This museum allows visitors to briefly inhabit the Lower East Side's heartbreaking, hardscrabble but unexpectedly inspiring heritage. Two remarkably preserved (and minimally restored) 19th-century tenements are the focus of various tours, including the impossibly cramped home and garment shop of the Levine family from Poland, and two immigrant dwellings from the Great Depressions of 1873 and 1929. Visits to the tenement building are available only as part of scheduled guided tours, with many departures each day.
In addition to the 'Hard Times' tour that features the homes of two immigrant families, the museum also runs various other tours, including 'Sweatshop Workers,' which illuminates life for garment workers and the balance between work, family life and religion, and 'Irish Outsiders,' which visits the restored home of Irish immigrants who dealt with the death of a child in the 1800s. You can have a more interactive experience with 'Meet Victoria Confino,' which gives a firsthand glimpse of life in a tenement as related by a 14-year-old Italian immigrant (played by a costumed interpreter) – it's the only tour recommended for children between five and eight, but there's really nothing to stop them going on any of them. There are also neighborhood walking tours, food tours, special evening tours exploring the life of the Rogarshevsky family (encountered on the sweatshop tour) on Thursday, and new tours added occasionally, so be sure to check the website.
The visitor center – which has an excellent gift shop – shows a video detailing the difficult life endured by the people who once lived in the surrounding buildings, which initially had no plumbing or electricity. Reserve tickets ahead online – popular tours sell out in advance.