But after a rise in positive cases in November, the Smithsonian and National Gallery announced they would close again. The Kreeger Museum (on Foxhall Road), and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum followed. Neither has announced when visitors might return.
As spring approaches, however, there are signs that museums are coming back to life. The International Spy Museum and the Museum of the Bible reopened in January. The National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden reopened on Valentine’s Day. The first week of March brings the reopening of Hillwood’s gardens and mansion (March 2), the National Museum of Women in the Arts (March 3), the 300 acres of outdoor trails and art at Glenstone (March 4) and the return of the Phillips Collection (March 6), which is marking its centennial in 2021.
Whether visiting an indoor museum or an outdoor exhibition, social distancing and other precautions are of paramount importance. Remember to check websites and social media, as many attractions are operating with shortened hours, and not all exhibits may be open. “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.
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 twenty-five percent, and purchase of advance timed tickets is required. All galleries are open, including “The Science and Mystery of Sleep,” an exhibition featuring “fantastical, handmade bedrooms created by three visionary artists as personal refuge” according to the museum, which opened in October. 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. New installation “Renewal 2121″ opens March 12, and places visitors a century into the future, “in an industrial city where nature fights to survive amid an overdeveloped metropolis.” Capacity is limited, and timed-admission tickets are required. Open daily. $17-$24; discounts available opening weekend.
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.
Hillwood Estate and Gardens: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Northwest D.C. estate reopened to the public on March 2. Capacity is 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, but anyone who doesn’t make an advanced mansion reservation will not be allowed to enter the building.) No in-person tours are offered at this time, so download the Hillwood app for guided tours of the mansion and gardens before a visit. 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 in 2019, reopened Jan. 23 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 on weekends and holidays in January and February, and plans to resume daily operations in March. $16.95-$24.95. Ages 6 and younger free.
Museum of the Bible: The Museum of the Bible reopened on Jan. 29. Procedures to limit contact and encourage social distancing have been in effect since the museum initially reopened in June: Most of the interactive exhibits have remained open, along with the Milk and Honey Cafe, while the Virtual Reality Tour of the Lands of the Bible and the hands-on children’s area are closed. Visitors 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: The museum, which has been closed since December, reopens March 3 for in-person visits and the debut of “Sonya Clark: Tatter, Bristle, and Mend,” a retrospective looking at the artist’s quarter-century of creating mixed-media works. However, it will keep a mix of virtual and in-person programming throughout Women’s History Month. Sunday, March 7, is the first Community Day of 2021, with free admission for all visitors, but the International Women’s Day festival on March 8 will be held virtually. Open daily. $8-$10; Ages 18 and younger admitted free.
The Phillips Collection: America’s first modern art museum reopens March 6, along with “Seeing Differently,” a centennial exhibition drawing from the permanent collection. Timed tickets for the upcoming week will become available each 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. Free admission is offered for a limited time as part of a “Special Reopening Promotion.” Open Thursday through Sunday. Free admission available; regular admission $10-$16.
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 in June 2020. Social-distancing rules mean visitors must reserve tickets for timed guided tours of the first floor of the mansion, and the upper floors remain closed. Still, the family-friendly museum is open, minus the theaters and hands-on history area, and all 160 acres of the grounds are accessible, including the gardens, slave cabins, farming demonstrations and the first president’s tomb. (The distillery is closed, and will open in spring.) Capacity is limited, so advance ticket purchase is recommended. Open daily. $10-$18. Ages 5 and younger free.
Workhouse Arts Center: The sprawling campus, formerly the Lorton Correctional Complex, is home to artist studios and hosts special events, including drive-in movies and comedy. The Lucy Burns Museum, which opened in early 2020, tells the stories of the suffragists who were sent here after being arrested for picketing and protesting at the White House in 1917. The brutal treatment they suffered, including assaults by guards on what became known as “The Night of Terror,” shocked the public. Exhibitions also discuss the site’s later years as a prison. The museum is open Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m., while studios are open from noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Free.
Outdoor areas only
Please note that access to facilities, such as restrooms and cafes, is limited. Check before going.
Anacostia Community Museum: With Smithsonian museums closed due to the coronavirus, the Anacostia Community Museum was forced to reimagine its planned “Men of Change” exhibition. Instead of an indoor gallery with original art depicting Romare Bearden, Muhammed Ali and other Black trailblazers, “Men of Change” has moved to the great outdoors, with large, thematic mounted displays on streets and walkways around the Deanwood Recreation Center and Ron Brown High School. With in-person tours off the table, the museum has planned a series of virtual programs, as well as a self-guided audio tour of the exhibit, which includes voices of Ron Brown students. Through May 31. Free.
Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center: It’s not often that a walk in the woods leads to a modern sculpture by Jules Olitski, Minoru Niizuma or Gerhard Marcks, but that’s what makes the Annmarie Sculpture Garden in Solomons, Md., one of the area’s most engaging art experiences. Visitors to the 30-acre sculpture garden follow trails winding past clearings and under the trees. Sometimes the art is next to the path, and sometimes it’s first seen from a distance. With areas for children, including a riverside playhouse; plant displays; and a separate “Women’s Walk” looking at bronze female forms, this is a garden that appeals to many different audiences. Family art classes have temporarily moved outside, while other art classes and events are now held virtually. Open daily. Suggested donation $5.
Glenstone: The much-buzzed-about Potomac art museum reopens as “an outdoor experience” on March 4, with visitors allowed to stroll the 300 acres of grounds and admire sculptures by Richard Serra, Michael Heizer and Jeff Koons, among other contemporary artists. The indoor Pavilions, Gallery and Environmental Center remain closed, as does the indoor dining area. Tickets for visits in March and April were made available on Monday, Feb. 15, and are now full. Open Thursday through Sunday. Free, reservations required. Tickets can be reserved up to one month in advance, with a new batch of tickets released at 10 a.m. on the first of the month. (For example, tickets for the month of May are released on April 1.)
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: Known for the summer display of lotuses and waterlilies, this large collection of water gardens and marshland is one of Washington’s outdoor treasures throughout the year. As with many parks, portions of the Aquatic Gardens are closed to encourage social distancing, 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 Feb. 14, while the Gallery’s East and West buildings remain closed. 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 fresh air and art by Tony Smith, Barry Flanagan and Louise Bourgeois. The Pavilion Cafe serves snacks, coffee, beer and wine. Open daily. Free.
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