Skip to main content

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary.

The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue

The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplifting. Like the city itself, a place of too many possibilities that can often paralyze decision-making (i.e. "Where do you want to go to dinner?" "I don't know" "Let's eat leftovers") , a satisfactory stroll through the Met necessitates editing out certain galleries and saving them for another day.

While a time-demanding pleasure palace, the Met is still within easy walking distance of many other spots, some of which involve great coffee, nature, books, sumptuous architecture, and world-class cocktails.

So, when you find yourself sitting on the steps at the Met, recognize that many opportunities await nearby. Behind you to the west are treasures within the great leafy expanse of Central Park - the Ramble and the Shakespeare Garden, among them. In your line of sight, stare ahead at East 82nd Street and think about getting up to look at the mansion on the corner. Know, too, that within a block or so from here, formally-dressed bartenders are polishing their counters and ready to take your order.

Please don't attempt all 25 of the following things in one outing. Choose maybe three or four of them in combination with the museum. Curate thyself. Or, as they say where I grew up - be particular.

1009 Fifth Ave and 82nd St. 1899-1901


25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

1. Metropolitan Museum Historic District. East side of 5th Avenue from E. 78th to E. 86th St. through Fifth and Madison Avenues (approx.) Fans of Beaux-Arts architecture, with its neoclassical riffs on Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque, and other varieties, will enjoy looking at the many bas-reliefs, classical ornaments, and balustrades throughout the district.

2. Central Park: Pat Hoffman Friedman Playground, with Paul Manship's sculpture Group of Bears (1932, cast in 1963). The charming small playground just to the south of the museum makes a good spot to rest or to plan the afternoon.

View of the museum from the park
3. Central Park: The Ramble. A 38-acre site of wild woods, outcroppings of rock, man-made rustic features, and confusing trails, all set to the tune of birds, sits roughly between 78th St. on the north and 73rd St. on the south.

4. Central Park: The Obelisk. The oldest man-made object in the park, and better known as Cleopatra's Needle, this granite monument indeed dates from the days of the pharaoh, circa 1450 BC. After it was carted over to the city, in February 1881 a large crowd watched in wonder as workers pulled the Obelisk into its full and upright position.

5. Central Park: Belvedere Castle, Delacorte Theatre, Shakespeare Garden. A trifecta of Central Park icons, grouped together. The Delacorte is home to The Public Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park. The garden next door features seasonal plantings accompanied by quotations from the Bard. Belvedere Castle, an architectural folly created by park co-designer Calvert Vaux, offers an excellent high view of the Park below.

6. Central Park: South Gate, Central Park Reservoir. The reservoir, named after Jackie Kennedy Onassis, was originally built as a water supply for New York. Decommissioned for that purpose, the Reservoir is a lovely thing to behold, especially as a home to many waterfowl.

Neue Galerie
Café Sabarsky
7. Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue at 86th St. As described in a previous post, the collection encompasses the worlds of Vienna at the turn of the century and the art movements associated with the Weimar Republic. The galleries are housed in an elegant 1914 building designed by Carrère and Hastings. Website

8. Café Sabarsky, 1048 Fifth Avenue at 86th St. If you're not visiting the Neue Galerie (above), at least step inside the museum and get in line for the best Viennese coffee and pastry in the city. If the line is long, head downstairs to the more informal Café Fledermaus. Same menu, same coffee, same apple strudel.

9. Ukrainian Institute of America, 2 E. 79th St. The institute hosts exhibitions and events, open to the public, in the Harry F. Sinclair House (the former Isaac D. Fletcher House). The French Gothic building by C. P. H. Gilbert, 1897–1899, is a wee bit excessive, but so was much of the Gilded Age in America. Website

10. The New York Society Library, 53 E 79th St. Ambling east on 79th, you will encounter the library. Despite the snooty sound of the name, this noble institution was born of civic-minded types who wanted books to be made available to the public. After earlier locations in the southern parts of Manhattan, in 1937 the library settled comfortably into this Italianate house. More at the official website.

Carlyle Galleries Building (left)
The Carlyle, a hotel, on the right
11. Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Ave. One of several locations in the Gagosian art world, this gallery inhabits a space within the landmark Carlyle Galleries Building. A few years ago, the 5-story building served as the focal point of an intense preservationist battle between the Upper East Siders and developers wishing to construct a tower design by Norman Foster on its base. Gagosian maintains a fun art bookstore here, Books & Co.. Website

12. Bemelmans Bar, inside The Carlyle, 35 E. 76th St. The bar is named after the beloved children's writer Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeline books and the creator of the bar's charming wrap-around mural. He lived in the hotel, too. After a day at the Met, order a favorite cocktail and drink in the mood of the sophisticated city. Website

13. Bar Pleiades/Café Boulud, 20 E. 76th St., off the lobby of the Surrey Hotel. On the other hand, if you want something special to perk yourself up after a long day at the Met, walk into the Bar Pleiades and inquire after the Hanky Panky. This Jazz-Age concoction of gin, vermouth, and Fernet-Branca will have you dreaming of Paris in the twenties. Website

At Café Boulud 
Let's Talk: I will interrupt this listage for a moment to state what's becoming obvious. Yes, we are going very "uptown" for this swing through this Upper East Side neighborhood. When in Rome, do as the Romans, etc. etc.. Though I am personally not fond of the luxury aesthetic in a general way, we will just have to pull ourselves together and wear smart clothes. Pull a $20 bill out of the wallet to cover the coffee and the strudel at the Cafe Fledermaus or wherever, and then another $20 (maybe a little more) for a drink in one of these smart hotel bars, and let's be done with it. We can always go home (or the hotel) and change into jeans and find cheap beer in the Village for later. We should also remember to join the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a member, so we don't have to agonize over the "suggested" price of admission or be sad about not getting the member discounts at the museum's formidable gift shop. All this walking around business is free. I'm glad we had this talk.

