The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a major impact on Washington’s cultural institutions, even as the region reopens. As attractions swing open the doors to their buildings and sculpture gardens, safety is obviously a concern, with stringent social distancing precautions: “Thou shalt wear a face mask” is one of the Museum of the Bible’s “Covid Commandments,” and the Smithsonian requires all visitors age 6 and older to wear face coverings at all times. The Spy Museum provides a “spy gadget,” or stylus, for use with touch screens, elevator buttons and any other surface that might spread germs. The National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden has designated entrance and exit gates to control crowd flow.
If you’re looking to get the kids out of the house for a few hours, or just spend an afternoon enjoying art in the open air, one of these museums or historic homes could be the answer. Remember to check websites and social media, as some attractions are operating with shortened hours, and not all exhibits may be open.
This list will be updated as more institutions announce their plans.
American Visionary Art Museum: The eccentric Baltimore museum, which champions the art of everyday people with more passion than training, reopened Sept. 25 after more than six months of closure. Capacity is limited to fifty percent, which means only 400 visitors per day can take advantage of the timed tickets. (Advance purchase is required.) All galleries are open, and a new exhibition called “The Science and Mystery of Sleep” — featuring “fantastical, handmade bedrooms created by three visionary artists as personal refuge” according to the museum — opens Oct. 10. Open Wednesday to Sunday. $9.95-$15.95.
Artechouse: Melding interactive art with cutting-edge technology, Artechouse is a much different experience than the museums a few blocks away on the Mall. Its latest exhibit, “Crystalline,” which opened Oct. 15, is an homage to Pantone 19-4052 Classic Blue, which the Pantone Color Institute dubbed 2020′s color of the year. Artechouse says this particular shade “brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit,” with the exhibit taking the form of “an exploration through an illusory, blue-hued castle.” Capacity is limited, and timed-admission tickets are required. Open daily. $17-$24; $5 discount for advance purchases.
B&O Railroad Museum: A museum known for hands-on activities, including actual train rides on the historic One Mile Express, might not be the first place you think of going right now, but Baltimore’s B&O Railroad Museum is working hard to keep the facility safe. Masks and social distancing are required, including limiting seating and arranging spacing on the train. The children’s area is “cleaned throughout the day and is deep-cleaned each night,” while high-touch areas are cleaned multiple times a day. Open daily. $12-$20.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum: If you’re planning a day trip to St. Michaels or the Eastern Shore, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum has reopened. There are some modifications — visitors can only enter the first floor of the restored 1879 lighthouse, and the interactive Sail the Seas exhibit is closed — but many of the attractions at the parklike museum, such as Waterman’s Wharf and the display of historic ships, is open as usual. Open daily. $4-$14. Ages 5 and younger free.
Glenstone: The much-buzzed-about Potomac art museum reopened as “an outdoor experience” in early June, with visitors allowed to stroll the 300 acres of grounds and admire sculptures by Richard Serra, Michael Heizer and Jeff Koons. The indoor Pavilions reopened July 23 with limited capacity and admissions staggered every 15 minutes. The Gallery and Environmental Center are closed, as are the dining areas. Open Thursday through Sunday. Free, reservations required. Tickets can be reserved up to three months in advance. A new batch of tickets is released at 10 a.m. on the first of the month. (For example, tickets for the month of January are released on Nov. 1.)
Hemphill Fine Arts: If you’ve dreamed of having a visual art space all to yourself, the new Hemphill Artworks gallery in Mount Vernon Square is the answer. Hemphill, which closed its Logan Circle gallery last year, is operating by appointment only, scheduling private visits for individuals and small groups. Open by appointment. Free.
Hillwood Estate and Gardens: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Northwest D.C. estate reopened to the public on June 27. Capacity will be limited to help with social distancing, so visitors are required to make separate timed-entry reservations for the 25-acre gardens, the mansion and exhibitions. (There’s no additional fee for admission to the mansion and exhibition.) Open Tuesday through Sunday. $5-$18. Ages 5 and younger free.
