We continue our focus on East Harlem with a look at one of its treasures: the Museum of the City of New York. Located near the top of Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue across from the northeastern corner of Central Park, MCNY may not look like a kid-friendly place at first glance with its opulent design and lack of hands-on attractions. However, it's actually a great destination for children thanks to its frequent, hands-on, free-with-admission family programs, robust on-site classes meant to teach tweens about the history of NYC, and easy-to-digest NYC-themed exhibits that remind kids (and parents!) how lucky we are to live in a place with such a rich cultural past and present.
Originally opened in 1923 in Gracie Mansion, the Museum of the City of New York moved to its current, Georgian Colonial-Revival building in 1932. Its permanent collection overflows with drawings, photographs, garments, textiles, paintings, sculptures, furniture and artifacts that all have something to do with the history of our great city.
While the museum showcases temporary exhibits (in recent years, we were wowed by its subway graffiti and Charles Addams displays), it also has three permanent installations. Gilded New York features items from the late 19th- and early 20th-century NYC elite, including stunning jewelry and costumes. Activist New York focuses on NYC's part in social movements like civil rights, women's suffrage and the birth of unions. My kids particularly love Timescapes, a multimedia presentation that traces NYC's roots from its early days to the present in just 22 minutes! It's a true crash course in Big Apple history as well as the museum's collection.
Of course, my 5-year-old daughter's favorite thing in the entire museum is the Carrie Walter Stettheimer Dollhouse, which was decorated between 1916 and 1945 with handmade furnishings that capture the culture-filled world Carrie and her sisters grew up in. There are even miniature replicas of works by Marcel Duchamp and other well-known 20th-century artists.
The museum's frequent family programs definitely enhance a visit here with kids. Held most weekends and some public school holidays, these drop-in, hands-on activities are free with admission and even come with complimentary snacks. Meant for parents and kids to participate in together, MCNY's family programs encourage families to learn about our city's past and imagine what its future might be. In My City Lab, visitors engage in hands-on activities that offer an in-depth look at current exhibitions. Young visitors will delight in the New York City Tots programs that engage the museum's youngest visitors with stories, songs and arts and crafts. All of the Museum's family programs encourage visitors to engage with the exhibits in a deeper way.
The museum also offers creative after-school classes like I Spy New York, a digital photography class for school-age children that culminates in a public exhibition and Styled: New York City Fashion History, which profiles New York's rise as a fashion epicenter and inspires the next generation of fashionsitas.
There's also a carefully curated gift shop with awesome NYC-themed items, a cafe with a lovely view of Central Park and even kids birthday parties. Sometimes my kids and I just like to relax in the extravagant lobby. It makes us feel very grand.
The Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets. It's open seven days a week. Suggested admission is $14 for adults, free for children under age 19, but if you live or work in zip codes 10029, 10035 or 10037, just say "I'm a neighbor" and you get in for nothing! Bonus: With your admission, you also gain no-cost access to El Museo del Barrio one block north.
While you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the northeastern corner of Central Park, especially the Conservatory Garden and the East 110th Street Playground.
Read all of our posts about exploring East Harlem with kids.