The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) was established in 1923 with the aim to “collect, preserve, and present original materials related to the history of New York City.” The museum receives individual contributions from corporations and foundations in addition to the public funds granted by the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The museum is housed in a beautiful building that brings back memories of colonial mansions of yesteryears. It is made of large red brick with white stone columns accenting the entranceway, and floors and stairways inlaid with marble.
Among the most interesting artifacts in the museum are some of playwright Eugene O’Neill’s original manuscripts, hundreds of glass negatives from the works of noted photojournalist Jacob Riis, and a suit worn by a New Yorker to George Washington’s Inaugural Ball.
Some of the museum’s permanent collections include interior designs from William Baumgarten & Co., who designed the Vanderbilt Mansion on Fifth Avenue, as well as some of the stunning rooms at the historic Plaza Hotel. They also include many of the stunning photographs of Mel Rosenthal and Edmund V. Gillon who both documented life in the teeming city, taking pictures of everything from crumbling inner-city neighborhoods to the beauty of New York’s architecture.
Aside from the permanent collection, the Museum of the City of New York also has special exhibitions all year long. These exhibitions cover many remarkable chapters in the New York story, focusing at times on a neighborhood such as Coney Island or Greenwich Village, or on a particular part of life, such as jewelry, graffiti, clothing, or children’s toys.
The exhibitions change throughout the year, so be sure to check the museum’s website for information about current or upcoming shows.
History, People, and Culture of New York
If you are looking for a museum that is smaller and less crowded than say the Met or the Museum of Natural History, then the Museum of the City of New York may be for you.
The general focus of the museum is on the history and people of New York City. The exhibits are interesting and informative, making it a great alternative to some of the larger, better-known museums down the street.
If you’re looking for great art, then skip it, but if a good New York City history museum is what you want, then this is it. Depending on how much reading you do, the whole place can be seen in two to three hours.
Don’t miss – Timescapes: A Multimedia Portrait of New York. This 25-minute presentation is a highlight of the museum. It runs every half hour and features New York City’s history from 1609 to the present and how it grew to become a city of a new type with rich diversity and culture.
Another plus: You can enjoy a leisurely walk along Museum Mile next to Central Park on your way there.
MCNY is the place you want to be if you want to familiarize yourself with all there is to know about New York City. In addition to hundreds of paintings showing you life in New York over the ages, there are various other interesting exhibits for you to browse through. Be prepared to spend quite a few hours here, in case you are planning on looking through everything the museum has to offer.
There is an exhibit that takes you through the days when New York was one of the major seaports in the world. Here, you get to see models of ships that sailed the sea in that era. There’s also a massive statue of the inventor of the steamship standing seven feet tall.
Children will be especially fascinated by the “New York Toy Stories” exhibition that has 10,000 toys on display, including board games that were sold at the turn of the century and original Kewpie dolls and clowns. Of course, they are all behind the glass, so you can’t actually play with them, but they make for interesting viewing nonetheless. Also, there’s the 12-room dollhouse that tool designer Carrie Walter Stettheimer over two decades to make. The walls of this dollhouse have original works by famous artists, including the three-inch-long “Nude Descending a Staircase” by Marcel Duchamp.
If you have enough time, get yourself seats for the screening of “Timescapes: A Multimedia Portrait of New York” on the second floor. This 25-minute movie is narrated by Stanley Tucci and uses paintings, maps, and cool vintage photos to contextualize what you may have learned in the museum. Treat yourself to a trip to the MCNY and learn more about the city you are living in.
Visiting the Museum
This museum is located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street right across the street from Central Park and the Conservatory Garden. It is easily accessible on New York’s public transit system.
There are discounts on general admission for seniors and for students, and children 12 and under are free. There is also a special price for families. The museum has a gift shop and a café and it is open seven days a week.
For visitors who want to make the most of their visit, there are free tours of the museum three afternoons a week, led by a museum docent. No reservations are required. There are also paid group tours available, led by museum curators and specialists. There are even behind-the-scene and after-hour tours that can be arranged through the museum’s information desk. These paid tours are for groups of up to ten people and must be reserved in advance.
Essential Tourist Information
1220 Fifth Avenue (at 103rd Street)
- Adults: $10
- Seniors/Students: $6
- Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Closed Mondays (except Monday holidays)
- Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day
- By subway, take the 6 train to 103rd Street and walk three blocks west or take the 2 or 3 train to Central Park North (110th Street), walk one block east to Fifth Avenue and then south to 103rd Street.
- By bus take the M1, M3, M4, or M106 to 104th Street or the M2 to 101st Street.