After a year of being surrounded by a dormant city, New Yorkers are finally rediscovering their favorite local places, and branching out to explore new ones. That means checking some smaller, off-the-beaten path museums off our bucket lists—the ones we always thought we'd get to “some day”—because we've learned that life is precious, our city is special, and that "some day" should be now. Besides, what’s better than a museum-day bookended by a leisurely picnic or a stroll in a tree-lined park?
1. Van Cortlandt House Museum
4 minute walk from 242 Street
Just a short walk from the northernmost stop on the 1 train is the Van Cortlandt House, once a Dutch-owned wheat plantation in the mid 1700s. It was converted into a museum in the late 1800s, and its grounds became the sprawling Van Cortlandt Park, with countless trails, a pond, and even horseback riding stables. Today, you can tour its rooms to get a sense of the period: think four poster canopy beds and fireplaces lined with blue-and-white Dutch tiles. You can also learn about the enslaved people who lived on the plantation as part of an ongoing effort to reckon with the house’s involvement in the slave trade.
2. The Met Cloisters
12 minute walk from 190th Street
Built in the 1930s to resemble a French abbey, the extraordinary Met Cloisters sit atop a hill in Fort Tryon Park, a rambling wood at the northern end of Manhattan. Through a maze of churchlike halls, visitors can view medieval statues, including carved sarcophagi that lovingly depict the dead who lay in repose within, stained glass windows, and Gothic masterpieces such as the Unicorn Tapestries. Colonnaded courtyards and an herb garden make this museum a true indoor/outdoor experience. Afterward, enjoy the stunning views of the Hudson River from one of Fort Tryon Park’s many overlooks.
3. Morris-Jumel Mansion
2 minute walk to 163 Street-Amsterdam Avenue
Take the approach from St. Nicholas Avenue, up a small staircase, and you’ll find yourself gazing down Sylvan Terrace, a cobbled walkway lined with clapboard row houses painted distinctive crème, chocolate, and green. The mansion, named for the two prominent families who owned it in the mid 1700s and early 1800s, was occupied by George Washington during the American Revolution.
Today, exhibitions—which typically run for several years—gather photos, documents, and artifacts to trace the home’s colonial past. Special events include live music and playful paranormal investigation tours, with academics detailing the house’s hauntings. The house sits on a small hill—hence why Washington found it strategic—and offers just enough lawn space for a picnic overlooking the neighborhood.
4. Nicholas Roerich Museum
6 minute walk from 103 Street
13 minute walk from 96 Street
A short walk from the 1 train takes you to this lesser known museum on the Upper West Side, named for Russian-born painter Nicholas Roerich. His mystical, dream-like works focused on India, Tibet, and Central Asia, and included lone figures set against snow-capped Himalayan peaks or elaborate depictions of myths and legends. The museum’s collection of more than 200 paintings is spread over three floors, so you can explore the interior of a stately New York townhouse while mentally traveling halfway across the world. Roerich’s spiritual paintings are known to spark introspection, so once you’ve finished admiring them, cross the street to Riverside Park for a meditative walk along the tree-lined paths.
5. Queens Museum
14 minute walk from Mets-Willets Point
10 minute walk from Mets-Willets Point
Built for the 1939 World’s Fair, Queens Museum is one of many striking modernist structures in sprawling Flushing Meadows/Corona Park. It’s home to countless art exhibits with an activist bent, as well as its permanent installation—an enormous scale model of New York City, built for the 1964 World’s Fair. Updated as the city evolves, the model can be viewed from an encircling walkway above. Visitors can pick out city landmarks, or even find their own homes, before heading out to the park to walk among its futurist-retro monuments, which include the iconic Unisphere, a 12-story-tall stainless steel globe.
6. Voelker Orth Museum
16 minute walk from Flushing-Main Street
4 minutes from Murray Hill
Flushing may be better known for its bustling Chinatown, but once upon a time, several centuries back, it was little more than a cluster of mostly English and Dutch settlers. A string of these farmhouses still peppers Northern Boulevard, just a short walk from the 7 train’s easternmost stop. They’re all worth visiting for their sumptuous interiors with preserved period furniture, but the Voelker Orth Museum, home to a German immigrant family in the late 19th century, takes full advantage of its grounds. There’s a Victorian garden with trim flower beds and vines climbing up trellises, and no shortage of events, including a festival celebrating a honey harvest from the house’s own hives and an annual Oktoberfest with plenty of sausage and sauerkraut.
Giulia Pines is a native New Yorker who writes about arts and culture, business and finance, and occasionally travel. She grew up on the 1 line, but currently resides along the 7.
Van Cortlandt House Museum
6036 Broadway, Bronx, NY 10471, USA
- 2242 Street
The Met Cloisters
99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040, USA
- 4W. 190th Street
65 Jumel Terrace, New York, NY 10032, USA
- 6163rd & Amsterdam
Nicholas Roerich Museum
319 W 107th St, New York, NY 10025, USA
- 8103 Street
- 996th Street
126 Flushing Meadows Corona Park Rd, Corona, NY 11368, USA
- 11Mets-Willets Point
- 12LIRR Mets-Willets Point
Voelker Orth Museum
14919 38th Ave, Queens, NY 11354
- 14Main Street
- 15LIRR Murray Hill