Explore New York City

Museums Alfresco

Fine art exhibits indoors and innovative exhibits outdoors (with stunning views, to boot!) at museums across the city turn these iconic spaces into more than just repositories of great art.

Fine art indoors and innovative exhibits outdoors (with stunning views, to boot!) at museums across the city turn these iconic spaces into a lot more than just repositories for great art.

Whitney Museum of American Art

When I stepped out onto the airy outdoor exhibition spaces at the Whitney, which opened the doors of its new Meatpacking District home in May, the idea for this article was born. Guests enjoy expansive views of the city from the eighth floor, where they can also dine alfresco at Studio Café. Cascading terraces showcase cool sculptures, like “Untitled,” a piece by Joel Shapiro inspired by a leaning man; Scott Burton’s polished granite chairs; and “Cubi XXI,” David Smith’s geometric work of stainless steel. The colorful chairs on the fifth-floor terrace provide golden Instagram opportunities.  99 Gansevoort St., 212.570.3600, whitney.org

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photography by Hyla Skopitz, The Photograph Studio, The Metropolitan Museum of Art ©2015)

Yes, the Met’s Roof Garden Commission is a finished work, though it’s easy to get confused by the upturned slabs and exposed dirt of Parisian artist Pierre Huyghe’s site-specific art. Visitors who dig deeper into what looks like a construction site will find a living experiment with weeds, mud and puddles. The fish tank containing a boulder draws curiousity seekers, watching as organisms that originated millions of years ago, including tadpole shrimps and lampreys, float by. It’s a perplexing work focused on themes of time and interconnectivity, perhaps best pondered over a glass of wine from the café (thru Nov. 1). 1000 Fifth Ave., 212.535.7710, metmuseum.org

Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art (©Martin Seck)

From nearly every floor of MoMA, visitors can gaze down and see the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. It’s a an all-year round oasis (except during inclement weather0, with stone flooring, peaceful fountains, leafy trees and ample space to relax.  11 W. 53rd St., 212.708.9400, moma.org

The Cloisters

The Cloisters
The Cloisters (©The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

This northern Manhattan branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe.  While beautiful, the lush gardens aren’t precisely manicured and instead reflect a 12th-to-15th-century vision of the perfect garden, an impression of a meadow with a huge variety of plants of different heights and colors, open to the sky to symbolize a mirror to heaven. The serene space exudes romance—I even saw a discreet marriage proposal on a recent visit. There’s also a medicinal garden filled with plants once considered healing or magical. Inside, you’ll find the famous Unicorn Tapestries, along with some 20,000 sculptures and medieval treasures. 99 Margaret Corbin Dr., 212.923.3700, metmuseum.org

National September 11 Memorial & Museum

National September 11 Memorial & Museum
National September 11 Memorial & Museum (©Jin Lee)

Cascading waterfalls and stark black parapets inscribed with the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and Feb. 26, 1993, are now found where the Twin Towers once stood. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is a humbling site, where people pay tribute with roses and make rubbings of the names, arranged not alphabetically, but, meaningfully, with the names of family, friends and coworkers together. The story of the nearby Callery pear tree, known as the “Survivor Tree,” is fascinating: Found as a charred stump at Ground Zero, the tree was nursed back to health in the Bronx by the Department of Parks and Recreation, but was virtually forgotten until Ron Vega, director of design and construction at the memorial, tracked it down and returned it to its home in 2010. The museum provides detailed context for the horrific events that transpired nearly 14 years ago. 180 Greenwich St., 212.312.8800, 911memorial.org

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (Courtesy The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

Hop aboard the legendary aircraft carrier Intrepid, which served tours of duty in World War II and the Vietnam War. Its open-air flight deck, where Japanese kamikaze planes once struck, now shows off an unrivaled aircraft collection representing all five of the U.S. armed forces and international units. Highlights include a Grumman Tracer from 1958, featuring a distinctive aerodynamic radome; an F-11A Tiger from 1956 that was used by the Blue Angels in the 1960s; a shark-faced, 1957 F-8k Crusader, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier on its maiden flight; and a 1967 A-12 Blackbird, a 102-foot jet equipped with cameras that could take photos from 80,000 feet up. They all look ready for battle with the blue sky above. Don’t miss the Space Shuttle Pavilion, featuring the Enterprise, and submarine GrowlerPier 86, 12th Ave., at W. 46th St., 212.245.0072, intrepidmuseum.org