The streets of NYC are lined with incredible galleries and museums, fully reflecting its status as a hub of culture and artistic expression. No matter your taste, New York City will have something to suit it.

From hallowed halls that give an extensive overview of the history of art to a small niche museum devoted to a specific century, region or genre, the Big Apple has you covered. As the famous Romantic poet John Keats said, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” – discover that joy with our round-up of the best museums in the city that never sleeps.

1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Best for all-day entertainment

With a permanent collection of more than two million objects and artworks covering 5000 years of art history, and multiple visiting exhibitions showcasing works from around the globe, it would take a week of constant perusing to explore this marvelous museum in its entirety. This makes it the perfect place to spend an entire day immersing yourself in art.

The museum opens early and has late evening hours on Fridays and Saturdays for those who want to maximize their browsing. In fact, there's little need to leave the premises until closing time rolls around – the museum is well-appointed with comfy benches, scores of phone charging outlets, information booths, and a tasty cafe with seasonal delights to help fuel your art marathon.

With so much to see, we've put together our favorite Met itineraries – whether you're here for one, three or eight hours.

Visitors in a gallery at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
A crash of color and form at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

2. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Best indoor-outdoor experience

Recognized as one of the most significant modern art museums on the planet, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is an absolute must-visit. Galleries sprawl across multiple levels and the five-story central atrium means a bird's-eye balcony view from every floor. Sound installations in the atrium can be heard throughout the museum, creating a cacophonous, immersive experience.

Best of all is the outdoor sculpture garden, accessible only from within the museum, with a floor made of polished marble and a rotating array of sculptures from such greats as Aristide Maillol, Rachel Whiteread, Henri Mattise and Pablo Picasso.

3. The Rubin Museum of Art

Best for Asian and Eurasian art

This museum in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood is a true original. Come for an experience dedicated exclusively to the art of Eurasia, Central Asia, India and the Himalayas. The Himalayan collection at the Rubin has a heavy focus on Tibetan culture and includes thangkas (cloth paintings), votive objects, statues and more.

The museum is free every Friday evening between 6pm and 10pm but you'll need to book a ticket in advance – a live DJ and drinks make it a great start to your evening. Even if you've been before, it's worth a return trip to see the immersive installations that are periodically on display. The recent highlight is the Tibetan shrine room perfect for contemplation, complete with flickering candles and the soothing lull of chanting from Tibetan nuns and monks.

A museum goer observes a black and white photographs at the Whitney Museum of American Art
Contemporary art in a cool, contemporary space at the Whitney Museum Of American Art © Robert Nickelsberg / Contributor / Getty Images

4. The Whitney Museum of American Art

Best for a downtown adventure

This excellent museum is perfectly located for a culture fix while exploring the West Village, Meatpacking District, High Line and Hudson River Park neighborhoods. Known locally as The Whitney, this museum’s phenomenal permanent art collection covers American creativity from the late 19th century through to the present day.

You'll find everything from painting and sculpture to photos and video artworks, alongside eclectic multimedia installations. The museum prides itself on showcasing living artists, giving the galleries a fresh and ultra-contemporary feel. Admission is free on Friday evenings and the second Sunday of every month, making for a great, inexpensive way to explore the collections.

5. The Met Cloisters

Best for medieval art

For medieval history buffs, the Met Cloisters – fondly referred to simply as “The Cloisters” – is a unique treat. The museum has a wonderful assortment of ancient objects on display, including hand-carved wooden panels, perfectly preserved stone sepulchers and elegantly woven tapestries that come to life on every wall.

While you're here, pop into nearby Fort Tryon Park for gorgeous river views from one of the highest points in the city.

6. The Leslie Lohman Museum of Art

Best LGBTIQ+ art museum

This cozy neighborhood gallery in Manhattan’s Soho is lesser-known but it packs an impressive cultural punch. Covering more than 22,000 works by historic and contemporary LGBTIQ+ artists, its collection is nothing short of legendary.

Items include contributions from iconic queer artists ranging from Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe to David Hockney and Berenice Abbott and hundreds more in between. Located on a quiet cobblestoned street, this outwardly unassuming museum is an important community builder and an outstanding collection all in one.

Children looking at dinosaurs in the American Museum of Natural History
Dinosaurs on the prowl in the American Museum of Natural History © ItzaVU / Shutterstock

7. The American Museum of Natural History

Best for families

This engaging space has something for anyone with an interest in the natural world, but it's particularly good for families with kids. Adults will marvel right alongside teens and toddlers at the displays of skeletal dinosaurs and other natural wonders in this massive, 2-million-square-foot museum, which also includes a stellar planetarium and an extensive library. A 200-strong team of scientists is behind the informative displays.

Its impressive manifesto says it all: “To discover, interpret, disseminate – through scientific research and education – knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.” Admission is “pay as you wish” for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents, which makes a visit affordable for families on a budget. For more insider tips on things to do with your kids in NYC, dive into our family guide to the Big Apple.

8. Nicola Vassel Gallery

Best new gallery

This contemporary art gallery opened in early 2021 and is home to a fascinating array of works from talented contemporary artists. The curators are committed to starting fresh and imaginative conversations about both the history and future of art, so there's always something interesting on display.

Nicola Vassell herself is a longtime art dealer, a veteran curator, and a global lecturer who has organized exhibitions everywhere from London and Berlin to Shanghai and beyond. If there is a gallery to visit to get your finger on the pulse of the New York art scene, this is it!

Keep planning your trip to NYC:

Add these top experiences to your itinerary
Find out which NYC neighborhood fits your vibe
Give your wallet a break with these incredible free experiences
Navigate NYC like a local with our transportation guide

This article was first published Oct 30, 2021 and updated Apr 11, 2024.

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