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The Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum(opens in a new tab) is one of the best places to see in New York for anyone interested in immigration history. It offers daily tours, as well as virtual online experiences(opens in a new tab).

Humble Origins

The Tenement Museum is housed inside an actual tenement building, which was home to over 150,000 immigrants, from over 20 different countries, between 1863 and 1935. Originally, there was a German-owned saloon in the basement. The saloon was more than just a business, it was the center of life. Families, including children, could leave the cramped tenement living quarters, to grab a pint of lager, and discuss, debate, and delight in issues surrounding their daily lives.


As the years passed, housing laws required the building to make modifications including adding an air shaft, electricity, and indoor plumbing which ensured two toilets per floor! In 1935, the landlords decided it was easier to evict the residents rather than continue to make modifications. They boarded up the windows, sealed the floors, and left only the lower storefronts (the former saloon) open for business. However, because this commercial space continued to operate, no one touched the abandoned tenement above, making it a time capsule to be discovered and among the most unique things to do in NYC when it comes to the city’s immigrant history.

Rediscover and Transformation

Historian Ruth Abram and social activist Anita Jacobsen discovered the building and, in 1988, transformed it into a museum(opens in a new tab) that explores the “uniquely American story of immigration and  the rich, diverse landscape it continues to create.” Guided tours within the museum offer immersive trips back in time where you learn about the lives of immigrants who actually lived within the building’s walls! Take a step back in time to see first hand about the New York immigrant experience. The stories you’ll hear will tell you how immigrants were welcomed, the struggles they faced, how they assimilated, and who followed in their footsteps.

The museum also offers neighborhood walking tours(opens in a new tab), where the guests taste immigrant foods, explore often forgotten places, come face-to-face with the past, and even identify how they can help preserve the history of the Lower East Side. Make sure to swing by the museum’s gift shop(opens in a new tab) and pick up a  unique souvenir from your visit. When it comes to cool museums in New York, the Tenement is most certainly a must-visit for history and culture!

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