The Met Cloisters is a somewhat overlooked branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the mystery is part of its appeal. This offshoot of the Met is dedicated to the preservation of medieval European art in a facility inspired by (and in part comprised of) medieval architecture.
The Met Cloisters is located in Upper Manhattan, about 30 minutes away from midtown, in a residential area with few tourists. By New York standards, the Cloisters are far away, but they’re entirely worth your time if you enjoy peaceful, beautiful, and/or meditative space of the kind this museum provides.
Take the A train to the Cloisters, breathe a little fresh air, and gaze out a few stained-glass windows at the Hudson River as you indulge in this one-of-a-kind cultural experience.
Visiting The Met Cloisters: History
The Cloisters looks like a medieval church shipped over from Europe, and many think that’s what it is. They’re partly right, as the large apse in Gallery 2 was once part of a 12-century church in Fuentidueña, Spain. The other elements of the building were designed by Charles Collens, Joseph Breck, and James J. Rorimer (later a director of the museum) with a keen attention to historical detail. In fact, the architecture is meant to usher visitors from one era of medieval Europe to the next, with each successive gallery modeled after sacred and secular spaces from the Romanesque through the Gothic period.
The museum opened to visitors in Fort Tryon Park in 1938 on a four-acre plot of land that overlooks the Hudson River. The land was bought by John D. Rockefeller, who then donated it to the Metropolitan Museum and also procured much of the Cloisters’ sculpture collection from dealer George Gray Barnard.
Visiting The Met Cloisters: Galleries
A walk through the Cloisters mimics a trip through perfectly preserved spaces in medieval Europe. Many of the galleries are fashioned after chapels, and the eponymous “cloisters” are in full use on both the main floor and ground floor (cloister means an open-air walkway with columns, common in medieval monasteries).
Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece). Workshop of Robert Campin (Netherlandish, ca. 1375–1444 Tournai).
Among the artifacts, you’ll find a room of seven famous South Netherlandish unicorn tapestries, preserved books and manuscripts, and stained-glass windows. One treasured Madonna statue hails from 1250 in Germany, while an exquisite painted triptych of Jesus’ annunciation hangs in the Merode Room. The collection also features the only complete set of medieval trading cards in the world.
Another highlight of the Met Cloisters are the gardens, planted in tidy rows and consisting of authentic herbs, flowers, and other plant life common in gardens of the medieval era. There are three gardens on the property, each with unique artifacts as part of the designs.
The Met Cloisters is open seven days a week, with guided tours of the galleries and gardens nearly always available.
Visiting The Met Cloisters: Gifts, Food, & Fun
The Met Cloisters has its own small store, where you can purchase gifts and goodies based on the unicorn tapestries and other favorite features of the collection. There is also a museum cafe called Trie Cafe, where you can enjoy a sandwich, salad, coffee, or a glass of wine or beer. Since the cafe is located in an actual cloister, it’s open in more temperate months, April through October.
In fall, visitors can enjoy the Met Cloisters’ annual Oktoberfest at the museum. There’s plenty of beer (inspired by the brewing of trappist monks in medieval times), live music, and fun as the sun sets and the harvest moon rises over the Hudson.
Visiting The Met Cloisters: Getting There
The most efficient way to The Met Cloisters is via the A train, which is the blue line along Eighth Avenue. If you’re traveling from Port Authority station at 42nd Street, the subway ride uptown on the A should take 30-40 minutes. Once you get off at the 190th Street stop, you’ll walk 10-15 minutes through the beautiful Fort Tryon Park until you arrive at the Cloisters.
Anyone visiting The Met on Fifth Avenue can have free admission to The Met Cloisters if they visit the same day. From the Met, take the M86 bus at 5th Avenue west across Central Park. Alternately, walk across the park to the West 86th Street stop on the B/C lines at Central Park West. Take the C uptown 5 stops and transfer to the A at 125th. Take the A to 190th Street and walk to the Cloisters.
A car or cab ride to The Cloisters will take about 30 minutes from midtown. Parking is available for visitors in Fort Tryon Park.
The Met Cloisters is located at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive. Call 212-923-3700 or visit metmuseum.org for more information.