December 4, 2023

When you live in DC you are so close to the return of the personal panda peeping at the National Zoo.

The weather is getting warmer. More people are being vaccinated. And now, in the final sign of the return of cultural life to the country, the Smithsonian announced on Friday that it will reopen eight of its Washington area facilities, including the National Zoo, over the next month.

However, they won’t all open their doors at once. The National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia opens on Wednesday, May 5th. This is followed by the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery on Friday, May 14th. The final wave will include the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Zoo on Friday, May 21st.

Visitors must reserve free time-controlled tickets online for each location, which will be available one week before an institution is scheduled to reopen. A Smithsonian spokeswoman said capacity will vary, but will start at 25 percent and then increase as Smithsonian believes more visitors can be safely accommodated.

Additional precautionary measures are also being taken: the museums and zoo require face covers for everyone aged 2 and over, some locations are shortening their opening hours and museum cafes will remain closed.

All other Smithsonian museums will be temporarily closed. The National Natural History Museum and National Air and Space Museum will reopen this summer, a spokeswoman said.

Exciting things await you at some of the soon-to-be-opened institutions: At the Udvar-Hazy Center, Alan Shepard’s Mercury capsule Freedom 7 will fly into space for the first time on the 60th anniversary of the first American exhibited there. And at the National Zoo, visitors can meet the newest panda cub, Xiao Qi Ji, for the first time.

The Smithsonian reopened the same eight facilities in phases between July and October last year, only to close them again in November as coronavirus cases increased across the country. Aside from these eight, all Smithsonian museums have been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic.

The New York Smithsonian Museums, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and the National Museum of the George Gustav Heye Native American Center have been closed to the public since March 14th last year.

But it may not be long before New York institutions return: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that the state’s museums and zoos could be at 50 percent capacity by April 26. Since August they have been allowed to open with 25 percent capacity.