Because the choices are stunning, this list focuses on the top 10 not-to-be-missed world-class museums that will take locals and visitors from a sculpture garden in Midtown Manhattan, to a sleepover beside a 94-foot blue whale or a dinosaur to scaling the heights of modern art inside an avant-garde building that will change how you see art forever. Spanning history, arts, culture and entertainment, New York City's institutions educate and inspire. And sometimes, through sheer size and scope, they 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. All of the museums are accessible via the iron horse, known as the New York City subway.
While the offerings are dazzling, the costs can be too. Consider purchasing any of several city passes now available, but be sure they include attractions, museums you absolutely want to see. Visit NYCGO for information on passes that can help manage costs and suggest manageable itineraries for the museum minded.
Museum of the Moving Image
Stunning and bold, the Museum of the Moving Image is housed on the original 13-acre lot that made up the historic Kaufman Astoria Studios --the most significant film and media production facility between Los Angeles and London, it is a one-of-a-kind experience. Immerse yourself in the permanent exhibit, Behind the Screen that introduces visitors to the history of the moving image from 19th century optical toys to today's digital tools used to edit and produce films. See clips from the earliest films like The Great Train Robbery to recording a sequence of your own movements to be printed out as a flipbook; record your own voice over dialogue from a film, following the same procedure actors use when dubbing, choose sound effects to match action flicks; add music to scenes from movies. 36-01 35 Avenue & 37th St., Astoria, NY 11106; 718-777-6800 TRAINS M, R/Steinway St. Q, N/36th Ave. (718-777-6800)
Museum of the City of New York
Established in 1923 the Museum of the City of New York's (MCNY) mission is to collect, preserve and present objects related to the original culture and history of New York City – from the gritty to the stunning. Originally housed in Gracie Mansion, the present residence of the Mayor of New York, the city was offered its present location in a Georgian Colonial-Revival building.This museum has amassed a huge collection of unusual items – 750,000 at last count – like several of Eugene O'Neill's handwritten manuscripts, a complete room of Duncan Phyfe furniture, and no less than 412 glass negatives by famous photographer Jacob Riis, a man's suit worn to George Washington's Inaugural Ball and displays graffiti writing, and art from the 1970s and 80s. 1220 Fifth Ave. & 103rd St.; 212-534-1672; TRAINS: 6 to 103rd St. (212-534-1672)
New-York Historical Society
Overlooking the western rim of Central Park, this neoclassical structure guards some of the oldest artifacts associated with the city of New York. It was founded in 1804 as New York's first museum and has been at its present location since 1908. The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture on the fourth floor is being redesigned to showcase its preeminent collection of Tiffany lamps, displayed in a sparkling glass gallery. The new Center for the Study of Women's History will be a permanent space devoted to women's history exhibitions and scholarship--the first of its kind in a U.S. museum. During winter holiday season, N-YHS transforms into a magical wonderland with "Holiday Express," a dynamic installation from its renowned Jerni Collection of model trains, scenic elements, and toys from a bygone era. 170 Central Park West & 77th St., 212-873-3400; TRAINS C, B/Central Park West (212-873-3400)
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Located on Museum Mile, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum it was founded in 1897. It is the only museum in the U.S. devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. On Dec. 12, 2014, Cooper Hewitt unveiled the renovated and restored Carnegie Mansion now with 60 percent more exhibition space to showcase one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence. Exhibitions and installations feature more than 650 objects throughout four floors of the mansion, many of which draw from the museum's permanent collection of more than 210,000 objects that span 30 centuries. Take advantage of the newly installed ability to explore the collection digitally on ultra-high-definition touch-screen tables, draw your own designs in the Immersion Room and solve design problems in the Process Lab. 2 E 91st St, New York, NY 10128; 212-849-8400 TRAINS 4, 5, 6/96TH St. and Lex. Ave. (212-849-8400)
Brooklyn Museum of Art
One of the largest museums in the country. the Brooklyn Museum boasts some 1.5 million pieces of artwork. The first floor features a fine collection of African art. The second floor houses Asian art, with items from China, Korea and various other Asian countries. One of the finest collections of Egyptian art in the world can be found on the third floor, while the fourth floor presents material from the museum's collection of American decorative arts. The fifth floor presents a collection of American paintings and sculpture, with related items from the Spanish Colonial, Decorative Arts, and Native American holdings. In addition to the unparalleled art exhibits, visitors may see shows, view film screenings, sit in on readings, or listen to live musical performances. 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn; 718-638-5000; TRAINS: 2, 3 to Eastern Parkway (718-638-5000)
