenement was home to nearly 10,000 immigrants between 1863 and 1935. Now, it stands as a powerful testament to the tenacity and triumph of immigrant groups spanning the late 19th and early 20th Century. Popular with school groups, the descendents of Eastern and Southern European immigrants, and history buffs, the Tenement Museum is uniformly praised for providing New Yorkers old and new a truly transportive historical experience. 103 Orchard Street. New York, NY. 212-982-8420 (212-431-0233, 800-965-4827)
4 New Museum
A work of art unto itself, this curiously stacked structure on the Bowery was designed by Sejima + Nishizawa/SANAA, and overlooks the rowdy East Village, posh shops of SoHo and crisscrossing maze of lower Manhattan. Controversial to its core, the New Museum has been accused of exhibiting too few artists, too many, being too hard on its curators, and, inevitably, being too small to compete with its big brothers uptown. Nonetheless, the little-gallery-that-could hosts cutting edge exhibitions by modern masters like Carston Holler, whose 2011 "Experience" installed a 102-foot slide between the floors of the museum itself, as well as William Kentridge and Nigerian president Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. ((212) 219-1222)
3 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright's enormously influential spiral structure is a dynamic addition to a tony stretch of Museum Mile. The building layout was designed to influence the way museum-goers experience the paintings, sculptures and multimedia pieces exhibited within, and the echoing atrium provides a good dose of drama. Sample exhibitions include works by modernists like Paul Klee, Kara Walker and Nam June Paik. Ever the powerhouse, since its 1959 Manhattan debut, the Guggenheim has gone global. There are now branches of the Guggenheim in Venice, Italy and Bilbao, Spain. An additional outpost is currently underway in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. 212-423-3500 (212-423-3500, 212-423-3587)
2 Museum of the City of New York
One of Museum Mile's lesser sung heroes, the Museum of the City of New York is a must-see for anyone curious about the formation, development and evolution of New York City's wide-reaching cultures. The neo-Georgian structure, built by Joseph J. Freelander in 1938, now hosts award-winning exhibitions on urban and regional history that cover all things New York-ish, as well as photography and fine arts displays by notable New Yorkers. The museum also houses fully furnished rooms from John D. Rockefeller's private home, giving visitors a quick peak into the life of one very posh New Yorker. 1220 5th Avenue, New York, NY. 212-534-1672 (212-534-1672)
1 Museum of Modern Art
The multi-level spot in Midtown East displays cutting edge contemporary works as well as pieces by modern masters Edward Hopper, Le Corbusier and Rene Magritte. Crowds can be intense, particularly for big-name installations and traveling exhibitions. Our strategy is to take the elevator to the top floor upon entering, and then work your way down, missing the masses who start on the ground floor. MoMA also has a Michelin-starred restaurant by New York City star chef Danny Meyer. Appropriately named The Modern, Meyer's award-winning eatery is largely credited with reinventing underwhelming museum fare. 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY. 212-708-9400 (212-708-9400)
About Emily Saladino
Emily Saladino has spent over a decade eating her way through New York City. She has collaborated on cookbooks, developed original recipes and voyaged from Philadelphia to Papua New Guinea as a food and travel writer.
Read more about Emily Saladino here.