All of the sites will require free timed-entry passes.


Visitors will once again be able to catch a glimpse of panda cub Xiao Qi Ji, as Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian announced the May reopening of seven of its museums, as well as its National Zoo, where the famous baby animal lives.

Enhanced safety measures will be enforced, including mandatory masks for everyone ages two or older. Visitors must obtain a free timed-entry pass in advance in order to limit capacity and ensure physical distancing, the Smithsonian said in a release. The passes can be presented on a mobile device or as a printout, and each person may reserve up to six per day for each location. Visitors of all ages will need their own pass. Cafes, tours, and events will remain closed, as will certain exhibits and spaces, as detailed on each museum's site.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture
Credit: Alan Karchmer

The first to open will be the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located in nearby Chantilly, Virginia. The venue will welcome back visitors on May 5, which also happens to be the 60th anniversary of the United States' first human spaceflight by Alan Shepard. The Mercury capsule, called Freedom 7, is set to make its debut at the location and remain on display through most of the summer. The center will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

On May 4, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will reopen, welcoming visitors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery will also reopen on the same day, inviting guests to visit from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays. (The Renwick Gallery, located inside the Smithsonian American Art Museum, will be open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on those days.)

Finally, on May 21, three more museums will reopen: the National Museum of American History (from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays through Tuesdays ), the D.C. location of the National Museum of the American Indian (from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays), and the National Zoo (daily from 8 am. to 4 p.m.) Those who are driving to the zoo will need to purchase a parking ticket ahead of time.

An additional free timed-entry pass will be required to see one of the National Zoo's main attractions, the Asia Trail exhibit and its giant pandas. Those passes will be released throughout the day on site, but the Smithsonian is also managing expectations with COVID-19 restrictions in place. "Xiao Qi Ji is still young and sleeps a lot during the day," the release warns, adding that the cuddly cub can be better seen virtually on the zoo's live Giant Panda Cam.

As the pandemic hit last year, the Smithsonian closed all of its museums in March 2020. While a few reopened between July and October of last year, they all closed again on Nov. 23. The phased reopening of these museums in May marks a careful effort to ensure the safety of visitors; the remaining Smithsonian museums will stay closed until further notice.

According to data in The New York Times, the nation's capital is still at a "very high risk" of exposure to COVID-19, with 15 infections per 100,000 people in the last two weeks.