5 Can't-Miss Museums in NYC

These Manhattan Museums are Musts for First-Timers & Bucket-Listers

5 Best Museums in NYC
Whitney Museum – Spencer Platt/Getty Images News

Think of New York City. What images come to mind beyond buzzing yellow cabs and the Empire State Building? Artwork by Monet or Van Gogh? A massive blue whale, perhaps? For many, NYC conjures up images of some of the most beloved museum collections in the nation. Here are our picks for can't-miss museums in Manhattan, 5 positively essential cultural touchstones for first-time visitors and bucket-listers alike:

1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, the Metropolitan Museum of Art showcases arts and artifacts from around the globe, including everything from Egyptian hieroglyphics to a Greek and Roman collection of over 17,000 objects to paintings by Van Gogh. The Met first opened in 1872, and since then, its halls have expanded to include African, Islamic, Indian, Byzantine, and Oceanian art, among many other types. The Met also includes The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park, filled with reconstructed medieval monasteries.

(Tip: Harry Potter fans, take note: One famed piece of art at the Cloisters –– The Unicorn in Captivity tapestry – was used in the film Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.) The Met is located at 1000 5th Ave., btwn E. 80th & E. 84th sts.; The Cloisters are located at 99 Margaret Corbin Dr., in Fort Tryon Park; get advance tickets for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

2. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, displays a legendary collection of modern art, like Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. MoMA is also a thriving center of cultural events, including educational programs and international films. The collection came to fruition in 1929 and the museum has both expanded and moved several times before settling in its current home on West 53rd Street. 11 W. 53rd St., btwn 5th & 6th A​ves.; get advance tickets for the Museum of Modern Art

3. American Museum of Natural History

In 1869, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., helped found the American Museum of Natural History. Today, the legendary museum’s motto is “To discover, interpret, and disseminate – through scientific research and education – knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.” Uncover the majesty of the blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, view spectacular films on intergalactic science in the Rose Center for Earth and Space’s Hayden Planetarium, and gaze at sparkling sapphires and precious stones in the Guggenheim Hall of Minerals.

It's one of the very best museums for kids in NYC; bonus: AMNH hosts memories-of-a-lifetime sleepovers several times each year, too. Central Park West at W. 79th St., get advance tickets for the American Museum of Natural History

4. Whitney Museum of American Art

Now stationed next to Chelsea’s popular High Line park (check out these 10 essential highlights along the High Line while you're in the 'hood), the Whitney Museum of American Art features over 21,000 pieces of art from across two centuries. The Whitney was initially founded in 1931 by sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, primarily displaying art in her Greenwich Village studio. Today, this museum draws thousands of viewers from around the globe to its celebration of contemporary American art. Exhibits include performance art, sculptures, painting, and film.

Best of all, 13,000 square feet of the museum highlights outdoor exhibitions, each facing the High Line. 99 Gansevoort St., btwn Washington St. & 11th Ave.; get advance tickets for the Whitney Museum of American Art

5. 9/11 Memorial Museum

The tragic terror attacks of September 11, 2001, altered the hearts and minds of New Yorkers – and the world. To pay tribute to those who lost their lives, visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which rises over the center of the former World Trade Center site. On display is the Survivors’ Staircase, the last known visible piece of the towers that was left after the debris settled, and over 10,000 artifacts and 23,000 photos pertaining to that fateful day. 180 Greenwich St., btwn Fulton & Liberty Sts.; get advance tickets for the 9/11 Memorial Museum