If you like museums even half as much as we do, the reopening of the Met is a very exciting development—it’s like seeing a good friend again after too long apart. But you should know that a trip to the museum will feel a little different these days. New rules and precautions aimed at safeguarding visitors kick in even before you get there.
We visited the Met on opening weekend to see the changes for ourselves, and because museums all over the world discussed safety protocols, you’re likely to encounter much of the same routine at any newly reopened museum. Here’s what to expect if you plan to visit the Met in 2020.
You must reserve tickets in advance. Simply choose an available date and hourly time slot to arrive, then buy your tickets. Alternatively, New York residents and students from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut can reserve a time to show up and buy pay-what-you-wish tickets in the Great Hall. You are not getting through the front door without a reservation of some kind.
While the Met is restricting capacity to 25%, you should still visit as early as possible, or on a weekday. On Sunday, we arrived for our 1 p.m. entry time to find substantial lines to get in, and they were even longer when we left.
The Usual Corona Precautions
Expect a temperature check at the door, hand sanitizer galore, social-distancing markers on the floor here and there, and mandatory mask-wearing at all times. Do not expect physical maps: The Met doesn’t want you touching things any more than necessary, so consider downloading the map before you visit.
To try to control the flow of traffic, the Met has restricted access to many of its smaller galleries and corridors. Expect to see a lot of signs telling you to keep to the right and to walk only one way, as in the gallery above. Other places, like the relatively narrow Egyptian galleries between the Great Hall and the Temple of Dendur, whole sections of the museum have been turned into one-way loops.
Speaking of the Temple of Dendur, you can no longer enter the temple itself. Tight spaces that don’t allow for social distancing have been roped off. Elevators are restricted to around two passengers, and most stairwells we saw were marked “One Way” as well. Chances are you’ll bump into a surprise dead end—we unknowingly tried to enter the Islamic Art galleries at the wrong end and were turned away—but it’s never more than a minor inconvenience.
You might think that with capacity severely restricted, the Met would feel empty and all yours. And you would be…half right. Certainly the Met was far less crowded than it would have been on a normal summer Sunday. Some galleries felt eerily deserted, and occasionally we had a whole room of paintings or sarcophagi to ourselves. And with the Temple of Dendur roped off, and thus less of a draw, a hush lingered over that grand, glassed-in space.
And Crowded Places
But much of the museum felt crowded enough that you could almost have forgotten that we’re living through a pandemic. While capacity might be restricted, most visitors in the museum still flocked to the most popular galleries. Places like the Roman Sculpture Court were full of guests, and your Van Goghs and Monets drew plenty of selfie-takers. Above, you can see no shortage of people in Gallery 800, including the long line on the right for the Met’s 150th anniversary exhibit, Making the Met.
Don’t Go Hungry
The Met’s cafés are closed except for bottled-water sales, water fountains are roped off, and the rooftop bar is shuttered. And the long lines to get in mean stepping outside for a quick bite at the halal cart is out of the question.
Return When You’re Ready
It really is good to have the Met back, with more museums to follow. (The Museum of Modern Art actually opened to the public a few days before the Met, but good luck getting a ticket.) Going anywhere right now, especially indoors, assumes a certain amount of risk. But you can still visit one of the greatest museums in the world as safely as possible, especially if you go early or on a weekday, and hit the most popular galleries before the crowd picks up. And if you’re not comfortable visiting yet, that’s OK too. The Met will be here when you’re ready.
Photo credits: All photos by Ryan Greene