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10-best-museums-washington-dc

I spent a month in Washington DC last spring and tried to explore every inch of it. With so much to do, any discerning traveler would be wise to narrow down their list of attractions. It took me many exhausting weeks to see all that I did, and still more remains. Here is a list of the museums I enjoyed the most, and ten more will follow in a post in the coming weeks!

1) Ford’s Theatre and Peterson House
As perhaps the most told story in American history, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is well documented. Start your tour in the auditorium of Ford’s Theatre, and aim to get a seat in the balcony across from the Presidential box. An historian recounts the tale from the perspective of the man who shot John Wilkes Booth, and it is riveting. Afterwards, head across the street to Peterson House, where Lincoln lived out his last hours. The attached museum displays memorabilia from his funeral and discusses the repercussions of his assassination.

2) National Archives Building
The National Archives Building houses original copies of the formative documents of the United States Government. The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution are all on view under dim lighting in the main rotunda. Downstairs, walk through exhibits discussing American democracy and see an original version of the Magna Carta.

3) National Museum of Natural History
Amazingly, this museum is the third most visited in the world, and the most visited natural history museum in the world. As a self proclaimed connoisseur of natural history museums, I was relatively unimpressed by the collection on view. The exhibits are clearly set up for children and very few specimens are actually on display considering the immense size of the museum. The building itself is very beautiful, with a central rotunda spanning floor to ceiling. The Hope Diamond was the highlight of my visit, and a nearby exhibit dedicated to jewels once owned by royalty.

4) National Museum of Health and Medicine
This Museum is not in Washington DC proper, and was one hell of a trek to get to without a car. However, it houses the bullet that killed Lincoln as well as many other macabre items from early medicine. A room dedicated to the Civil War recounts journals of the soldiers and doctors and what they suffered through. As a whole, this museum doesn’t focus on health and medicine generally, but how it relates to war.

5) National Museum of American History
Almost every museum in Washington DC focuses solely on the American aspect of whatever it is dedicated to, and this is no different. The artifacts cover the gamut, from the development of transportation to Julia Child’s kitchen. Personal favorites relate to pop culture, including Burt and Ernie puppets from Sesame Street and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers.

6) National Gallery of Art
The collection housed here is vast, with two separate buildings to cover different epochs. The main building houses innumerable works from the great masters, with dozens which are highly significant to art history. Paintings by Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Monet, and Vermeer barely scratch the surface of great artists on view. The East Building houses more modern works, and more mediums as well. Be sure to also meander through the sculpture garden during your visit.

7) National Air and Space Museum
The fifth most visited museum in the world, even those not particularly interested in space travel can make a discovery. I found the history of commercial flying particularly fascinating. The early restrictions for stewardesses, the prohibitive cost and even the traveler’s wardrobe are all aspects of flying that have changed drastically. The huge two storey atriums filled with air and space craft are certainly a sight to behold.

8) National Building Museum
The National Building Museum is another incredibly impressive building. Originally the Pension Building and the site of several inaugural balls, this cavernous space is full of small details. The museum is now home to rotating exhibits relating to architecture and design. While these require an entrance fee, the Great Hall is free to visit and certainly worth a look.

9) National Postal Museum
Despite what you may think would be contained within a postal museum, I found this to be one of my favorites in Washington DC. The history of the mail system, how it works, and the crazy things that people have tried to send through it are truly fascinating. The first floor houses a pretty run-of-the-mill stamp exhibit, with the more exciting items downstairs. The exhibit on disasters, crime and the role of the Postal Service had me completely enthralled.

10) Newseum
This is hands down my favorite museum in Washington DC, and fittingly the most expensive. The museum contains artifacts from some of the biggest news events in history, including pieces of the Berlin Wall and an antenna from the World Trade Center. There are exhibits on the FBI, the development and progression of how people receive the news, Pulitzer Prize photographs, and the dangers of journalism in countries where free press doesn’t exist. It is a moving and engaging museum full of reminders of the importance of the First Amendment.

What are your favorite museums in Washington DC? I can’t believe just how many there are in such a small area, it is truly a city jam packed with attractions!

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10-things-to-do-in-new-york

New York, like London or Tokyo, is a massive city with endless things to see, do, and eat. If you are a first time visitor, the options can be overwhelming. This list will help you to get acquainted with the Big Apple and give enough of an overview to hone in on your favorite areas for further exploration.

