On your next visit to New York City, take a break from the modern buildings, noise and nonstop traffic by exploring The Cloisters, a little island of Medieval Europe in that you can reach by subway.
At The Cloisters parts of the building itself are as much on display as the sculpture, paintings and tapestries. It was built on a hill near the northern tip of Manhattan, miles from busy midtown, incorporating stone columns, walls and arches salvaged from French monasteries and chapels, and even one end of a Spanish chapel. It's arranged around cloisters — open areas often used as gardens — surrounded by columned passageways. Check out "Introduction ..." for an overview of the museum and its history, and then dive into "Collection Highlights" to see a sample of its architecture and collections. And take a minute to link to "Features and Exhibitions" for the section on the museum's famous Unicorn Tapestries.
If the weather is nice, go outside on the terrace at the Bonnefort Cloister for the view across the Hudson River to the tree-covered shore of New Jersey, and stroll through the gardens in the surrounding Fort Tryon Park.
The Cloisters is part of Metropolitan Museum of Art the vast collection of art ranging from the Modern era to ancient Egypt and Assyria. There's a lot to see, so look through "Permanent Collection," "Features" and "Special Exhibitions" to decide which areas you want to pack into your visit. If you have time and a fast Internet connection, they say about 6,500 of the best examples from the various collections can be seen online; for close-ups, click on a picture and then use the "Enlarge' and "Zoom" buttons.
While the Cloisters is part of the Met, don't expect to stroll from one to the other, and considering how much there is to see, it's not a good idea to try to see both in one day. The Met is on the east side of Central park at 82nd Street, and The Cloisters is on the far upper West Side, a 10-minute walk past the 190th Street subway station, more than six miles away.
The easiest way to get to The Cloisters from midtown — where most hotels, theaters and shopping are located — is by subway; as Duke Ellington wrote, "Take The 'A' Train." It will take you from Pennsylvania Station to 190th Street in just 30 minutes, followed by that 10-minute walk to the museum. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has maps and schedules.
You could also take an M4 bus from midtown to the Met and then right up to the entrance of The Cloisters, getting a street-level tour of the city along the way. But buses deal with traffic and stoplights and this will take considerably more time than the subway. Consider taking the subway up to make sure you have time to see the whole museum, and then take the bus back down town at the end of your tour.
Right behind the Met is the city's huge Central Park perfect for strolling, running, sitting in the sun or watching a softball game. Click on "Virtual Park" for an interactive map.
From the Met, take your kids on a rambling stroll west through the park, around the Great Lawn and Belvedere Castle with its elevated view of the city. That will take you to West 79th Street and the American Museum of Natural History the home of dinosaurs. Click on "Exhibits" to see what else is available in current and permanent displays, including human origins, Audubon paintings and drawings, and the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life with its 94-foot model of a blue whale. And click on "Rose Center for Earth and Space" featuring the rebuilt Hayden Planetarium.