Your ultimate guide to New York City’s art museums

From the popular Met Museum to the MoMA to the lesser-known Brooklyn Museum, these are the best art museums in NYC.

During the late 20th century, New York was the epicenter of an artistic and cultural movement that shook the world. Loud, intense, and full of life — much like the city itself — Basquiat, Koons, Haring, et al firmly reestablished the Big Apple on the art world’s map. It was an energetic explosion of creativity, and the influence of art from this era can still be seen today across the city.

From the smaller galleries in Chelsea to the world-class museums stretching from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, not to mention all the street art, there’s something for everyone here — all you have to do is decide what you want to see.

If you have no particular plan but still fancy a “culture shot,” walk along the Museum Mile, on Fifth Avenue from 82nd to 105th Street, where there’s a multitude of art museums lining up the avenue. It’s great if you want to visit more than one exhibition on the same day, and even just a walk past is worth it — the buildings themselves are pretty awe-inspiring.

But with the wide array of fun museums to see in NYC, it can be a little overwhelming to choose which one to visit. So here’s a curated list of the best art museums in NYC.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Why should you visit the Met?

The most prominent of Museum Mile’s residents, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, often simply called The Met, is the largest museum in the United States.  With over 5,000 years of art from every corner of the world to explore, this gorgeous, late 19th-century neoclassical institution is an absolute dream.

The Met's enormous collection of art, over 2 million pieces, is divided between two locations: The Met on Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters. The entry ticket is valid for both on the same day. If your time is limited, start at the main Fifth Avenue location, the largest and most important. 

How is the museum organized?

At The Met's Fifth Avenue location, expect art from Ancient Greece and Rome to Renaissance and Impressionist masterpieces. The collection comprises more than 2 million exhibits, shown alternately across 2 million square feet of exhibition space. Its 19 areas are divided by era, and you can expect everything from antiquities to modern art and photography.

The Met Cloisters, located on the northwestern tip of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River, is devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, which is reflected in the 1930s museum’s design — original materials from several European monasteries were used in its construction.

Fun fact:

This is where the annual Met Gala is held every year, making the Met one of the coolest museums in NYC.

Explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Guggenheim Museum

Why should you visit?

With an 85-year legacy, the Guggenheim Museum is one of the world’s most famous art foundations. 

There are a few Guggenheim museums around the world, but the New York location is the original one. With a large, light-flooded interior and curved galleries, the futuristic museum building and its distinctive rotunda design are located on Museum Mile, directly across from Central Park.

It is one of the city’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the other being the Statue of Liberty.

How is the museum organized?

Primarily devoted to art from the 20th century, the Guggenheim showcases abstract art, Impressionism, Expressionism, and Surrealism. However, unlike most institutions dedicated to the visual arts, the displayed works are less strictly organized by period or style and often come from private collections.

The geometric shapes that make up the gallery spaces present the art along a spiral (like a shell), with little in the way of walls to separate artists, ideas, or time periods. It’s a mesmerizing design, with a peaceful ambiance. 

Insider tip:

If you’re not really interested in the exhibitions but would still like a peek at the impressive interior, you can pop into the foyer (and the museum shop) without a ticket.

MoMA

Why should you visit?

The Museum of Modern Art (or MoMA) is the ultimate experience for fans of modern art. The collections here are among the most influential and extensive in the world. 

Expect to find exhibits such as works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Warhol, and Rothko. If 20th—and 21st-century art is your thing, you’ve reached its mecca.

How is the museum organized?

MoMA’s collection is not limited to classical art forms like painting or sculpture but also includes film, photography, and design. 

There’s a lot to see across six floors, so if you’ve never been there before, start on the fifth floor with the Painting and Sculpture Galleries (they continue onto the fourth floor as well). 

Insider tip:

Take the elevator to the top and ride the escalators down as you work your way through the collections: 1880s–1940s on fifth; 1940s–1970s on fourth; and 1970s onwards on second. 

