Because there are so many Upper East Side museums, a section of the New York City neighborhood is dubbed Museum Mile. Visitors to NYC are spoilt for choice. New York City is full of so many great things to see and do. But if museums are more your speed, you’ll want to head uptown. The stretch of Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 105th Streets, bordering Central Park, is home to some of the best museums in the city. In fact, they’re world-class museums. But the great museums on the Upper East Side aren’t limited to just Museum Mile! There are a few others outside of those hallowed blocks. Having a hard time deciding which museum to visit? Here are five great Upper East Side museums to prioritize the next time you’re in the Big Apple!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Quite simply, the Metropolitan Museum of Art needs little to no introduction. This important landmark is one of the world’s most visited museums for a reason. The sheer size of the Met’s collection and the quality of those pieces is mind-boggling. Regardless of the medium, style, period, or country of origin, you’re likely to find some of the best examples of that kind.
But because of the Met’s massive collection and being a widely accepted must see, it is very, very crowded. And it’s crowded all of the time. There are certain galleries where you can suddenly find yourself alone unexpectedly and able to enjoy one-on-one time with some works. But identifying those spots with fewer visitors can be unpredictable.
If you’re looking to splurge, there are “empty Met” tours available before the museum opens to the public. With one of these tours you can get a jump start to your day at the museum.
The Met is a must see for a reason and it’s completely worth the visit! Arrive with a plan of what you want to see.
When industrialist Henry Clay Frick left his Pittsburgh estate behind for a new NYC mansion in 1914, he (more or less) unwittingly created what would later become a museum, the Frick Collection, in the mid-1930s.
Visitors to the Frick Collection can wander the ground floor of the luxurious home at their own pace. Old master paintings hang upon the walls while porcelain items sit on European furniture handcrafted in the 18th century. And that’s just the beginning of it.
The basement of the home also serves as exhibition space. You can always count on the Frick to host fascinating and important rotating exhibits.
Dedicated to Jewish art and culture, the Jewish Museum offers a range of exhibits and temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection ranges from pieces by the likes of Andy Warhol and Man Ray to archaeological artifacts. The exhibitions and galleries are curated in such a way that visitors are moved and engaged, regardless of whether they’re looking at a historic everyday item or an oil painting.
The museum sits in the former home of banker Felix M. Warburg and is of a chateau and Gothic revival style. The mansion was finished in 1908 with a goal of being extremely lavish. It even featured a small lawn.
In the museum’s basement, you’ll find Russ and Daughters, the popular upscale NYC deli with locations across the city. The location in the museum is absolutely worth a visit. I recommend the eggs benny, their take on eggs benedict on tasty challah bread!
Cooper Hewitt Museum
If you find museums a little stodgy or boring, the Cooper Hewitt Museum might be for you. The museum, which is apart of the Smithsonian family, is a design museum that is anything but dull.
Each visitor to the museum received a fancy stylus tool upon entrance. Throughout the museum, there are interactive exhibits. Currently, you can use the tool to design your own wallpaper or a piece of furniture. But here’s the genius part: the other end of the stylus acts as a bookmark or a hard drive, so to speak. Whether you want to save a design you’ve created or “bookmark” a particularly interesting work of art on display, you use the stylus tool to save it to your personal collection simply by touching it to the display label. Later, you can call up your personal collection using a custom website address. Pretty neat!
While the museum itself is modern and innovative, the building in which it sits is grand and traditional. Originally the mansion of Andrew Carnegie, the Georgian style home was completed in 1902 and has a whopping 64 rooms. And if design is of interest to you, the mansion will delight. The building has been wonderfully renovated and updated. Even the chandelier uses smart light bulbs!
Many will already be familiar with the Neue Galerie as the home of Gustav Klimt’s famous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (aka The Woman in Gold). But the museum houses so much more in its collection, which focuses on early 20th century German and Austrian art. And what a collection it is! Beautifully crafted jewelry, clocks, furniture, and other objects are on display alongside of exquisite paintings, drawings, posters, and photographs.
Almost as impressive as the art on display is the building it’s in. Originally the home of industrialist William Starr Miller, the Beaux-Arts building was completed in 1914. The museum itself is relatively new. It only opened as a museum in 2001 and one of its founders is an heir to the Estee Lauder Companies.
The building is architecturally stunning, especially the cafe on the ground floor. Do yourself a favor and visit their Austrian cafe, Cafe Sabarsky, before you leave. The small, busy space has rich wood paneling and transports you to charming Vienna. Although a little pricey, the food is delicious. It’s one of the few spots where you can get a slice of Sachertorte on this side of the Atlantic.
Other Upper East Side Museums
What’s remarkable about so many of the Upper East Side’s museums is what they have in common. Many of these museums are in mansions that at one point were homes to NYC’s ultra-rich. And while some of these men no doubt had the idea in their head of immortalizing themselves, one day, with a museum, these properties weren’t specifically built for their current use.
Obviously, these five museums aren’t the only ones on the Upper East Side. You’ll also find the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum for African Art, and the El Museo del Barrio. The museums are as unique and diverse and New York City itself.
Tips for Visiting New York City Museums & Attractions
If you’re looking to visit multiple museums, or even multiple NYC attractions, consider a tourist pass. There are a variety of options, like The New York City Pass or CityPass NYC, and some offer the flexibility of customizing your pass by only including the attractions that are of interest to you.
It goes without saying that the best methods of transportation in New York City are taxis, ride sharing (such as Uber or Lyft), tour buses (like CitySights NY) public transit, and your own two feet. If you’re driving, only the Met has its own parking lot. (Although the Jewish Museum does offer discounts for two nearby lots.) Otherwise, it’s street parking, if you can find it, or in a garage.
Personally, I find the subway to be the easiest way to get to Museum Mile. The 4, 5, and 6 trains go straight up and through to the Upper East Side. You can easily transfer to one of those lines, for example via Grand Central Station Be sure to check which lines go to which stops as they do not all offer equal service. But once at the stop, it’s usually only a walk of a few blocks to reach any of the museums.
If you’re heading to NYC for a day trip, consider ditching the car altogether. For ease and convenience, I always park in Weehawken, New Jersey, and take the NY Waterway Ferry over to Midtown. The ferry service provides bus service to help get you even further then you can transfer to public transit or a taxi.
All photos, as well as all opinions, are my own. This post contains affiliate links.