1) Go shopping in Soho
Strolling down Broadway in Manhattan’s Soho area, you will find an overwhelming congregation of high street stores. With rents reaching as much as $500,000 a month, not much else could survive here. But duck down nearly any side street and there are endless shops to explore, many full of high end designs and clean, modern displays. This is the epicenter of the cool New York fashion aesthetic, with stores like Rachel Comey, Totokaelo, Tibi, Opening Ceremony, Assembly New York and Anthom all within walking distance. Pay close attention to the buildings as you wander- Soho is famous for its lofts and is a designated historic district with 500 buildings possessing intricate cast iron facades.

2) Wander around Little Italy and Chinatown
Just a few blocks from Soho you’ll find yourself in Little Italy. Make stops into pastry and pasta shops, and grab some gelato before heading down to Canal Street. Walking through, do your best to avoid hawkers selling tat and the shifty women inviting you into back rooms for counterfeit handbags. South of canal you can stop in almost any shop for dumplings or steamed buns, beckoning cats or other trinkets of good luck. Be amazed at all the alien foods being sold at the grocery stands, including the infamous Durian fruit. If you make a purchase, you will almost certainly receive a famous red plastic bag, red being a lucky color in Chinese culture.

3) Enjoy the incredible art on the Museum Mile
Take the train uptown to Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, where famous art museum lines the Park. Chances are you won’t have the time or the money to visit each museum on the Mile- most average a $25 price tag- so choose those which most appeal to you. Fans of art history will most certainly need to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 4th most visited art museum in the world. The Guggenheim is better known for contemporary exhibits, and the Neue Gallery contains the gorgeous Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and makes a sensational spaetzle.

4) Have lunch in one of the many parks
Admiring art can make one very hungry, and there are numerous parks in New York to enjoy a casual meal. Of course Central Park is the largest, most obvious choice, but don’t discount the many others which you’ll stumble upon as you traverse the city. Bryant Park has the public library and Empire State Building as a backdrop and is inches from Times Square. Union Square is full of outrageous entertainers, chess players and Hare Krishna followers, with a great outdoor market for food and flowers. Washington Square often has performers gathered around the fountain and arch, and the gorgeous townhouses lining the park make a lovely setting for any meal.

 

5) Admire the incredible window displays on Fifth Avenue
If you’ve spent your afternoon in Central or Bryant Park, make sure to stroll down Fifth Avenue. A Mecca for high-end fashion, many of the most famous businesses and storefronts in the city are located here. Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Tiffany’s, Rockefeller Plaza, and the flagship locations of many high street stores are all concentrated between 42nd Street and the Park, culminating with Bergdorf Goodman next to the storied Plaza Hotel. These storefronts are known around the world for their window displays, with the holiday windows being highly anticipated each year. If you can make the trip during the holiday season, you will not be disappointed, albeit bruised from bumping into tourists.

6) Speed walk your way through the tourist attractions
Speaking of tourists, Manhattan is crawling with them year round. New Yorkers often joke that many of the most famous landmarks in the city are only visited by tourists, due to how inundated they are with slow walkers and selfie takers- our greatest pet peeves. Luckily, if you are set on seeing certain attractions, you can easily access them while on the move. The most well known areas often have a forgotten history and are instead filled with high street shops and people hawking souvenirs. Do your research on why these areas became so famous to begin with and appreciate them for the important symbols of the city that they are.

7) Eat everything
If you are coming to New York, come hungry. It is simply impossible to rattle off a list of foods one must try on their visit. There are far too many! I would recommend picking some of your favorite cuisines and honing in on the best the city has to offer. Whether your quest takes you on a journey for the best burgers, the best pizza, or the best ramen, you will not be disappointed. Remember portion size and New York prices- most meals can be shared to save money. Eat on the go by taking advantage of specialty grocers; Zabar’s and Gourmet Garage are my absolute favorites. Just don’t eat anything from a cart, no matter how many clichés you’d like to check off your list.

8) Get a great view of the city from a rooftop bar
I would argue that New York has the best skyline in the world, and you haven’t really seen the city until you’ve appreciated the view. While you can toss out $35 to go to the top of the Empire State Building or One World Trade, I’d recommend visiting a rooftop bar to at least get a buzz for that much cash. There are many in midtown around Herald and Times Square, but my favorite is actually in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The rooftop of the Wyeth Hotel has a great view of the river and the Empire State Building. With drinks averaging $8, it’s probably the cheapest way to take in the midtown skyline.

