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Photograph: Joe Coscia

The 37 best museums in NYC

Our essential list of museums in NYC includes exhibitions at the Whitney, the American Museum of Natural History and more

Written by
Will Gleason
,
Shaye Weaver
&
Rhys Thomas
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May 2021: With the status of the city's main cultural institutions constantly changing, including the best museums in NYC, we'll be updating this feature monthly to give you the most up-to-date info we can on what's open for in-person viewing, what cool and interesting things can be viewed online and what you absolutely can't miss right now at each institution. This month, new highlights include the Roof Garden Commission at The Met Museum, A KAWS retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum and a national survey of Latinx contemporary art at El Museo del Barrio.

New York City's cultural amenities are many, but none quite match the number, scale and variety of its museums. There is literally an institution for every interest, whether it’s in art, history, science or quirkier subjects.

The Metropolitan Museum, for instance, shelters 5,000 years of art history under its roof with a collection that runs the gamut from Stone Age objects to the latest examples of contemporary art. And speaking of the latter, there’s a host of institutions dedicated to cutting-edge art, from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of Art to the New Museum and MoMA, which re-opened in 2019 after a significant expansion of its space, and a total rethink of its mission.

There are dozens of other types of museums, too, some of which are encyclopedic (The American Museum Of Natural History), or focused on specific categories, such as NYC history (The New-York Historical and The Museum of the City of New York), architecture (the Skyscraper Museum), photography (International Center of Photography Museum), film (Museum of the Moving Image), sex (Museum of Sex), and even the subway (New York Transit Museum). And, of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, even if you don’t count all of the other museums in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Is it a lot to take in? Certainly. But if you want find a museum with your name on it, look no further than our complete guide to the best museums in NYC, complete with highlights of current exhibitions at each. There's plenty to do and see around New York, that's for sure! 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best museum exhibitions in NYC

Best museums in New York

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Central Park
  • price 3 of 4

Opened in 1880 and situated on Central Park, this iconic New York institution contains 5,000 years of art – from prehistory to the latest in contemporary works – under one roof. That's range, folks. Its unparalleled collection comprises more that two million objects that include Old Master paintings, the Ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur and the museum’s famed period rooms. Sure, you'll never take it all in at once, but that's alright – just come back next time you're in NYC! 

Don’t miss the Roof Garden Commission by  Alex Da Corte "As Long as the Sun Lasts," which balances Big Bird on one side and a modern mobile on the other, and  the retrospective of Alice Neel, "People Come First."

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Midtown West
  • price 1 of 4

After three years of planning and construction—including a four-month closure this summer—the Museum of Modern Art has finally thrown open its doors to a shiny, reconfigured self, offering the public more MoMA to love (or at least to ponder) than ever. We don't really need to say too much about this place, it's The Museum of Modern Art. You want art, and you wan't it modern? Well here's the place. 

Learn about the relationship between architecture and the spaces of African diaspora communities with "Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America" and see "Degree Zero: Drawing at Midcentury," which features works by Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Alfredo Volpi and others.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Upper East Side
  • price 3 of 4

Frank Lloyd Wright broke the mold on museum design when he completed his building for the Guggenheim in 1959. Since then, millions of visitors have come to the Gugg to gawk at its spiraling rotunda, but they stay for its daring art shows and its collection, which includes Peggy Guggenheim’s trove of Cubist, Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist works, as well as the largest collection of Kandinskys in the United States. Beautiful and innovative both inside and out, what more inspiration do you need!

Get a glimpse of abstract works by avant-garde painters and "Off the Record," which questions and challenges dominant narratives in mainstream documentation.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Meatpacking District
  • price 2 of 4

In 2015, the Whitney Museum finally slammed the door on its status as the also-ran of major NYC museums by moving into a gleaming new building designed by world-class starchitect Renzo Piano. Standing at the foot of the High Line along Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, the 63,000 square facility boasts three outdoor sculpture spaces providing views of the Hudson and surrounding neighborhood. This is a goldmine for slightly lesser-known but fantastic exhibitions, well worth your time. 

Catch 70 artworks by Ethiopian artist Julie Mehretu.

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  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Prospect Park
  • price 2 of 4

The third-largest museum in the five boroughs, the Brooklyn Museum follows the encyclopedic template of the Metropolitan Museum with a collection housed in an 1897 Beaux-Art building that includes period rooms, Ancient Egyptian and African Art, and modern and contemporary paintings, sculptures and more. Loads of things, all of the things. A great place to spend a day if you're staying or chilling over the bridge. 

