Visiting one of the museums in Manhattan is the perfect activity for a rainy day, a couples’ date, or an afternoon with the kids. You’ll find all kinds of museums here, so no matter what your interests are, there is one for you.
The history, science, and art museums in Manhattan are first-rate and are considered some of the top attractions in NYC, so they’re worth checking out. Many of them are even included in New York City’s attraction passes, including the New York Pass, so you can save money on tickets.
There are dozens of institutes in this area, so to help you choose, I’m sharing the 10 best museums in Manhattan, NY. Below, you’ll find the best-rated museums, cultural buildings, and exhibits in Manhattan. They span all kinds of topics and art forms, so keep reading to discover what you’ll find in each of them.
1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the best museum in Manhattan, NY
First, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is among the most prestigious art museums in Manhattan. It’s a nationally acclaimed institute and is even known around the world as one of the best art museums to see a variety of works. Here, you’ll find over two million works of art spanning the globe, from Africa to Asia to Oceania, and more.
One of the most notable parts of the museum is the amazing Egyptian exhibit, which has thousands of objects dating back as far as 3,000 B.C. The Roman galleries are also quite special, and feature pieces from Greece and Italy, starting from the Neolithic period to the Constantine era of the Roman Empire.
The Met is also home to modern masterpieces by famous artists like Picasso, Pollack, Miró, and Dalí. Its collection of ancient art and contemporary exhibits makes The Met one of the top museums in NYC, so you must add it to your list. Besides, it’s a huge place, so you’ll need more than one visit.
2. American Museum of Natural History, a good Manhattan museum to visit with kids
If you’re looking for something to do in NYC with kids, I recommend visiting the American Museum of Natural History. This is one of the best museums in Manhattan to visit, not only for the little ones but for kids and adults of all ages.
This huge institution has 45 exhibition halls full of fossils, gems, minerals, and other plant and animal specimens, so it’ll appeal to a wide range of interests. Some of the highlights include skeletons of a woolly mammoth and a nearly complete T-Rex, as well as a planetarium where you can see large-scale shows about space and the cosmos.
Another cool part of the museum is the Hall of Gems and Minerals, which has over 5,000 specimens from 98 countries. Among the gems here, the fluorescent Sterling Hill Slab, the large DeLong Star Ruby, and the Patricia Emerald from the Chivor Mine in Colombia stand out.
I also recommend stopping by the Butterfly Vivarium, where you can walk among a tropical microbiome while hundreds of butterflies flutter around you. There is also a separate moth display featuring the extra-large atlas moth, which is sure to get some gasps of astonishment.
3. MoMA, one of the best art museums in Manhattan
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is another art museum in Manhattan, and it’s worth adding to your itinerary since it features contemporary design exhibits you won’t find anywhere else.
MoMA is the best place to find modern masterpieces from around the world, as well as contemporary works of art from national artists. Here, you can browse the early Impressionist works of Cezanne, the Post-Impressionist pieces of van Gogh, and the colorful paintings of Matisse, just to name a few.
In addition to paintings, there are galleries full of drawings, sketches, photographs, and sculptures. MoMA also has design exhibits with models and drawings from famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Isamu Noguchi, two artists who made their mark on New York City’s architecture.
If you’re looking for things to do in Manhattan, MoMA is a solid choice. You can pop in for an hour or two or spend a cold or rainy afternoon perusing the galleries, the film library, and the video game collection. Admission is included in the New York Pass, or you can get a skip-the-line ticket here.
4. Museum of Chinese in America, one of the most interesting museums in Manhattan
The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is one of the best museums in Manhattan, even if it might not be on your radar. MOCA is a widely recognized cultural institution that chronicles the history and heritage of Chinese Americans throughout generations. Thanks to its array of artifacts, it’s an ideal place to go to learn more about this demographic and its contributions to the city.
The museum’s galleries and exhibits cover over 160 years of history through photographs, artwork, textiles, garments, and other objects. There is also a research center with additional items and archived documents.
MOCA was founded out of a need to preserve the memories and experiences of the aging Chinese American population in the city. Plus, this downtown Manhattan museum isn’t far from Chinatown, so after exploring the exhibits, you can spend some time in this interesting neighborhood.
5. 9/11 Museum, an important Manhattan museum to visit
The 9/11 Museum is one of the most poignant museums in the city, and the entire United States. It commemorates the history of the World Trade Center, most notably the attacks of September 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives during the attack, which destroyed the Twin Towers, one of the most iconic landmarks in the city.
While buildings are replaceable, people are not, so this Lower Manhattan museum is one way in which the victims can live on. Inside, there are photos, videos, audio recordings, and objects from Ground Zero, including steel remnants from the Towers and a staircase that survived among the wreckage. There is also a portion of the museum dedicated to the six people who perished in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993.
Outside, a pair of reflecting pools sits at the former site of the Twin Towers along with bronze plaques inscribed with the victims’ names. There are several white oak trees and man-made waterfalls, which create a serene and somber environment where you can reflect and honor the fallen.