9) Take in the view on the Brooklyn Promenade
For another view of the skyline, the Brooklyn Promenade offers a striking scene of downtown. There is a clear view of One World Trade, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Any yearnings for a likeable Instagram post will be satisfied here. The neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights is just as photogenic, with Brownstones lining the small streets. If you plan on walking one of the bridges, consider the Manhattan Bridge. It offers the same views from an elevated angle.

10) Wander through the different neighborhoods to discover their personalities
Manhattan has infinite things to offer any traveler, with each neighborhood providing something different. Do your research to see what will suit you best, there is just not enough time to explore them all. My personal favorites are clustered together; Soho, Chinatown, Little Italy, the East and West Village, Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side and Union Square. These neighborhoods feel small, with little eateries and boutiques, brownstones and cobbled streets. Perhaps you are looking for something bigger and brighter, or a certain cuisine only known to one enclave. Whatever your needs may be, there is a neighborhood in New York for you. Be sure to also research Brooklyn and Queens. They are now just as well known for their distinct neighborhoods and food as any part of Manhattan.

What are you favorite things to do in Manhattan? Every week there seems to be something new to eat or explore. I really want to spend some time exploring Queens and Long Island!

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ravenna-10-things-to-do

Few cities in the world manage to fit so much history into such a small area. Ravenna in Italy has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, and can be visited in one itinerary packed day. The Byzantine mosaics are some of the best in the world, and the churches, museums and mausoleums all provide a glimpse into the history of this ancient city. Despite not being a particularly well-known Italian travel destination, this seaside municipality has played an important part in the history of the world throughout the last 1500 years.

1) Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista
Leaving the train station, one of the first buildings you will encounter is the Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista. This place of worship was built in the fifth century AD by the Roman princess Galla Placidia. While the inside is relatively unadorned, the size of the church and the striking campanile are worth a look as you make your way to the other attractions.

2) Dante’s Tomb
A domed marble structure on a small side street may not seem an appropriate resting place for one of literature’s greats. In the last years of his life Dante was exiled from his home city of Florence, and even after a papal pardon, his remains were never returned. The tomb is a tight, cubicle-shaped space, with a plaque showing Dante in profile and an oil lamp burning above you. There is a garden and church jutting the tomb, making it an appropriately solemn setting.

3) Piazza del Popolo
Near Dante’s Tomb is the Piazza del Popolo, a small square lined with seventeenth century buildings and street cafes. Granite columns topped with statues of Saint Apollinaire and San Vitale overlook the Palazzo Merlato and sit opposite a stunning clock tower. Take a moment to rest and enjoy an espresso before heading to your next destination.

4) Archiepiscopal Museum
Tucked behind the Duomo of Ravenna, this museum contains relics of the early Christian city. Plaques and carvings line the walls, and symbolism abounds. Climb up the stairs into what was once a Roman tower to see the famous Ivory Cathedra, or bishop’s throne. Considered a masterpiece in Ivory carving, many books on Byzantine art discuss the object and its intricately carved panels. The detail is stunning, and makes the trip to this thoroughly religious museum worth it.

5) Santa Maria in Porto
The façade of this church is downright breathtaking, especially against the backdrop of a clear Italian sky. Comparatively modern in such an ancient city, the Istrian stone exterior of Santa Maria was completed in the eighteenth century. Inside is the bas-relief of the Greek Madonna, a holy image of the patroness of Ravenna.

6) Mausoleum of Theoderic
This tomb was built by Theoderic the Great as a final resting place just outside the city. Small and relatively unadorned as far as mausoleums are concerned, it is a decagon shape of smooth stones. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is significant as a surviving example of a king’s tomb from 1500 years ago. Explore the surrounding grounds for soft sloping landscapes and well trimmed grasses.

7) Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
If Theoderic’s Mausoleum lacks adornment, Galla Placidia’s makes up for it. Blue and gold glittering mosaics line every inch of the small tomb. Laid within the patterns are depictions of the evangelists, the apostles, wild animals and the chi-rho symbol. While the meaning of some of the vignettes has been debated, their beauty cannot be denied. Another UNESCO site, it has been deemed the best preserved example of all mosaic monuments.

8) Baptistery of Neon
The Baptistery of Neon is another Byzantine monument lined with blue and gold mosaic stones- the city’s most ancient. High above one can see Jesus being baptized by John, and a procession of apostles lining the dome. Marble carvings are interrupted by arched windows, with the baptismal font directly below. Tucked into the shadow of the Duomo of Ravenna- a necessity from a time when one could not enter a church without being baptized.

