My spouse and I visited the Met Cloisters Museum and Gardens on a Friday morning in late May 2016. The Cloisters is part of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it is less frequently visited due to its remote location overlooking the Hudson River in Harlem’s Fort Tryon Park. The Cloisters is open daily from 10:00 am until 5:15 (summer months) or 4:45 pm (winter months); the museum is open late on summer Friday evenings until 7:30. Similar
to the main branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the suggested donation for admission is $25, although visitors are free to pay whatever they choose. If you purchase admission to one branch of the Met, you are welcome to visit the other branches in the same day for no additional charge; the third branch of the museum is the Met Breuer (opened in Spring 2016, this new Upper East Side museum is dedicated to modern and contemporary art). In our opinion, visiting more than one part of the Met on the same day is difficult logistically, not to mention taking a significant amount of time and mental and physical endurance; the Met could generously extend the admission policy to the next day or two rather than on the same day and please more patrons in the process. Disappointingly, on the day that we visited, the admission kiosk had run out of their supply of English informational pamphlets about the Cloister; there were pamphlets available in other languages, but not in English. Had we known that the Met could not properly stock this branch of its museum, we might have deducted a few dollars from the suggested admission that we paid. We were also dissatisfied that no one mentioned that an audio guide was available – we only discovered it when we saw other patrons using it towards the end of our visit.
The Cloisters museum is dedicated to showcasing 5,000 works of art and architecture from medieval Europe in a building reminiscent of the Middle Ages. Its contents include a 12th-century chapter house, parts of five cloisters from medieval monasteries, a Romanesque chapel, and a 12th-century Spanish apse brought intact from Europe. Surrounded by peaceful gardens, the Cloisters offers serenity and solitude at its location in tranquil Fort Tryon Park. The Cloisters collection includes works such as the unicorn tapestries, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, ivory, and precious metal work. The Cloisters is also renowned for its three cloister gardens, named Cuxa, Bonnefont, and Trie. By definition, a “cloister” is “a covered path, hall, or walkway, usually in a religious institution, that has an open arcade, gallery, arches, or colonnade on the inside surrounding an enclosed garden and a wall on the outside”.
The Cloisters Museum covers two floors; when you visit the basement level, be sure to look for the large brown wood door that leads to the (seasonal) café and the gardens, because the gardens (and the view of the Hudson River) were highlights of the museum for us. Since we visited in late Spring, all of the foliage was in full bloom, and at least three gardeners were busy at work with additional plantings. The Trie Café offers simple fare like cold sandwiches, salads, desserts, and drinks, and seating is al fresco (although under/on the covered arcades and walkways) with a view of one of the beautiful courtyard gardens and fountains. The gift shop offers many unique items, including myriad souvenirs dedicated to the unicorn tapestries and many fascinating books. (We purchased an interesting book about the creation of the Cloisters Museum.) The museum building was constructed around 1918 but was purchased in 1924 by the Met with funds donated by John D. Rockefeller. In fact, Rockefeller donated about 40 of his own personal works of art that are currently owned by the Cloisters, including the famous unicorn tapestries (created in the 17th century, this series of seven wall hangings depicts the pursuit of an elusive unicorn).
Parking is complimentary in Fort Tryon Park; some parking spots are located just steps from the main entrance to the museum, and other spaces require a short walk to the museum. From the front entrance, you must climb approximately 60 stairs to reach the main level; however, vehicular assistance is available to those with mobility issues. There is a small elevator in the museum to travel between the main level and the basement level, although it is marked as staff only, so be sure to ask for assistance if you need to use it.
We have wanted to visit The Cloisters Museum and Gardens for many years, but its remote location previously prevented us from doing so. We are glad that we finally reached our destination! We enjoyed our visit, particularly the gardens, which we would like to see again in other seasons.