Guide to the National Museum of the American Indian in NYC
By Hedy Phillips
June 1, 2023
There’s no shortage of museums in New York City. One of the many is the National Museum of the American Indian, located in downtown Manhattan. This museum, dedicated to preserving the history of Indigenous people, has plenty to offer visitors, including artifacts, artwork, and more.
Planning to see this incredible American Indian museum on your next trip to NYC? Before you go, read this guide to find out everything you need to know about visiting this New York City landmark.
The history of the National Museum of the American Indian
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the New York location of the National Museum of the American Indian originally began as the George Gustav Heye Center in 1922. But when the National Museum of the American Indian Act was passed in 1989, it paved the way for American Indian remains and artifacts to be put on display so they could be appreciated and honored by the public.
New York’s Heye collection of Native American artifacts became part of the Smithsonian in the early ’90s, thus becoming the National Museum of the American Indian. It is housed in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in the Financial District. The Washington D.C. location of the National Museum of the American Indian was opened in 2004.
What to see at the National Museum of the American Indian
The second floor, which is the main floor, is where you’ll find the majority of the exhibits at the National Museum of the American Indian. The center of the building is the rotunda, and surrounding it are rooms of exhibits and displays.
Currently, the rotunda is displaying an exhibit on Native Americans who have served in the military over the years. There are banners surrounding the seated area with quotes and more about the history.
From there, you can go into the Infinity of Nations exhibit. This huge exhibit features artwork from North, Central, and South America across hundreds of years. The artwork — which is in a variety of mediums — spans several rooms, so there’s plenty to see. But that’s not the only art! There’s also the Ancestral Connections exhibit of artwork done by 10 Indigenous artists.
There is also an exhibit on Native New York. This interesting display shows the history of where you’re walking at that exact moment and how New York came to be, through its Indigenous people. The exhibit walks you through different areas of New York and describes what trade looked like, how money worked, and what city development there was at different points in time.
Through Jan. 1, 2024, the museum also has the Shelley Niro: 500 Year Itch display. The exhibit includes paintings, photographs, mixed-media works, and films.
Your day at the National Museum of the American Indian
Now that you know what there is to see, here’s how to plan your perfect day visiting New York’s National Museum of the American Indian.
The museum address is 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY 10004.
The 4 and 5 trains stop at the Bowling Green station right in front of the building. Other nearby subway stations include the R and W at Whitehall, the 2 and 3 at Wall Street, the 1 at South Ferry, and the J and Z at Broad Street.
You don’t need a ticket for this museum, and it’s absolutely free! Come and go as you please at this museum, and don’t worry about booking ahead. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year (except Christmas). I popped in on Memorial Day, which is typically a busy tourist day in New York City, and it still wasn’t crowded inside this museum.
How long to spend at the museum
Despite the size of the building, there isn’t a whole lot to see at this museum, so you won’t need to budget a ton of time here. If you’re someone who likes to thoroughly read every piece of media at a museum and soak in all the art and artifacts, I think two hours will be plenty of time. I tend to be quicker, focusing more on the highlights, and I was in and out in under an hour.
Food at the museum
The museum has a food spot called Mili Kàpi Cafe, but it’s only open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday, so I missed out on my Monday visit. However, it offers drinks and light fare if you want to grab a snack while you’re there.
The National Museum of the American Indian for kids
If you’re coming to the National Museum of the American Indian with your kids, aim for any day but Monday so you can enjoy the imagiNATIONS Activity Center. Located on the first floor of the museum, the interactive space shows kids (and adults!) all the many things that indigenous people created that we still use today. On Monday, this area of the museum is closed.
Elsewhere in the museum, kids can also enjoy the same exhibits as adults, as everything is interactive and visually appealing for people of all ages. There are plenty of artifacts to see that show the heritage of native peoples, including facts about the history of New York that are pretty fun for visitors to the city.
Things to do near the American Indian museum
The National Museum of the American Indian is located right by Battery Park, so there’s plenty to do nearby, either before or after your museum visit.
Here are some things I recommend to round out your day.
Tour the rest of the Financial District
Explore Wall Street with an insider who knows its stories and secrets. Our 75-minute tour covers Lower Manhattan’s rich history, architecture, and character as you learn about how this Dutch trading outpost grew into the global heart of the financial industry.
Take pictures with the Bull of Wall Street
It’s right outside the front door of the museum. If you’re going to start your day with the museum first thing in the morning, take your pictures with the bull first, because the bull gets busy as the day goes on! (Read our guide for how to pose with the Charging Bull.)
Walk north up Greenwich until you reach the World Trade Center
There’s plenty to see here as well, but I recommend a Ground Zero guided tour. The 90-minute guided experience with a New Yorker who was here during 9/11 includes stops at St. Paul’s Chapel, the 9/11 Memorial, the FDNY Memorial Wall, and more.
Consider the Statue of Liberty if you want a challenge
If you’re ambitious and a careful planner, you could, in theory, pack in a visit to the Statue of Liberty on the same day as a trip to the National Museum of the American Indian, but you may feel rushed. I’d recommend doing these on separate days and instead hopping on the Staten Island Ferry for a trip over to Staten Island and back.
This will give you a nice break so you can rest your feet, see the statue, and get some pictures of the city while you plan out what’s for dinner.