The Cultural Wonders of New York City:  Exploring Its Great Museums By Daniel R. Schwarz

The Cultural Wonders of New York City: Exploring Its Great Museums,” with photographs by Marcia Jacobson, Ithaca Journal, Elmira Star-Gazette and Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, May 3, 2014, 1D, 4D.

penguinAsian animal (tigers) diorama at the American Museum of Natural History

While appreciating the natural wonders and cultural opportunities of Ithaca and upstate New York, I love New York City for its energy, culture, and variety. Every day I spend in NYC is a one day seminar of museums, theater, ballet, and opera. Simply walking the streets and devouring the history, architecture and vibrant life of New York City is an amazing learning experience.
What follows is a three day-two night of sampling some of NYC’s major museums with the thought that visitors will certainly need to return to those they find most exciting. I should mention that I often spend an entire day or at least several hours at each of the museums I discuss. In reality this article is a smorgasbord of opportunities. I don’t expect readers to visit more than five or six of the venues I discuss, even in a long weekend. While there are treasures in the outer boroughs, I will for the most part concentrate on Manhattan.

penguinButterfly exhibit at American Museum of Natural History

Let us start with the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park W and 79th St. phone: 212-769-5100) which I have been visiting since I was a child. This is the most child friendly museum in New York. My favorites have always been the dinosaur collection and the two rooms with African and Asian mammals as well as the Hayden Planetarium, which involves an extra charge, as do various special exhibits. Recently we spent time there in a special exhibit containing a room full of butterflies. The Museum is open daily from 10 am - 5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. General Admission for adults $22, seniors and students $17, children 2-12 $12.50, but you have the option of paying what you wish.

Our next stop is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, known as the Met, at 1000 Fifth Ave at 82nd. St (212- 535-7710.) Unless we have inclement weather, we get there by a twenty-minute walk across the quite beautiful Central Park. Otherwise take the crosstown bus in front of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Met is one of the world’s great museums and contains not only masterworks of American and European Art, but also Asian and African art, including a wonderful Egyptian collection that is particularly child friendly with an Egyptian temple in its own room (The Temple of Dendur). One could visit this museum every day for a lifetime and still not exhaust the treasures, but I recommend joining one of the free hour-long tours highlight tours.
The museum is open Sunday–Thursday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. The adult price is $25, seniors $17, students $12,bchildren under 12 are free. But here, too, you can pay what you wish. The same ticket admits you to the Cloisters, an incredible museum of medieval art (99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, which is uptown near the George Washington Bridge; take the A subway to 190th street).

penguinThe Guggenheim Museum (architect: Frank Lloyd Wright)

Our next stop is the Guggenheim—built by Frank Lloyd Wright and a magnificent site in its own right-- which, like the Met, is on Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue (1071 Fifth Ave at 89th St; 212-423-3500) and a few blocks walk from the Met. Right now the featured exhibit is Italian Futurism, which while a terrific exhibit for those familiar with 20th century European art and culture, may not engage beginners or children. Adults $22, seniors and students $18, children under 12 free. Audio guides included. Hours 10-5:45 except Saturday 10-7:45 and after 5:45 on Saturday you pay what you wish. Closed Thursday.

penguinPicasso: “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” at MOMA

The next day I would begin with the Museum of Modern Art known as MOMA (11 W 53rd St;. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. 212-708-9400). If cost is an issue, remember that Friday afternoon after 4 is free and the museum is open to 8. Other days: 10-30-5:30. The second floor café, which is run by the legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer, is excellent and inexpensive. On a tightly organized tourist day, I find it is a good choice before Friday evening theater.
Here you will see some of the great paintings of the twentieth century, including Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso and The Red Studio by Matisse as well as late nineteenth century masterworks by Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Monet and more experimental later twentieth century and contemporary works. Right now MOMA is featuring a wonderful Gauguin exhibit. Your ticket of admission ($25 adult, seniors $18, students $14, children under 16 free) also includes audio guides and access to films.

