A Visitors Guide to the Cloisters

Can This Really Be Manhattan?

The Cloisters
Heather Cross

When you're at The Cloisters it feels like you are in ancient Europe, not America. The museum is administered by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is located in Fort Tyron Park in Washington Heights, which is in uptown Manhattan. The exterior of the museum is gorgeous. The buildings are centered around four cloisters, which were brought over from Europe right before World War II. It's peaceful just to walk around outside admiring the architecture and views. Inside you'll find treasures from the medieval ages including tapestries, manuscripts, paintings, and more. Here's your complete guide to everything you need to know about this attraction. It's unlike anything else you'll find in New York City.

History

The Cloisters was the vision of an American sculptor and creator named George Grey Barnard. He was passionate about Medieval European abbeys and churches, and during his time living in France he saw how they were falling into disrepair. Locals were even repurposing stones, destroying the architecture. In the early 1900s he started collecting these Gothic pieces. Some he bought from dealers; other he found while riding his bikes through the French countryside.

By the 1930s he lived in upper Manhattan, and he wanted to set up a medieval art museum near his house. Not having enough finances he sold his collection to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Rockefeller employed Frederick Law Olmstead Jr, the son of the man who designed Central Park, to create a museum and park in the Fort Washington area. He also employed the Metropolitan Museum of Art to keep it safe. The museum officially opened on May 10, 1938, and visitors have been visiting ever since.

Visiting

The Cloisters are located at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York, NY 10040. The museum is located pretty far uptown, but it's easy to get there by public transportation. You can take the A train to Dyckman Street Subway Station or the 1 train to 191st Street. It's a short walk to the Cloisters, and it's not too hilly.

Ubers, Lyfts, or cabs will also know how to take you to the Cloisters.

The Cloisters are open seven days a week. From March to October the hours are 10:00 am to 5:15 pm. From November to February it's 10:00 am to 4:45 pm.

Like the Met, New York State residents can pay what they wish to enter. For everyone else tickets cost $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students. Children under 12 enter for free. Tickets will also get you into the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue if used within three days.

What to See

One of the best ways to experience the Cloisters is to wander around the space, admiring the beauty and seeing what catches your eye. Still, there are a few works of art and spaces that should not be missed.

The Unicorn Tapestries are seven wall hangings that are 12 feet high and eight feet wide. While a lot about them remain unknown - it's unclear who made them, for example - we know that they were woven over 500 years ago (scholars estimate they were made from 1495-1505), and they were made for a royal family. They depict a group of hunters, aided by their dogs, trying to track down a mythological unicorn in the forest.

You also shouldn't miss the Fuentidueña Chapel. Scholars guess this chapel was originally next to a castle, built for royals to pray. It has a long nave. tTe angel Gabriel and the patron of the chapel, Saint Martin, are portrayed in the front. The stonework, especially around the arch, is breathtaking.

The museum also houses a collection of illuminated manuscripts, mostly donated by J.P. Morgan. They are displayed in the Treasury Room. Don't miss the small Book of Hours that has only been in the museum since 2015. The illustrations are rare and exceptional.

Of course when visiting the Cloisters you must visit the actual Cloisters. These are outside areas that are closed off by vaulted passageways. Three of them are named Cuxa, Bonnefont, and Trie. They are places to relax, talk to friends, take in some sun, and admire your surroundings. Make sure to visit them all as they have different gardens and architectural elements.

Tours

The Met Cloisters hosts a variety of special events that add to your experience.

Every day during the summer there is a daily tour (at 1 pm during May and June and 2 pm from July to September) of the Cloisters. Your guide will tell you not just about the art and history of the Cloisters but also about the gardens and horticultural. The tours leave from the Main Hall and start on time. Be prompt!

There are also tours that center around specific themes. Some tours are run just for families. Find out the entire schedule here.

Where to Eat/Drink

The Cloisters is located in a part of Manhattan with excellent food and drink options. Take in a bite before the museum or head to one of the bars after to discuss the treasures you saw.

If it's a nice day consider picking up a sandwich or prepared meal from Cloisters Deli & Grill and eating the food in Fort Tyron Park. The park is along the Hudson River, and because it's elevated, you'll get great views of the water.

If you're on a date look no further than Tannat Wine & Cheese, a wine bar located a short walk from the Cloisters. It specializes in natural varieties from around the world. You can try wine from places like Uruguay and Georgia (the country.) The food is also delicious and comes from local farms. Get a platter of smoked meats, pickles, and cheeses, all from the Hudson Valley region.

If you're visiting The Cloisters in the morning stop by Cafe Buunni first. This coffeeshop serves brews made from roasted Ethiopian beans. It also prides itself on sourcing them from family farms. Don't skip on a sweet or savory pastry to go along with your coffee.

Seawalk is a modern seafood restaurant with outdoor seating on the patio. On a nice day request a table outside and enjoy fish prepared in Latin American styles. It's also fun to sit at a high top table at the bar and enjoy one of the refreshing cocktails.

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