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How to Visit New York City Museums During COVID Times

Happily, New York City museums have begun to open. The protocols vary among them but the art and exhibitions are glorious.

Rediscovering the City's Museums

Once New York City museums began to open their doors, I seized upon the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with their many treasures. Some museums have yet to finalize their opening date and protocol, but the ones that are open invite you to enter with the intelligence and decorum that befit their esteemed establishments at any time. Reduced capacity makes visiting a real pleasure.

Timed entry is generally required for all. That means that you have to pay close attention to when you want to visit. The five museums that I visited require advance reservations. All require masks, and some conducted temperature checks at the entrance. 

The Metropolitan Museum

The grande dame of New York City art museums celebrates its 150th anniversary year with the "Making the Met: 1870-2020" exhibit. This "greatest hits" exhibit is like viewing the museum as a snapshot. If you're still a little skittish about being indoors with others, this is a great way to test the waters. The exhibit limits capacity at all times, and you can head directly up the grand staircase towards the exhibit and likely not encounter anyone else en route(Insider's Tip: become a Met member and you have special access through the ground level door and up via a direct elevator. It's worth the price – I was in and at the exhibit in less than five minutes.) 

If the exhibit whets your appetite for more, roam the other galleries which are wondrously (and a bit eerily) empty. Plan enough time to go to the Cantor Rooftop for the Lattice Detour exhibit by Héctor Zamora, a fascinating (and timely) interpretation of the concept of a wall. It's open-air and the elevator to reach it requires only a quick trip with capacity controlled by an attendant at all times.

The best way to view the Whitney museum and avoid the crowds is to start at the top floor and work your way down | WhereTraveler
Whitney Museumof American Art (©Meryl Pearlstein)

Whitney Museum of American Art

Timed entry is tightly controlled here, and you will get a temperature check before you enter. The best way to view this museum and avoid the crowds is to start at the top floor and work your way down. Take advantage of the outdoor patios on each floor and use the open-air steps connecting them. On each floor, the galleries are relatively empty except for what's currently "on" like the über-popular Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art Mexican. Don't miss the first-floor exhibit, hidden on the east side of the building. It changes frequently but is always thought-provoking. No one seems to know this gallery is there, so you're pretty much guaranteed uncrowded viewing and contemplation. Note that The Whitney books up its limited time slots very quickly.

The Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim's Countryside: The Future show was sadly postponed by the pandemic, and part of the outdoor portion was removed. The exhibit is still solid, though, and the museum capacity is limited by time. The museum makes it easy for you to know how to view safely. You can only head in one direction, and arrows indicate how to enter and exit a gallery. The arrows are also placed on staircases for exiting the museum after ascending the spiral. Should you not want to walk the stairs, the elevators are closely monitored. Another plus: many of the restrooms are single-person only.

The New York Historical Society repository of New York City-related collections and exhibits doesn't usually get crowded, with the exception of its special exhibits | WhereTraveler
New York Historical Society (©Meryl Pearlstein)

New-York Historical Society

This repository of New York City-related collections and exhibits doesn't usually get crowded, with the exception of its special exhibits. The current feature is about Bill Graham, the music promoter most responsible for the "Rock & Roll Revolution" begun in the 60s. You'll want to spend a fair amount of time here, reading about the rock concert scene's evolution in New York City and listening to the music tracks. You're handed an audio guide that's as contactless as it could be. No-touch is required to activate -- it turns on automatically when you approach an annotated part of the exhibit. Entry is timed, and the exhibit is limited to a maximum of 17 people at any one time. For a sense of what it's like to be back in a movie theater, the museum screens two films daily in a huge, vastly socially distanced setting. I felt comfortable watching the history of NYC film with seats all around me taped off and people respecting each other's space. The museum also has an outdoor area showing the borough-by-borough response to the pandemic through photography and poetry. Please don't miss it; it will lift your spirits.


Plan for both indoor and outdoor art time at MOMA with their smart timed entry system. The museum adds an extra layer of safety, as you must have a temperature scan before you can enter. The spacious galleries don't feel crowded and there's plenty to keep you busy and away from others as you explore. Permanent collections mix with feature exhibits like the re-opening Handles by Haegue Yang, a full-scale riot of color and shape. Escalators connect the floors, so it's easy to stay socially distanced as you travel around. For efficient navigation, start on the top floor and work your way down. Once on the ground floor, I suggest heading to the sub-gallery for the current installation. I'm convinced no one knows this part of the museum exists. Then, take the escalator up to the outdoor sculpture garden where scattered seating will allow you to chill and safely appreciate the return of museums in Manhattan.

 1870-2020" exhibit | WhereTraveler
The Metropolitan Museum Exterior (©Meryl Pearlstein)