When New York entered lockdown in mid-March, I began making a list of things I could hear from outside my apartment in Queens.
In March and April, the sounds of sirens heading to nearby Elmhurst Hospital were a constant, overwhelming presence, only broken up by the roar of drag racers taking advantage of the lack of traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. As spring progressed, police helicopters buzzed overhead day and night while the month leading up to July 4 brought a barrage of illegal fireworks that went off until well past midnight.
So when I heard saxophone music drift up from Central Park to the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art during my visit on reopening day—Saturday, August 29—it felt like the city had finally made it past the worst. Even with a slew of new safety protocols in place, going back to the Met and enjoying art in person with other New Yorkers felt like the first normal thing I’ve done in months.
If you’re also planning a visit to the newly reopened Met, here’s what to know before you go.
You’ll need to reserve tickets in advance online
In order to reopen safely, the Met has implemented several state-mandated safety protocols. It now requires timed-entry tickets and the venue will be capped at 25 percent capacity. Unlike before COVID-19, all tickets must be either reserved or purchased online before visiting. Tickets can be purchased at metmuseum.org/admissions and are $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, $12 for students, and free for children under the age of 12. Pay-what-you-wish tickets remain available for New York State residents and NY, NJ, and CT students, but you still have to reserve a time slot at metmuseum.org/reservation before visiting. The Met is now open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Monday, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Yes, you’ll need to wear a face mask
In addition to having your temperature taken by a no-contact thermometer, everyone over the age of two is required to wear a face covering before being allowed to enter the museum. In the gallery of 19th- and 20th-century European paintings, I saw one man slip his mask off to take a sip from his water bottle while seated on a bench. Within a few seconds, a museum guard approached him to remind him of the policy and stood there until he masked up again. Otherwise, everyone I saw complied with the masking policy and made no fuss—even the toddlers.
Head straight to the new exhibitions to avoid waiting in lines
At 25 percent capacity, the museum feels significantly less crowded (like “being in a room of Picassos with just one other person” empty). But six feet of distance is hard to maintain in the most popular parts of the museum, so guards are capping capacity for certain exhibits. To avoid waiting in lines, aim to get tickets for when the museum opens. When I went on opening day, I made a beeline through the Greek and Roman Antiquities hall (immediately turn left if you’re coming through the main entrance) back to the Modern Art wing to see the Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle exhibit featuring the little-seen series of paintings by the American modernist; there were less than a dozen other people in the room.
By the time I returned to the elevators that take you up to the roof garden, a short line had accumulated since they’re limiting the number of people in each elevator. After waiting less than five minutes, I got in along with one couple and the elevator operator (with everyone standing on a circular red sticker in each corner to maximize the space between us). While the rooftop bar won’t open this season, Héctor Zamora’s Lattice Detour—a curved wall made from perforated terra-cotta bricks—will be there through December 7, 2020.
You can only take the elevators up; guests are asked to take the stairs down from the roof to keep the flow of people moving in one direction. From there I walked down to the second floor and entered the museum’s 150th anniversary exhibit—Making The Met, 1870–2020—without having to stand in the long line of people that had accumulated by the time I walked out about 45 minutes later. If you like audio guides, you can queue up one narrated by Steve Martin on your phone that will walk you through the masterpieces in this exhibit, from an ancient Egyptian statue of Hatshepsut to John Singer Sargent’s Madame X to Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Green Red.
Despite slight crowding of visitors around some of the works in the anniversary exhibit, the rest of the museum felt entirely crowd-free thanks in part to signs asking people to only go one way through galleries. Guards were slightly more lax about the one-way flow of traffic in the 19th- and 20th-century European paintings gallery, but I witnessed others in the Egyptian and Asian Art wings make guests turn around and go with the correct flow of traffic.
Overall, it felt safe
In some ways it felt wild to be indoors with other people—indoor dining, theaters, and other forms of entertainment have yet to open again in New York, and I’ve limited my social interactions with my friends to outdoor picnics in parks around the city this summer. But with everyone being good about following the new safety rules, I was able to relax and enjoy myself. In some ways, this felt like the closest I’ve come to a normal travel experience in months despite not leaving the city since February. Even though I can’t fly to France at the moment, standing in front of Monet’s Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies reminded me of visiting the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, while walking around the Temple of Dendur was almost like exploring ancient sites in Egypt—just with air-conditioning this time around.
How to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Keep in mind that travelers entering New York from a long list of states are still being asked to quarantine for 14 days; signs outside the museum remind visitors of this rule. Subway trains and buses are currently operating in NYC, but if you’d still rather not risk public transportation, finding street parking near the Metropolitan Museum of Art can be tricky but not impossible. However, the Metropolitan Museum of Art does have its own parking garage, located on the far left of the museum at Fifth Avenue and 80th Street. Parking starts at $23 for up to one hour.
Bicyclists can also take advantage of free bike valet parking located at Fifth Avenue near 83rd Street available in the afternoons from now until September 27, 2020. When I arrived just before 10 a.m. on opening day, the bike valet station had not been set up yet, so I locked my bike up in the free racks located in the parking garage. An added bonus? I discovered I was able to skip the massive line in front of the museum by going through the entrance located in the parking garage.