Josie Ortega reports from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world’s best museums, with kids in tow.
Museum With Kids Strategy
I actually do enjoy taking my kids to museums. Since we live fairly close to many of the free-of-charge Smithsonian Museums in DC, choosing a museum destination makes a nice morning outing. We drive in to find street parking after rush hour when the museums open at 10 am. See one exhibit that we chose ahead of time; anything more is a bonus. Picnic lunch. Head home for a good nap.
By the way, my best friend would rather die than do what I just described. You don’t have to be like me!
On a recent New York City trip, our family decided to hit the big one: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although I’ve been to NYC many times and we regularly visit family there, this was my first time in The Met.
We modified my usual museum-with-kids methodology, which pretty much boils down to: see one thing and then get snacks. That’s a good option for New York residents, who can choose what to pay at The Met. They can visit a favorite Pharaoh then hit Central Park, and come back next week for more!
As out-of-towners, we bought tickets for the adults and wanted to make the most of it. There’s so much to see!
Here are a few takeaways from our visit to help you plan a family field trip when you visit New York:
Kids Books About The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Having some context will make the experience much more fun for kids. My five-year-old was psyched as soon as she saw the fountains and the front steps outside because of this book:
You Can’t Take a Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum features only illustrations, and highlights some of The Met’s most famous works. It’s super charming.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a classic that I loved as a kid, about a brother and sister running away and staying at The Met. It’s a good one for your elementary-aged chapter book readers or a family read-aloud.
Your books and research will provide the background info needed for your next step:
Everyone gets to choose something to see at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This way, all family members will be sure to see their favorite art, or at least something that interests them. On the flipside, everyone will be forced to check out something they wouldn’t otherwise. Taking turns like this also provides structure and direction to your museum visit. As you map out the route to the next person’s choice, you’ll be able to stop and marvel at whatever interesting things you see along the way. Bonus!
My kids chose:
- The Temple of Dendur (Very cool, but to tell you the truth, I was more excited to recognize it as a location in When Harry Met Sally!)
- Degas’ ballerina paintings
- Arms and Armor
A bonus that we discovered: the Astor Chinese Garden Court with its mesmerizing koi pond offered a few moments of tranquility.
Don’t touch the art.
Just be prepared, especially if most of your museum experiences have been children’s museums or other more interactive exhibits. These are priceless works of art. LOOK WITH YOUR EYES.
There are other rules that are appropriate for one of the world’s best museums: walk, don’t run. No food in galleries.
You can take pictures without the flash, which could be a good kid challenge.
Do bring sketchbooks!
Kids are free at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
If your kid can’t help but continue to lunge at all the statues and you’re sweating profusely as guards give you the evil eye—or you’re facing any number of other exhausting and demoralizing parenting situations, feel free to call it a day.
You can come and go.
Keep your receipt! You’re able to use the adult tickets you purchased for three consecutive days. You may leave and return that same day with your sticker on, or you can get a fresh sticker from the Information Desk. Get some fresh air and hit the playground!
Depending on available childcare, you might enjoy a museum outing with the kids in the morning or the afternoon, then return for an adults-only evening trip while another lucky family member or babysitter handles kid bedtime. The Met closes at 9 pm.
Sample Itinerary for the Metropolitan Museum of Art
If I could chart a day to try to take full advantage of what The Met offers, here’s what I might do:
- Bagel breakfast. (Eat whatever you want. But it’s New York!)
- Take the subway to The Met. Just be warned that taking a train might be your kid’s favorite part of the day.
- If you’re early—because we get up no matter what, even on vacation—play at the Ancient Playground right next door to The Met, inspired by the Egyptian wing.
- Museum at 10.
- Ancient Playground at lunchtime (or, if you already visited that playground, explore another part of Central Park). A heroic family member can pick up lunch for the group, or, it’s a great time for Uber Eats or Door Dash.
- In our case, my mother-in-law took the younger kids home for a nap at this point, while the rest of our crew went back to the museum.
- Explore one section or exhibit.
- Grab a coffee in the museum bookshop or one of The Met’s cafes. No rush!
- Explore some more.
- Finish up with a drink on the rooftop bar, with perfect views and NYC photo ops. (If this is your plan, buy drink tickets when you purchase museum tickets at the kiosk, and you’ll save several buckeroos.)
- Rendezvous with the whole family in Little Italy. (Or great dinner restaurant of your choice.)
- Show and tell: Let everyone name their favorite and least favorite piece of art. Show any sketches or photojournalism from your visit.
You’ve injected your family with a strong dose of culture from many civilizations across history and geography!
Following the intense museum day, you and your young art critics can enjoy a lazy day with no agenda but to tour NYC playgrounds—and to eat bagels for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and pasta for dinner. Just theoretically.