Vacation Destination NYC: Visit the Cloisters
Head uptown, and don't stop until you're in medieval Europe. That's the experience that The Cloisters museum and gardens have offered tourists and city-weary New Yorkers for 75 years.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates medieval European art and architecture at this 4-acre campus at the northern tip of Manhattan, home to thousands of pieces mostly dating from the 13th century to the 16th century. Beyond the art, the main attractions here are the series of reconstructed French cloisters themselves -- open-air spaces that formed the center of medieval monastic life -- arranged in chronological order, offering visitors a place to relax and explore treasures surviving from old Europe.
Don't come expecting Warhol soup cans. The museum counts among its collection everything from knights' tombs to medieval playing cards; manuscripts to centuries-old stained glass depicting religious figures, all displayed in dark, cool rooms.
Recent renovations that introduced climate and humidity control have allowed The Cloisters to offer some modern flourishes that cater to the modern museum-goer. This includes the museum's first foray into contemporary art, a sound installation by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, which is open through December.
Explore the museum's environs to get the full experience. A hike up the north end of Fort Tryon Park to The Cloisters offers stunning views of the Palisades across the Hudson -- a vista that John D. Rockefeller Jr. secured for future generations by purchasing 700 acres of cliffs after he donated the land that would become the park itself. In addition to the stunning views of the cliffs, George Washington Bridge and beyond, the park offers hiking paths, a dog run, a few choice picnic spots and a couple of playgrounds.
Sixteenth-century French nuns likely didn't expect that centuries later Americans would be eating vegetable focaccia and sipping lemonade in the Trie Cloister. But that's just what's happened at The Trie Café, certainly among the loveliest places to grab a snack -- including sandwiches, salads, desserts and beverages -- in the city.
When the sons of Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted were creating Fort Tryon Park in the 1930s, they included in their design a gorgeous building with a cobblestone exterior and slate roof to function as a public cafeteria and park administration offices. By the '90s, the building was in disrepair, until it was rediscovered by some well-heeled hikers, including Bette Midler, who led the charge to reopen it as a café. Today, the New Leaf Restaurant & Bar serves modern American cuisine in the unique historic setting.
Events throughout the year range from gallery and author talks to garden tours. On Oct. 2, attend a discussion of Egyptian and Greek representations of the human form.
For those who get thirsty while looking at art, check out the Oktoberfest celebration this Saturday. The event, which runs from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., celebrates the medieval "libation of choice" -- beer -- by pairing top-notch brews with garden tours emphasizing the facility's collection of hops. Also on the menu: meats, cheeses and pretzels. Tickets are $20.
HOW TO GET THERE
Take the A train to 190th Street and then enjoy a 10-minute walk along Margaret Corbin Drive to The Cloisters. Or, the M4 bus stops directly in front of the museum. For the adventurous, the Hudson River Park path spans the length of Manhattan's western waterfront and drops cyclists and pedestrians near the southern entrance of Fort Tryon Park.