More than 3 million paintings and other artifacts, housed in galleries that stretch for a quarter of a mile, may not figure in your plans for a big night out on the town. But climb the monumental steps from Fifth Avenue, step into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you’ll discover that one of the world’s greatest art galleries is also one of the best places in the city to begin a weekend evening (the museum is open until 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays). Quartets play classical music, cocktails are served in romantic hideaways, and the galleries are much more navigable in the evening than they are during the day, when they can be as chaotic as Grand Central Terminal.
The Temple of Dendur, transposed from the banks of the Nile to a stunning glass atrium overlooking Central Park, is especially atmospheric as soft twilight turns the 2,000-year-old stones golden and the trees just outside darken against the sky.
The European galleries are unhurried on these evenings, so take your time to stand in front of El Greco’s View of Toledo, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, and dozens of other masterpieces so famous that they are comfortingly familiar even to first-time visitors to the museum. Make your final stop the Chinese Garden Court, where the gurgle of water, graceful plantings, and an aura of serenity will restore you for whatever you’re planning to do for the rest of the evening.
The Met puts on a lively roster of concerts and lectures on Friday and Saturday evenings. Check the museum’s website or go to the information desk to find out what’s on. Lectures are about $23, and concerts start at $45. And on a less lofty note: it’s hard to resist the Met Store, a glitzy two-floor emporium near the main entrance with an enticing array of prints, books, and distinctive jewelry and knickknacks based on the museum collections.