5 Can't-Miss Museums in New York City

Put these New York City museums on your to-do list.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Can't-Miss Museums in New York City

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 02:  People visit the new American Wing for paintings, sculpture and decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 2, 2012 in New York City. Featuring 26 rooms, the new floor devoted to American art features works by John Singer Sargent, Frederic Edwin Church, Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington among others. A three-part renovation of the American Wing began 10 years ago and with it completion the museum has spent $100 million.

Spanning approximately 2 million square feet, the Met is one of the largest museums in the Western Hemisphere.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Some of the world's finest museums housing vast collections of art, history and modern memorabilia can be found in New York City. Whatever your interests, the Big Apple likely has a museum dedicated to it. Whether you're looking to experience America's immigrant history, view paintings by the great masters or explore the universe, these are some of the best museums in New York City, according to local experts.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Known simply as The Met, this massive, historic institution located on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street holds more than 5,000 years of art from a range of cultures and eras. Explore different time periods, from ancient Greece to the medieval years and the Renaissance to the 20th century, through the lens of their paintings, costumes, sculptures and even armor. There is a constant roster of rotating exhibits, but you can always find works by masters including Picasso, Cezanne or Monet.

The Met is approximately 2 million square feet, making it one of the largest museums in the Western Hemisphere, so it's impossible to see everything in a day. Instead, focus on a specific style or time period that interests you. Isabelle Hogan, chef concierge at The Mark hotel, says there is always something to see at The Met, and suggests visitors check out the rooftop, which is open from May through October.

The Met is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $25 for adults, however, on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m., The Met allows you to "pay what you wish" as part of the city's "free Fridays" museum program.

American Museum of Natural History

Located on Central Park West at 79th Street, the American Museum of Natural History has been feeding visitors' curiosity about our planet and our place in the universe since its opening in 1869. The setting for the hit 2006 movie "Night at the Museum," the American Museum of Natural History is a labyrinth of wonders that will delight children and adults alike.

Permanent exhibitions include the Hall of North American animals, the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Science and, of course, the Millstein Hall of Ocean Life featuring the famous 94-foot model of a graceful blue whale. It's in the Millstein Hall that you can attend the museum's sleepover parties, which require reservations made in advance. Soon, the museum will feature an exhibit about Cuba and its biodiversity.

The American Museum of Natural History is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. General admission tickets are $22 for adults and $12.50 for children ages 2 to 12.

New York Public Library

Once you see those majestic marble lions flanking the front steps, you'll know exactly where you are – the iconic New York Public Library, which was featured in the 1984 movie "Ghostbusters." Designed in the beaux-arts style, the library is located on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street next to Bryant Park, and has been inspiring New Yorkers and book lovers for more than a century.

"The New York Public Library is a beautiful building, it’s like going to a museum, it has amazing history," says Hogan.

While you may overlook the library as a must-see museum, think again: The library houses extensive collections of historic documents, books and art, and you can browse them all for free. Exhibits rotate, but in the Schwarzman Building, learn about founding father Alexander Hamilton and the alternative press, or view old maps of New York state's Erie Canal, which stretches from Albany to Buffalo. Or glimpse at what New Yorkers were eating decades ago at the library's archive of restaurant menus.

The main building of the New York Public Library is open daily, though hours vary by day.

Tenement Museum

New York City was built by the hands of immigrants, people who came from all over the world seeking opportunity and a chance at a better life. The Tenement Museum, located at 103 Orchard St. in Manhattan's Lower East Side, turns a spotlight onto a chapter of history that should never be overlooked. Visitors experience the difficult living conditions that nearly 7,000 working-class immigrants faced during their time at 97 Orchard St., tenement apartments built in 1863.

"I send many visitors there, it's a great educational experience," says Susanne Carter, chef concierge at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park. "You see how families lived, walk around and see how cramped things were, how hard things were, and you understand where our city comes from."

Hear the stories of specific families who weathered hardship at 97 Orchard St. See how sweatshop workers lived, how Irish immigrants got by and how factory workers struggled during the economic depression of the 1930s. Walking tours around the tenement are also available.

The Tenement Museum is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and on Thursdays it stays open until 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 for adults.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center

One of New York City's newest museums pays tribute to the United States' darkest day – Sept. 11, 2001. While this museum may stir up difficult memories for visitors, it also shares stories of resilience and restoration. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum contains artifacts from that day and the following weeks, including pieces of the Twin Towers and personal items found in the debris.

The site also honors the emergency workers who were among the first to arrive at ground zero, and shares stories of heroism. "See what we've rebuilt," says Frederick Bigler, chef concierge at The Peninsula Hotel. "We should be proud as New Yorkers. The younger generation might not remember 9/11, but older people remember that day. It's like our Pearl Harbor. It's part of New York history, and world history, and it's something for new generations to learn from."

The museum is located at 200 Liberty St. in the Financial District. The museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., with extended hours until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The memorial is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets for the museum cost $24 for adults and $15 for children ages 7 to 17.

To experience more of what New York City has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

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