International Spy Museum: The museum, which moved to an expansive new building in L’Enfant Plaza last year, has reopened with a limited capacity and extra distancing. (The museum now recommends a minimum of two hours to explore.) Many of the interactive elements have been modified to reduce contact, but some elements are temporarily closed — including the sections in which visitors crawl through an air duct, and attempt to escape East Berlin by hiding in a Trabant. However, staff members have created alternatives in the space: The Trabant on display has a mannequin demonstrating the contortions needed to fit into a hidden space in the car. Open daily. $16.95-$24.95. Ages 6 and younger free.
The Kreeger Museum: The Kreeger, located off the beaten path on Foxhall Road NW, is one of the most beautiful museums in Washington. It contains a collection to match, including important Impressionists, Picassos and members of the Washington Color School, and displays of African, Asian and pre-Columbian art. For its reopening, the Kreeger is welcoming visitors to its galleries for four 50-minute timed-entry slots per day, beginning at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and limiting capacity to no more than 15 people per hour. When the 50 minutes are up, visitors are directed outside to the sculpture garden, which includes works of art along a wooded trail. Open Tuesday to Saturday. Suggested donation $10 adults, $8 students, military and seniors.
Museum of the Bible: Most of the interactive exhibits at the Museum of the Bible are open, as is the Milk and Honey Cafe. (The Virtual Reality Tour of the Lands of the Bible and the hands-on children’s area are closed.) Procedures to limit contact are in effect: Visitors will receive styluses to use with touch screens, and are asked to download museum maps to their phones instead of picking up paper copies. Advance tickets are recommended. Open daily. $9.99-$19.99. Ages 6 and younger free.
National Aquarium: Sharks, puffins and golden lion tamarins continue to delight generations of visitors at the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The aquarium reopened July 1 with new social distancing policies: Capacity is limited to 25 percent of the building’s occupancy, admission is by timed-entry tickets, and some exhibits, such as the touch pools, are temporarily closed. Visitors must wear masks and have their temperatures checked. Open daily. $29.95-$39.95. Ages 2 and younger free.
National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: While the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall remains closed, the much larger Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly reopened to the public on July 24. Some amenities, such as the Imax theater and the observation tower, will be closed for social distancing requirements, and portions of the museum are closed for repairs to the roof. Still, many highlights, such as the space shuttle Discovery, are on view as usual. Masks are required for visitors aged 6 and older. Free, timed-entry passes are required for entry, and can be reserved through the Smithsonian’s website up to 30 days in advance. Open daily. Admission is free; parking costs $10.
National Museum of African American History and Culture: It was tough to get passes to the National Museum of African American History and Culture before. It’s going to be even tougher now, as only 250 timed-entry tickets will be available each day. Free tickets can be reserved on the Smithsonian’s website up to 30 days in advance. For social distancing reasons, mask-wearing visitors will follow one-way paths through the museum, and some exhibits, including the segregated Southern Railway Car and Edisto Island Slave Cabin, will remain closed. Open Wednesday to Saturday. Free.
National Museum of American History: The Star Spangled Banner, the First Ladies’ gowns and the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” are back on display after the National Museum of American History reopened on Sept. 25. Most of the museum is open as usual, with only a few exhibitions, such as the hands-on Spark!Lab and Places of Invention, closed. (The full list of what’s open is on the museum website.) American History has different hours than some other Smithsonian Museums, open Friday to Tuesday instead of Wednesday to Sunday, which is worth remembering if you’re trying to visit several museums in the same day. Timed admission passes are required, and visitors will enter the museum on the Constitution Avenue side and exit onto the Mall. Open Friday to Tuesday. Free.
National Museum of the American Indian: One hundred visitors will be able to enter the National Museum of the American Indian every hour using required timed entry passes. Most exhibitions are open, with some one-way traffic to help with social distancing. Theaters and the vaunted Mitsitam Cafe are closed. Open Wednesday through Sunday. Free.
National Museum of Women in the Arts: A maximum of 200 people are allowed inside the National Museum of Women in the Arts, making this the perfect time to explore the museum’s collection of paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs. A new pop-up exhibition, “Return to Nature,” draws inspiration from “humankind’s yearning to experience the outside world, particularly after a period of confinement,” making it particularly relatable right now. New procedures include limiting the use of elevators to one family or group at a time, and moving all maps and guides, including the interactive “See for Yourself” cards, online. Tickets should be purchased in advance; Admission remains free on Community Days, held on the first and third Sundays of the month. Open daily. $8-$10; Ages 18 and younger admitted free.