Basilica-of-Sant-Apollinare-Ravenna-Italy-Church

9) Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe
This church’s examples of early Christian art make it another one of the eight places in Ravenna on the World Heritage List. With its history stretching back 1500 years, the interior is covered in mosaics depicting various scenes from the bible of Byzantium. Processions of virgins and depictions of Jesus’ miracles and parables line the nave, each piece of glittering cut glass telling the story. Take note of all the visual symbolism and imagery ensconced within, harking back to when most of the world was illiterate.

10) Basilica of San Vitale
As a freshman taking introductory art history, I can still remember the moment my professor put slides of the mosaics of Justinian and Theodora up on the wall. Their crude yet charming quality and lack of perspective revealed to me an entirely new epoch of art which has remained my favorite to this day. Ten years later I was finally able to see the glittering glory of these mosaics in person. San Vitale was the reason I came to Ravenna, all the other churches and monuments merely an added bonus in the excursion. The Basilica is a mixture of decorative styles, and contains not only two of the most famous mosaic murals in the world, but frescos painted in the Baroque style. Stand beneath the sparkling apse as sunlight streams in, admiring this ancient tribute to the emperor who built the Hagia Sophia.

Is Ravenna on your travel to-do list? Unlike me, most people don’t base their vacations on art history alone! I would definitely love to visit many of the small towns I saw while on the train to Ravenna. And there a still many large cities in Italy I have not seen. I could easily spend another two months there! Maybe next year?

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48-hours-philadelphia

I called Philadelphia home for six years and whenever I go back there never seems to be enough time to revisit all my favorite places. The city is surprisingly diverse for its size, with each neighborhood having something special to offer. Philadelphia has also undergone an incredible amount of revitalization in the last five years, with new restaurants and shops continually popping up. There is an endless supply of great food and craft beers at prices that would embarrass New York City. Pair this with the dynamic history of the nation’s first capital and you are left with a full and engaging itinerary.

1) Explore Center City your first night (No, we don’t call it downtown, it’s Center City). I don’t necessarily recommend staying downtown in most cities, but it is a surprisingly convenient starting point for all your Philly adventures. There are two subway lines to get around, both convening there, and you can walk to Fairmount and Olde City. The other characteristic that makes it stand apart is the incredible amount of non-chain restaurants and bars offering diverse food and drink. Usually a downtown area is cluttered with Chili’s, TGIFriday’s and Olive Gardens. Philly is thankfully a different story.

Explore Chestnut and Walnut Streets for the city’s best shopping. Stop into Joan Shepp for cool kid couture, and peek into the Anthroplogie in Rittenhouse Square. This gorgeous building was once a single family home, and the back room on the first floor has dozens of portraits of past popes painted onto the ceiling. Check out the Macy’s next to City Hall to relish in the past grandeur of the Wanamaker building, one of the first department stores in the country and home to the largest pipe organ in the world. Nearly every building in this shopping district has a long and storied history. With so many retaining their original ornately detailed facades, it’s difficult for your eyes to know what to focus on!

Wander freely around the streets north of Broad Street in between Walnut and South Street to admire some of the most gorgeous houses you will find anywhere in North America. I’d argue they rival the Upper East Side in Manhattan. If you need a snack, stop into DiBruno Bros. for something to enjoy while sitting in Rittenhouse Square.

For dinner, choose one of the dozens of restaurants surrounding you that make Philadelphia so unique. A few personal favorites include Varga Bar, Mixto, Monk’s, Good Dog, The Dandelion and El Vez. For an evening out, these places all offer late night drinks. If you’re hoping for dancing and cocktails, the Gayborhood is nearby. But if you’d prefer a working class dive bar, Oscar’s or Mcglinchey’s will quench your blue collar thirst. Just don’t stay out too late- you have a full day planned for tomorrow!

2) Split the next day between Olde City, Northern Liberties and Fishtown. But before you leave Center City, have breakfast and stock up on baked goods at Reading Terminal Market. Your stomach will thank you! Once in Olde City, explore the history of the nation’s first capital. Access to the Liberty Bell is free, and most of the buildings have plaques explaining their significance. Shopping is also a must- 2nd and 3rd Streets north of Market have dozens of small boutiques and shops to explore.

If you stick around until lunch, my recommendation is High Street on Market, with sandwiches and pastries so good you won’t understand how you ever lived without them. If time permits or you prefer dinner in Olde City, there are plenty of places to eat that I’d highly recommend. Eulogy, Sassafras, Farmicia, Khyber Pass Pub, National Mechanics and Han Dynasty are all within a few blocks and each is worth a try!

