But after a rise in positive cases in November, the Smithsonian and National Gallery announced they would close again, likely through January. “We both expressed growing concern about the increased number of cases in the region and across the country and came to the conclusion that caution needed to prevail to protect our visitors and staff,” said National Gallery of Art Director Kaywin Feldman. Two private museums, Glenstone (in Potomac) and the Kreeger (on Foxhall Road), and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum followed.
Some museums, sculpture gardens and zoos across the area remain open, for now, with stringent social distancing precautions: “Thou shalt wear a face mask” is one of the Museum of the Bible’s “Covid Commandments,” while the Spy Museum provides a “spy gadget,” or stylus, for use with touch screens, elevator buttons and any other surface that might spread germs.
Remember to check websites and social media, as many 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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. 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.
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,” a Zoo spokesperson 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, a limit of 25 percent of capacity for indoor areas, such as the Giraffe House, 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 must reserve tickets for timed guided tours of the mansion, where only the first floor is open. 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. (The distillery is closed for the year, and will open in spring.) Capacity will be limited, so advance ticket purchase is recommended. Open daily. $10-$18. Ages 5 and younger free.
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. While other Smithsonian museums shuttered again, 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.
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.
This story was originally published June 26, 2020. It has been updated.