Beyond the larger cultural institutions of Museum Mile, New York City is home to many unsung museums. Discover sculpture, city artifacts, music history, fashion history, Latinx culture, and more at these destinations that often offer a respite from the typical museum crowds. To explore under-the-radar museums in Manhattan and around the boroughs, here are our top picks.
Seeking a tranquil museum experience? Venture to Long Island City in Queens for a visit to The Noguchi Museum, which celebrates the work of Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The space was designed by the artist himself, and offers the chance to see his sculptures arranged in a series of galleries and an outdoor garden. Discover Noguchi’s abstract sculptures and famous paper lamps at your own pace in this peaceful museum, which also features temporary exhibitions.
Don’t miss: The museum shop with its thoughtful collection of books, gifts, prints, lamps, and more.
A treasure trove in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the City Reliquary is a destination for visitors seeking quirky city history. It would be easy to walk right past the museum, which resembles a storefront on a typical neighborhood block, but inside the front door is a collection of fascinating New York City artifacts. Lean in to the display cases to examine historic New York World’s Fair announcements, subway tokens, baseball cards, and other prized pieces. The museum also hosts rotating exhibits, so there’s usually something new to see.
Don't miss: Exhibits displaying old Subway tokens and vintage perfume bottles.
Right on Museum Mile in Manhattan, El Museo del Barrio is devoted to Caribbean and Latin American arts and culture, with strong connections to the New York City community. Founded in 1969, this museum houses both a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, and hosts family-friendly events, such as free summer block parties with live music and DJs.
Don't miss: The on-site shop is a reason in and of itself to visit: apparel, posters, jewelry, books, and more are on sale here.
The Lower East Side of Manhattan is home to the Tenement Museum, where two buildings on Orchard Street offer the chance to step back into history. Multicultural immigrant stories are front and center, presented through installations such as the reconstructed 1902 apartment of a Jewish family, and the 1933 apartment of an Italian immigrant family. Guided tours as well as neighborhood walking tours are also on offer for those interested in learning more about the wider history of the Lower East Side.
Don't miss: Guided tours led by costumed guides who provide an immersive experience into the Tenement Museum.
Music fans flock to the Corona neighborhood in Queens to visit this historic house museum, once the home of jazz great Louis Armstrong. This engaging museum offers guided tours of the house, plus access to the exhibit area and outdoor garden. Expect to see photographs, awards, letters, and of course, trumpets that belonged to Armstrong on display. The house itself also contains the furniture and art that belonged to Louis and Lucille Armstrong, representing how it looked when the jazz legend lived here.
Don't miss: Displays that feature Louis Armstrong's very own trumpets are a must-see.
The Manhattan outpost of a Swedish photography museum, Fotografiska is known for its exhibits of contemporary photography and for its varied dining and drinking options. Rotating exhibitions have focused on hip-hop, Andy Warhol, nudes, and much more. In addition to the photographs spanning a wide range of genres, the museum hosts a diverse on-site shop, a cozy café that’s open late, and two atmospheric cocktail bars with a stylish setting for drinks, dinner, or dessert.
Don't miss: The on-site food and drink options—while all the exhibits at Fotografiska are rotating, these remain reliably the same year-round.
Located in the historic Astoria Studios in Queens, the Museum of the Moving Image celebrates all things movies, film, television, and digital media. Home to rotating and permanent exhibitions, it also features film screenings and live conversations with industry professionals. Movie buffs are drawn here especially for the film artifacts; the main collection features over 1,400 objects, including historic cameras, costumes, set design sketches, and movie posters.
Don't miss: The exhibit featuring all things Jim Henson and The Muppets, including original versions of Kermit and Miss Piggy.
Families with train-obsessed kids and transportation nerds alike will want to plan a visit to the New York Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn, a hub for exploring vintage buses, trains, maps, and photographs, as well as educational events that engage kids with visual and tactile exhibits and programs. Learn about transportation history in a unique environment: a 1936 subway station with a working platform that extends for a full city block.
Don't miss: Restored train cars and buses from a preserved vintage fleet are particular highlights of this under-the-radar New York City museum.
It’s garments galore at this Manhattan museum inside the famed Fashion Institute of Technology. Visit for an eyeful of the permanent collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories, dating back to the 18th century, plus rotating exhibitions focused on the art and history of fashion. For a preview of the experience, check out the online collection of more than 2,000 exhibition images.
Don't miss: The annual Graduating Student Exhibitions are especially fascinating, as you can see what the FIT's alumni are producing.
Families may find some of New York’s larger museums overwhelming to explore with kids; one informative and fun alternative is the New York City Fire Museum, which is located in a renovated 1904 firehouse on Spring Street in lower Manhattan. Learn about firefighting history while checking out historic fire engines, uniforms, and equipment.
Don't miss: The memorial dedicated to the New York firefighters who died on 9/11.