The Beauty of New York's Lesser Known Museums

8 February 2017
Read Time: 4.7 mins

In the city where superlatives never seem to do it justice, it is no surprise that New York boasts many, many superb museums and galleries. These art and cultural spaces also span locations and materialisations across the Big Apple, from private collections to living residential areas designed to profile their history - so here are some lesser-known NYC museum insights that you might not know.

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

While the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is a staple on any NYC itinerary, beyond the exhibitions, there are some other unmissable MOMA experiences. To start with, the MoMA Design Store can fill many hours with discovery of beautiful prints of classics in the museum, plus incredible up-to-the-minute examples of technology and design. Note the MOMA as part of its educational mission, was the first art museum to establish a curatorial department dedicated to architecture and design.

Find a funky design piece or a print of some classic art. (Image MOMA)
Also why not blend great art with great food at MOMA’s Michelin-starred restaurant, the Modern that overlooks the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. The restaurant is light and airy with nods to Scandinavian mid-century design, and the seasonal menu has spectacular desserts from Pastry Chef Jiho Kim and an award-winning wine list created by Michaël Engelmann, Master Sommelier.

Cooper Hewitt Museum

Still in the area of design, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is the only museum in the country to feature solely historic and contemporary design. It is the Museum’s mission to advance the public understanding of design across the thirty centuries of human creativity. Cooper Hewitt’s collections include more than 210,000 design objects and a world-class design library. Its exhibitions, in-depth educational programs, and on-site master’s program explore the process of design, both historic and contemporary.

Cooper Hewitt ‘s exhibitions and educational programs are housed on just four small floors of the Andrew Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Avenue. The museum’s size makes a comprehensive visit quite achievable in a couple of hours – the Museum design store in the building’s ground floor is a treasure trove of great books and design objects.

Have fun and design your own wallpaper. (Image Tara Young)

American Natural History Museum

On the subject of great stores, the American Museum of Natural History Store spanning three floors is not to be missed, and is a wonderful source for unique gifts. The Museum, another New York City itinerary staple, has taken the “gift store” concept to a new level. Each floor is a well-designed retail space with a fine gifts gallery, a reading and viewing room, and another level that has a fun place for learning and discovery for children.

Museum visitors can enhance their experience with souvenirs that relate to the different areas and halls. The range is immense from mementos from the Koch Dinosaur Wing and meteorite exhibits, to ornate and unique jewelry inspired by world cultures, and of course the obligatory cuddly stuffed animals.

Find a miniature dinosaur version to take home in the AMNH Flagship store. (Image Tara Young)

Whitney Museum

Located in New York’s art district of Chelsea, is the Whitney Museum. The Museum has a focus on artists and artworks from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and the exhibitions include historical surveys and in-depth retrospectives of contemporary artists. It is the only continuous series of exhibitions in the country to survey recent developments in American art. The Whitney also presents acclaimed exhibitions of film and video, architecture, photography, and new media.

The Museum’s origins stem from sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who established the Whitney Museum of American Art on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village in 1931. The Museum moved to an expanded site on West 54th Street in 1954 and then the growing collection was housed in a new building on Gansevoort Street that opened on May 1, 2015.

The Whitney in its final resting place in New York's Art District. (Image Whitney Museum)

Designed by architect Renzo Piano and situated between the High Line and the Hudson River, the Whitney building in the Meatpacking District provides a huge modern space to showcase this vast collection of contemporary American art.

The Highline

Still in the Highline area, this elevated public urban green-space, is a wonderful living museum. The reclaimed, elevated industrial rail forms a track through an area that borders the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. Created as a public safety initiative (to prevent the huge numbers of pedestrian fatalities from the rail transport of goods below in the Meatpacking District) the track snakes through buildings that represent different decades of the twentieth century. There are chairs and benches among all the trees and wild grasses en route, which provide the perfect vantage point to look over the Hudson.

The “museum” nature of this area is further exemplified if you are fortunate enough to stay at The Highline Hotel. Built in 1895, The High Line is a former Seminary Campus that has had a beautiful restoration process to preserve the charm and grandeur of its Collegiate and Gothic past. The rooms, their fixtures and décor, from the heirloom rugs to Bakerlite phones, all have been lovingly restored and researched to ensure the Hotel retains the design integrity of its heritage.

Both natural and man-made structures form a wonderful urban green space. (Image Getty)

Frick Collection

The opulent home of Henry Clay Frick with its private collection has been transformed into a boutique style museum filled with many European masters. It is located on the Upper East Side in a mansion with a Roman atrium and garden courtyard, where the works of Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Rembrandt and other Renaissance masters are showcased on the great walls of the house. There are three Vermeer paintings and the Frick holds regular exhibitions, as well as small classical music concerts. 

Paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals are just some of the incredible works in the Frick Collection. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

For more US luxury inspiration:

Culture Cats' Top Ten Guide to NYC

Luxury USA Experiences You Shouldn't Miss


Tara Young

The experience of travel changes a person. I see my job as highlighting what amazing travel opportunities there are to broaden your knowledge of that great big world beyond your doorstep and what you may learn about yourself on the way.