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What to Know About Visiting Museums During the Coronavirus Era

Updates on opening status and safety measures

A closed sign is seen outside of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on March 13, 2020 in New York City. Due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Cindy Ord/Getty Images

En español | How can popular tourist attractions open safely during the coronavirus pandemic? Museums from coast to coast have pondered this question, and some have yet to answer it: A number of big ones remain closed, including the Getty Center and the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and most of the Smithsonian sites in Washington, D.C. (Four Smithsonian museums will open Sept. 18, including the National Portrait Gallery.)

But many others are welcoming visitors, while closely following state, city and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, says Christine Anagnos, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which estimates that 65 percent of its member institutions — from the esteemed Detroit Institute of Arts to the Portland Art Museum — have reopened. New York state allowed museums to open starting Aug. 24, though at 25 percent capacity and using timed tickets to keep occupancy under control. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will open again on Sept. 26, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art reopened in early September (though it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays).

Below are nine popular U.S. museums, along with their safety measures and star attractions. Each is limiting the number of visitors, providing plentiful hand sanitizer stations, and requiring masks and social distancing (they’ve also closed their checkrooms, so don’t bring anything you don’t want to carry around). Check their websites before going: Some museums across the country have reclosed due to rising COVID-19 cases. And be sure to follow CDC guidelines for safe travel.

American Museum of Natural History in New York City

What to expect: Tickets must be reserved online, and you’ll receive an entry time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Interactive displays will be turned off to prevent touching. Additions include new air filters, temperature checks (visitors with a temperature of 100.4 or more cannot enter), and one-way traffic flows.

What to see: No visit is complete without viewing Lucy, a 3 million-year-old hominid, but be sure to explore the long-jawed, life-size models in the “T. rex: The Ultimate Predator” exhibit, open through spring.

Admission fee: General admission tickets are $23 for adults, $18 for seniors.

Art Institute of Chicago

What to expect: The number of visitors is limited to 25 percent of normal capacity (staff will monitor the number of people who enter). The least busy times are between 3 and 5 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, and the museum has posted a chart showing peak times. Restaurants are closed, and you many need to reserve a spot in a virtual line at certain popular exhibits. Buy your tickets in advance online..

What to see: You’ll want to view iconic paintings such as American Gothic by Grant Wood and Edward Hopper’s much-parodied Nighthawks, but the most memorable masterpiece may be the large and lovely A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by the French post-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat.

Admission fee: $25 for adults and $19 for seniors (Illinois residents pay a reduced fee).

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

What to expect: Guests must buy tickets in advance online. Entry times occur every 20 minutes, starting at the top of each hour. If you’re hungry, the Coffee Lab and TRex Café sell prepackaged food and drinks and offer limited seating (water fountains have been turned off, so you might want to bring your own). The number of visitors is limited to 80 percent of normal capacity.

What to see: You’ll find more than 775,000 objects — from rare gems to mummies — but LEGO fans will love “The Art of the Brick,” at the museum through Jan. 31. Artist Nathan Sawaya has built everything from the Venus de Milo to Michelangelo’s David with LEGOs, though his best-known creation is Yellow: a yellow man ripping open his chest, with LEGOs pouring out. At the Gates Planetarium, the 23-minute Cosmic Journey will zip you across the solar system.

Admission fee: $19.95 for adults, $16.95 for those age 65-plus. “The Art of the Brick” is an additional $9 for adults, $7 for seniors.


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Tyrannosaurus (T-Rex) skeleton at the Field Museum in Chicago

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Field Museum in Chicago

What to expect: The natural history museum, which is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, encourages visitors to buy their timed-entry tickets online before arriving. It’s operating at 25 percent visitor capacity and has installed floor markers directing guests along one-way paths to assist with social distancing. Highly interactive exhibitions are closed (along with those in small spaces), though the Field Bistro restaurant is open with a reduced menu and widely spaced tables.

What to see: Look for well-known crowd-pleasers such as a three-story Egyptian tomb and 67 million-year-old Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found. A new special exhibition, “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors,” features war shields, beadwork and more from this Northern Plains tribe often known as the Crow (the exhibition runs through July 18, 2021).

Admission fee: $26 for adults, $23 for visitors age 65 and up.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral, Florida

What to expect: Hours have been reduced to 10 a.m.-4 p.m. to provide time for cleaning and sanitizing the complex. Staff will take your temperature: If it’s 100.4 or higher, you can’t enter. Theaters and restaurants at the Florida complex are open. Buy timed tickets in advance online.

What to see: Stroll the outdoor Rocket Garden to view tall relics from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, then head inside to the Visitor Complex. Don’t miss the space shuttle Atlantis (actually, it’s impossible to miss). The massive spacecraft is tilted at a 43-degree angle to give it a zooming-through-space perspective. You can inspect the main rocket engines and much of the exterior up close.

Admission fee: $57 for adults.

Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

What to expect: Gallery rooms may be blocked if they’re full, restrooms have occupancy limits, and you can forget about renting an audio guide (though the museum’s American Wing Café will be open for sandwiches, salads and beverages). Staff will take your temperature before you enter. Buy timed tickets in advance online.

What to see: The museum’s 2 million pieces can seem overwhelming, but check out Washington Crossing the Delaware (the classic Emanuel Leutze painting that has appeared in countless high school history books) along with masterworks by Raphael, Rembrandt, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. Any visit to the Met should include a stop at the 2,000-year-old Egyptian Temple of Dendur.

Admission fee: $25 for adults, $17 for seniors.

National WWII Museum in New Orleans

What to expect: Visitors are encouraged to buy timed tickets online in advance. To prevent people from crossing paths, guests walk in one direction through galleries and leave through a designated exit. The museum also asks guests to take the stairs rather than elevators (unless you have a health issue).

What to see: Why is a World War II museum in New Orleans? The landing craft for every major amphibious assault, including D-Day, were manufactured in the Big Easy. The institution’s 250,000 artifacts cover the scope of the war, but be sure to watch Beyond All Boundaries, a 50-minute film narrated by Tom Hanks that you see and feel, from seat-shaking explosions to simulated snow.

Admission fee: $28.50 for adults, $24.50 for guests age 65 and older. Admission is free for WWII veterans. Beyond All Boundaries costs an additional $7.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland

What to expect: You must buy timed tickets in advance online. Guests should arrive 30 minutes before their entry time, and nurse trainees will check your temperature (if it’s over 100.4 degrees, you can’t enter). The downtown Cleveland museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but guests who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 can enter at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays.

What to see: Rock fans will dig the famous guitars and wild outfits, but the most fab costume may be John Lennon’s green Sgt. Pepper uniform. Other must-see stuff includes Elvis’ gold suit from his ’68 comeback special, David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” attire and the Sun Studios piano used for such key-banging hits as “Great Balls of Fire.”

Admission fee: $28 for adults, $25 for residents of northeast Ohio and first responders.

Planes on display in the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum

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Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Northern Virginia

What to expect: The National Air and Space Museum in D.C. remains closed, but this sprawling annex about a half hour’s drive away near Washington Dulles International Airport has reopened its doors to about 1,500 daily visitors. You’ll need a timed entry pass. Guided tours have been canceled, and the IMAX theater and simulator rides are closed.

What to see: As soon as you enter you’ll enjoy a dramatic view of a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest aircraft ever flown (it flew from New York to London in under two hours). The space shuttle Discovery and the Concorde are among the other winged highlights.

Admission fee: The museum is free, though you’ll pay a $10 parking fee.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 19. It's been updated to reflect new museum reopening details.

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