The good thing about large cities, as opposed to more nature-driven travel destinations, is that in cities you can be entertained throughout the year and not just when the snow falls or the sun sits high in the sky.
In cities, you can walk the streets of historic, artsy neighbourhoods, take off your shoes in parks or enjoy an ice cream on the harbour front during a warm summer afternoon. In winter, cities also offer a plethora of indoor activities to keep you warm and dry. Depending on the city you choose, one of the most inspiring can be a trip to the Museum.
New York is one of those cities with so many museums it can be difficult to know where to start. You definitely should not leave the city without having visited at least a few of the “big” ones like the Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, but there are also several lesser known, yet entirely captivating museums that will make you fall even more in love with the city.
Here’s a guide to the “must visit” museums of New York City.
A Mile of Art and Culture
If you only have a few days in the Big Apple and want to tick off some of the “institutions” without having to become too familiar with the subway, then “Museum Mile” is the place to go. New York City has officially designated Fifth Avenue from 82nd Street to 105th Street as Museum Mile due to the high concentration of museums there.
Starting from 82nd Street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an imposing, neoclassical structure and one of the landmarks of the city. It is the largest art museum in the US and its permanent collection houses more than two million pieces of work including works from ancient Egypt, classical antiquity, European, American, African, Asian and Islamic art, divided into 17 different sections.
Next, on 86th Street, lies the Neue Galerie New York, a museum devoted to early 20th century German and Austrian art. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on 88th Street is one of the absolute must-sees in New York. An architectural icon as well as cultural and educational centre, the Guggenheim Museum hosts everything from special exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, lectures, performances, screenings and more.
Between 89th and 90th Street and also on 91st Street lie the National Academy Museum and School, a community of artists, students, museum-goers and supporters of the arts, as well as the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The Jewish Museum between 92nd and 93rd Street is devoted to Jewish art and culture, while the Museum of the City of New York takes the visitor through the life and times of the city. Also on 104th Street is the El Museo del Barrio, specialising in Latin American and Caribbean art. Just off the Museum Mile, on 110th Street, is the Museum for African Art, unsurprisingly dedicated to the art and culture of Africa and the African diaspora.
American film culture has spread across the world and is arguably one of the country’s largest exports. For most people, American films mean Hollywood films, but before Hollywood there was New York and that is where the Museum of the Moving Image gets its cue. Located in Astoria, Queens, the museum is dedicated to everything related to film, TV and digital media through exhibitions, education programs and ‘moving-image’ works. Its’ movie screening programs are experimental to say the least and attract a diverse crowd.
For an alternative art experience, visit 5Pointz Aerosol Art Centre, Long Island City, not far from the Museum of the Moving Image. Not exactly a museum, this outdoor exhibition space is considered one of the world’s most famous graffiti locations, where artists from all over the world get permits to add their work to the old factory walls.
Just across from 5Pointz is PS1, the younger, contemporary, wilder sister of the Museum of Modern Art. PS1 is perhaps one of the most experimental art institutions in New York and there is room for diversity, emerging artists, new genres and innovation.
Take a Step Back in Time
While some museums are all about the contemporary and new, others are about looking back at a specific period of time in the past. Such is the case with The City Reliquary, a tiny community museum in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Housing a permanent display of artefacts from times gone by, including postcards, fragments of landmark buildings, a Chinatown newsstand, subway tokens and other little mementos from everyday NYC life.
Visitors can also be taken back in time at The Tenement Museum, located in an apartment in an 150 year-old building on Orchard Road on the Lower East Side. The area around Lower East Side was traditionally very ethnically and culturally diverse and the area where many of the immigrants to New York first settled. The museum tells the story of those immigrants, how they lived, set up businesses and built their lives in the city. The museum holds guided tours through the apartments in the building as well as neighbourhood walking tours where visitors can get a feel for the neighbourhood then and now.
Plan Your Visit
Museums can be daunting if you don’t have a targeted approach to each visit, so it’s always best to do a little “recon” and advanced planning before you cross the cultural threshold. New York’s institutions all have websites worth visiting in advance so you can click through and take a virtual tour before you enjoy the real one.