You can use your New York Pass to get in the museum or buy a skip-the-line ticket here. Not only is this one of the top museums in Manhattan, but it’s also home to One World Observatory, one of the best observation decks in NYC. If you also want to go up to the observatory, I recommend getting a combo ticket for both attractions here.
6. The Guggenheim Museum, one of the most famous museums in Manhattan, NYC
The Guggenheim Museum is another famous art museum in Manhattan and the best place to see the most iconic works from the 20th century. This includes the notable art movements of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Abstract Expressionism.
The collection is full of artwork from masters like Kandinsky, Chagall, and Klee. Some of the highlights include the Cubist paintings of Braque and Gris, the ballerinas of Degas, and the kinetic sculptures of Alexander Calder.
In addition, the museum’s architecture is also something to behold. From the outside, the building looks like a whirlwind or a large white ribbon. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who sought to create a “temple of the spirit.” Inside, the museum has a ramp that travels upwards from the ground floor, and a huge skylight bathes the rotunda in sunshine.
So, along with having some of the best art exhibits in Manhattan, the Guggenheim is one of the most famous buildings in New York City. It’s also a popular venue, so I recommend buying your ticket in advance or using your New York Pass to skip the admission line.
7. El Museo del Barrio, one of the best free museums in Manhattan, New York
El Museo del Barrio is another awesome place to learn about different cultures, particularly Latino customs, traditions, and artworks. This Manhattan museum is one of the best cultural institutions in the city, covering over 800 years of Latin American, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean history.
Inside, you’ll find everything from folkloric masks and Pre-Columbian objects to contemporary artwork and film installations. The museum also holds temporary exhibits and works from visiting artists, so there is always something new to see.
While there is a strong emphasis on Puerto Rican art and local creators, there is also a nice collection of archaeological findings, indigenous items, and digital exhibits. The museum holds community events throughout the year, and it’s on Museum Mile, in front of Central Park, so its location is quite convenient.
Finally, admission is included in the New York Pass. If you don’t have the pass, you can get your ticket here. Admission is very affordable, and there is a pay-what-you-wish option, so if you’re looking for a free museum in NYC to visit as a family, I highly recommend it.
8. Morgan Library & Museum, the most beautiful museum in Manhattan
The Morgan Library & Museum is one of the most beautiful museums in Manhattan and a unique place you won’t find anywhere else in the city. Full of art, history, and ornate luxury, it’s a National Historic Landmark and one of NYC’s hidden gems.
The museum is comprised of several buildings, including a 19th-century home in the Italian style. Inside, you can marvel at Renaissance paintings, old manuscripts, and gorgeous decorative objects. The collection of liturgical items is especially impressive, with some items dating back to medieval Europe and even ancient Egypt.
The museum began as the personal library of New York financier Piermont Morgan, who began collecting books around 1890. Today, the collection has grown to include an impressive array of illuminated texts and historical texts, which adorn the library’s shelves.
While you’re here, enjoy the library’s rotunda and ceiling murals, as well as the façade’s two marble lionesses. Several important items are displayed in glass, including sketches by Michelangelo and da Vinci, musical scores from Beethoven and Mozart, as well as artwork by Renoir, Rembrandt, and van Gogh.
Admission to the museum and library is free for kids under 12, while adults can buy their tickets here.
9. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a fun Manhattan museum you should visit
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a fun museum in Manhattan and another great place to visit with kids. Not only is it an interesting museum, but it’s also a National Historic Landmark, so it’s worth seeing it at least once.
The museum is on the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier that was first launched in 1943. These days, it’s berthed on the Hudson River, but during its heyday it played a pivotal role in World War II, surviving several kamikaze attacks. Now retired, the USS Intrepid has several exhibits and galleries where you can learn more about its history and technology.
Inside, there is military memorabilia and over two dozen restored aircraft, including spy planes, fighter jets, and submarines from the Cold War. Don’t forget to check out the Space Shuttle Pavilion to learn about NASA’s space program and see the space shuttle Enterprise.
10. Tenement Museum, one of the best history museums in Manhattan, NY
Lastly, the Tenement Museum is another top museum in Manhattan and one of the most important. It’s dedicated to sharing the immigrant experience of the 19th and 20th centuries when thousands of people came to New York City from abroad to start a new life.
The museum is comprised of two tenement buildings, which are similar to boarding houses. About 15,000 people from over 20 countries lived in these houses between 1863 and 2011. Today, the place is a National Historic Site where you can gain new insights into the history of New York.
During your visit, a guide in era-appropriate attire will lead you through a series of restored rooms that reflect the daily lives of several different immigrants. You’ll hear stories detailing these people’s origins, reasons for coming to NYC, and experiences once they reached the city. This includes perspectives from people young and old, from Eastern Europe, China, and beyond.
If you haven’t visited this museum in Lower Manhattan yet, I highly recommend doing so. It’ll shed more light on how this popular part of the city came to be, and I’m sure you’ll learn something new. The museum is open daily, and tickets are available on the museum website.
That’s it for the 10 best museums in Manhattan, but before I go, here is a map you can download and bring along for your trip.
I’d also love to hear from you, whether you have any questions or you think there’s a Manhattan museum that I missed. Until then, stay safe and happy traveling!