One of my favorite memories from childhood was a visit to The Met Cloisters with my mother. Growing up on Long Island, any trip to the city was a special treat, and I still remember the neighborhood beauty of Washington Heights and Inwood. But it was the ascent into Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park that created a sense of lure and mystery. The Met Cloisters, which appeared to me like a castle in the sky, inspired a love of learning I would eventually share with my own children.
Decades later, I brought my own children to the Cloisters museum to experience the magic of its medieval chapels, sculptures, tapestries, gardens, and paintings—all of us dressed in Renaissance regalia to fully immerse ourselves in the experience! Here's what to know to make the most of your visit to The Met Cloisters, one of NYC's suggested admission museums where children 12 and under are always FREE.
Walking up the path to the cloisters is breathtaking. Photo by Brett Beyer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The History of The Met Cloisters
Overlooking the Hudson River and located in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, The Met Cloisters
is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
. It might not seem like a kid museum at first, but there are plenty of family-friendly things to do and see here. Its name is derived from the four cloisters (covered walkways that surround courtyards, typically associated with monasteries and abbeys) that make up the property. The Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem, Bonnefont, and Trie cloisters were made from parts of convents and monasteries, imported from France and reconstructed "brick by brick."
The Heavenly Bodies exhibit features striking contemporary design inspired by Catholic themes and symbolism. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The current special exhibition, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination
, is on schedule through October. Dimly-lit galleries with Gregorian chants in the background created the perfect setting for the striking, medieval-inspired twentieth-century fashion on display. “Surprising, inspirational, and geometric” were some of the words my children used to describe the experience.
Seasonal family-friendly events and programs, include workshops and tours. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The museum offers seasonal family programming, with the next sessions returning in November 2018. Past programs have included learning the way of Medieval knights and their training, birds represented in medieval artwork, sacred spaces, and magic and mythical creatures during the Middle Ages. The museum has also hosted bilingual family tours, family workshops, and activities for children on the autism spectrum and those with developmental and learning disabilities. Family guides are available upon request. Check The Met Cloisters website for the full event schedule.
The Cloisters has lovely gardens and amazing views of the Hudson River.
According to my 12-year-old daughter, the best part of visiting The Met Cloisters is the garden. In the spring. the gardens come alive with flora and fauna. Three of the four cloisters contain gardens of various plants and herbs, and are decorated with trees, shrubs, and flowers. During the winter, potted plants and fruit trees are on display. Garden tours are offered daily from 11am to 12pm through the end of September.
Gaze at a unicorn in the Unicorn Tapestry Room. Photo by Debra via Flickr
Unicorn Tapestry Room
The Unicorn Tapestry Room houses a famous series of seven medieval wall hangings made of wool and silk depicting the hunt of the elusive unicorn. During our review of the Middle Ages we studied the tapestry, The Unicorn is Found. We discussed the birds, exotic animals, and hunting scenes depicted, and the influence of trade in medieval art. My children shared their ideas about what the unicorn was doing and feeling in each tapestry.
The chapels can be a solemn experience for children and adults alike, but you can exit quickly to the lovely garden.
Not as popular among my children, but definitely worth a peek, are the Langon and Gothic Chapels. The chapels provide a sense of the architectural styles used in churches during the Middle Ages, exhibiting decorative art and stained glass. The crucifixes, tombs, and candelabras felt “somber and ghostly,” according to my 9-year old. Luckily both chapels are conveniently located near a refreshing garden exposure.
A visit to the treasury brings illuminated manuscripts to life, like in the film The Secret of Kells. The museum has an impressive collection of precious jewels, silk robes, and other artifacts of gold, silver, and ivory in the Treasury.
Food and Snacks
We concluded our kid-friendly tour at The Trie Café located on the lower level of the museum overlooking the garden. The cafe offers a menu of pre-prepared, self-serve salads, sandwiches, snacks, hot and cold beverages, beer, and wine. If you are interested in a full lunch or brunch menu consider The New Leaf Restaurant only a short distance away from the Met Cloisters.
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Stop by the Cloisters Lawn this summer to see the ARMORS by Icelandic artist Steinunn Thorarinsdottir.
Nearby and Notable
On our way home, not far from The Met Cloisters, we spotted a sculpture garden of life-sized knights on The Cloisters Lawn. Since I had drained my children’s energy reserves for the day, I planned a return trip to Fort Tryon Park to explore the park’s playgrounds and get up close and personal with ARMORS, a public art installation by Icelandic artist Steinunn Thorarinsdottir that will remain on display through early September 2018.
The Met Cloisters is an excellent place for imaginative play or quiet contemplation for children and adults. You feel like you are in a medieval castle where you can live the fantasy of being a king, queen, knight, fairy, or woodsman. Just when your children have had their fill of medieval art, you pass under an archway decorated with basilisks, griffins, and other mythical creatures and find yourself in a beautiful garden. Viewing art, sculptures, and other artifacts may get repetitive for your budding art enthusiasts, so do not overlook exploring the natural beauty immediately around the museum. A short walk around the exterior of the building will reveal hidden treasures too. We saw groundhogs, walked along a cobblestone path and found a lovely gated side entrance (Froville Arcade) to the museum. It was a fantastic opportunity to allow my children and their imaginations to run wild & free!
Things to Know Before You Go
Make the most out of your trip to Fort Tryon Park: Fort Tryon Park has a lot to offer families. Before you go check out the Fort Tryon Park website to help you plan the perfect day trip.
The amount you pay is up to you, for New York state residents: Children 12 and under are FREE. The Met Cloisters accepts many forms of residency verification, including New York driver's license, New York state identification card, IDNYC, current utility bill or statement with a New York State address, Student ID, and New York Library card. Adults visiting from the surrounding suburbs will pay normal admission, though students from Connecticut and New Jersey also receive pay-what-you-wish admission.
Hours of operation vary slightly by season: The museum is open seven days a week from March through October, 10am to 5:15pm, but during the winter months from November to February it closes slightly earlier at 4:45 pm. The cloisters are closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
The building's landmark status makes accessibility somewhat limited: A limited number of wheelchairs are available free of charge for use at The Met Cloisters; wheelchair users and others with mobility difficulties should contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-650-2211 for accessibility information or assistance in advance, or ask at the entrance upon arrival.
Strollers are allowed in the galleries unless otherwise noted; oversize and jogger strollers are prohibited: Strollers will need to be carried to the main hall from the entrance (there are approximately 60 stairs to reach the main level).
No outside food or drinks are permitted. Only water in plastic bottles is allowed.
Getting there by subway: Take the A train to 190th Street and exit the station by elevator. Walk north along Margaret Corbin Drive for approximately 10 minutes or transfer to the M4 bus and ride north one stop. If you are coming from The Met Fifth Avenue, you may also take the M4 bus directly from Madison Avenue/83rd Street to the last stop. Do note that A train service is susceptible to closures and maintenance during the weekend.
Getting there by car: Take the Henry Hudson Parkway northbound to the first exit after George Washington Bridge (Fort Tryon Park & The Cloisters). This exit is only accessible from the northbound lane; if coming from the north, take Henry Hudson Parkway southbound to exit 14 & 15, make a U-turn, and travel north one mile to the exit marked Fort Tryon Park & The Cloisters.
The Met Cloisters is located at 99 Margaret Corbin Dr, Fort Tryon Park, New York, NY 10040.
Photos by Suzanne Cort unless otherwise noted