After a few hours here I would walk up to the Frick on E. 70th and Fifth Ave.; 212-547-6848). Located in the old Frick mansion, the collection is composed of European and American masterworks. It has some wonderful Titians, Rembrandts, and three of the world’s 34 or so Vermeers. Adults $20, seniors $15, students $10, children under ten not admitted. Audio guides included. On Sundays from 11 to 1 you pay what you wish, and on Mondays the museum is closed.

penguinMatisse: “The Red Studio” with Matisse scuplture depicted in the painting at MOMA

On the way to the Frick, I might detour into Central Park which begins at 59th Street and which contains a small children’s zoo as you enter on 59th Street.

It is a short walk from the Frick to the Whitney (Madison and 75th St; 212-570-3600), which features 20th and 21st century American Art. The major exhibit until May 25 is the Biennial which every two years features recent, often experimental art as well as an exhibition entitled “American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe” featuring established art from the museum’s permanent collection. The latter exhibit closes Oct. 19, 2014. Adults $20, students and seniors $16 m children under 18 free. Pay what you wish Friday 6-9. Audio guide included. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

penguinPollock: “One: November 31, 1950″ at MOMA

If time permits, you should visit the quite stunning Neue Galerie in a mansion on 1048 Fifth Ave (86th and fifth; 212) 628-6200) which focuses on German and Austrian artists such as Klimt, Kandinsky, and Schiele. Admission $20, students and seniors $10, children under 12 not admitted. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Until June 30, the museum has an important exhibition, “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937.”

Another splendid museum is the Rubin museum (150 W.17 St; 212-620-5000) which features the art of the Himalayas, especially Tibet and Nepal. Lest this seems too exotic, I promise that you will be astounded at the beauty of these works and of the care with which they are presented in terms of information on the walls and the audio. Closed Tuesdays, adults $15, seniors and students $10, children under 12 free. Audio guide included.

Because New York is an artistic and cultural wonderland, I will now mention out several important museums that I would include on second and third trips.

The New York Historical Society (170 Central Park West at 77th St; 212-873-3400) features the Hudson River School painters (Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, etc.) and special exhibits focusing on New York City. The Museum of the City of New York focuses on celebrating and interpreting New York (1220 Fifth Ave. at 103rd St. 212-534-1672). The extraordinarily elegant Morgan Library and Museum features drawings and illuminated and literary manuscripts (25 Madison Ave. at 36st; 212-685-0008). The Jewish Museum features Jewish culture past and present, including exhibits of such major Jewish figures as Marc Chagall and Art Spiegelman (1109 5th Ave. at 92st; 212-423-3200).

I also recommend Asia House (725 Park Av. at 70th St 212-288-6400); the Brooklyn Museum which is not in Manhattan but has many treasures, including fine Egyptian and Indian art (200 Eastern Parkway; 718-638-5000); the International Center of Photography (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd St. 212.857.0000); the New Museum of Contemporary Art focusing on recent, often avant-garde work by American and International artists (235 Bowery; 212-219-1222); and the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust (36 Battery Place; 646-437-4202).

Another place to visit is the elegant Beaux-Arts New York Public Library, which has free exhibits pertaining to the history and culture of New York, often drawing on material in its collection (Fifth Ave. and 42th St.). For me, this place evokes memories of hours of reading and research and often meeting other scholars who were working there.

penguinDan looking at Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie”–which was inspired by Manhattan– at MOMA

Countless private galleries have world-class art for sale and you should stop by a few as you walk around. I might mention the Gagosian at 960 Madison Ave. or David Zwirner at 525 W.19 St. As you walk in Manhattan, keep your eyes open for artistic treasures by major artists in building lobbies of major companies and as well as sculptures out in front of their buildings. Also notice the public art on various streets and squares. I have been fortunate to visit most of the world’s major cities—many several times--but Manhattan is among the most richly endowed cultural meccas in the world.

