3 Choice Museums and a Treat for Kids, No Subway Trips in Between

You’ve shot your selfies in Rockefeller Center, you’ve combed the sale racks at Bloomingdale’s — and now you’re ready to discover the museums of New York like a proper local. Join me! I’ve got a plan to introduce you to three midsize institutions and one little diversion, all close enough for a single afternoon’s tour (and with enough time in there for a bite). We’ll be walking from 36th to 47th Streets, on the eastern stretches of Midtown Manhattan; this guide proceeds south to north, but it works just as well in the other direction. Check opening times before you go; Monday is a day off for most of these destinations, and hours can change around the holidays.

Our first stop is the Morgan Library & Museum (225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street; general admission, $22), a citadel of the first Gilded Age that continues to collect and surprise in this second one. Start in the grand, original palazzo, completed in 1906, which the architect Charles McKim designed to house the financier J. Pierpont Morgan’s collection of manuscripts, early books and old masters. Feel free to gawk at Morgan’s study, where paintings by Perugino and Hans Memling hang in front of red damask wallpaper, and don’t miss the unfailingly crisp Della Robbia ceramic reliefs in the marble-soaked rotunda.

Morgan’s private library is kitted out with three tiers of Circassian walnut bookshelves, under a vaulted ceiling painted with muses and zodiac signs. Here you can scrutinize manuscript acquisitions old and new: One case contains sheet music by the 13-year-old Franz Schubert (his earliest surviving composition) and a pop-up book from the contemporary artist Kara Walker, featuring her disquieting silhouettes.

Right now the Morgan also has temporary exhibitions devoted to Giuseppe Verdi, John Singer Sargent and the photographer Duane Michals. Where the Morgan excels particularly is in shows of drawings, and in its intimate “Cube” gallery, more than two dozen sheets by Guercino, the 17th-century Italian polymath, reveal the vigor and experimentation that went into his Baroque altarpieces. Highlights in this show, “Guercino: Virtuoso Draftsman,” include a tender and refined drawing of Christ crowned with thorns, dating to 1647 and done with an unusual combination of black, red and white chalk. In one of the central cases, don’t miss the incredible seated male nude, probably depicting Seneca committing suicide in the bath, that Guercino energetically drew on the back of a letter. (Through Feb. 2.)

One block east of the Morgan Library is Scandinavia House (58 Park Avenue, between 37th and 38th Streets; free admission), an institution devoted to the culture of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Along with a library and a concert hall — where on Dec. 15 you can catch the Swedish Church Choir of New York, celebrating the feast of Saint Lucia, a Nordic tradition — Scandinavia House contains a small gallery. Up now is Cutting Edges,” a group show of abstract painting drawn from a private Norwegian collection. (Through Feb. 15.) The most interesting work among these hard-edge geometric compositions might be the interlocking X’s and squares by the veteran Finnish artist Paul Osipow. Almost none of the artists here have had much American exposure; enjoy it, and maybe buy some good Scandinavian licorice in the gift shop downstairs. )

Turn left when you leave Scandinavia House and walk a few blocks up Park Avenue into Grand Central Terminal, the jewel of our otherwise decrepit transit system. (We aren’t in Copenhagen anymore, Toto — although, to continue the Scandi mood, you might enjoy a cinnamon bun or an open-faced sandwich in the station’s tasty Great Northern Food Hall.) Spend a few minutes admiring the sparely beautiful celestial mural that arches over the main concourse, though try to do so without blocking poor commuters running for their trains. Then make your way into the annex of the New York Transit Museum (free admission), right off the main concourse, where locomotive-loving kids and adults can enjoy the annual Holiday Train Show. Engines and rail cars whip around a miniature Grand Central, Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, past the gentrification victims CBGB and the Lenox Lounge, and all the way out to the country. You’ll see a model of the Polar Express, as well as of an M.T.A. subway train a lot cleaner than any you were on today. (Through Feb. 23.)

Walk east from Grand Central toward the United Nations. Our last stop is the calm oasis of Japan Society (333 East 47th Street; general admission, $12), which complements its language courses, public debates, festivals and film programs with a reliably intelligent art gallery. The current show is “Made in Tokyo: Architecture and Living: 1964-2020” (through Jan. 26), which was curated with verve by the architecture firm Atelier Bow-Wow and looks at changes in the built environment between the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the games opening there next summer. You’ll find 50-year-old drawings by Kenzo Tange of the Yoyogi National Stadium, where Olympians competed under an iconic swooping roof, as well as a model of Kengo Kuma’s nearly complete timber-clad New National Stadium. Compared with the concrete expanses of Tokyo, the world’s largest city, the New York you’ll step back into afterward should feel positively villagelike.