The Hudson Valley is home to some of the country’s most incredible Gilded Age mansions, and one of the best to tour is Kykuit near Sleepy Hollow, New York.
Kykuit was owned by four generations of the Rockefeller family and was first used as a vacation home before later becoming a primary home. The house was initially built for oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller and was later the primary home for New York Governor and Vice President of the United States Nelson Rockefeller.
Kykuit, which is derived from the Dutch word for “lookout”, was completed in 1913 and served as a winter and early summer getaway for the Rockefeller family. It has 40 rooms and sits on 3,400 acres of land on a hillside overlooking the Hudson River.
I’ve always been fascinated by the opulence of the Gilded Age, so I was excited to take a tour of the home on a beautiful autumn day. There are several tour options, and I opted for the Classic Tour. This tour is a little over two hours long and includes the chance to see the home, the gardens, and the impressive art and antique car collections.
Some tours of the property include a bit more or a bit less than what I did in my tour. My comments here will focus on the spots visited in the Classic Tour, so just be aware that if you book a different tour, your experience might be slightly different. Still, the general experience of touring Kykuit should remain the same.
All tours leave from Philipsburg Manor near the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and the shuttle ride to Kykuit is included in the ticket price and listed length of the tour.
For my tour, we started on the eastern side of the home. As you approach, you are sure to be awed by the ivy-covered structure that feels like it wouldn’t be out of place in the countryside of Europe.
Along the road up to the Kykuit as well as the area adjacent where tours start, there are several large and impressive art pieces.
Outside the home, guides start the tour with a bit of an overview of the property’s history, as well as the story of the Rockefellers, one of the richest and most influential families in American history.
Soon, the tour heads inside the home for a tour of the first floor, which is primarily the public living and entertaining space in the mansion.
The interior of Kykuit is truly breathtaking in its opulence, with each room somehow being more incredible than the last. During the tour, you’ll be able to see priceless artifacts from around the world, my favorite of which were the porcelain vases from the Ming Dynasty in China.
Sadly, photos aren’t allowed inside the home, so you’ll just have to visit to fully appreciate this incredible space.
After touring the first floor, my tour headed back outdoors to tour a small portion of the home’s gardens. Unsurprisingly, these spaces were quite beautiful and undoubtedly relaxing for the residents of the house.
While the trees have grown up somewhat since when Kykuit was a private home, there is still a great view overlooking the Hudson River. The land on the opposite bank was saved from quarrying, in large part because the industrialists on the eastern bank didn’t want their view impacted, and today is publically owned.
If you opt to take the Classic Tour or the Grand Tour, you’ll also have a chance to visit the basement of Kykuit, which is home to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller’s art collection and is one of the most incredible private collections I’ve ever seen.
This climate-controlled space feels like a high-end museum and features work by famous artists like Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. It’s truly amazing to see these incredible pieces in such an intimate setting, and the art museum portion was one of my favorite parts of the tour.
The final space included on the Classic Tour is the Carriage House. Like everything on this property, this space is larger and more opulent than any other similar space I’ve seen.
Inside, the Carriage House is the Rockefeller family’s collection of antique cars and carriages, each of which was used by the family at some point. The pieces on display span more than a century of transportation history and none of them would be out of place in some of New York’s great antique automobile museums.
Even if you aren’t overly interested in antique cars, this space is still interesting to see for the many unique pieces on display.
Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Kykuit. Not only was the home incredible to see, but my guide did an excellent job bringing the space to life and showcasing the history of both the space and one of America’s most powerful families. Plus, the chance to see incredible pieces of art and some interesting antique automobiles was an added plus.
I’ve toured several of the Gilded Era mansions in the Hudson Valley (including the Vanderbilt Mansion), and this is definitely among the best and worth a stop when exploring the region.
Hours: Days and hours vary. See website.
Cost: Prices vary by tour.