See striking photographs by John Edmonds as well as the first major survey of KAWS's gigantic works.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Central Park
  • price 1 of 4

In addition to a superb collection of Judaica, The Jewish Museum also mounts important exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. Housed in the 1908 Warburg Mansion, the museum maintains a collection of more than 28,000 works of art, artifacts and media installations. That's a lot of things. The museum aims to be at the intersection of art and Jewish culture for people of all backgrounds. 

"Scenes from the Collection" are selected works in thematic scenes that weave together centuries of art and Judaica. And you can't miss "Modern Look: Photography and the American Magazine."

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  • Art
  • Photography
  • Gramercy

The Fotografiska gallery in Stockholm, Sweden has opened a New York Branch in the heart of the Flatiron District that features three floors of exhibition space as well as Verōnika, a dining room and bar operated by award-winning Philadelphia restaurateur, Stephen Starr. Named for the patron saint of photographers, Verōnika is being helmed by executive chef Robert Aikens and will offer a menu inspired by cuisines from Northern France, Austria and Eastern Europe, all served up with a side order of seasonality and sustainability. The gallery itself mounts temporary exhibits featuring photos from “grand masters and emerging talent” that range from “easily accessible to hardcore conceptual.” So all sorts of class photos, then. Swing by when you're near 22nd street – it'll be a good time for sure. 

Don't miss the solo exhibitions for Hassan Hajjaj, Pixy Liao, Miles Aldridge, Adrienne Raquel and Tom of Finland Foundation.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Noho
  • price 1 of 4

New York City’s only preserved 19th-century family home is an elegant, late Federal-Greek Revival house stocked with the same furnishings and decorations that filled its rooms when it was inhabited by hardware tycoon Seabury Treadwell and his descendants from 1835 to 1933. so if you're in NoHo and want the low-down on what the area used to be like, here's the place to start. 

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New Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

Taking its name from the New School, where it was founded in 1977, the New Museum has grown from a single gallery space to a global showcase of cutting-edge art. In 2007, it moved into a purpose-built, seven-story building on the Bowery, designed by the cutting-edge Tokyo architectural firm SANAA. It's a new beautiful building, the works inside echo that *puffs cigar*. 

Check out "Grief and Grievance," which explores the history of racist violence all throughout the United States.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Lenox Hill
  • price 2 of 4

Housed in the former Gilded-Age mansion of Henry Clay Frick, The Frick maintains a collection of Old Master paintings (including works by Rembrandt, Holbein and Vermeer) on par with the Met’s. The Frick’s holdings also include paintings by Whistler and Renoir as well as furniture and other examples of the decorative arts. A frickin excellent, less well known spot to check out. It's also between Fifth and Madison Avenue, so you'll be in the area. 

The Frick is currently open on Madison Avenue at Frick Madison—the former Whitney and Met Breuer building.

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The Morgan Library & Museum
  • Museums
  • History
  • Murray Hill

Once the private library of J. Pierpont Morgan, the Morgan Museum was gifted to the city by the Gilded-Age financier along with his collection of artworks and rare books—holdings that include drawings by Michelangelo and three Gutenberg Bibles. There’s also a first edition of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that’s put on display every Chirstmas. A bookworm's dream. Make sure you don't spill your water anywhere! There's also exhibitions here from time to time, so keep an eye on their website. 

A new exhibition centers on the work of David Hockney with a special focus on his drawings and portraits on paper.

Neue Galerie New York
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Upper East Side

Devoted entirely to late-19th- and early-20th-century German and Austrian fine and decorative arts, this elegant addition to the city’s museum scene has the largest concentration of works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele outside Vienna, including Klimt’s masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I. Well worth a visit in itself, but there's always plenty of great and undisocvered gems to view here. The Viennese-inspired cafe is great too. 

The Neue Galerie is currently closed but is offering digital programs through its website.

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Queens Museum
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Queens

The biggest attraction at the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is undoubtedly The Panorama of the City of New York, an exacting 9,335-square-foot scale model of the five boroughs created for the 1964 World’s Fair. In fairness, though, there’s a lot of other great things to see, especially since the museum doubled its size during a 2013 expansion. Check the website – there's alway something great going on. Or, when you're in Queens, just swing by. You'll likely end up making a day of it. 

Works by Kenneth Tam reimagine spaces and social customs for male bodies in order to reveal vulnerable moments that can exist among men and Sydney Shen creates sculptures and environments that commingle historical and contemporary symbols in "Strange But True."

