The Metropolitan Museum. One of the most grand and beloved museums in the world. Right up there with the Louvre. A cultural institution that is larger than life, that has influence far beyond its walls, its city, a symbol of its own in the cultural conscience of the world.
The Met swallows you up before you even set foot inside. The grand steps leading up to the entrance make you conscious of just how small we all are, little dots on a canvas in a moment of time. And then once you’re in the Great Hall, it’s overwhelming in the best way. Well maybe not with the crowds (though it feels even more eerie and large when its empty). And the collection is one of the best in the world, perhaps one of the only places in the world that can offer such a comprehensive survey of global art history.
You could easily spend an entire day at the Met, or several days. It’s always worth repeat visits with their evolving programmed exhibitions, and tentpole exhibitions (ie the Costume Institute’s fashion exhibitions tied to the Met Gala). If you’re lucky enough to live here, you can come on any given day, pay as you wish, get to know your way around it, find your favorite spots, know exactly where to go to share a room with some of the greatest art in the world.
The museum is massive, but a lot easier to navigate when you break it down into sections. Most of the galleries are on the ground floor and second floor, with a handful of galleries on the 3rd floor and basement levels. The grandiose atriums are an obligatory walk through on every visit, but the deeper you go the more there is to discover, there’s always another gallery to wander into, a new exhibition to walk through a new work that catches your eye.
Egyptian Art + Temple of Dendur:
Many visits to the Met start here, entering from the right side of the Great Hall. It’s a classic, and even cynics will admit it is pretty breathtaking to step into the room with the Temple of Dendur, light filtering in from the windows and reflecting on the water.
The American Wing:
Acrowd favorite for a reason, I suppose we are in America after all. Here is home to paintings that graced many an American history textbook, and rooms designed to represent homes from different eras of American history. The sculpture court is a personal favorite spot, and particularly stunning when empty, the sunlight streaming into the atrium from the glass ceilings, casting shadows that dance like the sculptures in the grand space.
A straight shot from the entrance leads into the Medieval Art section. One of the most recognizable periods, even for those who know little about art. From the Bronze Age all the way up to the Renaissance, despite its grand gated entrance, it actually is physically darker than some of the light soaked spaces. Which is fitting for the dark ages, heavy on the religious art, armor and metalwork
European Sculptures + Decorative Art:
Surrounding the Medieval Art section on the ground floor is a lot of square footage dedicated to European sculptures and decorative art that spans the latter half of the last millennium. Rooms filled with categorical collections of art and craftsmanship that can either lure you in or make your eyes glaze over (truly it goes one way or another). And with the light of the Renaissance comes again more windows and natural light for the sculpture hall.
The Robert Lehman Collection:
Tucked away in the back of the museum behind the bustling European and Medieval and American art sections, this section tends to be a quiet reprieve from the bustle of the main sections, and is filled with an extensive collection of Western art that spans many centuries.
Modern and Contemporary Art:
This section is also notably more quiet. Easy to miss actually, in the back corner of the ground floor. Most people don’t come to the Met for modern art, but it is there and it is constantly evolving to represent diverse contemporary artists.
Greek and Roman Art:
To the left of the main entrance is another fun sculpture section. The vibes are similar to the sculpture court in the American Wing, but a little more crowded and surrounded by many rooms filled with more ancient sculptures and objects.
The Rockerfeller Wing:
Ah yes, there’s an entire wing named after western wealth dedicated to Sub-Saharan, Pacific Islander and indigenous North, Central and South American art. It’s giving the American version of the British Museum’s Egyptian art collection.
Up the grand stairs in the middle of the museum leads straight to the European Paintings section that covers everything from early Renaissance through Impressionism and a lot of recognizable artists. And it leads to another section dedicated to modern (19th and 20th century) European art.
Beyond the beautiful ceramics displayed along the 2nd floor the right side of the floor is dedicated to Asian art, with two of my favorites: a serene section for Japanese art and the beautiful Ming dynasty style Astor Court. The Indian Medieval sculpture gallery is also a must-see, with an intricately carved wooden dome from a temple perfectly preserved, and a stairway leading up to the easy to miss galleries for Nepalese and Tibetan art.
Ancient Near East and Islamic Art:
On the other side, opposite from the Asian Art section are the galleries with the oldest art in the museum in the Ancient Near East section and then deeper in, Islamic art that spans history and geography, from a very large room displaying very large Persian rugs to the intricate geometric designs of the Damascus room to the remarkably tranquil Moroccan Court that, similar to Astor Court, momentarily makes you forget you’re in a giant Museum in a giant park in one of the busiest cities in the world.
Go here for: a generous dose of art, an obligatory visit for and with tourists, a nice way to spend a rainy day, a perfect solo activity in the city
Don’t miss: the roof garden bar with beautiful views of Central Park; and also the gift shop, which is in itself an extensive collection
Amount of time to spend: give yourself at least 2-3 hours
When to come: early! come right when it opens, and relish in the empty rooms where you can, for a moment, pretend you have the whole museum to yourself
Getting here: take the 4/5/6 to 86th Street and follow the signs to the museum, it’s just a few minutes walk over
Other things to note:
Last visited: June 2022
Last updated: September 2022