Planning the trip:

You can drive to NYC but be aware that parking is expensive, although parking garage prices are reduced on weekends. Distance, depending on where you depart from and where you arrive is about 225 miles from Ithaca, 223 from Elmira, 176 miles from Binghamton. Be advised you do not want to enter or leave Manhattan at rush hour, so it is best to arrive at the Lincoln tunnel after 9 a.m. and before 4 p.m. or after 7 p.m. Departing on Sunday is easier than entering Friday. Or you can take the Short Line or Greyhound bus lines and save automobile parking fees. From Ithaca you can take the upscale and more expensive Cornell bus to the Cornell Club on 44th and Madison or the Cornell Medical School at 1300 York Ave and 69th St.


Because NYC is a great walking city, I would not rush about Manhattan in a cab to see an extra museum. Keep in mind that a cab is expensive and could add up to $100 a day. Subways are convenient, but to know a city is to walk it and to see its hidden treasures. In Manhattan every block has wonderful architecture and shops. If you take your own car, you will need pay for parking at every site unless you are fortunate enough to find street parking and that is unlikely unless you know New York well. I would leave the car in a garage; weekend rates are lower than weekday rates. The best parking deals are not in hotel lots and often off away from the central streets in Midtown. I would look towards First Ave and especially Ninth and Tenth Avenues.


Rates vary greatly but sites like often have terrific bargains close to your travel date because hotels would rather be full at discount prices than half empty at full price. Put another way, the hotels’ expenses are virtually the same whether they are half full or full. The Marriott at Lexington Ave, and 48th is well located and often offers rooms in the $250-$300 range which for Manhattan is a good value. If you can do a weekend that includes Sunday night you can often get an excellent price Sunday night because weekend tourists usually visit Friday-Saturday and business travellers stay Monday-Thursday. Over the years I have gotten good values at the Millennium on 145 West 44 St in the heart of midtown and the Excelsior on West 81St between Central Park West and Columbus. (It is across the street from the American Museum o Natural History and easy walking distance to the Met.)


If you want to have a NYC restaurant experience, be advised that some of the best establishments serve lunches at surprisingly reasonable prices. I recommend Nougatine (about $35 prix-fix with 3 courses) at Jean-Georges Trump Hotel, 1 Central Park West; 212- 299-3900.

If children are along or if you want to use time efficiently, museum cafes are affordable and often quite good. At the Met I prefer the one in the American Wing. Phoenix Garden is an authentic and inexpensive Chinese restaurant (242 E 40th St; 212-983-6666).


penguinMaria Martins: “The Impossible III” at MOMA

You can buy a City Pass for $109 and youth one for ages 6-17 for $82 and that includes the Met, MOMA, Guggenheim, and the American Museum of Natural History, but given that you can pay what you wish at the Natural History Museum and the Met, and that children 6-12 are admitted free at the Guggenheim and the Met, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you also plan on the same trip to visit the Statue of Liberty or take a Circle Line Cruise around New York City. There are other companies selling passes, too, but I am not sure they are bargains when one considers senior tickets, pay what you wish museums, free days and nights at some museums, children admitted free or at discounts, etc.


No NYC visit is complete without a Broadway show. Discount tickets for the less popular shows can be purchased the day of performance at TKTS Discount Booth, Broadway and 47th Street (for details: If you go to the individual theatre box office the day of performance, you sometimes can get balcony tickets for even less. Lincoln Center (between 62th and 65th on Columbus Ave is home for the NYC Ballet Company and the Metropolitan Opera; for these you should check the following sites.; Consult the New York Times or the New Yorker for an amazing array of other musical, theatrical, and dance events, including other events at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall (881 Seventh Ave.. at 57rh St.) and Radio City Musical Hall (1260 Ave, of the Americas at 50th St.).


Museums have provisions for the disabled. New York City buses have special ramps that lower and rise for those in wheel chairs.

Be sure to get a free Subway map.

Obviously dress depends on the weather. One can look online for weather information but New York City is a little warmer in all seasons than upstate New York

Author of numerous travel articles and the well-received 2012 book Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times (Excelsior Editions of SUNY Press, recently released in a new paperback edition). Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. He can be reached at and followed on twitter at and