During the tourist high seasons (June-August and November-December), the already crowded New York City, in the United States, becomes even more chaotic. Most tourists go to the well-known museums (the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the American Museum of Natural History) but there are plenty of places to go that are just as fascinating and fun, but slightly off-the-beaten-path and not nearly as crowded.
The Rubin Museum of Art
Housed in the original Barneys New York building, this is a small museum in Chelsea that is focused on Himalayan art, typically Buddhist art with many pieces from Tibet and Nepal. Although it is not very well-know, it is still a unique experience with a wonderful roster of exhibitions that are unique and enlightening. You can meditate in a Tibetan Shrine Room or admire traditional Buddhist artwork. There is a great focus on interactive exhibits, so you can spin a Wheel of Intention or write about your insecurities to hang them on a wall. Depending on the exhibition, you can walk across an immersive lake or listen to the world’s largest collective “om.” Exhibitions rotate out of the museum relatively quickly so every visit is a new adventure.
The New Museum of Contemporary Art
Although not as big as its more famous big brother, The Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum is bolder in its vision. The New Museum focuses on very contemporary art, often with a political edge. It’s a cool, ultra-modern space with a trendy coffee shop on the main level. If you’re not interested in contemporary art, there’s still a great view of Lower Manhattan from the fifth floor’s Sky Room, which has a wraparound porch.
On some weekends, there may be a short line right outside of the museum’s front doors, but that’s only because the lobby is so small; it really should only take a few minutes to get through. Don’t let the short wait put you off because this little museum has a lot to offer. It focuses on art from Germany and Austria, typically of the pre-war Expressionist movement, with works from Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and Georg Grosz. The museum also has the famed portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I better known as The Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimt. The painting is even more gorgeous in person, but beware, there is no photography in the upper galleries, so, unfortunately, there are no selfies allowed.
Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design
This is a Smithsonian Institute design museum that is housed in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion, making its building just as fascinating as the museum itself. Cooper Hewitt has a unique interactive element, where you can use a digital pen to save items that you find interesting at the museum, so that you can look at them later on your computer, using your ticket. You can also use that digital pen to design items on interactive panels around the museum, as well as experimenting with different wallpapers in the Immersion Room. This interactivity makes it a great museum to visit with kids.
George Gustav Heye Center
The Museum of the American Indian is at the south end of Manhattan, near battery park, situated in the former Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. The Museum is free and has several rotating exhibitions that all deal with Native American life and arts. The Museum has a permanent exhibit on Native American history with artifacts from different nations. In addition to its historical focus, it often contextualizes modern Native American life, rather than just historical artifacts, with art from contemporary fashion designers or photographers, showing how the lives and struggles of Native Americans continue to the modern era. It is a fascinating museum with a lot to offer.
The American Folk Art Museum
This is a small museum near Lincoln Center that is a good distraction if you have a quick half-hour to stop in. It focuses on folk art of all kinds: sometimes more quirky and sometimes more traditional. It draws its collection from well-known New York eccentrics and more traditional self-taught artisans. This museum is more of a quick stop, rather than a long event.
The Morgan Library and Museum
The Morgan is a well-rounded museum that not only focuses on art but also different aspects of American and World culture. The Morgan’s exhibitions are exciting and have many different themes: varying wildly from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to Walt Whitman to Maurice Sendak. The front of the Morgan is a newer addition that has exhibition spaces and a café, which occasionally hosts string ensembles. The back of the Morgan house’s J.P.Morgan’s libraries and offices, which house items from J.P. Morgan’s collections, such as his illuminated Bibles and his collection of ancient stamps. It is a cool peek into an older New York, one that belonged to the Captains of Industry. It’s a gorgeous and open space with a lot of exciting activities.
Dining: Gansevoort Market
New York has many different food halls that offer many different kinds of food at different stalls. If you’re in Midtown Manhattan, the two most popular are Chelsea Market and Eataly. Because they are so popular, they are also really packed with people during the Summer, especially since they are both air-conditioned. Gansevoort Market is across the street from Chelsea Market, but it is infinitely more relaxed and less crowded, with food that is just as good as its more popular brethren.