Explore the Museum of Modern Art

Whitney Museum of American Art

Why should you visit?

When it opened in 1931, the Whitney Museum of American Art made homegrown American talent its primary focus, before the boom in American art happened. 

Though it shares many of the country’s most famous artists with the likes of popular museums like MoMA, including Warhol and Pollock, the Whitney puts a particular focus on works by living artists. 

Its collection is constantly growing and evolving, and the Whitney Biennial is seen as one of the most influential events in the art calendar and a compass for the industry's direction.

How is the museum organized?

Since 2015, the Whitney Museum has been in its current Meatpacking District location, a gleaming Renzo Piano-designed behemoth next to the High Line. It has an expansive 18,000 square feet of exhibition space. 

The collection comprises an impressive 25,000 pieces by over 3,700 artists, from paintings and sculptures to moving images. The largest galleries can be found on the upper four of its eight floors, so starting at the top and working your way down is a good option, but the nature of the modern, versatile space means that there is always a new configuration for even regular visitors to discover. 

Outdoor galleries mix with the more traditional spaces and make the city part of the experience too.

Insider tip:

Don’t miss the free tours throughout each day, included in your entry ticket — check out the schedule when you arrive and explore a little deeper.

Brooklyn Museum

Why should you visit?

Across the East River on the edge of Prospect Park, the ancestral home of the Lenape (Delaware) people, lies the Brooklyn Museum, New York City’s third-largest museum. 

Known for its extensive collection of Egyptian and African art, as well as paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the 17th to 20th centuries, the Brooklyn Museum aims to inspire encounters with art that expand visitors' views of themselves, the world, and its possibilities.

How is the museum organized?

One of the museum's notable features is its dedication to community impact. Many of its partnerships and programs work to amplify the voices of those who have been historically marginalized to inspire action and impact. 

Themed galleries are spread across five floors, from Asian art on the second floor to decorative arts on the fourth and American and European art on the fifth. Don’t miss the third floor, where you’ll find a fascinating exhibit exploring Egyptian beliefs about gender in the afterlife. 

Fun fact:

The first section of the museum opened in 1897, and in 1923 it became the first museum in the United States to exhibit African cast metal and other objects as art rather than ethnological artifacts. 

MoMA PS1

Why should you visit?

Long Island City is one of the coolest, most up-and-coming neighborhoods in Queens, and so it continues to make sense that it’s home to one of the largest non-profit institutions in the United States entirely dedicated to contemporary art: MoMA PS1

Originally founded by an organization devoted to organizing exhibitions in abandoned spaces across New York City, PS1 is housed in a former public school building, hence its name, and later formed a merger with the Museum of Modern Art.

How is the museum organized?

Its first exhibition, Rooms, invited local artists to transform the building’s unique spaces, and the exhibit established its tradition of transforming the building’s spaces into site-specific art that continues today. 

It’s a great place to discover emerging artists, in 125,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, and remind yourself that art is whatever you want it to be.

Insider tip:

From June to September, a weekly summer outdoor concert series called Warm Up happens every Saturday, a curatorial program that seeks to elevate innovative and underrepresented voices.

FAQs

How many art museums are there in New York City?

There are hundreds of cultural institutions in New York City, including multiple art museums, some internationally renowned and some more local.

What's the most famous art museum in New York City?

The Met Museum is the most famous art museum in NYC, but there are a few other popular ones, such as the MoMA, Guggenheim, Brooklyn Museum, Rubin Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

How much does it cost to go to an art museum in New York City?

Entrance fees to museums vary but expect to spend an average of $25 per person at most major New York art museums. Check out the museums’ websites for free entry or pay-what-you-wish hours and days. Many art museums offer these on certain days of the week.

Do you need to book tickets to art museums in New York City?

Booking in advance online is the best way to skip long ticket lines and secure your desired time slot.

When is the best time to visit art museums in New York City?

Early mornings or late afternoons tend to be less busy.