Less Famous but Still Fabulous: Museums in New York City

by: Michele DeBella

Header image courtesy of Creative Commons, taken in the Museum of the Moving Image



For art lovers, the most famous of New York’s museums are not to be missed, but don’t bypass the city’s lesser-known cultural gems either.  Many of these museums will bring you to neighborhoods that wouldn’t usually be on your itinerary, and most likely the art will proudly reflect that neighborhood. The art in NYC is as diverse as the people themselves.


Lesser Known Yet Worthwhile Museums to Visit in NYC



El Museo Del Barrio


Modern and contemporary paintings and photographs combine with graphic art, Pre-Columbian era archeological artifacts, and depictions of “devotional arts” such as Santería and the celebration of Día de los Muertos to make up the oldest Latino art museum in the United States.


Located at the northern end of Museum Mile, which stretches along Fifth Avenue on the east side of Central Park, El Museuo Del Barrio was created in response to the lack of Caribbean and Latin American representation in mainstream museums. Their goal is reflected in their permanent collection, which features over 6,500 works, at the core of which are pieces by Puerto Rican artists.


And if you’ve ventured this far uptown, be sure to cross Fifth Avenue and enter Central Park through the ornate “Vanderbilt Gate” to explore the beautiful Conservatory Garden in Central Park (the park’s formal garden).  Then, if you have the time for one of the best scenic strolls in NYC, walk a few minutes south and step onto the elevated gravel path surrounding the impressive former reservoir now named after Jackie Kennedy.  Walking around the reservoir is one of the most relaxing things to do on the crowded and bustling island of Manhattan.


Address: 1230 Fifth Avenue (between 104th and 105th streets), Manhattan

Getting there: 6 line at 103rd street (and Lexington Avenue)

Cost of Admission: $9 suggested admission (you will also get free admission to the neighboring Museum of the City of New York)

Hours of Operation:  El Museo Del Barrio is currently undergoing extensive renovations and will be closed until the summer of 2018.



Merchant’s House Museum


The beauty of this old mansion is in the remarkable preservation of the architecture, as well as the artifacts inside.  In fact, the Merchant’s House Museum is located in one of the best preserved early 19th century rowhouses in New York City — both inside and out.


Seabury Tredwell made his fortune in the hardware business and purchased this East Village home in 1835 as a place to enjoy his retirement with his wife and eight children. The family hosted parties and dinners and generally enjoyed the life of the moneyed class they were a part of. The highlights inside the home include the exquisitely detailed Greek Revival rooms, expensive furniture pieces and light fixtures, and nearly 2,500 family objects, such as clothing, textiles, photographs, and other items that provide a glimpse into a 19th century family’s day-to-day life. Seabury’s youngest daughter Gertrude died in her old age in an upstairs bedroom in 1933, leaving the home continuously occupied by the Tredwell family for nearly a century.


The small museum offers guided as well as self-guided tours (see hours of operation below).  And be sure to check out the servant’s quarters upstairs, as well as the kitchen downstairs, which would not be complete without the requisite “beehive” oven for baking bread.


Address: 29 East Fourth Street (between Bowery and Lafayette Street), Manhattan

Getting there: B/D/F/M at Broadway/Lafayette station or 6 at Bleecker Street

Cost of Admission: $15

Hours of Operation:  

  • Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
  • Thursday: 12pm to 8pm (hour-long guided tours  at 2pm and 6:30)
  • Friday to Monday: 12pm to 5pm (guided tour at 2pm)



Museum of Chinese in America


Artist Maya Lin designed the building’s courtyard to resemble a traditional Chinese courtyard home in this compact but detailed museum that delves into the history of Chinese heritage in the United States. The core exhibit, With a Single Step takes patrons through the timeline of Chinese people in America; it begins in the 1700’s with the role that Chinese workers played in America’s development, then continues with the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (in effect for 60 years!), and the eventual development of New York’s Chinatown. The exhibit leads us to the present day with video footage of twelve individuals describing their Chinese American stories. Some of these contributors include journalist Jennifer 8. Lee, former mayoral candidate John Liu, and spoken word artist and actor, Emily Chang.


And if you get hungry before or after visiting the Museum of Chinese in America, check out our post on the best places to eat in Manhattan’s historic Chinatown.


Address: 215 Centre Street (between Hester and Grand Streets), Manhattan

Getting there: 6 line at Canal Street

Cost of Admission: $10

Hours of Operation:  

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 6pm
  • Thursday: 11am to 9pm (free admission 1st Thursday of each month)



Museum of the Moving Image


Their website promotes them as being a must-see for “anyone who takes an interest in the history and culture of the moving image.” That’s a broad population to target, but that pretty much sums up this Queens museum. They’ve made a name for themselves with landmark displays like the Jim Henson Exhibition, where patrons can revisit (or newly learn) favorite childhood characters. Also on view is everything one needs to learn about the making of a film, from conception to execution, including historic cameras and projectors dating all the way back to the beginning of film. Interactive experiences—dubbing your voice over a famous movie scene or making a stop-motion animation—are plentiful, making this fun for the whole family.