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Upper West Side

With its mind-boggling holdings of artifacts and specimens from around the globe, the American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, tells nothing less than the story of creation, from the Big Bang to the present. Its dazzling highlights include the 94-feet long blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life and the Hayden Planetarium directed by famed astrophysicist and media personality, Neil degrasse Tyson. Like many of these monster museums, you won't get around this properly within a day. Also, savvy tip, donate less than the cost price. 

Learn about the nature of color, take a deep dive into everything we know about the T. Rex and take in the "Worlds Beyond Earth,” the new space show at the Hayden Planetarium. 

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Long Island City
  • price 1 of 4

Situated in a former public school, MoMA PS1 hosts an international studio program in addition to mounting exhibitions (including career monographs) of cutting-edge artists. Affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art since 1999, MoMA PS1 is also known for its summer series of outdoor parties called “Warm Up.” If you find yourself in the area, you can basically guarantee popping by will be worth your time, whether it's for the exhbitions or just a hip event being hosted there. 

Check out Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas" and other amazing works.

  • Museums
  • Movies and TV
  • Astoria

Located in Astoria, Queens, the Museum of the Moving Image presents exhibitions and screenings that relay the history and cultural impact of movies, television and digital media. In addition to a state-of-the-art 267-seat cinema, the museum features ongoing installations such as “Behind the Screen,” which examines the filmmaking process. Film-nerds, if you haven't already been, it's a must. The NYC spot for going full geek. 

Find your perfect New York City attraction.

Don't miss the Jim Henson or "Envisioning 2001:Stanley Kubrick's Space Odyssey" exhibits.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • The Bronx

Besides shining a spotlight on neighborhood artists as well as on Africa-American, Asian and Latino artists from the 20th- and 21st-centuries, this multicultural museum founded in 1971 has the virtue of being free. Ideal. It's also an internationally recognised cultural destination, with great educational resources, events, and exhibitions aplenty. If you're in the Bronx, stop off. 

Navigate "Born in Flames: Feminist Futures" a collection of imagined world-scapes projected by fourteen contemporary artists.

  • Art
  • Photography
  • Lower East Side
  • price 1 of 4

You know the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and at the International Center of Photography Museum is where you should go to immerse yourself in the world visual storytelling. The institution caters to a wide audience—not merely shutterbugs and Instagram-addicts. The center does offer stellar academic programming as well as a library containing back issues of photography magazines and thousands of biographical files. As of 2020, ICP is in a new space in Lower East Side's Essex Crossing. The 40,000 square foot grounds is home to educational programs for people of all ages, and media labs and shooting studios. That's a lot of photos, and therefore, it would be almost too many words. A must visit when you're in the big apple. 

"But Still, It Turns" features recent photography from around the world.

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Museum of Arts & Design
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Hell's Kitchen

The Museum of Arts & Design is housed in the former “Lollipop Building,” a baroque modernist structure that was considered one of the ugliest buildings in NYC. After a 1998 renovation totaling $90 million, MAD moved in and began to mount lively exhibitions dedicated to the latest in contemporary art and design. Situated on Columbus Circle, right of Central Park it's a beautiful and fascinating spot to check out after a morning stroll. There's also online learning tools here. 

See Beth Lipman’s transformations of glass, metal and clay.

  • Museums
  • Military and maritime
  • Hell's Kitchen

A battle-hardened veteran World War II, the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid at Pier 86 has been repurposed as a floating museum since 1982. With a collection of military aircraft crowding its flight deck, the Intrepid also features the space shuttle Enterprise and a British Airways Concorde. It's chock full of educational facilities and is a non-profit institution, so your admission fee will be spent wisely!  

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  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • Flatiron

Sure, MoSex is dedicated to elevating porn and erotica to institutional status, but not every exhibit there is presented just for titillation’s sake. Its exhibitions have included serious explorations of such issues as gender and the impact of new technologies on human sexual behavior. Interesting, right! Plus you know, you'll be forgiven for having a little giggle. It might even be romantic! 

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
  • Things to do
  • Schools and universities
  • Upper East Side

One of two Smithsonian museums in NYC, the Cooper Hewitt—which, like the nearby Frick is housed in a sumptuous former mansion—is dedicated to the field of design, housing a collection of objects that span 3,000 years. Among the ongoing exhibits is the Immersion Room, which allows visitors to interact with digital projections of wallpaper. But there's endless rooms and objects to gaze at here. Plus, it's a lovely building. Worth popping in just to nosy at what was someone's actual, very lavish, home. 

