Many things to do in NYC cost a pretty penny. The great news for visitors and locals is that there are plenty of things to do that are cheap. In fact, some of New York’s best attractions are completely free. The National Museum of the American Indian – New York is such a place.
My wife and I first visited the museum 13 years ago when we moved to NYC and didn’t have much (ahem, any) money. It was also one of our favorite spots to take friends when they visited. We have a little more money now, but we still love to visit and take friends to this fantastic museum. And with enough blood in my body that I can rightfully claim to be a small part Native American (Choctaw), my kids feel an intimate connection to the displays.
The museum, part of the Smithsonian Institute and officially called the National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center, celebrates American Indians and their history. There are rooms filled with paintings, pictures, artifacts, and stories from all the major tribes. The Circle of Dance display is my favorite — a variety of clothing used for celebrations is displayed in a beautiful large room, while a large screen at the end of the room plays videos of the dances for which the clothing is used. The size of the room allows for kids to try the dance steps they are witnessing on the screen for themselves.
Located in lower Manhattan inside the Alexander Hamilton Customs House, which is a beautiful feat of architecture constructed between 1902 – 1907, the museum is also worth visiting for its historical and architectural significance. The inside of the Beaux-Arts building is ornately detailed and there are many paintings and frescos dating to the building’s early days. Some of the paintings do not quite fit the current use of the building, such as paintings that are left over from when one of the rooms showcased the greatest naval commanders in history. It is odd to see the glorified faces of those that brought disease, death, and persecution to American Indians next to the faces of American Indians commemorated throughout the museum.
There are other great reasons to visit with kids, such as Toddler Music Time, where little ones can sing and dance and create fun themed crafts. My 3 year old had a great time singing songs and pretending to be an animal. My 11 year old and 9 year old didn’t attend any of the classes, but they enjoyed walking around the museum and learning about American Indians while we were occupied with the class. As we usually do when visiting museums, my kids brought their sketch books and had a great time drawing some of their favorite exhibits.
The National Museum of the American Indian is open daily from 10am to 5pm and until 8pm on Thursdays. Admission is free, but they love donations, of course.
The museum is located at One Bowling Green in lower Manhattan. The closest subway stop is Bowling Green on the 4 and 5 lines, though it is a short walk from the Whitehall St/South Ferry stations of the 1 and R lines .
*I took a bunch of great photos of the museum and my kids enjoying themselves, but unfortunately they were deleted. The above photo is from the museum’s website.