Best Low-Key Museums in NYC

By Clare

It’s no secret that New York City is one of the planet’s cultural hot-spots. Museums like the Whitney, MoMa, Guggenheim, and, of course, the Met are world renowned and visited by thousands of tourists and locals alike each week. However, all of those museums are crowded and none of them focus specifically on NYC. If you want to experience the nitty gritty of the Big Apple, the list of museums below will give you an understanding of a lesser known, less glamorous, and maybe even tragic side of New York City. Think: more Gangs of New York and less Sex and the City. 

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On its thirtieth anniversary , the Tenement Museum is proud to reveal its new Mission and Vision statements, reflecting a new direction for the institution at a time when its historic subject matter is front page news. The new statements are indicative of the Museum’s goal to expand its scope far beyond its physical location in the Lower East Side, through a range of new initiatives that aim to reshape the narrative around immigration in the United States. Mission: The Tenement Museum tells the uniquely American stories of immigrants, migrants, and refugees in the ongoing creation of our nation Vision: A society that embraces and values the fundamental role of immigration in the evolving American identity These initiatives include podcasting, developing schools curriculum and taking the Museum's storytelling 'on the road'. Through these initiatives, the Museum will dramatically expand the reach and impact of its programming, so that its work’s function, as outlined in the Mission statement, achieve the world outlined in its Vision statement. Stay tuned for many exciting forthcoming updates from the Tenement Museum! #TMturns30 . . . . . . . . . . #nycthingstodo #TMturns30 #les #immigration #refugeeswelcome #instadaily #picoftheday #museums #newdevelopments #changingtheworld

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Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum is my absolute favorite museum in the city! This isn’t a typical museum and will require a minimal amount of planning prior to walking through the front doors of 97 Orchard Street. This building is literally just an abandoned tenement building with a few rooms staged to look as if they’re from various decade’s of the tenement’s 150 year history, therefore, you can only enter the building as part of a tour.

If the idea of an abandoned building hasn’t drawn you in yet, just listen to some of the tours: Shop Life, Sweatshop Workers, Irish Outsiders, Tastings at the Tenement, among others. You can buy tickets online or in person, although online is a safer choice as space is very limited for each tour. I’ve been a member of the Tenement Museum for years and haven’t experienced the same tour twice. Every time I leave, I appreciate this city a little more…and then spend an hour perusing the books in the gift shop.


  • Each tour focuses on a different period of the building’s 150 year history
  • You feel like you’re experiencing history first-hand

9/11 Memorial Museum

As you could probably guess, this museum is pretty heavy. Get ready to experience 9/11 in the most comprehensive and almost overwhelming exhibits that feature all real artifacts. There is one main section of the museum that took me three hours to walk through during my first visit. There are so many artifacts, photos, videos, and information to take in. The designers of the museum were extremely cautious about the emotional reactions of museum guests and offer tissues and “early exit” doors throughout these galleries for those who need them.


  • Carve out a large block of time for this museum, you’ll need more time than you think
  • Documentaries shown throughout the day
  • Architecture- the interior of this museum is stunning 

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"When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?" —Eleanor Roosevelt, 1946 … On June 18, 1948, the UN Commission on Human Rights—led by chairperson Eleanor Roosevelt—adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 🕊 Roosevelt was dedicated to furthering the values of her husband's Four Freedoms worldwide, writing in her column "My Day" in 1943: "When the war is over, the Four Freedoms will not have been won; we shall simply have dominated their more aggressive enemies. At all times, day by day, we have to continue fighting for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from fear, and freedom from want—for these are things that must be gained in peace as well as in war." 🕊 It would be a few more months until December 10, 1948, when the UN General Assembly convened in Paris to vote on adopting the declaration. Forty-eight nations voted "yes," with no votes against and only eight abstentions. And at the conclusion of the vote, all the delegates rose to their feet for a standing ovation in Eleanor Roosevelt's honor. 👏 #RockwellFourFreedoms … 📸 Photographer unknown, Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Lake Success, New York, November 1949. National Archives and Records Service, Office of Presidential Libraries, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. #womenshistoryisAmericanhistory #EleanorRoosevelt #FourFreedomsToday #FDR #humanrights #unitednations

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New-York Historical Society

This is a great museum if you don’t have a lot of time but want to get your daily dose of NYC history. Spread over five floors, you’ll find artifacts from U.S. presidents and some of New York’s most influential residents, exhibitions in partnership with the New York Audubon Society, and an entire floor dedicated to a children’s museum. Just last week I went to a traveling exhibition here called Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes and am so excited for the upcoming Harry Potter exhibition.


