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  • Writer's pictureLes Heintz

Smithsonian to Reopen 7 Museums and The National Zoo in May

In another sign that we are turning the corner, The Smithsonian Institution is set to reopen a number of its most popular venues in time for summer travel. Yes, you can visit the Pandas!

By TravelAnne Staff Writers

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The weather is getting warmer. More people are being vaccinated. And now, in the latest sign of cultural life returning to the country, the Smithsonian announced recently that it will reopen eight of its Washington-area institutions, including the National Zoo, in May.

If you live in DC, or plan to visit, you’re this close to the return of in-person panda peeping at the National Zoo.

They won’t throw all their doors open at once. Here’s the schedule:

First to reopen will be the massive Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Dulles on May 5 — no surprise given the former airplane hangar’s huge footprint to be able to accommodate social distancing.

Four other museums — the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery — will reopen May 14.

The National Zoo will reopen May 21, along with the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History, both on the National Mall.

Timed-entry passes will be required for all the venues, including the zoo, through the Smithsonian's website or by calling 1-800-514-3849. A person can reserve up to six passes per day, and they're required either on printed paper or digitally on a mobile phone for all visitors, regardless of age. Zoo visitors wishing to drive and park must also pre-purchase a parking pass.

Entry passes for Udvar-Hazy are available now. Passes for the others will become available one week before their openings, the Smithsonian said.

In addition to timed entries, the institution is taking other safety measures. Face coverings are required for everyone over the age of 2. Cafes will not open inside individual museums, though the National Zoo’s restaurants and food trucks will be open. Hand-sanitizing stations have been placed throughout each museum and the zoo, which have all also established directional guides and one-ways paths.

In terms of special exhibits on display, Udvar-Hazy will reopen with a big one: Freedom 7, the Mercury capsule that carried Alan Shepard into space, will be on display there throughout the summer. Shepard was the first American in space in a trip that celebrates its 60th anniversary this May 5.

At the National Zoo, where visitors will no doubt be clamoring for a glimpse of new panda cub Xiao Qi Ji, Smithsonian officials will require separate timed-entry passes specifically for the panda habitat that will be available once visitors enter the zoo.

Smithsonian’s museums and the zoo have been closed since Nov. 23, their second closure since the pandemic began. The institution originally shut down all of its locations in March 2020 and reopened some in the summer and fall before rising Covid-19 case counts prompted the second shutdown.

Visitors will need to reserve free timed entry passes online for each location, which will be available beginning a week before an institution’s scheduled reopening. A Smithsonian spokeswoman said capacity will vary, but will start around 25 percent, and then increase when the Smithsonian believes it can safely accommodate more visitors.

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