KidTripster Teen: 7 Lesser-known but worthwhile NYC museums where you won’t have to fight the crowds
When planning a trip New York City, there’s a good chance that you’ll put a few museums on your itinerary. Colossuses like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History, and MoMA are awesome choices. However, there are lots of other cool museums worth checking out that won’t have you fighting the monster crowds of the biggies. And they’re extremely affordable, if not free! So I’ve compiled a list of some lesser-known gems that I think you’ll like.
Photo courtesy: National Museum of Mathematics
1/Houdini Museum of New York
421 7th Ave., 3rd Floor
If you love magic, the Houdini Museum is a super spot to check out. Housed in the esteemed Fantasma Magic Shop, this museum is dedicated to the most famous magician and escape artist that ever lived, Harry Houdini. On display are some of the rarest items that belonged to Harry himself, like his old locks, trunks, and straitjackets. After viewing all the memorabilia and reading some theories on how he achieved his fantastic feats, walk up to the counter and chat with some of the employees. They can share more information about the “handcuff king” and maybe even do a trick or two. Who knows, you may walk with a few tricks up your sleeves! Cost: Free.
KidTripster Tip: Lots of professional magicians hang out at the shop. If you start talking with them, they may perform some amazing tricks for you.
2/National Museum of Mathematics
11 East 26th St.
Wait! Before you skip over this one, you don’t need to be an arithmetic addict to enjoy spending time here. I promise, it’s really a blast, even if you failed geometry! Have you ever ridden a square-wheeled tricycle? Ever controlled a robot with your mere presence? You can at MoMath! With more than 30 interactive exhibits spread out over two sprawling floors, this place will quickly change your mind about math being boring. Make sure you check out some of the puzzles on the lower level. My favorite is the math square that has a maze where you can only make right turns to complete it. I’ll admit, it me took several tries. Cost: Youth $9; Adult $15.
3/Museum of American Finance
48 Wall St.
Appropriately located just down the block from the New York Stock Exchange, the Museum of American Finance covers everything that you ever wanted to know about the U.S. financial system and how it works. You’ll learn all about the history of the American economy and see many kinds of artifacts associated with financial markets, banking, and money. There’s a free, guided tour that runs about every half hour or so; it's like a mini finance class that covers loads of information, including interesting stuff about stocks and bonds. Also highlighted on the tour, you’ll learn about the national debt clock, America’s currency through the years, and Sidney Mobell’s solid gold monopoly game. There’s even an entire room dedicated to Alexander Hamilton, the father of American banking and subject of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. Cost: Youth (6 & under) Free; Youth $5; Adults $8.
4/The Skyscraper Museum
39 Battery Place
Since New York City is home to some of the most iconic skyscrapers on the planet, it seems fitting that it’s also home to the only museum dedicated entirely to these marvels of engineering. The Skyscraper Museum has permanent exhibits, as well as various special exhibits and family programs on Saturday mornings. You’re welcome to view the exhibits on your own or book a tour by calling in advance. I’d suggest taking the free Curator Tour. It’s only held on select Wednesdays, but it’s given by the founder of the museum. Call ahead to confirm the schedule. No matter what day you decide to visit though, I’m certain that you’ll find it a worthwhile trip! Cost: Youth $2.50; Adults $5.
103 Orchard St.
Tenement Museum has to be one of the coolest museums ever! 97 Orchard Street is an original tenement building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Back in 1863, it was home to more than 7,000 working class immigrants. Through various tours, you’ll experience first-hand what life was like for these residents; each tour focuses on different aspects of immigrant culture during different time periods. The Tastings at the Tenement tour even includes a sit-down tasting menu; this tour is best-suited for kids ages 8 and up. You even get to meet the people who lived in the building! Okay, not really, but the living historians who portray the occupants are so convincing that you may think that you’ve traveled back in time! Cost: Youth $25; Adult $25.
KidTripster Tip: You can usually get a same-day tour; but if you have a specific tour in mind, it’s best to book in advance online!
Photo courtesy: Tenement Museum/Kieko Niwa
6/New York Transit Museum
99 Schermerhorn St.
The setting for this museum is part of what makes this place so special. The Transit Museum is located in an old, abandoned subway station in downtown Brooklyn that’s been transformed into a fantastic exhibition about the amazing NYC transportation system. How cool is that? Though the museum covers all forms of transportation, the main focus here is the subway system. You can wander through the tunnels and discover how the subway was built. You also can find out how public transportation in New York City was affected during Hurricane Sandy and the 9/11 Attacks; it's a little somber but truly fascinating. Make sure not to miss the walk down into the old Court Street station. There, you’ll find a timeline of trains dating back to 1904 and even some of the above ground trolleys. All of them are completely authentic, right down to the ads. Keep an eye out for “Miss Subways;” she’s all over those trains. Cost: Youth $5; Adults $10.
KidTripster Tip: The museum has special family and teen programs. Check the schedule here.
KidTripster Tip: If you're hungry before or after visiting the museum, know that downtown Brooklyn has a variety of super awesome restaurants! I happen to love Rocco’s Tacos, a trendy Mexican joint, just a few blocks away.
Photo courtesy: Black Paw Photo
7/Fraunces Tavern Museum
54 Pearl St.
George Washington gave his farewell address to his army in this building, making it the perfect location for this museum. Fraunces Tavern Museum is tucked away on two floors above Fraunces Tavern in the Financial District of Manhattan. Despite its cozy quarters, the museum has packed a lot into this tiny space. This place gives you a glimpse into the history of New York City during colonial times, the Revolutionary War, and the birth of our nation. There are a few permanent installations, as well as several temporary exhibits. My favorite is the Clinton Room, which is a re-creation of a federalist-style dining room. It’s named after New York’s first American governor, George Clinton. Once you’ve finished exploring, you can pop downstairs and enjoy some delicious food. Cost: Youth (5 & under) Free; Youth (6-18) $4; Adult $7.
KidTripster Tip: If you eat at the restaurant before heading up to the museum, chat up your waiter or the folks at the hostess stand a little bit, and you may be able to score some free museum passes!
Laine Messier is a homeschooled high school student, who currently splits her time between Los Angeles and New York City. She’s lucky enough to be able to explore the globe with her parents and is always on the lookout for unique and exciting experiences. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her surfing, jamming on her guitar or searching for new adventures with her trusty canine sidekick, Tess.