On now, "Face Values: Exploring Artificial Intelligence" is an immersive installation that explores the pervasive but often hidden role of facial-detection technology in contemporary society. 

 

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  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • East Harlem

Dedicated to Hispanic artists in the U.S and Latin America, this museum located in Spanish Harlem (a.k.a. El Barrio) holds a 6,500-piece permanent collection that ranges from pre-Colombian artifacts to contemporary installations. Very few places provide such depth on the history and culture of a region of the world. 

A large-scale national survey of Latinx contemporary art,  "Estamos Bien – La Trienal 20/21," is on now. 

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Upper West Side

As its name suggests, the American Folk Art Museum celebrates traditional craft-based works, but more than that, it has been instrumental in promoting the work of outsider, visionary and other self-taught artists. You can teach yourself all about the concept while here. Admission is free, and there's also publications and educational programs if you want to learn more. 

See a new survey covering six decades of collecting self-taught art and the fun "American Weathervanes: The Art of the Winds" exhibit starting June 23.

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  • Museums
  • History
  • Upper West Side

Founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society is NYC’s oldest museum, and is dedicated to the history of Gotham (not the batman one) and its central place in American life, politics and culture. Its collection and library contains more than 1.6 million items including an outstanding cache of Hudson River School paintings, as well as James Audubon's preparatory watercolors for his seminal study, The Birds of America. This huge institution is as New York as visiting museums in New York gets. 

Check out a new exhibition on Bob Hope and World War II and get a close-up look at the Waldorf-Astoria's massive lobby clock.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Harlem

Some of the most exciting today art is being created by young African-Americans and the Studio Museum is the place where many of them received their initial exposure. Opened in 1968 as the first black fine-arts museum in the country, the Studio Museum is undergoing a major expansion with plans to move into a new David Adjaye-designed building by 2021. If you want to get ahead of the curve while supporting new artists, this is the place to do it. 

Studio Museum is temporarily closed but their initiative in Harlem is presenting works at sites throughout the neighborhood.

 

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Chelsea

Opened in 2004, this six-story museum in Chelsea houses Donald and Shelley Rubin’s impressive collection of Himalayan art and artifacts. It also mounts large-scale temporary exhibitions that have included offerings by contemporary artists. If you've never been to a place dedicated to the ideas, culture and art of Himalayan regions, well, here's your chance! 

Get an intro course on Himalayan Art this spring with "Gateway to Himalayan Art," and "Awaken"  37 artworks from the 7th to the 21st century that spur on an awareness that everything is interconnected.

 

National Museum of the American Indian
  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Financial District

The other branch of the Smithsonian Institution in NYC along with the Cooper Hewitt, the NMAI displays its collection around the grand rotunda of the 1907 Custom House at 1 Bowling Green. In total, the museum contains some 825,000 items from 1,200 indigenous cultures covering 12,000 years of Native American history. This is a very important museum, as ti hols a lot of culture from erased communities. It's actually one of the world's most expansive collections of Native objects. Also, the building is stunning. 

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  • Museums
  • History
  • East Harlem

The place to explore the NYC’s past, present and future, the Museum of the City of New York on Fifth Avenue at 104th Street takes visitors on a tour of the city’s 400-year history through rotating exhibitions and its extensive collection of vintage photographs, costumes, textiles, theater memorabilia, furniture, decorative arts and more. So for the full New York experience, really this place basically has to be on your list. 

Asia Society
  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • Lenox Hill
  • price 1 of 4

The galleries at the Asia Society host major exhibitions showcasing art—both historical and contemporary—from Asia, the Philippines and the Indian subcontinent. It's a non-profit focussed on educating the world about Asia, and is one of several Asia Societies worldwise. Catch them all! 

The Asia Society Triennial is currently on view through June 17 at the museum.

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  • Museums
  • Special interest

Opened as a foundation to promote LGBT artists by Charles Leslie and his late partner, Fritz Lohman, this Soho institution was granted museum status by New York State in 2011. Its program includes solo shows, as well as group shows organized around important LGBT themes such as identity, gender and AIDS. There's around 30,000 items in their collection, so you can spend a lot of time here and notsee the same thing twice. 

Dissolution explores the role of queerness at the intersection of wider social relations and "Show and Tell" is the first comprehensive retrospective of photographer Laura Aguilar. 

