The Met, The Guggenheim, and MoMA might be the first that come to mind when you think of New York City’s top cultural institutions, but there are plenty of other museums in the Big Apple that beg to be explored. Here, the best NYC museums that you’ve never heard of — until now.
The Museum of the American Gangster
Take a step back in time to when larger-than-life criminals were the toast of the town at The Museum of the American Gangster ($20). The two-room East Village museum is best known for its guided tour that takes a look at the vilified gangsters of yesteryear, within the confines of an old speakeasy. Prohibition Era memorabilia, weapons, bullets from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, John Dillinger’s death masks, and rare photographs are among the items on display that document the period.
Museum of Mathematics
The Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) is a surprisingly exciting and interactive museum that opened in 2012 in the NoMad neighborhood. As the only museum dedicated to math in the country, MoMath has highly engaging exhibits spread across the 19,000-square-foot space. Check out the more than 30 stations that include an interactive floor that has games controlled by your feet, a computer studio, and the chance to ride on a tricycle with square wheels. Admission is $15.
The City Reliquary
What began as a collection of New York cultural ephemera and relics — think: subway tokens and souvenirs from the Statue of Liberty — in founder Dave Herman’s window, has morphed into a non-profit museum ($5) in Williamsburg. Dedicated to New York City artifacts, it holds antique finds that range from memorabilia dating back to the 1939 World’s Fair to a vast collection of Brooklyn seltzer bottles. We also recommend checking out the shrines to Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers and a section showcasing the career of Little Egypt, a 19th-century burlesque dancer.
The Skyscraper Museum
A metropolis of sky-high steel structures, New York City is renowned for its skyline. Trace its modern history at The Skyscraper Museum, where architectural wonders are celebrated. Permanent and rotating exhibitions, along with programs and special events, display the towering mega-buildings through their evolution of design, use of technology, real estate conquests, and multi-purpose engineering. We love the museum’s sleek look, incredibly detailed 3D models, and informative exhibits that show the inner-workings of how these mammoth structures come to be. Admission is $5.
The Studio Museum in Harlem
Built to promote the work of African-American artists, The Studio Museum in Harlem is a cultural mainstay of the city. Established in 1968, the museum’s reach is wide: A permanent collection is made up of around 2,000 works from nearly all mediums, while other installations can be found in several Harlem parks. Rotating exhibits feature prominent and emerging artists; there’s also an artist-in-residence program that provides promising talent with a working studio and a stipend to create, finishing the year off with their own space in the museum. Tickets are $7; admission is free on Sundays.
The Tenement Museum
Locals love to recommend The Tenement Museum to visitors. This treasured National Historic Site puts a spotlight on the immigrant experience of the Lower East Side from 1863 to 1935. Anchored in a five-story brick tenement building — where an estimated 7,000 people from 20-plus nations found their footing in their new country — the museum offers eight unique tours, each of which provides an immersive look at life in New York City for immigrants as the city evolved. For the most comprehensive experience, opt for the two-hour Hard Times tour that examines the lives of two extended families in two apartments, followed by a discussion that connects you to your own family history. Note that the museum is only accessible by tour; tickets are $25.