Walk to Northern Liberties, stopping at Race Street Pier on the way. You will get an incredible view of the Delaware River and Ben Franklin Bridge and some Instagram worthy photo ops.

Northern Liberties doesn’t have much in the way of shopping, but boy does it have food! Some of my favorite places in the city are here and on the weekends ‘NoLibs’ is one of Philadelphia’s hippest areas. Grab food at N.3rd, Standard Tap, Dos Segundos, The Abbeye, El Camino Real, or one of the several restaurants at the Piazza.

You might need a nap to get you out of your food coma, so relax at the Liberty Lands garden or trek to Penn Treaty Park. If caffeine is what you crave, stop by One Shot Café. Their rotating signature drinks got me hooked on coffee a few years ago and the baked goods are certainly worth sampling.

Fishtown is one area of Philadelphia that has seen drastic changes in the last few years. It has become a hub of nightlife and gastropubs that is arguably one of the best around. You can easily eat, drink and dance the night away- and on many nights I certainly have!

Favorites include Kraftwerk, Johnny Brenda’s, Pizza Brain (which also contains the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia, so you should go here even for just a slice), Memphis Taproom (a little farther out but worth the trek), Sketch Burger, Ekta, and Frankford Hall. Barcade, El Bar and Fishtown Tavern will satisfy all your dive bar cravings, and you can dance the rest of your night away at the Barbary. Seriously, I love Fishtown.

3) Visit Fairmount on your last day in the city. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is world class, and an essential stop on many people’s itineraries. The area is beautiful, and behind the museum you get a wonderful view of the Schuylkill River and Boathouse Row. Run up the famous Rocky steps and enjoy a clear view from the Parkway to City Hall. If time permits more than just the museum, there are countless others in the area, including the Barnes Foundation, the Eastern State Penitentiary, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Mutter Museum, the Franklin Institute, and the Rodin Museum. For lunch, you must head to the Belgian Café, my absolute favorite restaurant in the city.

With all this to squeeze into two days, it’s easy to see there is almost too much to do in Philadelphia! I didn’t even mention South Philly, which has enough shopping and food that I’m sure it will soon be its own post. There are also many new places that have opened in the last few years that I just haven’t had a chance to try yet!

What are some of your favorite things to do in Philadelphia?

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favorite-places-art-museums

As a lover of art history, visiting a city’s art museums is a huge part of any trip. There are some cities, like New York and London, that contain so many I still haven’t visited them all! Here is a list of some favorites that I have encountered on my travels and the artwork that stood out the most.

1) LACMA – The Treachery of Images
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is an important part of any visit to the City of Angels. There is an impressive collection of modern art on view, with almost any notable artist of the last two hundred years represented. Be sure to walk the grounds during your visit, as there are many sculptures and installations displayed here with the cerulean California sky as their background. My favorite painting in the museum is The Treachery of Images by Rene Magritte, more commonly known as the ‘this is not a pipe’ painting. A mainstay in the surrealist movement, several of Magritte’s most famous works are on display in the museums listed here.

2) MOMA – The Piano Lesson
The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is a brightly lit building filled with brilliant works from recent history, covering many of the important movements of the last 150 years. There are at least a dozen hugely significant artworks on display, including The Persistence of Memory by Dali and Matisse’s Dance. However, there is another Matisse painting on view that I find even more wonderful, The Piano Lesson. Be sure to also find the delightfully playful and shocking surrealist Object by Meret Oppenheim and the sleek Bird in Space by Brancusi. MOMA PS1in Long Island City is also worth a visit for its rotating line up of contemporary art and events.

3) Philadelphia Museum of Art – The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
This museum might be best known for its Rocky Steps, but there is certainly much more to be seen inside. There is an impressive range of masterworks on display, most notably the trove belonging to Marcel Duchamp. Contained within an entire room of the museum, the large glass panel of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even sits imposingly in the center. Reproductions of many of Duchamp’s readymades are scattered throughout, while the Entant donnes lies hidden from innocent eyes in a darkened niche. Decide for yourself whether this repurposing of already made objects can truly be considered art.

