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Why you need to visit the Morgan Library in New York

Gutenberg Bible at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York

We’ve been to New York so many times because it’s one of our favourite cities. On our last visit, I asked on social media for recommendations of unusual things to do in New York (if you’ve been before) as we were keen to experience some new things. One of the recommendations was to visit the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Avenue, which we’d never heard of. And I’m so glad it was suggested because it’s absolutely amazing! Read on to discover why you need to visit the Morgan Library in New York.

Pierpont Morgan's opulent study at the Morgan Library

Who is ‘Morgan’ of the Morgan Library and Museum?

My first surprise was who the Morgan Library and Museum is named after. It began as the personal library of financier Pierpont Morgan and was built between 1902 and 1906, next to his home on Madison Avenue. Mr Morgan had begun collecting manuscripts, printed books and drawings prints in around 1890 and was an avid collector.

Just over a decade after his death, his son J.P. Morgan decided that the library – and the vast collection that now filled it – was far too important to be private. It was then opened to the public so that they too could enjoy the amazing collection that was acquired during Pierpont Morgan’s lifetime – as well as the works that continue to be acquired today. It is one of the greatest cultural gifts to ever be bestowed to the American people – and of course, to all who visit from around the world.

So why was I surprised by who ‘Morgan’ was? I used to work in the finance sector so J.P. Morgan is very familiar to me, however I had no idea that the family had this astonishing library and museum!

What’s unique about the Morgan Library?

One of the things that’s unique about the Morgan Library and Museum is that it used to be part of a residence. Pierpont Morgan’s study is so opulent and you can really imagine him sitting at his desk, pouring over his books or drawings.

Pierpont Morgan's study

Within his study is the West Room Vault, which is where he kept all the high-value books, manuscripts and objects he had acquired on his travels. It was designed by the same architectural firm who built the library. It’s lined with steel and looks like a bank vault. Sadly you can’t actually go inside the vault but you can get a sense of its size and importance.

The West Room vault in the Morgan Library New York

But the fact that it was part of a residence is not the only reason why the Morgan Library and Museum is unique. What truly makes it unique is that it is the only museum in the world whose collection contains three Gutenberg Bibles! The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book in the west to be printed from movable type (in the 1400s) and was the beginning of the printing revolution. You can view one of the Gutenberg Bibles close up in Morgan’s Library.

One of three Gutenberg Bibles at the Morgan Library

How much time do you need to visit the Morgan Library?

As with all libraries and museums, how much time you need depends on how much you want to see and read about each collection. The Morgan Library and Museum not only houses Mr Morgan’s Study and Library but also has a number of rooms with different collections and exhibitions.

We probably spent around two and a half hours exploring all the rooms. But of course you could speed through, if you’re pressed for time, or spend hours more should you wish to.

My absolute favourite room was Mr Morgan’s Library. Just, WOW. The triple-tiered Walnut bookcases line the walls and are filled with European literature dating from the 16th century to the 20th century. It is quite simply breathtaking.

Inside Mr Morgan's Library in New York

The library was designed in the style of an Italian Renaissance-style palazzo and when you look up at the exquisite ceiling you feel as though you’ve been transported to Italy itself. The paintings resemble those that adorn the ceilings of Italian churches, cathedrals and basilicas.

Is the Morgan Library worth the money?

Unlike the UK, where most galleries and museums are free, you do have to pay to visit the Morgan Library. It costs $25 for adults, $17 for seniors over 65, $13 for students and people with a disability (carers go free) and free for children 12 and under.

If you’re on a tight budget then go for free on Fridays from 5 to 7 pm. You will need to make a reservation online and tickets for Free Fridays are released a week in advance.

Yes, $25 is quite expensive however it is well worth the money. The Morgan Library and Museum is one of the most beautiful establishments I’ve ever seen. There are only 49 Gutenberg Bibles that have survived the twentieth century (and only twenty-one are complete) and three of them can be found at the Morgan Library! That is pretty special. Plus, there are various exhibitions on throughout the year, such as Beatrix Potter, Walton Ford, Franz Kafka and many more, that are included in your ticket price.

Planning your visit

The Morgan Library and Museum is located at 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street. The nearest subways are on 33rd Street and Grand Central Station. The museum is wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available for use.

You have to have a ticket to enter, which can be purchased online in advance, or you can buy it when you arrive. It’s recommend to buy your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. And note that tickets are for a specific timed entry, starting from 10:30 am. Please check the website for specific timings and holiday closures.

If you fancy afternoon tea or a bite to eat, the Morgan Cafe is open every day except Mondays. It’s located in the central court, with lots of natural light due to the tall glass windows.

We absolutely loved visiting the Morgan Library and Museum. If you’ve been to New York before and done all the touristy things, this is a great museum to add to your list and to while away a few hours. It’s also the perfect rainy day activity too.

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The Morgan Library and Museum in New York

Kirsty Marrins

Reader, writer, occasional runner, travel lover.

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