Cultural giants like the MoMa and the American Natural History Museum have more than enough diversions to fill a trip to New York City. But if you’re looking for something off the beaten track we’ve collected some of the city’s most underrated museums.
New York Transit Museum
A vintage train carriage in the New York Transit Museum
Some of New York City's most popular urban legends centre around the city subway network, and you can delve into this murky world at the New York Transit Museum. Based in a decommissioned subway station, this underground museum includes a collection of 20th century train cars and vintage signs dating back to the 1900s. While there is a sad lack of transport-themed hotel in NYC there is the ocean-inspired Maritime Hotel.
Museum of the Moving Image
This mult-story museum has its own cinema
This ambitious museum covers all aspects of the moving image; from a ‘Behind the Screens’ exhibit chronicling the entire filmmaking process, to a collection of classic video games. All the games are still playable (although there’s usually a line for Ms. Pac-Man) and the multi-story museum has its own cinema. Continue the theme by checking into the YOTEL and joining their Rooftop Cinema Club.
The Tenement Museum
Confino washline by Keiko Niwa
The Tenement Museum is dedicated to an oft-overlooked side of New York living. Immigrants moving to NYC at the start of 20th century usually found themselves crammed into dark tenement buildings in the city’s Lower East Side. Today it’s possible to walk through two apartments that recreate this experience, including “residents” in full costume. The compact Sanctuary NYC Retreats studios are within walking distance of the museum and include an onsite yoga studio.
Studio Museum in Harlem
During renovations the museum collection has spread throughout Harlem
As the first black fine-arts museum in the USA, the Studio Museum in Harlem is arguably one of the most influential cultural centres in New York. Today it acts as both a showcase for African-American art and a fascinating documentation of the African diaspora experience. During renovations, instead of closing the museum has partnered with the inHarlem initiative, spreading its exhibitions across other creative spaces in the borough. Visit the museum’s website for a map of the current collaboration and stay at a conveniently located two bedroom townhouse.
El Museo del Barrio
Work on display at El Museo del Barrio
Explore another side of Harlem by paying a visit to El Museo del Barrio, a contemporary art museum dedicated to the city’s Caribbean and South-American diaspora. The museum’s collection includes international artists from Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as local artists from the Spanish Harlem area. Make time for lunch at El Museo’s Pan-Latino cafe – the tacos are not to be missed – and stay nearby at the Historic Harlem Duplex.
Louis Armstrong House Museum
Louis and Lucille Armstrong's electric blue kitchen
The Louis Armstrong House Museum is as much of a tribute to the Armstrong family as to the legendary trumpeter. Both Armstrong’s versatile jazz technique and his involvement with the civil rights movement are documented in this two-story house, but the 45-minute tour also focuses on his domestic life. Souvenirs from Armstrong’s many world tours are showcased beside Lucille Armstrong’s fondness for exuberant interior design. Experience a different side to the neighbourhood by staying nearby at the ibis Styles New York LaGuardia.
The Tribeca elevator shaft that houses Mmuseumm
No, that’s not a typo. The Mmuseumm operates out of a Tribeca elevator shaft and showcases ‘found objects’ from around NYC. Items include a Taco Bell wrapper, a smashed Lava Lamp (part of an exhibition on Unintentional Villains) and a collection of unusually shaped cornflakes. It’s a museum that can be as silly or serious as you want it to be, as every installation has a deeper meaning attached, and the potential to open up discussions from ‘what is art?’ to ‘is that pasta made out of crickets?’ Stay in the centre of Tribeca’s art gallery district and check into the Duane Street Hotel.