A bike ride to The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan is the best kind of late-summer adventure. Easy to reach via a mostly traffic-free route along the Hudson River, it offers a leafy green refuge and an escape into a world long-gone, but beautifully preserved, amidst stone archways, gardens and soaring sanctuaries.
My daughter-in-law Roisin (below, right) and her friend Carly (left) recently pedaled to The Cloisters for a picnic and visit to the museum, which is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They shared their photos from the journey, which took a little over an hour each way at a leisurely pace from their East Village starting point.
“This makes a nice day trip,” says Carly. “You cycle up in the morning, have the picnic lunch, do the garden tour, walk around and then do the museum tour.”
Read on to discover details of the outing, including tips, route map — and the picnic menu.
Also recommended: Autumn Bike Ride Along the Palisades
The route unfolds along a mostly well-paved, two-way, car-free path that stretches along the Hudson River from the West Village to Washington Heights. As you pedal north, you’ll pass mainstays of Manhattan tourism, including Chelsea Piers, the Circle Line and the Intrepid Museum.
Past the 79th St. Boat Basin (above) with the George Washington Bridge in the distance, the path continues, with a slight jog at 135th St., up to Fort Washington Park. The famous Little Red Lighthouse at the southern base of the bridge is a great spot to pause for a photo.
Just after the lighthouse, the path, which is flat to this point, leads uphill (below) and back to city streets. Note: The climb is short, but very steep, so dismounting and walking up the hill, staying to the right to allow passage of others, is recommended, particularly if you are not riding a bicycle with multiple gears.
“We discovered why Washington Heights is called Washington Heights,” says Carly, of that short stretch, which leads to Riverside Drive.
The Cloisters, which opened to the public in 1938, showcases the Met’s collection of artifacts from 12th through 15th century Medieval Europe. It comprises 4 acres and contains 2,000 works including tapestries, paintings, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork and more. The architecture of The Cloisters is inspired by its benefactor John D. Rockefeller’s boyhood interest in the ruins of Kenilworth Castle in England and his desire to reflect the site’s history as a fort during the Revolutionary War. Parts of five separate cloisters are integrated into the structure.
From its high perch, spectacular views abound. Rockefeller later donated 700 acres of the Palisades plateau across the Hudson River in New Jersey to preserve the views from The Cloisters.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days per week in March through October. Admission for adults is $25. Free, one-hour guided tours led by museum lecturers introduce highlights of the collection. A separate tour of the gardens also is available. View schedules here.
“I would recommend taking the museum highlights tour, which knits the collection together,” says Roisin. “You really need someone to explain the details.”
Among Roisin’s and Carly’s favorites is the Annunciation Triptych altar piece (above) found in the Merode Room, which houses religious articles that were used for private devotions. The museum is also famous for its series of seven, large-scale tapestries depicting the Hunt of the Unicorn.
Roisin and Carly packed a picnic into bicycle panniers with provisions from some of Carly’s favorite downtown sources. It included a homemade salad of vegetables from the Union Square Farmer’s market; sandwiches on olive bread with roasted turkey breast, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted artichokes from Russo’s Mozzarella & Pasta in the East Village; cheese from Bedford Cheese Shop and watermelon for dessert, all accompanied by a delicious sauternes wine.
You can also pick up food and snacks at the café at The Cloisters, which offers self-service salads, sandwiches and snacks served outdoors. The nearby New Leaf Restaurant and Bar (operated by the actress Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project) in Fort Tryon Park is a fine-dining option for lunch or dinner.
Hydrate: Remember to fill your water bottles for the ride. Carly froze coconut water the night before for continuous, cold refreshment on the ride.
Picnic stop: Spread your blanket in the pretty terraced gardens near the entry to the park before proceeding to The Cloisters.
Bag check: Leave your bike helmet, panniers and other possessions at the free bag check inside the museum.
Bike parking: No dedicated bike racks were in evidence. Bring along a sturdy lock to secure your bike to a signpost.
To plan your trip: www.metmuseum.org/visit/visit-the-cloisters
Photo credit, fifth from top.