American Museum of Natural History
It would seem impossible to top the already-existing exhibits at the AMNH but come 2016, another must-see colossal cast of a 122-foot-long dinosaur will call the fourth floor its home. One of the world's largest natural history museums with over 33 million specimens and exhibits, the AMNH educates and entertains visitors, keeping them busy for quite some time. Forty-five permanent exhibit halls including the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. The Dark Universe Show narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson is a must! The museum offers suggested self-guided tours, even one featuring exhibits from the movie, Night at the Museum. There are a handful of places to eat inside should the kids get hungry. The museum is open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Central Park West & 79th St., New York, NY 10024; 212-769-5100; TRAINS B, C/81st St. (212-769-5100)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
At the top of Museum Mile you cannot miss the dramatic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art housed inside Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece of a giant nautilus shell. A monument to modernism, the unique architecture of the space, with its spiral ramp riding to a domed skylight thrills visitors. In the words of Paul Goldberger, "Wright's building made it socially and culturally acceptable for an architect to design a highly expressive, intensely personal museum. In this sense almost every museum of our time is a child of the Guggenheim." Examples of exhibits include masterpieces by Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Picasso, and works by Jackson Pollock. 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street), New York, NY 10128; 212-423-3618 TRAINS 4, 5, 6/86th St. (212-423-3500, 212-423-3587)
The City Reliquary Museum & Civic Organization
The City Reliquary Museum & Civic traces the history of New York City's five boroughs through displays of cultural ephemera. A "reliquary" is a container for relics. "Relic" can have two meanings: something that is merely old, or, in religious terminology, something that possesses a kind of power due to its contact with an important or holy person. The City Reliquary combines both definitions in its mission, which attempts to reconstruct the past through objects that New Yorkers of previous generations engaged with daily.
The beginnings of The City Reliquary date to 2002, when founder Dave Herman began displaying objects in the windows of his Williamsburg apartment on the corner of Havemeyer St. and Grand St. Passersby were intrigued, and Herman received object donations and loans from people wanting to share their own "relics." The City Reliquary was born. As the collection grew, the museum relocated to its current space on Metropolitan Avenue in 2006. (718-R-U-CIVIC)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
"The Met," as New Yorkers affectionately call it, is our Louvre. Its gargantuan halls of Egyptian, Roman, Greek discoveries never cease to capture the imagination. Docents lead guided tours, or venture on your own with audio headsets. Lectures and Friday-night concerts transform the mezzanine into a perfect date venue. The Cloisters, housed in Fort Tyron Park in Northern Manhattan is home to the museum's incomparable medieval art collection including the enigmatic Unicorn tapestries. Both museums boast fabulous shopping opportunities particularly post-Christmas sales.
Just when you thought the "The Met" could not get bigger or better, it will soon take over the Whitney's former digs at the Breuer Building on Madison Ave. and 75th St.; The Met Breuer will debut March 18, 2016. Located on Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street; 212-535-7710 TRAINS 4, 5, 6 to 86th St. (212-535-7710)
Museum of Modern Art
With extraordinary exhibitions and the world's finest collection of modern and contemporary art, MoMA is the world's foremost museum of modern art. This multi-level museum 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. Take the elevator to the top floor upon entering, and then work your way down, missing the masses who bottleneck on the ground floor. MoMA's Michelin-starred restaurant by New York City star chef Danny Meyer is appropriately named The Modern; Meyer's award-winning eatery is largely credited with reinventing museum fare. For casual fare, Cafe 2 is located on the second floor. 11 West 53rd St., New York, NY 10019-5498; 212-212-708-9400 TRAINS E, M, B, D, F, #6/51st St., transfer to E or M/53rd Street and 5th Ave. (212-708-9400)
About Maria Lisella
No matter how many countries Maria Lisella has visited (62), this native New Yorker finds the world at her doorstep in amazing Queens where its residents speak 138 languages.
Maria writes about New York and other destinations for outlets including NYC & Company, AFAR, Travel and Leisure, Wells Fargo Conversations, and others.
As the Queens Poet Laureate, 2015-2018, she observes, listens and captures the urban energy of NYC in poetry and prose.
Her book Thieves in the Family has been described as “… a collection of postcards from the Global Village…”
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