14. The Mark Bar/The Mark Hotel, Madison Avenue at 77th Street. The well-designed bar associated with The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges also features its own signature cocktails. At press time, these include a cucumber martini and a lychee raspberry bellini. Website

15. Ristorante Sant Ambroeus, 1000 Madison Avenue. One of three locations now - along with the West Village and Southhampton - this restaurant in the Milanese tradition offers a memorable risotto, among other fare, in addition to its worthy espresso and gelato. Website

16. Caffe Grazie, 26 E. 84th St. Likable Italian food in a townhouse atmosphere. Their Italian version of a Bento Box is some kind of genius. Website

17. La Maison Du Chocolat, 1018 Madison Ave. Expert chocolates from France. Website

18. Lexington Candy Shop, 1226 Lexington Ave. Luncheonette, circa 1925. The very wonderful word - "luncheonette." We need not say more. Website

19. William Greenberg Jr. Desserts, 1100 Madison Ave. A take-home bakery with delicious goodies, especially holiday cookies. Website 

20. E.A.T., 1064 Madison Ave. Sandwiches, salads, sweets. Grab a proper ham-and-cheese baguette to go, and eat in the park. Website

21. Candle 79, 154 E. 79th at Lexington. A literal outlier on this list, the worthy vegan restaurant may provide a good choice for beginning or ending a museum outing on the Upper East Side. Website

22. JG Melon, 1291 3rd Ave. near E. 74th. Classic New York pub, with big burgers and drinks just the way we like them.

23. Park Avenue Christian Church, 1010 Park Ave. at 85th Street. We're going to church. Twice. Our first stop is a French Gothic-inspired church with buttresses and Tiffany windows. The structure has served as home for the South Dutch Reformed Church, the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, and now the Disciples of Christ. The latter shares space with the Reform Temple of Universal Judaism. A welcoming place in the interfaith spirit.

Park Avenue
24. Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, 980 Park Avenue. Built in 1898 by the Jesuit-controlled Roman Catholic parish, the stately classical facade is a real head-turner on Park Avenue.

25. Park Avenue. While burdensome to walk at times, this stretch of Park Avenue is nicely landscaped, especially throughout the medians. Before heading to the 6 train on Lexington at either the 86th or 77th St. stops, take a final long look up and down the wide boulevard before heading home.

Final thought: Remember to stay creative and improvisational at all times. Cherish favorite places in the city, but never forget to experience new things. Like a museum, living in New York always presents familiar galleries, but the discovery of unfamiliar paintings in the next room is what really opens up the doors.


View Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a larger map

Images by Walking Of the Big Apple.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with view to the north from the steps

See more 25 Things to Do lists










Popular posts from this blog

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors.  New landscaping in Battery Park At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020.  Shade plants like hosta thrive in Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance. With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out.  Statue Cruises is still sailing. It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements. UPDATED October 10, 2020.  Many favorite local destinations have now reopened.  Hand sanitizer dispenser at the Marble Hill station of Metro-North's Hudson line Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations    • Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map  (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity. • As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER. • The  9/11 Memorial  reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices. • (update) Libraries: NYPL. T he library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.   • Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets.  • The High Line  reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entra

The Season of Owls

 A walk in Inwood Hill Park. The days following the holidays and the first of the year make a good time to check in on life in the winter forest. I have a forest just down the street from me in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. There, a vast old growth forest still stands. A Barred Owl faces the setting sun in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. A few weeks ago, someone on a local Facebook page posted a snapshot of a Barred Owl, and I was keen to go looking for it in the park. I didn't find the owl on the first day, but the next day I saw it. A handful of birder enthusiasts were already on the scene and kindly pointed it out high up in the pines. What a beautiful creature!  A stand of White Pines provides the habitat for the Barred Owl. The owl is in this picture. I know, hard to see.  Since my first owl visit, everyday life during the otherwise dreary post-holiday doldrums has taken on a finer aura. I have returned several times, each taking a different path up to the o

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video , filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.” Approaching The Mall in Central Park  When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months. The Mall in Central Park I hadn’t v

MoMA in Masks

Update. Beginning September 28, MoMA will require all members to reserve tickets in advance.* Walking into the gallery devoted to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (c 1920) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Saturday afternoon, I saw a woman seated on a bench. She was looking at the artist’s dreamy depiction of his garden at Giverny, and I thought for a moment she might be dreaming as well. As she was the only person occupying what is usually a packed room for fans of Impressionism, I was hesitant to invade her private garden reveries. At MoMA I would enjoy my own such private moments with my favorite MoMA works that afternoon, including Marc Chagall’s I and the Village (1911). The painting depicts a colorful and geometric fairy tale of peasants and animals, memories of the artist’s childhood home outside Vitebsk. And I had a long time to feel the scorching sun of photographer Dorothea Lange’s Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (1938), a setting closer to my hometown. Later I wou

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had