If you tried to visit all the museums and other cool landmarks in New York City, you’d be here for years. Sadly, most people don’t have the time to see all the sights - even those who live here! With so many amazing activities to choose from it can certainly be a tough decision, but we can help!
Two of NYC’s most popular tourist spots are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or “the Met,” and the American Museum of Natural History, or “AMNH.” You probably want to check out both, and you should if you can! However, if you only have time for one, the following guide will help you choose the museum that better suits your tastes.
About The Met
The Met, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is one of the world’s most visited museums. The collection is epic – over 2 million pieces – showcasing works from throughout history. It opened in 1892 as a way to enrich the lives of New Yorkers and other Americans with art and education.
The collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are separated into a whopping 17 categories, mostly organized by location and/or time period. The 17 collections are as follows:
- Ancient Near Eastern art
- Arms and armor
- Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
- Asian art
- The Costume Institute
- Drawings and prints
- Egyptian art
- European paintings
- European sculpture and decorative arts
- The American Wing
- Greek and Roman art
- Islamic art
- Robert Lehman Collection
- Medieval art and the Cloisters
- Modern and contemporary art
- Musical instruments
As you can see, the Met has a wide and eclectic collection of work. They also often have limited time exhibits and events based centered around different time periods, artists, mediums and more. Before choosing a museum, make sure to check the Met’s schedule – one of their special events may sway you.
Not convinced, yet? Well, summarizing all of the amazing pieces in the Met is no simple task, but here are some of the most famous works in the museum:
Self-Portrait with Straw Hat - One of Van Gogh’s many famous self-portraits; this painting is featured in the “19th- And Early 20th -Century European Paintings And Sculpture” department of the Met.
Still Life with a Bottle of Rum - This painting by Picasso is a classic work of cubism and is on display in the “European Modernism” gallery on the first floor.
Death of Socrates - This famous oil painting by Jacques Louis David hangs on the second floor, alongside various other European paintings from 1250 – 1800.
Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies - One of Monet’s famous paintings depicting beautiful water lilies is on display in Gallery 819 along with some of his other artwork.
The Temple of Dendur - The Temple of Dendur is an actual Egyptian Temple from 10 BC on display at the Met. You can walk through it, and occasionally performances and parties are held right alongside the temple.
About The American Museum of Natural History
Like the Met, the American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest museums on the planet. Unlike the Met, though, the AMNH isn’t really focused on paintings and sculptures. This unique museum concentrates on different aspects of history including dinosaurs, human beings, science, space and much, much more.
It has over 45 permanent exhibits plus a library. Each exhibit is part of a categorized “hall” dedicated to a specific topic:
- Mammal halls
- Birds/reptiles/amphibian halls
- Biodiversity halls
- Human origin halls
- Earth/planet halls
- Fossil halls
- Rose Center for Earth and Space
Then, each of these areas of the museum has a variety of fascinating exhibits. Each hall and exhibit is equally as exciting and educational as the next, so it can be hard to select which ones to see. Here are some of the museum’s most loved and well-known exhibits:
Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life - The Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life is infamous for the giant (and we mean giant – it weighs 21,000 pounds) Blue Whale model on display, but there’s lots more to see for anyone interested in marine life.
Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs - This is where you get to see huge, real life dinosaur fossils. It’s a definite must-see for kids and adults alike
The Butterfly Conservatory - This limited time display requires a separate ticket purchase, but it is so worth it. You literally get to walk around a room full of different types of butterflies!
Scales of the Universe - It’s hard to really grasp how amazingly huge the universe is. This crazy exhibit in the Rose Center for Earth and Space gives you a much better idea.
Akeley Hall of African Mammals - Take a trip through Africa and learn all about its wildlife. Highlights include the giant elephant models and the water hole diorama.
You really can’t lose when it comes to either museum. But if you’re STILL not sure on either museum, consider these quick points:
- If you have kids, choose the AMNH - it is much more child-friendly.
- If you like fashion, visit the Met, as there are various textiles and ancient clothing on display.
- Got a science geek or animal lover in the group? Visit AMNH. The met doesn’t have much to offer in these categories.
- Looking for a calmer, more serious setting? Go with the Met.
- If you are looking to learn while having a great time? Either works!
Now, just because you don’t have time to visit these two huge museums doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the other nearby attractions. Here are some nearby museums and sites that take only an hour or two to take in:
Accessible from Both Museums
Central Park- You could easily spend a day in Central Park, but it’s also great for shorter trips. Nearby The Met are the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and the Ancient Playground, among others. The AMNH is located across the park from the Met and is closer to attractions like the Shakespeare Garden and Strawberry Fields.
Upper East Side (Near The Met)
Guggenheim- If you walked through the Met and still want to see more art, the Guggenheim is for you. Or you could just walk past it – the building is a masterpiece itself.
92nd St Y - Trek about 10 blocks north and you’ll find the 92nd St Y, a non-profit community center that hosts talks with established artists, musicians, and more. They also have classes and concerts.
Upper West Side (Near the AMNH)
Children’s Museum of Manhattan - Do the kids somehow still have energy after the Museum of Natural History? Check out the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and its many interactive exhibits.
The Beacon Theatre - This historic theatre hosts a variety of performances, so check if someone you love is playing the Beacon while you’re in the area!
We hope we’ve made your decision between visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the American Museum of Natural History a tiny bit easier. If you are still having a tough time deciding which museum to visit, you can tour both for one discounted rate through CityPASS New York City.