4) Art Institute of Chicago – Nighthawks
When first traversing a new museum, it can be difficult to foresee just how large it is. The Art Institute turned out to be much more expansive than anticipated, and I was nearly running through each wing to take it all in. The collection is vast, and you will certainly need to narrow down your focuses. Be sure to visit the Modern, Contemporary and American collections to see in person some of the most recognizable paintings anywhere, including American Gothic, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, At the Moulin Rouge, The Bedroom and Nighthawks. Try not to be overwhelmed by tourists and have your own Ferris Bueller moment admiring the details of these vastly different styles of painting.

5) Tate Modern – The Three Dancers
Nearly everything about the Tate Modern is impressive, the scale of the building and the view of London almost more so than any artwork contained within. Begin your visit in the five-story high Turbine Hall of the former Bankside Power Station before taking the escalator up to the many floors of modern art. Great artists of the 20th century are showcased here, with works by Gris, Miro, Lichtenstein, Klee and Braque on view. Immerse yourself in the vibrant reds of Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals and feel the electric exuberance captured in Picasso’s The Three Dancers. Head to a museum balcony to take in the view of the Thames, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge to the north.

Uffizi Gallery - Titian Venus of Urbino

6) Uffizi Gallery – Venus of Urbino
The Tate Modern’s impressive view nearly pales in comparison to the Uffizi’s gorgeous palazzo setting and proximity to the Arno River. Climb the stairs to begin your journey through this haven of renaissance art, housing celebrated paintings by the great masters en masse. Squeeze past crowds to get close to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, snicker at the lack of perspective in Giotto’s Madonna, admire the ethereal beauty of Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch, spot the endless symbolism in Titian’s Venus of Urbino, and be awed by Leonardo’s Annunciation. Be sure to explore the Piazza della Signoria outside, with its own collection of sculpture and fountains to enjoy.

7) Metropolitan Museum of Art – The Crib of the Infant Jesus
Another immensely vast institution, one can wander for hours and barely cover the ground floor. Highlights from most human civilizations are included- Egyptian to Byzantine to Medieval works, including a personal favorite artifact, The Crib of the Infant Jesus. Not commissioned to be admired by a rich patron- pieces such as this were gifts for women entering into a convent. After examining the incredible detail of the pieces in this gallery, meander through each wing to be transported to different periods of ancient history. Imagine yourself a knight, an emperor, a monk or a member of the gentry until you are forced to emerge back into the hectic present day streets of New York.

8) National Gallery – The Arnolfini Portrait
Stepping into the Staircase Hall and looking up into the glass dome, one is transported back to the days of Empire and the Grand Tour. Works are displayed in portico filled rooms and long halls, hung before sumptuous wallpaper and encased in ornately carved frames. Paintings from the great masters are on view, with periods spanning from medieval to Edwardian, including a personal favorite, The Arnolfini Portrait. Examine the complex symbolism embedded within this wedding portrait, considered even in the way this new wife clutches the houppelande in her left hand. The National Gallery building itself is a love letter to Neoclassicism, with its imposing façade sitting regally within Trafalgar Square. Admire the beauty of the fountains and Nelson’s Column while dodging pigeons and tourists asking for a photo.

9) The Cloisters – The Unicorn in Captivity
A long subway ride uptown to Fort Tryon will take you to The Cloisters, a peaceful museum specializing in medieval works. The buildings themselves were sourced from French monasteries and abbeys, providing a respite from the hectic pace of Manhattan and a stunning view of the Hudson River. Works on view here speak volumes of the role religion once played in art and everyday life, with a spectacular standout being the symbolically abundant Merode Altarpiece. Admire the fine examples of tapestry hung throughout the museum, giving close examination to the renowned Hunt for the Unicorn. The stunning detail of the floral background paired with the fantastical beast of the middle ages makes the final panel, The Unicorn in Captivity, one of my favorite works of art.

10) National Gallery of Art – Portrait of a Lady
Situated prominently on the National Mall, this museum contains dozens of instantly recognizable works. Well known self portraits from Gauguin, Van Gogh and Rembrandt, as well as works by Manet, Monet, Picasso and more. A particular favorite is Portrait of a Lady by Rogier van der Weyden, which beautifully showcases the extreme fashions of medieval Europe. This young woman has plucked her hairline upwards, utilizing a hennin headdress to frame her face. Dressed in Burgundian style, a red sash accentuates her impossibly small waist. A pious down-turned expression attempts to disguise her almost certain noble status. This museum also contains a must-see contemporary art wing with large scale sculptures and paintings from the last century.

What are some of your favorite artworks? There are still so many I want to see, two being Girl with a Pearl Earring and Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash– the latter which I will hopefully visit this summer.

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