  • Several rotating exhibitions at a time
  • Child-friendly
  • Two short (but amazing) documentaries played continuously throughout the day

Best Low-Key Museums in NYC // Destination Rogue // // #travel #tips #hacks #planning #museum #art #destination #nyc #newyork

The Cloisters

Okay, so the Cloisters aren’t really “alternative” per se, nor is it a New York- specific museum, but just hear me out! This is the medieval annex of the Met. Built to look like a gothic castle, The Cloisters offers STUNNING views of the Hudson River and tranquil pieces of sculpture, decorative arts, and architecture, as well as a garden to keep you busy for a couple hours. Set in Fort Tyron Park in Upper Manhattan, it’s an uphill walk from the train station. However, the park is gorgeous, so take it all in! The castle doesn’t give you anything New York-specific in terms of art (everything is European) but the views and experience are very much unique to the city. Even if you’re not that into Gothic art, you’ll at least get some amazing Insta-worthy pictures outside.


  • Beautiful architecture
  • Far from the rest of the city- you don’t feel like you’re in NYC!


Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is kind of a like a smaller version of the Met- there’s a similar range of art and time periods and equally exciting exhibitions. My favorite part of the Brooklyn Museum, however, is First Saturday where the museum throws a huge, themed party on the first Saturday of each month. You may have to wait in line to get in, but the atmosphere is always fun, carefree, and energetic (as you would expect in Brooklyn). Where else can you walk around galleries containing priceless pieces of art, dance, and drink, all in one place?!


  • Monthly parties that offer free entrance to the museum
  • Steady stream of fun events (like the fashion show pictured above)
  • Similar collection as The Met in terms of variety, but a smaller building (about 2 hours to see everything)
  • Changing major exhibitions from David Bowie to 1960’s civil rights art

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We’ll miss you at this weekend’s Atlantic Antic, but we’re excited to showcase our vintage buses somewhere new and exciting! In honor of our 25th Annual #BusFestival, selections from our historic #bus fleet will be making their debut at #BrooklynBridgePark on October 7th! One of this year’s special guests is #Bus 3100, a Fifth Avenue Coach Company prototype bus. This vehicle debuted in 1956 as one of the first air-conditioned transit buses nationwide. Designed and built as an experiment, the General Motors Model 5106 features a push-type rear exit door, wrap-around soft seating in the rear, and fluorescent lighting. Don’t miss your chance to board and explore this historic beauty at Brooklyn Bridge Park on October 7th! Learn more at @brooklynbridgepark #nyc #newyorkcity #nycevents #freeevent

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Transit Museum

This museum is for everyone- young and old! Kids love this museum because trains, especially NYC’s intricate underground network, is so fascinating for our young ones. However, as an adult, I love looking at the old subway cars while pondering what life in the city was like 40, 50, 80 years ago. Public transportation is so deeply embedded into NYC’s history, that this museum is a must for any history buff out there!


  • Interactive- you are invited into original subway cars from various eras and can sit on a variety of old trains and busses
  • Kid friendly

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JUST ANNOUNCED: VW Sunday Sessions begins October 21! Fostering the development and presentation of new work, the series highlights artistic process and amplifies the communities that create performance-based practice in New York City and beyond. Featuring performance, music, dance, conversation, and film, Sunday Sessions brings live art to you. See the full schedule at … p.s. This year's Halloween theme has also been announced… 🎟🦁🎪🤹🏻‍♂️ … 📷: Laurel Atwell (@spooky_action.tif) and Jessica Cooke (@jesicoook), Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste (@crovvns), Susanne Bartsch (@bartschland) 8-Ball Community (@8ballcommunity), and Sarah Kinlaw (@kinlawww). #VWSundaySessions

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MoMa PS1

MoMa PS1 is not your typical museum. Here, they don’t have a permanent collection, instead using the building as an exhibition space for some of the most experimental and influential contemporary art in the world. During the summer, they have many music-filled day parties and be sure to check out their Halloween party…it’s wild.


  • This is a museum you won’t find anywhere else in the world
  • Parties and adult events throughout the year
  • Rotating exhibitions ensure you never see the same thing twice

Museum of the Moving Image

The name of this museum says it all, but you can’t guess what it’s actually like- you just need to experience it for yourself! There’s an amazing permanent exhibition that immerses museum guests in the process of creating moving images (i.e. movies, video games, toys, etc.). There are also changing exhibitions, public discussions, and, my personal favorite, screenings of a wide variety of films- from silent movies with live music accompaniment to contemporary films from film festivals.


  • Kid friendly
  • Silent movies with live music…where else can you get that??
  • There’s something for everyone here, unlike contemporary art museums (looking at you, Dad)


New York Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden has been a major plant research and conservation organization as well as a New York staple for the last 127 years. It’s also just a gorgeous place to hang out with your friends. You can walk around, bask in the sun, picnic on the grass, and enjoy acres upon acres of pristine NYC gardens. They also have changing exhibitions throughout the year with plant-inspired art by rock-star artists like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe.


  • TONS of child-specific activities
  • A total “escape” from the city
  • You can (and should) visit each season to see everything from the tulips to the colorful fall leaves.

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