New York City is known for its museums. In fact, you can’t throw a bagel in this city without hitting a famous museum or gallery. Yet in addition to famous institutions, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick and MoMA, the Big Apple is also home to a few museums that don’t make it into many tourist brochures. In a city that is proud to have oddities in spades, it’s no wonder New York has so many weird and off-the-beaten path museums. 

Museum of Sex

Though the Museum of Sex isn’t totally unknown to visitors or locals, it doesn’t usually end up on most first-timers’ radars. Despite not being as widely known as some of Manhattan’s other museums, it’s well worth a visit. Permanent exhibits chronicle the history of sex, from the Egyptians through the modern-day times. Past temporary exhibits have included a psychedelic funhouse made of nude body parts and a couples VR experience.

Museum of Food and Drink (MoFaD)

MoFaD might not be famous to the average tourist, but it certainly makes every foodie’s must-see list. Focusing on the hidden history of food, interactive (and edible) displays and celebrity chef appearances, this museum is geared to the food-obsessed. 

Past exhibits have documented the history of Chinese-American cuisine (complete with a make-your-own fortune cookie display) and the secret history of the hot dog (and its connection to German immigrants in Coney Island). Exhibits rotate regularly, and the museum also hosts several special events each month.

City Reliquary

This is what New York’s attic would look like if the city had one. Just a quick walk or taxi ride from MoFaD, the City Reliquary is located in the heart of Williamsburg. Here you’ll find rows of bleachers from old Yankee Stadium, dozens of those little Statue of Liberty statuettes from different decades and other old NYC ephemera from days gone by. They also host the Miss Subways Pageant every year in September to commemorate the Miss Subways pageants of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. 


In addition to its colossal museums, Manhattan is now iconic for a few jewel box ones as well. Mmuseumm is a modern natural history museum, located in a tiny elevator shaft in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo neighborhood. 

It doesn’t take long to browse through its one-object exhibits (that include shampoo bottles, selfie sticks and empty envelopes), but visiting this cubicle-sized museum offers visitors something they can’t often find in New York City — a sense that they’ve stumbled upon something totally undiscovered by the rest of the world.

Houdini Museum

Harry Houdini isn’t associated with New York City in most visitors’ minds. Yet the famous escape artist lived in Harlem for 22 years. The Houdini Museum in Midtown chronicles the magician’s life and offers visitors a glimpse into the world of magic — including performances by contemporary magicians and slight-of-hand illusionists. This free museum also boasts handcuffs used in Houdini’s acts and a bust lifted from his gravesite in Queens.

The Museum of the American Gangster

We’re not sure if you’ve heard, but New York City used to be kind of corrupt. And unlike Chicago, this city doesn’t try to hide its seedy history. Instead, New Yorkers embrace it. 

The Museum of the American Gangster chronicles the rise of organized crime in America and the history of prohibition in the city. Located above a former speakeasy where Al Capone, John Gotti and Lucky Luciano all once drank, this two-room museum is a must-see for any mafia history buff.

Edgar Allan Poe Cottage

Edgar Allan Poe may have been a Baltimorian at heart, but he lived and worked in several New York City neighborhoods. His house up in the Bronx has been restored and preserved to look as it did back when Poe lived here in the 1800s. Visitors can tour the grounds and the house and discover how the famous author gleaned inspiration from the city that was once as dark as his tales.

Waterfront Museum

Most New Yorkers have no idea that there’s a museum located in an old shipping container in Red Hook. The Waterfront Museum is run almost completely by volunteers and showcases the maritime history of one of the largest natural harbors in North America. Another pint-sized museum that packs quite a punch, the Waterfront Museum hosts a series of rotating exhibits, live performances and hands-on activities in the warm weather months.

Coney Island Museum

Coney Island is home to one of the country’s most famous boardwalks and sideshows — though it wasn’t always all about the bearded ladies and carnival rides at this beachside neighborhood. The Coney Island Museum documents Coney Island’s history — from residential area to resort town to legendary theme park. It’s also a great way to beat the heat on the boardwalk in the blazing-hot NYC summer.

You don’t need to travel very far in New York City to find strange, macabre or off-the-beaten path museums. For those trying to avoid the larger iconic attractions, hoards of tourists (or simply see another side to the city), there’s even plenty more where that came from: PS1MoMATH, the Noguchi Museum and the Skyscraper Museum all also offer unique glimpses into the city’s past — without all the tourist hype

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