During the warmer months, a perfect family day trip is just north of the city at The Cloisters.
The Cloisters museum and gardens is the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval European art and architecture. The building and its gardens are located in Fort Tryon Park, in north Manhattan, just a hop, skip and a jump away on the A train.
The architecture and artistic works at the Cloisters are largely from the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Four reconstructed cloisters, sourced from French monasteries and abbeys, are surrounded by early medieval gardens and a series of indoor chapels and rooms.
Walking inside the Cloisters feels very much like stroll through Medieval European monastic life. This is by very intentional and clever architectural design combined with the five thousand medieval works of art on display from the Mediterranean and Europe, mostly from the 12th to 15th centuries.
To get to the Cloisters, take the subway to 190th Street station at the base of Fort Tryon and walk from there. The walk to the Cloisters takes visitors through an herb and flower garden. It’s a beautiful place to wander through, especially with the Hudson River as a backdrop.
The aren’t a lot of food options in the area. Your easiest options are: 1. Bring a picnic lunch; 2. Buy a pre-made sandwich or salad from the Cloisters cafe; or 3. A sit-down brunch or lunch at New Leaf Restaurant.
We chose New Leaf Restaurant & Bar. Housed in a 1930s cottage, the restaurant serves modern American cuisine. On weekends, brunch is served from 11am-3pm. We were given a table on the bright, airy patio, surrounded by trees. Tres tranquil.
While the restaurant is large, it fills quickly, and by 12:30pm it was at capacity. As New Leaf does not take reservations for brunch, get there early.
The brunch menu is a pre-fixe at $19.95 for an entree, juice and tea or coffee. We ordered a croissant ($5) for missy E while we looked at the menu in more detail. Oddly, the croissant came with chutney. The croissant was absolutely delicious, while on the small side (kid-sized, one might say, except E demanded another, making it the most expensive croissants we had ever ordered). Our group ordered New Leaf Scrambled Eggs (goat cheese, scallions, roasted potatoes, field greens), the Market Omelette (tomatoes, peppers, onions and your choice of cheese, with herbed-roasted potatoes, field greens) and the Hanger Steak Sandwich (with salad and potatoes). The portions for the most part were large by New York standards, and we all struggled to finish our meals.
New Leaf Restaurant, 1 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY, Phone: (212) 568-5323
A short stroll through beautiful Fort Tryon Park takes you to The Cloisters.
My favourite part of the Cloisters was the Unicorn Tapestry collection. These seven individual pieces are among the most beautiful and complex works of art from the late Middle Ages that survive today, woven from fine wool and silk with silver and gilded threads.
Spring is the best time to visit The Cloisters as the gardens are in full bloom. The famous garden you see in all the photographs is filled with bright flowers and a fountain centerpiece.
The lower-level garden is home to plants one would have found in a garden in the middle ages, like herbs and vegetables. Take the time to explore the garden and the different plants on display – many of which you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
The purpose of the plants is explained throughout the garden: medicinal (like St. John’s-Wort, Hollyhock, MarshMallow, Meadow Clary, Liquorice, Comfrey, and Feverfew), magical (such as Bear’s Foot, Ragged-Robin, English Ivy, Cornelian Cherry, and Herb Robert) or for use in the kitchen (herbs like Winter Savory, Leek, Cardoon, Samphire, Chive, Small-Leaved Basil, and Red Valerian). As it was an herb garden and all the plants had such unique scents, we got down close to the gardens and smelled the aromatic plants such as spearmint and lavender.
Tips for taking kids:
We timed our visit so Cheese would nap in the stroller after lunch, so we were able to see most of The Cloisters before she woke up. Which was a good thing, as the museum is not so friendly for smaller kids. Babies in carriers and older children are the ideal candidates for this cultural experience.
There are lots of tiny stairwells and no ramps or elevators. You can’t leave strollers unattended. No food/water anywhere except in the cafe (including the gardens). Within the gallery rooms, keep children close as there are lots of fragile objects around.
To get to the Cloisters, take the subway to 190th Street station at the base of Fort Tryon. Directly outside of the station entrance is the Jacob K. Javits Playground, where we let Cheese run off steam before brunch. It’s a nice playground with swings, several climbing structures for children of all ages, and also space for scooting or basketball.
99 Margaret Corbin Dr,
New York, NY
Hours: Daily, 10am-5:15pm
Prices: Recommended $25 per adult
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!