National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum: The two museums share the historic Patent Office Building, so a single free timed-admission pass allows access to both collections. (Visitors must use the entrance at Eighth and G streets NW, as the F Street entrance is closed.) New exhibitions include “Her Story: A Century of Women Writers” at the Portrait Gallery, and “The Automobile and American Art” at American Art. One-way paths guide visitors around the building, and furniture has been removed from the Kogod Courtyard and the Luce Center to encourage social distancing. Shops and the cafe are closed. Open Wednesday to Sunday. Free.
Renwick Gallery: The lone Smithsonian museum that does not require timed-entry passes, the Renwick is home to the Smithsonian’s collection of decorative arts. The first floor of the museum is closed until Oct. 16 for the installation of the exhibit “Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020.” Open Wednesday to Sunday. Free.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest comprehensive art museums in the United States, and it has multiple attractions that will appeal to culture-starved Washingtonians. “Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities” draws on enormous statues, magnificent jewelry and other artifacts discovered by underwater archaeologists exploring two Egyptian cities that disappeared into the Mediterranean in the 8th Century. This is the touring exhibition’s only appearance on the East Coast. Meanwhile, the protests on Richmond’s Monument Avenue put the spotlight back on Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War,” a monumental equestrian sculpture of a young African American man wearing a hoodie and Nikes, modeled after the city’s statue of Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart. All of the VMFA’s permanent collection and sculpture garden are also open. Open daily. Free admission; special exhibition tickets $10-$20.
The Washington Monument: The Washington Monument, which reopened Oct. 1, is the only memorial on the Mall that requires advance tickets. Unfortunately, it’s not helpful for planners: Timed tickets are made available at 10 a.m. each day on recreation.gov, and are only good for visits on the following day. For example, if you want to visit on Oct. 15, you go online at 10 a.m. on Oct. 14 to pick a time slot. One ticket covers four people; if you have a group of six, you need two tickets. However, no more than eight people can ride together in the elevator to the top. Note that the monument is closed daily between 1 and 2 p.m. for cleaning, and the last tour begins at 4 p.m. Open daily. Free, with $1.50 reservation fee per ticket.
Ford’s Theatre: No audiences will watch actors perform on Ford’s Theatre’s stage any time soon, but the historic site, where John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln on April 9, 1865, began welcoming visitors for self-guided tours on Oct. 14. The museum displays the clothes Lincoln was wearing on the night of his death as well as Booth’s Derringer pistol, and examines Lincoln’s presidency. Visitors can also go into the historic theater to see the Presidential Box, where Lincoln was shot. The complex is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and timed tickets are made available each Friday for the following week. (For example, on Oct. 23, tickets are released for Oct. 28-Nov. 1.) Admission begins on the hour from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m.; the museum is closed for cleaning between 1 and 2. Open Wednesday through Sunday. $3.
Maryland Zoo: It’s hard to say who was more excited about the Maryland Zoo’s June reopening: the human visitors or the animals they’d come to see. “On the first day, the penguins were all lined up against the glass,” zoo spokeswoman Claire Aubel told the Baltimore Sun. “The chimps were lined up, too. I think visitors provide them a little entertainment.” Among the Zoo’s new precautions: Requiring timed-entry reservations to prevent overcrowding, closing indoor habitats, and mandating a one-way flow through the grounds. Open daily. $18-$22.
Mount Vernon: George Washington’s historic estate became one of the first major attractions to reopen in the Washington area on June 21, though, for now at least, social-distancing rules mean visitors can’t enter the mansion — it’s just too tight a squeeze for groups on the mandatory guided tours — or the distillery. Still, the family-friendly museum is open, minus the theaters and hands-on history area, and all 160 acres of the grounds are open, including the gardens, slave cabins, farming demonstrations and the first president’s tomb. Capacity will be limited, so advance ticket purchase is recommended. Open daily. $10-$18. Ages 5 and younger free.