  • Museums
  • History
  • Little Italy
  • price 1 of 4

MOCA occupies an airy former machine shop designed by prominent Chinese-American architect Maya Lin. In an interior loosely inspired by a traditional Chinese house, with rooms radiating off a central courtyard and areas defined by screens, MOCA’s core exhibit traces the development of Chinese communities on these shores from the 17th century to the present through objects, images and video. Mixed-media displays cover the development of industries such as laundries and restaurants in New York, Chinese stereotypes in pop culture, and the suspicion and humiliation Chinese-Americans endured during World War II and the McCarthy era. A mocked-up Chinese general store evokes the multipurpose spaces that served as vital community lifelines for men severed from their families under the 1882 Exclusion Act, which restricted immigration. A gallery is devoted to temporary exhibitions, such as the work of contemporary Chinese-American artists. Sounds great, right? It's also free to enter, so if you find yourself in Lower Manhattan, pop in! 

MOCA remains temporarily closed but is continuing to offer virtual programs.

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  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Soho

As it names suggests, The Drawing Center is devoted to exhibiting and promoting works on paper, both historical and contemporary. A Soho stalwart since its founding in 1977, The Drawing Center is as much a museum as it is a gallery (there’s a five dollar admission), but its wooden floors and cast-iron columns are reminiscent of Soho’s glory days as a gallery district. It's in SoHo so you'll likely find yourself nearby. When you do, have a wander around – and then you can draw your conclusions on the place! 

David Hammons: Body Prints, 1968–1979 brings together fascinating works where the artist used his body as a drawing tool and printing plate. It is open by appointment.

The Noguchi Museum
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Astoria
  • price 1 of 4

When sculptor (and landscape architect, and theatrical-set and furniture designer) Isamu Noguchi opened his Queens museum in 1985, he was the first living artist in the U.S. to establish such an institution. It occupies a former photo-engraving plant across the street from the studio he had occupied since the 1960s to be closer to stone and metal suppliers along Vernon Boulevard. The entire building was designed by Noguchi to be a meditative oasis amid its gritty, industrial setting. Twelve galleries and a garden are populated with Noguchi’s sculptures; also on display are drawn, painted and collaged studies, architectural models, and stage and furniture designs. It's free to enter onn the first Friday of each month, but you'll need a ticket (they're released two weeks beforehand). 

"Koho Yamamoto: Under a Dark Moon" is a one-gallery installation of ten untitled dark abstract paintings on paper.

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National September 11 Memorial & Museum
  • Attractions
  • Monuments and memorials
  • Financial District

It doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist, commuter or longtime NYC resident: No visit to lower Manhattan is complete without paying your respects at the September 11 Memorial & Museum. Both the outdoor memorial and accompanying museum are solemn, moving tributes to the nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and February 26, 1993. Designed by Israeli architect Michael Arad, two of North America’s largest man-made waterfalls mark the footprint of each tower, framing the perimeter and cascading into reflecting pools almost an acre wide. It's a wonderful and emotional place, it might not be as light-hearted as other museums, but it'll sure make you think. 

You can visit the main memorial exhibition in person at the museum. Other smaller exhibitions, including one delving into the hunt for Bin Laden, can be viewed online.

The Cloisters
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Washington Heights
  • price 2 of 4

Set in a lovely park overlooking the Hudson River, the Cloisters houses the Met’s medieval art and architecture collections. A path winds through the peaceful grounds to a castle that seems to have survived from the Middle Ages. (It was built less than 100 years ago, using material from five medieval French cloisters.) Be sure to check out the famous Unicorn Tapestries, the 12th-century Fuentidueña Chapel and the Annunciation Triptych by Robert Campin. There's a focus on Romanesque and Gothic periods. The building is fascinating in itself, so even if you just marvel at the exterior, it'll be well worth a visit. 

The Cloisters are currently open with timed tickets and limited hours.

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The Museum at FIT
  • Museums
  • Fashion and costume
  • Chelsea

The Fashion Institute of Technology owns one of the largest and most impressive collections of clothing, textiles and accessories in the world, including some 50,000 costumes and fabrics dating from the 5th century to the present. Overseen by fashion historian Valerie Steele, the museum showcases a selection from the permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on individual designers or the role fashion plays in society. Admission is free and no, you can't try on the clothing! This museum has a good range of events and educational resources also. 

The Museum at FIT is currently operating remotely with online exhibitions, like the "Roaring 20s and Swinging 60s" showing.

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