The Big 5: Most-Visited Museums in NYC

by Staff

Wondering which NYC museums to see first? The numbers don't lie: these five Manhattan institutions are the City's most visited. To find out why, and how to get the most out of your trip to each, read on.

1. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Visitors per year:
More than 6 million
The draw: One of the world's most comprehensive art museums, with nearly 2 million works of art from five millennia of human history
Highlights: Popular permanent exhibitions include the American Wing, Egyptian Art—especially the cavernous room devoted to the Temple of Dendur—and Medieval Art. The museum's suggested itineraries are helpful for those who don't know where to start. You can find information on current exhibitions on the museum's website.
Best time to beat the crowd: Around 11am, once the opening lines have dissipated

The Met Fifth Avenue. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

2. American Museum of Natural History
Visitors per year:
Almost 5 million
The draw: A science museum with dinosaur fossils, exhibitions chronicling virtually all known animal and human history and, yes, some eye-popping IMAX movie action
Highlights: Visitors to the American Museum of Natural History won't want to miss the Hayden Planetarium, T. rex and friends, and that whale you've seen in a thousand pictures (it's in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life). The Butterfly Conservatory, which features hundreds of live butterflies in a heated environment that feels like an oasis in winter, is also popular. Check the official website for the rundown on current exhibitions.
Best time to beat the crowd: Late afternoons or early on Sunday mornings

American Museum of Natural History. Photo: Marley White

3. Museum of Modern Art
Visitors per year: 3 million
The draw: Modern works that, in some cases, push the boundaries of what many people think of as art
Highlights: Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh are among the many well-known artists whose work is on display at MoMA; anyone who cares about art will find something to get excited about. To view a full list of current exhibitions, visit MoMA's website.
Best time to beat the crowd: First thing when it opens
Go for free: Friday nights from 4pm to 8pm (post-6pm arrival recommended to avoid long lines)

Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

4. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Visitors per year:
More than 1 million
The draw: For one thing, a Frank Lloyd Wright design that's among the most distinctive museum exteriors in the world. You'll see a wide range of modern artwork while walking up or down the trademark spiral ramp inside.
Highlights: The permanent collection is studded with big names like Kandinsky, Chagall, Miró, Picasso and van Gogh, along with a large collection of photographs from Robert Mapplethorpe; in addition, the museum's unusual interior makes for a memorable viewing experience no matter what pieces you're admiring. The Guggenheim's website has a full list of current exhibitions.
Best time to beat the crowd: Late on weekday afternoons, and Saturdays just before the pay-what-you-wish rush
Pay what you wish: Saturdays from 5:45pm to 7:15pm (museum stays open till 7:45pm)

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Photo: David Heald/©The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

5. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Visitors per year:
1 million
The draw: A real-life aircraft carrier that saw service in World War II and the Vietnam War and is now a museum moored along the Hudson River
Highlights: Among the sights are the USS Growler submarine (which was used in the 1950s and '60s during the Cold War), a British Airways Concorde supersonic jet and the Enterprise—a space shuttle used in test flights that may be the most awe-inspiring attraction of all.
Best time to beat the crowd: First thing when it opens

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Photo: Julienne Schaer