Medieval monasteries and convents don’t necessarily come to mind as models of accessibility. But it would be a mistake to leave the Met Cloisters—a museum that celebrates the art, architecture and garden design of the late Middle Ages—off of your bucket list because you imagine that it must be inaccessible. This beautiful museum—one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s three branches, along with the Met Breuer and the Met Fifth Avenue—is simply not to be missed, and is accessible to people with disabilities.
Cloisters are the covered passageways that connect the buildings in a monastic compound, and typically open onto gardens or courtyards. These types of stone passageways form the heart of the complex. The Cloisters is not composed of artifacts from one medieval cloister but rather combines segments of five separate passageways reconstructed in the style of the late Middle Ages.
The museum was acquired by the Met from sculptor and art dealer George Barnard, who had collected its medieval architecture himself, in 1925. Oil baron and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller provided the funds, and left it—along with some of his own pieces of art—to the City upon his death. Rockefeller also funded Manhattan’s picturesque Fort Tryon Park, a 67-acre woodland that surrounds the museum and has sweeping views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades.
The structures connect galleries that contain thousands of medieval works of art. They also lead out to gardens that you can wander in year-round, though those are mainly in bloom spring through early fall.
Though best known for its “Unicorn Tapestries”— seven wall hangings woven from silk and wool—the Cloisters offers galleries filled with treasures like suits of armor, religious artifacts and furnishings. The gardens are scrupulously maintained and change with the seasons. We recommend scheduling your visit around the daily Highlights of the Cloisters Collection tour (4pm), led by knowledgeable, engaging docents. If you miss the tour, you will find the audio guides worth their rental price ($5–7); they’re free for blind or visually impaired visitors, and contain descriptions of many artworks along with fascinating commentaries by curators, conservators and other museum and medieval experts.
Before going, you may want to check current exhibitions and the Met blog to see what’s on or upcoming. Classical music enthusiasts may enjoy the live performances in the Cloisters’ lovely Fuentidueña Chapel each month. For a list of upcoming concerts, which frequently feature medieval pieces and stylings, visit metmuseum.org.
Though not all of the Cloisters is easy to navigate for people with mobility impairments—and some real barriers exist—there is still plenty to experience. For people who find the going too challenging on foot, the museum offers a few wheelchairs for use in some galleries. Ask for details at the information desk when you arrive. The Cloisters also has an elevator, for the exclusive use of visitors with mobility impairments. This provides access to most of the galleries on the upper and lower levels, and two out of the three gardens adjacent to the building. While one of the gardens has a step leading down to it—which is prohibitive to some visitors—the other two gardens are accessible.
If you attend during cooler months when the gardens are not open, the daily “Highlights” tour is highly recommended; it runs through accessible galleries and provides great context and historical insight.
Those who choose to explore the acreage surrounding the Museum will find paths in good enough condition to traverse via wheelchair, though some are hilly.
Get more information via email or phone:
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- Phone: 212-650-2280
Large-print programs and daily updated flyers are often available; be sure to ask at the admissions desk. Additionally, the audio guides (free to visitors with visual impairments) at the Cloisters are top-notch in both design and content. The Met has also replaced touch-screen audio guides with improved devices whose tactile keyboards click helpfully when users press keys. Employees can help orient you to the device.
The deaf and hard of hearing may request assistive listening devices (headsets or neck loops) at the admissions desk for guided tours and programs. The museum also offers ASL interpretation for group tours or programs with two weeks’ notice.
The most direct, accessible route to the Cloisters by public transportation is via the M4 bus, which stops in the museum’s parking lot. Alternatively, the closest subway stop is the A train at 190th Street, which has an elevator; check the MTA’s web site or your favorite app to make sure it’s working the day you want to visit. The train is about a 10-minute walk from the museum along somewhat circuitous and hilly paths (once you enter Fort Tryon Park).
For more detailed directions, including parking info, visit metmuseum.org.