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Photograph: Scott Frances for Spyscape

The best interactive museums in NYC

We list the top nine museums that let you be part of the exhibits

By Howard Halle
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The Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, the Guggenheim—we all love these museums, sure, but lets's face it: Once you get to any one of them, you mostly stand around and look at things. And when you’re not doing that, you’re reading wall labels. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But sometimes you might want something with a little more action, something a little more…interactive. Luckily, this is New York City, which has just about everything, including museums that allow you to involve yourself with the displays. At some places, this means taking exhibitions augmented with audio-visual interfaces; at other locations, it means finding yourself in a fully immersive installations with the latest digital technologies like VR. Either way, if you’re looking for ways to heighten you’re museum-going experience, we’ve got reccomendations for you in our list of the best interactive museums in NYC.  

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best New York attractions

1. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Museums Military and maritime Hell's Kitchen

This aircraft carrier turned museum offers plenty of interactive exhibts, including a real-life helicopter you can climb into; a console where you can navigate a submarine; and simulators that let you fly a supersonic fighter jet, and pilot a racing drone.

 

2. Museum of American Finance

Museums History Financial District

The only institution dedicated to American finance, the Museum of American Finance (located the old headquarters of the Bank of New York) features touch-screen kiosks that let you explore the history of American banking among other subjects.

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3. Museum of the Moving Image

Museums Movies and TV Astoria

Besides a state-of-the-art 264-seat cinema, the Museum of the Moving Image boasts a dubbing room that allows visitors to record their voices over the lines spoken by Tony Curtis or Marilyn Monroe in the Billy Wilder classic, “Some Like It Hot,” and touch-screen stations where museum-goers can create their own stop-motion animations.

4. Museum of Sex (MoSex)

Museums Special interest Flatiron

Sex is the ultimate in interactive fun, so it’s no surprise that MoSex features a bouncy castle made of breasts. Other exhibits have taken a more high-tech approach, with one case using VR goggles to take visitors on an exploration of “anticipation, sexual attraction [and] identity…around a shared infinite pole dance in space.”

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5. New York Hall of Science

Museums Science and technology Queens

Built for the 1964 World’s Fair, the Hall of Science welcomes visitors with immersive installations like “Connected Worlds,” in which they can learn about sustainability by using padded-foam “logs” to divert water from a 38 foot high virtual waterfall to six digitally simulated environments.

6. New York Historical Society

Museums Upper West Side

While the New-York Historical Society (founded in 1804) is NYC’s oldest museum, it’s totally up to the date with its interactive exhibits. Touch screens illuminate the more than four centuries of American artifacts in the Society’s collection, allowing you to manipulate images of objects to discover more about them.

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7. New York Transit Museum

Museums Special interest Boerum Hill

New York Transit Museum recounts subway history with a vintage fleet of restored cars that let visitors can climb aboard to imagine themselves as straphangers from different decades dating back to the subway opening in 1904. There’s also a collection of buses and a working signal tower.

Photograph: Courtesy Scott Frances for SPYSCAPE

8. Spyscape

Museums Special interest Midtown West

Channel your inner James Bond with a trip to Spyscape. The midtown museum offers visitors a chance to learn about the mathematician who cracked the Enigma code, run down a laser beam-filled hallway unscathed (which takes some serious skill) and even try a lie detector test. Next stop: The FBI. All ages. 

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Photograph: Courtesy Kenroy Lumsden

9. Museum of Illusions

Museums Special interest West Village

As the saying goes, "You have to see it to believe it." The now-permanent Museum of Illusions offers 70+ exhibits in science, tech, mathematics and other fields that will have patrons doing a double take. This sensory-driven experience allows visitors to take a look at unusual works, try their hand at games and puzzles and get to the bottom of the opitical ollusions. All ages. 

10. The Tenement Museum

4 out of 5 stars
Museums History Lower East Side

A series of restored tenements at 97 Orchard St, the Tenement Museum goes for old-school interactivity with guided tours through period-accurate apartments recreating the homes of 19th- and 20th-century immigrants. Historical re-enactors playing former building residents bring individual immigrants to life.

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