Strategies for Visiting the Met

Ever since I started writing museum reviews, I’ve been debating whether to review the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Is it useful? Is it even possible to cover such a mammoth museum in a review of readable length? Obviously, I decided that the answer is a qualified yes. I’m going to give some details about the museum, followed by some strategies for visiting, but a full review would be an entire guidebook. Plus, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen even a fraction of what the museum has to offer despite many visits. This is definitely someplace you have to keep coming back to.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Fifth Avenue
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s main building on Fifth Avenue. Photo by Elisa Rolle (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Details

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is more than one museum; it’s three, to be specific. In addition to the Met’s main building on Fifth Avenue there’s also the Met Cloisters (for medieval art) and Met Breuer (for modern and contemporary art). I’ll only talk about the Met Fifth Avenue in this post.

The Met Fifth Avenue is located at 5th and 82nd in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It’s open seven days a week. Until very recently, the Met had pay-what-you-wish admission for everybody, but that’s all going to change on March 1, 2018. Basically, if you’re not a New York State resident, a child under twelve, or a student in the NY/NJ/PA area, you’ll have to pay $25 to visit the museum. This has been a controversial decision, but on the bright side, your ticket will be valid for all three Met buildings for three days.

The museum seems to take accessibility very seriously. If this is a concern for you, inquire beforehand by phone or on the website, because it seems like they can help you get wherever you want to go.

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The building has several dining areas. Some are more expensive than others, but none are cheap. If you decide to choose one, I recommend the American Wing Café. It has a nice selection of soups and sandwiches, and it opens out directly onto the American Wing Courtyard. This makes for such a pleasant atmosphere. The museum also has an extensive, two-story museum store. It has nice stuff, not junky souvenirs.

The Met main building is on Museum Mile, which is pretty far uptown. It takes at least three different subways to get there from Penn Station, and the bus situation isn’t any better. Travelling by cab or Uber takes awhile, too, because of traffic. So basically, plan lots of time if you’re arriving by train.

Sackler Wing Metropolitan Museum
The Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Sackler Wing. This is one of the museum’s most popular areas.

Strategies for Visiting

The Met Fifth Avenue is too large to see in a day. Accept this and use one or more of the following strategies:

  • Wander around and enjoy whatever you come across. The Met is so spectacular that you really can’t go wrong. Even the departments I’m not all that interested in are still fascinating here. The collection is world class, and the curatorial choices shows it off so well. The museum is set up in such as way that it’s nearly impossible not to meander from one department to the next, so you can see a lot of different stuff without even trying to.
  • Plan in advance what you’re going to see. Use the online museum map to help you. You might decide on a few departments or even specific works that are your top priorities.
  • Focus on the special exhibitions, which are always great. Unlike at many other major museums, they’re included in your regular admission price. The only downside is that popular exhibitions might be very crowded.
  • Take a tour. Many different options are available, and most are included in your admission price. A Museum Highlights tour takes place once an hour, and I also counted almost twenty more options on a recent Tuesday. These other options take about special exhibitions or specific topics. You can take highlights tours in English, Mandarin, French, Korean, German, Japanese, Spanish, or Portuguese. A small pamphlet called “What’s On”, available at any admission desk, details the tours available each day.
  • You can rent audio guides of permanent and special exhibitions. They cost $7.00 for adults, $6.00 for members, and $5.00 for kids under 12, but they provide information about thousands of objects. They’re available in ten different languages. Listen to a few samples online to decide if it’s for you. There’s also a Met app with information about the artwork.
  • Several independent companies also run tours. For example, Museum Hack offers “renegade tours”. Prices vary based on the tour. One tour I would definitely consider is EmptyMet, where you get to go through the museum before it opens for the day. These tours cost a pretty penny, but they seem to fill up quickly. Ticketing is run by an outside company, but unlike the other two, tours are given by museum staff.

As I’m sure you already realize, the Met is huge. If you go (and I hope you will), be prepared to do a lot of walking. Using a map is essential. The newest version indicates the easiest route from one wing to the next, with accessible alternatives as necessary. Also, look to the room numbers as landmarks and the signs directing you to the special exhibition galleries. The museum very popular amongst tourists and New Yorkers alike, but it rarely gets as crowded as, say, the Louvre in Paris. Only once have I ever had to wait in line to get in, and that was during Christmas break.

What are your favorite areas of the Met? What artwork do you most enjoy seeing there? Do you have any experience with the tours there? Let me know in the comments!

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