Under-the-Radar NYC Museums Worth Visiting
By Evelyn Kanter
If you limit your museum hopping to the largest and most famous NYC museums, such as The Met, MOMA, Whitney and Brooklyn Museum, you would miss gems where both the crowds and the admission fees are smaller.
Like their bigger and better-known siblings, these under-the-radar museums have a combination of permanent and rotating exhibits worth exploring, and several offer free admission year-round.
This list includes some featured in my new NYC guidebook, 100 Things to Do in NYC Before You Die.
The Hispanic Society of America displays one of the largest collections of Velasquez and Goya paintings outside Spain, along with masterworks by El Greco. The collection includes other Hispanic treasures dating from the Bronze Age from Spain, Portugal and Latin America, fabrics and intricate tiles from Moorish Spain. The extensive research library boasts more than 250,000 documents from the 1700s to the present, and there are free docent tours on weekends. The impressive columned building resides on a bluff in Washington Heights.
Find rare Greek and Roman mosaics, statues, pottery, coins and other artifacts at The Onassis Cultural Center, tucked in the basement of the an office building across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Exhibitions focus on a theme, such as emotions or animals, plus an area devoted to contemporary art by Greek artists. Admission is free. The center, which is funded by an Onassis family foundation, also partners with several NYC theater groups to stage performances of ancient and modern Greek plays.
The Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan houses one of the world’s best collections of Native American art and artifacts from tribes throughout the Americas, from the Arctic Circle to Patagonia. Plus, there are film screenings, cultural performances and workshops for kids. Be sure to look up at the Rotunda, which reminds many of the U. S. Capitol, not surprising, since it shares the same architect. This outpost of the Smithsonian Institution offers free admission year-round, and has an excellent Native American art market of handmade crafts each fall, just in time for holiday gift buying.
There’s always good Karma at the Rubin Museum, a private collection of Himalayan arts turned into a public display, housed in a former department store near the High Line in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood. Intricately embroidered tapestries and ceremonial robes vie with multi-armed shivas in sizes from small and gold to large and stone. On Friday evenings, the museum restaurant turns into a late night café with live music and sometimes dancing.
The Hollywood versions of tenement life in late 1800s and early 1900s look like palaces compared with the gritty reality of the Tenement Museum, housed in an actual 1800s tenement building. Climb the narrow, rickety stairs and walk through the apartments of three families who once lived there, some with original wallpaper, others with period accurate furnishings, all with shared bathrooms and minimal sunlight or air circulation. You’ll know instantly why immigrants worked so hard to afford better than the Lower East Side. It’s a message that still resonates today.
New York City is famous for its skyscrapers, including the World Trade Center, Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, so it should not surprise that there’s a lovely spot dedicated to telling the story of the architecture, engineering and environmental impact of skyscrapers around the world, not just NYC. The Skyscraper Museum is just that. With a bargain admission price of just $5, half that for students and seniors, and free for children under 12, members of the military, police, fire departments, veterans, and for visitors who are disabled and their caregivers, there’s no excuse not to visit.
Evelyn Kanter is the author of 100 Things to Do in NYC Before You Die. A journalist with more than two decades experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and guidebook and smartphone app author – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer. Visit ecoXplorer