And if you’ve made to Queens, New York’s most diverse borough (home to over 2.5 million people speaking over a hundred different languages), you might as well stick around for some authentic local ethnic food.  Whatever you are in the mood for as far as world cuisines, you will find it in this great borough, including in the neighborhood of Astoria itself, which despite recent gentrification still retains a sizable Greek population.


Fun fact about Queens:


Until the end of the 19th century, today’s borough of Queens was mostly a collection of towns, villages, and small cities, such as Long Island City, Flushing, Astoria, and others.  Of course, today, residents of Queens live in the borough of Queens, which is in the city of New York.  Yet the US Postal code still retains the old system of referring to the original townships.  So for example, residents of Astoria would write put the return address on an envelope as “Astoria, NY, 11102” instead of “Queens, NY 11102”.  That’s not the case in the other boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan (aka “NY”), Staten Island, or the Bronx.


Address: 36-01 35th Avenue (between 36th Street and 37th Street), Queens

Getting there: M or R at Steinway Street

Cost of Admission: $15

Hours of Operation:  

  • Tuesday: 9:30am to 2:30pm
  • Wednesday and Thursday: 10:30am to 5pm
  • Friday: 10:30am to 8pm (free admission from 4pm to 8pm)
  • Saturday and Sunday: 10:30am to 6pm
  • Closed Mondays



New York Transit Museum


Without its sophisticated transportation system, New York would be a very different, and much less convenient city, which is why a museum exists that pays homage to it. See the history of the transportation network that moves millions of people per day, the experience of its customers throughout the years, and the stories of the people who built it. This human interest aspect makes the museum about much more than trains and busses, but don’t worry—you’ll learn a lot about those, too. One of the museum’s permanent exhibits details through photographs, videos, and artifacts the work that went into building the first subway line in New York City, which opened in 1904 with a fare of a nickel.  Another popular attraction is the series of vintage subway cars, beginning with a wooden car which first served as a Brooklyn elevated rail line beginning in 1908.


This museum offers something for all ages, so it’s a great idea for family trips to NYC with teens or young children.  The kids can enjoy the exhibits and walking through old subway cars, while the adults can learn about the complex history and development of the subway system that allows the city to function as America’s largest city a century later.


And if you’re just planning your NYC visit and want to learn how to actually use the NYC subway system, check out our step-by-step NYC subway guide and reduce the intimidation factor before you arrive.


Address: Corner of Boerum Place & Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn

Getting there: 4 or 5 lines to Borough Hall or A/C/F to Jay St/Metrotech

Cost of Admission: $10

Hours of Operation:  

  • Tuesday-Friday: 10am to 4pm
  • Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 5pm
  • Closed Mondays



The Bronx Museum of the Arts


The Bronx is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the United States, and the contemporary art at the Bronx Museum of the Arts recognizes that. One of their main goals is to attract an audience from a wide range of backgrounds, and to highlight, via art, the experiences of living in an urban environment. The museum features American artists from various cultural backgrounds, but also welcomes exhibitions from around the world. They host an array of talks and live music events, and have recently become an occasional venue for Moth StorySLAMs, the wildly popular five-minute storytelling competition—yet another platform for the community to express themselves.


Note: The Bronx Museum of the Arts is very short walk to Yankee Stadium, so you can visit the museum before catching a baseball game or taking a Yankee Stadium tour.


Address: 1040 Grand Concourse, The Bronx

Getting there: B or D lines at 167th Street

Cost of Admission: Free

Hours of Operation:  

  • Wednesday-Sunday: 11am to 6pm (open til 8pm Fridays)
  • Closed Mondays and Tuesdays



The Museum of the American Gangster


The smallest museum on this list (two rooms to be exact) recounts the stories of organized crime in the United States, with a particular focus on the Prohibition era (1920 through 1933).  Decades later, mobsters are still often glorified in movies and on TV shows (think Boardwalk Empire of recent fame).  Maybe that’s because the heyday of the American gangster is tied up with Prohibition and bootleggers, women’s suffrage and mass immigration, and generally an era when the country was undergoing dramatic cultural and economic changes that would shape its identity.


The Museum of the American Gangster allows you to explore this history in a curated format, where you can view paintings of notorious mobsters and articles that tell their stories. The museum is housed inside an historic speakeasy, which only adds to the allure.  And the cost of admission (see below) includes a guided tour, which certainly enhances the experience.


Address: 78 St. Mark’s Place, Manhattan

Getting there: 6 at Astor Place

Cost of Admission: $20

Hours of Operation:  

  • Monday-Sunday: 1pm to 6pm
  • Guided tours at 1pm, 2:30, and 4pm each day, plus at 5:30 Mondays only