National Gallery of Art: The National Gallery of Art became the first museum on the Mall to reopen to visitors on July 20. Only the ground floor of the West Building is open, which includes the temporary exhibition “True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780-1870.” Free, timed passes are required for entry; dates for the following week are released every Monday at 10 a.m. Open daily. Free.
National Zoo: Four months after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Zoo reopened on July 24. The Zoo has plenty of outdoor space for the 5,000 guests allowed daily, though social distancing may prevent some exhibits from reopening — the Zoo’s Giant Panda House is closed, though Tien Tien might be visible in his yard. Of the indoor areas, only the Elephant Outpost and the Great Ape House are open. Masks are required for visitors aged 6 and older. Free, timed-entry passes are required for entry, and can be reserved through the Smithsonian’s website up to 30 days in advance. Open daily. Admission is free. Parking at the Zoo costs $30 per vehicle, which includes six passes.
The Phillips Collection: America’s first modern art museum reopened to the public on Oct. 15, after seven months of closure. The Sant Building and the Goh Annex, which house the permanent collection, including Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” and selections from Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, will open Thursday through Sunday, while the Phillips house remains closed. Timed entry tickets for each week will be made available on Monday at 10 a.m. for members and at noon for the public. To keep visitors distanced, only six people can enter the museum every 15 minutes, and admission is capped at 150 people per day. Open Thursday through Sunday. Free admission through Nov. 1; tickets usually $12 per adult.
Outdoor areas only
Please note that access to facilities, such as restrooms and cafes, is limited. Check before going.
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden: After five months of closure, the Hirshhorn’s sunken Sculpture Garden reopened on the Mall on Aug. 17. Two new works have joined more than 30 pieces already on display: “We Come in Peace,” a female figure with five faces that stands more than 12-feet-tall by Huma Bhabha — whose title references the 1951 sci-fi film “The Day the Earth Stood Still” — and Sterling Ruby’s “Double Candle,” a pair of monumental bronze candles. As with the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden on the other side of the Mall, the Hirshhorn’s garden will be open daily, subject to capacity limits, and masks must be worn by all visitors aged 6 and older. The museum’s plaza and interior remain closed. Open daily. Free.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens: One of Washington’s outdoor treasures reopened the week of June 22: a large collection of water gardens and marshland known for seasonal displays of lotuses and waterlilies. As with many parks, portions of the Aquatic Gardens are closed to limit social distancing, including the popular boardwalk, and the restrooms are unavailable. But the river walk and other trails are open, and photo opportunities abound. Open daily. Free.
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden: The National Gallery’s beloved sculpture garden on the Mall reopened on June 20 as the first phase of the museum’s reopening. There are shorter hours (11 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily), limited capacity (a maximum of 271 visitors) and a new traffic flow, but those are minor inconveniences when you just want to enjoy the enormous central fountain and art by Tony Smith, Barry Flanagan and Louise Bourgeois. Open daily. Free.
Tudor Place: This grand house, on a five-acre Georgetown hilltop, was designed by William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, for Martha Washington’s granddaughter, and completed in 1816. It has been a museum since the 1980s, but the gardens — a place of respite with circular boxwood hedges, a profusion of roses and old tulip poplar trees dotting a landscaped “natural” lawn — have become the real destination for those who live or work in the neighborhood. Tudor Place reopens its gardens to the public on Aug. 6 with free, timed tickets that allow entry for up to two hours. Self-guided tours are available, and picnics are welcome. Open Thursday through Sunday. Free; donations accepted.
U.S. National Arboretum: After two reopening periods with limited hours, the Arboretum’s 446 acres of gardens, trees and trails are now open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some attractions, such as the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum and the Visitors Center, remain closed. Open daily. Free.
William Paca House: William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and three-term governor of Maryland, lived in this prominent Annapolis home from 1765 to 1780. The walled garden, which has been restored to closely match the original design, includes a picturesque bridge. The mansion is closed, but the garden is open three days per week for self-guided tours, while docents lead themed tours at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (For social-distancing purposes, tours are limited to six people, so advance reservations are required.) Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. $5-$10.
This story was originally published June 26, 2020. It has been updated.