Screw the Smithsonian, the Louvre, the Prado and the Uffizi Gallery. The best museums in the world are right here in NYC, and there are about a million of them, boasting everything from 13th century folk art to curious sex positions and embalmed baby kittens. It's hard to suss out which of these are the best of the best, but we've sorted out some of our favorites for you. Leave yours—and your preferred mummifying techniques—in the comments, and be sure to check out our list of some of the city's lesser-known museums, too.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Courtesy A. Strakey's flickr)
THE BIGGIES: MOMA, MET, WHITNEY, GUGGENHEIM & AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: These five museums include four internationally-renowned art institutions and arguably the best science museum in the world, and though each one warrants its own sprawling encomium, their virtues have been extolled so often we're clumping them together to save space for some of the city's other worthy destinations. Even without a mind-blowing special exhibit, The Met's permanent collection is worth a five hour visit alone, boasting everything from Greek sculpture to modern Pop art; the Cloisters, which is also under the Met's jurisdiction, features some of the most spectacular medieval and religious art in the country. MoMA's (and its Queens satellite PS1) permanent collection of modern and contemporary art is unparalleled, and the special shows that migrate through its galleries are nothing short of breathtaking. Past exhibitions have focused on Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh and Rene Magritte, and ne'er forget recent Drudge Siren blog events like The Clock, Sleeping Tilda and the Rain Room.
As for The Whitney, well, that Upper East Side standby and famed Biennial holder is on its way to a new home in the Meatpacking District at the end of the year. But for now, it's worth stopping by the bizarre Marcel Breuer bunker to see the museum's massive Jeff Koons retrospective, on view through October 19th. And then there's the Guggenheim, whose Frank Lloyd Wright building itself is perhaps more famous and beautiful than some of the artwork inside, though its compelling collection of modern and contemporary art is nothing to sneeze at.
And the last-but-not-least of these most celebrated New York institutions is the American Museum of Natural History, where we presume gigantic dinosaurs and the Ghost of Teddy Roosevelt haunt the halls at night. You don't have to like science to appreciate these adorable penguins, but this museum touches every aspect of biology, ecology and geology imaginable, and you can even take a trip into space at the Hayden Planetarium next door.
The Museum of Modern Art is located at 11 West 53rd Street in Midtown West (212- 708-9400, moma.org) $25 admission. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located at 1000 5th Ave at Central Park (212) 535-7710, metmuseum.org) $25 recommended admission. The Whitney Museum of American Art is located at 945 Madison Ave on the Upper East Side (212-570-3600, whitney.org) $20 admission. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is located at 1071 5th Ave on the Upper East Side (212-423-3500, guggenheim.org) $22 admission. And the American Museum of Natural History is located at 79th Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side (212-769-5100, amnh.org) $22 suggested admission.
Courtesy thelexiphane's flickr
FRICK COLLECTION: The Met might have the city's most famous collection of art, but the Frick may have the most elegant. The museum, housed in the former home of art collector and former Andrew Carnegie partner Henry Clay Frick, boasts an elegant collection of primarily European art, including works by Johannes Vermeer, Francisco Goya, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Rembrandt van Rijn and François Boucher. And though the art itself is certainly a draw, it's the presentation that draws you in here; much of the collection on view remains arranged as it was during Frick's lifetime, spread out through the mansion's rooms, halls, vestibules and galleries. Be sure to save time for a lengthy visit to the museum's spectacular Garden Court, check out all the amazing clocks, and note that a secret bowling alley, billiards room and woodshop lurk beneath all that art.
The Frick is located at 1 East 70th Street between 5th and Madison Aves on the Upper East Side (212-288-0700, frick.org) $20 admission.
Courtesy Vivienne Gucwa's flickr
MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK: The MCNY's been culling art, photos and objects out of New York's history since it was housed in Gracie Mansion in the 1920s. And now they've got a collection of about 750,00 artifacts squirreled away in a landmarked mansion at the northern tip of Museum Mile; these include images made by 19th century printmaking firm Currier and Ives, classic Broadway theater scripts, and a 12-room dollhouse that once belonged to socialite Carrie Walter Stettheimer and features tiny doll-sized artworks by artists like Marcel Duchamp. MCNY unleashes some of its collection through ongoing and temporary exhibitions, like "Activist New York", "City As A Canvas" and the erstwhile "The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011."
The Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 5th Ave in East Harlem (212-534-1672, mcny.org) $10 suggested admission.
Courtesy christiNYCa's flickr
MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM: J.P. Morgan may be better known for his financial services empire, but it turns out he was a pretty prolific art and manuscript collector, too. The Morgan houses this collection, along with newer acquisitions, in its Midtown East space, boasting everything from original Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens manuscripts, ancient Neo-Babylonian stone cylinder seals, renowned Renaissance artwork and Einstein's "Fundamentals and Methods of the Theory of Relativity." Past and present exhibitions have included a look at The Little Prince author Antoine Saint-Expurey, J.D. Salinger's love letters, and first edition works by modern masters like William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Allen Ginsberg; book nerds will also appreciate Pierpont Morgan's sublime library, which was restored to its 1906 glory a few years ago.
The Morgan is located at 225 Madison Ave between 36th and 37th Street in Midtown East (212-685-0008, themorgan.org) $18 admission.
The Panorama (via Queens Museum's flickr).
