To escape the hustle of Manhattan without leaving the city, spend a day at The Met Cloisters, a museum of medieval art and architecture in Fort Tryon Park. I went on a Sunday and timed my visit to a free garden tour. The Cloisters is two stops on the A subway train from my home in Inwood, but it feels a world away with its marble courtyards, stained glass windows, and monastery artifacts. Exit the A at 190th Street, enter Fort Tryon Park, and follow the signs for the Cloisters to the top of the hill at 99 Margaret Corbin Way, one of the few streets in the city named for a woman, according to The New York Times. (During the Revolutionary War, Margaret Corbin dressed as a man and fought in the Battle of Fort Washington on Manhattan Island.)
The castle-like building that houses The Met Cloisters is meant to evoke the heart of a medieval European monastery. Cloister means "closed" in Latin and refers to a rectangular, open air courtyard lined by covered passageways leading to rooms. The museum was built from 1934 to 1938 to showcase more than 2,000 pieces of artwork and architectural elements. Many came from the holdings of George Grey Barnard, an American sculptor and collector of medieval art. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. acquired Barnard's collection for the museum and also donated nearly 56 acres of land to the city and financed the making of Fort Tryon Park.
The Met Cloisters is worth a visit whether or not it’s in your “backyard.” Like other Met branches, what you pay to enter is up to you. Besides the actual art in the museum, here are three more reasons to go.
1. Free Tours and Classy Seasonal Events
I took the Gardens of the Met Cloisters tour and recommend it. Pictured above is the Bonnefont Cloister Garden with nearly 300 plant species grown and used during the Middle Ages for food, medicine, magic, and artist materials. The tour looked at items in the museum's collection, such as the unicorn tapestries, and discussed how depictions of nature in art informed the gardens on site. There's also a Highlights of The Cloisters Collection tour. You’ll learn a lot from any tour you do, so pick one you like and time your visit to it. Keep in mind the gardens tour only runs through the end of October. Read more about tours.
In addition, check the museum’s website for seasonal events, such as concerts.
2. Photogenic Surroundings
The Judy Black Garden at the Cuxa Cloister is my favorite outdoor space at The Met Cloisters. Go there to take photos, draw, or meditate. The arched marble arcade is made of design elements that came from the 12th century Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in France. You'll also find photogenic surroundings on your way to and from the museum as you walk through Fort Tryon Park. Take the scenic route in the park on a paved path that parallels the Hudson River.
3. Picnic in the Park
Speaking of the park, spend some time there. Bring a blanket, food, and drinks to enjoy in Fort Tryon Park. Pick a spot on one of the sprawling lawns and enjoy a view of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the New Jersey Palisades.