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New York Transit Museum

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If you’re looking for a museum that will prove as interesting for adults as it is entertaining for children, look no further than the New York Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn. While perhaps not as well known as some of New York’s larger museums, it’s a fascinating place to spend the afternoon. The stories behind New York’s mass transit systems trace New York’s growth and transformation, and they’re presented at the Transit Museum in both classic museum-style displays and placards as well as a fleet of vintage subways cars and buses. It’s these subway cars and buses that are the greatest delight for children, and if your children stay in the same general area long enough, you might have the chance to read a bit about each one. I joke with my husband that I need to come back one day by myself just so I can take my time reading and looking without needing to follow a swiftly-moving toddler around!

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The entire museum is housed below ground in an old subway station, and the main level showcases a collection of subway turnstiles and ticket booths, a permanent exhibit about building the subway, a section devoted to exploring street transportation (buses and trolleys), and a space for changing current exhibits. Down one level are 20 vintage subway and elevated cars lining both sides of an actual subway platform, with examples dating back over 100 years to 1907. Inside the subway cars are period-appropriate subway maps and advertisements (these are especially interesting!) and I love looking at how the seat styles, lighting, and materials used to construct the cars change over the years. While I’m doing this, my daughter is typically racing back and forth from one end of the car to the other, climbing up on the seats and back down, and swinging around the poles – behavior not at all encouraged in the regular, active, subway system, but just fine here as long as the car is empty!

Back up on the main level, interactive exhibits allow children to pretend to drive a bus, ride as a passenger, fuel a bus with gas, and follow street lights and signs. On your way out of the museum, you’ll pass the museum store. Filled with every kind of transportation gift and paraphernalia you can possibly imagine, it’s a tempting place to stop and browse.

A few further details and notes:

  • Access to the museum is via stairs, and strollers will need to be carried up and down
  • There is a lunch room at the back of the main level of the museum – perfect for bringing along lunch or a snack if you wish
  • Like all subway stations in New York, the museum is not climate-controlled. It can be uncomfortably hot in the summer, so we tend only to visit during the cooler months.
  • A special program for children ages 2-5, called Transit Tots, is offered free with admission most Thursday mornings from 10:15-11am
  • Several times a year the vintage subway cars and buses are brought out for special events called Nostalgia Rides (search for them on the Upcoming Programs page by clicking the Nostalgia Rides box to the left). We’ve never done one as they sell out quite quickly but they look like such fun!

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