QUEENS MUSEUM: The Queens Museum never gets enough love, and that's a real shame. The four-decade old art institution is a cultural gem, located in a pavilion building built specifically for the 1939 World's Fair and used briefly as headquarters for the United Nations General Assembly. Now, the Queens Museum harbors a hefty collection of fine arts, Tiffany glass, and collections stemming from the 1939 and 1964 Worlds Fairs, the latter of which is currently on view as part of temporary exhibition Behind the Curtain: Collecting the New York Fairs.
But the museum's best and most famous offering is its Panorama of the City of New York, a 9,335-square-foot model of the city's five boroughs that was originally commissioned by Robert Moses for the 1964 World's Fair. Though the panorama hasn't undergone a full-throttle update since 1992, developments like Brooklyn Bridge Park and Citi Field have slowly gotten added over time thanks to the museum's "Adopt A Building" program, though it seems Williamsburg's condos have yet to receive treatment in miniature.
The Queens Museum is located at the New York City Building in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (718-592-9700, queensmuseum.org) $8 suggested admission.
Courtesy thelexiphane's flickr
BROOKLYN MUSEUM: The Brooklyn Museum has really been on a roll this century with a series of blockbuster exhibits, including 2008's stellar Takashi Murakami show, 2012's Keith Haring exhibition, last year's innovative Jean Paul Gaultier show, "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" which is on view until August 10th, and a site-specific piece by street artist Swoon. Beyond the special stuff, though, this second largest museum in NYC has a massive permanent collection, with noteworthy works including Judy Chicago's celebrated feminist installation The Dinner Party, Gilbert Stuart's 1796 portrait of George Washington (used on the $1 bill!) and many, many mummies, which once gave an acquaintance of my grandmother's a rash back in the 1940s.
The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 East Parkway at Washington Ave in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. (718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org) $12 suggested admission.
2011's Jim Henson installation. (Katie Sokoler/Gothamist)
THE MUSEUM OF MOVING IMAGE: You don't have to be a film buff to enjoy MoMI's expansive special exhibitions on, say, The Muppets, or Breaking Bad. But if you do love movies, this Astoria museum is stuffed with all sorts of memorabilia, interactive exhibitions and special programming that'll tickle your inner cinephile. MoMI's ongoing exhibition, "Behind The Screen," runs through the history of cinema, tackling everything from the earliest moving picture camera to makeup from Sex And The City. They also hold frequent film screenings—all summer long, they've been continuously showing films from the 1939 and 1964 Worlds Fairs, and recent screening offerings have included The Searchers, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original Godzilla. Stay tuned for their upcoming permanent Jim Henson installation, planned for 2015.
The Museum of the Moving Image is located at 3601 35th Ave in Astoria, Queens (718-777-6888, movingimage.us). $12 admission.
Courtesy Urch's flickr
NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM: Visiting the New York Transit Museum is a bit like traveling back in time. The nation's only museum dedicated to public transportation, the NYTM boasts an astonishing collection of MTA memorabilia, not the least of which is its collection of antique subway cars, complete with antique ads that predate Dr. Zizmor. You can also peruse an extensive collection of subway tokens (ah, memories of watching my bus fare roll under a car...) and fare collectors, and for the young and young at heart, there's a child-sized taxi cab, trolley car and bus to play on. It's also noteworthy that the museum is located inside a decommissioned subway station, and you can peek into a functional control room to see the whole system at work.
The New York Transit Museum is located at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn (718-694-1600, mta.info/mta/museum). $7 admission.
Courtesy Scoboco's flickr
NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY: When I was a child, there was an exhibit in the basement of the New York Historical Society dubbed "Kid City," in which the museum had transformed West 82nd Street and Broadway into a tot-friendly version of its 1901 self. I spent many hours there commandeering a turn-of-the-century grocer's market and forcing other children to make deliveries to the neighboring horse goods store, and though "Kid City" has since been replaced with a larger children's exhibition, I like to think it taught me a lot about New York's history—what nine-year-old knew Central Park didn't simply sprout fully-formed out of the ground? The NYHS underwent a major renovation a few years ago, and it's since returned with some excellent programming.
There is, for instance, a show featuring 90 artworks by Madeline creator Ludwig Bemelmans; through the end of the month, the museum is showing work by street style photographer Bill Cunningham, and past exhibitions have included works from the 1913 Armory Show and a look at the city's AIDS crisis. You can marvel at a portion of Keith Haring's Pop Shop ceiling at the admissions desk, or snap photos of the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass perched outside the museum's two entrances.
The New York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West at 77th Street on the Upper West Side (212-873-3400, nyhistory.org).
LOWER EAST SIDE TENEMENT MUSEUM: This is another one for the time travelers. This 19th century five-story tenement building housed around 7,000 immigrants from the 1860s to the 1930s, and the Tenement Museum's restored the rooms to mirror what they looked like from the 1860s to the 1930s. Museum staff provide guided tours of the rooms and businesses, which include a garment workshop and a German saloon; there are even costumed staff members who take on the characters of the building's former residents. Beyond the Orchard Street building, the museum provides walking tours of the neighborhood to remind you of what the LES was like before Max Fish moved in (and then out, and then back in again).
The Tenement Museum is located at 103 Orchard Street between Broome and Delancey Streets on the Lower East Side (212) 982-8420, tenement.org). $25 admission.