I lived in New York City for 12 years, and somehow I never made it to the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art located in Upper Manhattan. Funny since I almost got married in Fort Tryon Park, a beautiful 8 mile park set majestically atop the Hudson River, and home to the Cloisters. But I suppose that’s the wonderful thing about New York City – you can never discover too much, as there is always more. So when my family and I had about a four hour block of time this past weekend, I said let’s go to the Cloisters, once and for all.
For NYC dwellers, the museum can be a bit of a hike north on the subway, but for us, southern Westchester suburban dwellers, it’s a fast 25 minute drive. It was a nice day, the sun out and shining after much rain, and I had envisioned the plan down to the T: park at the museum, spend an hour or two there, then go to the nearby New Leaf Restaurant and Bar, a picturesque restaurant nestled right into Fort Tryon Park, and spend an hour or so afterward walking around the gardens and pathways of the park. And that’s exactly what we did. Love it when things go according to plan, which isn’t always so often with kids in tow.
What sort of museum is the Cloisters? It’s a medieval arts museum, specializing in architecture, sculpture and decorative arts. A gift from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the 1930’s, many of its structures were brought in from Europe, with indoor and outdoor gardens and courtyards throughout the buildings.
Medieval arts does not sound like the type of thing kids would be interested in, and for the most part it’s not, except for the fact that the buildings and gardens that make up the Cloisters are so adventurous and mysterious and wanting to be explored, that my girls loved it. The combination of long tunnel- like hallways, nooks and crannies, large outdoor patios overlooking the Hudson, and in general feeling like you’re in an ancient castle was enough to keep my girls reeling.
And in fact, we saw a lot of other families there too, many with much younger kids than my girls. Did we view a lot of art? Not really, if I’m going to be honest. Of course some, but the girls wanted to cruise around and go outside and play in the gardens. The gardens, or outdoor courtyards, are quite amazing looking, out of a fairytale. They’re my favorite part about the Cloisters, and if I had been alone I could have spent all day in them.
Our next stop was the New Leaf, as it was lunch time. It was bustling. So much so that it was an hour wait, and we decided to mix up the plan (so I guess it didn’t go exactly to plan) and put our name on the list and walked around Fort Tryon Park before eating. The New Leaf is extremely popular, especially on weekends, so give yourself ample time. Walking around Fort Tryon Park is a treat. First of all the views of the Hudson River and Palisades are outstanding. Beyond that, the landscaping and gardens make it a real retreat for busy New Yorkers, or busy suburbanites! It’s one of the most serene and beautiful parks in the city, with 67 acres of greenery, walking paths, playgrounds, and – I didn’t know until now – Manhattan’s largest dog run. It’s a special place to be explored and appreciated, one I highly recommend visiting.
We ended our adventure with, yes, lunch at the New Leaf, a stone building set in the trees and grass and rocks of the park, a place that makes you want to get a mimosa and hang out for a while.
The Met Cloisters, 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York, NY, 10040. 212. 923.3700. Admission: like the Met, the amount you pay is up to you.
Hours: March-October, 10:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. May 27 – September 2, Open Late on Fridays until 7:30 p.m. November – February, 10:00 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Fort Tryon Park, Riverside Drive to Broadway, W 192 Street to Dyckman Street
New Leaf Restaurant and Bar, 1 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York, NY, 10040.