The Metropolitan Museum of Art isn’t called the world’s greatest museum for nothing. If you’ve never taken your kids to see its treasure troves, don’t wait another week.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, aka the Met, is one of the most popular museums in a city of great museums. But it doesn’t have the most child-friendly rep. And that’s just not fair. I took a recent trip there with notoriously tough museum critics: sixth graders. Here’s why this renowned tourist stop should be a must-see for your family, too.
A person could get lost in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, literally as well as figuratively. The place is huge, with multi-levels, twisting hallways, and ornate staircases. Where else can you see a 3,000-year-old alabaster winged lion from Mesopotamia, a 1950s Balenciaga gown, and the famous 1851 painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware? Arguably second only to the Louvre in Paris for its extensive collection of masterpieces, it can be a lot to take in, especially with kids in tow. Go with a game plan that includes frequent breaks, hitting the kid-friendliest highlights first, and, for younger children, splitting your visit up over two days.
Standby Faves for Kids
A Book-Based Tour
Two kid lit classics, The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, are set in the Met. While some of the original works mentioned in the volumes are no longer part of the Met’s collection, there is still plenty they’ll recognize. So much so, the museum has free guides to self-guided tours for fans of the novels to download.
The Egyptian Art Wing
You’ll want to get this perennial kid pick out of the way early, and that’s easy to do. If you go in the main entrance on 82nd Street, the gallery starts right past the ticket booths. It begins with the maze-like Tomb of Perneb, which starts your outing off with a bang. Hey, it’s not every day you get to walk through an ancient tomb and make it out, well, alive! Continue past mummy after mummy, of varying ages, genders, and social classes. If your kid is known to race past exhibits, you can be pretty sure that’ll end today. The history of people who found their final resting places at the Met is pretty fascinating to kids, especially since some of them were kids themselves. (“Yes, there really is a person inside there. Yes, really!”)
Budding fashionistas will spend a few minutes gazing wistfully at the jewelry exhibits. One case had enough solid gold, from bangles to necklaces to hoop earrings, to put the Kardashians to shame. You’ll find lots of statues along the way that make for great photo opps (just don’t touch them as you pose).
You’ll finally wind up at the Temple of Dendur, a life-size monolith alongside a huge reflecting pool in the soaring glass-walled Sackler Wing. Show the kids the graffiti on the temple’s Aeolian sandstone walls. Yes, graffiti, most of it from European travelers of the 18th and 19th centuries. See if you can find “Leonardo 1820.”
The Roof Garden
On the Fifth Floor, in Gallery 926, you’ll find an exhibition featuring the work of one living artist. It changes annually, and is installed from spring to late fall. The open-air setting gives you views of the skyline and Central Park. It has elevator access from the first floor.
The Period Rooms in the American Wing
Three floors of furnished rooms, from bedrooms to dining rooms to studies, circa the 17th to early 20th centuries, go hi-tech with the addition of oversized touch screens. Kids get pulled into imagining what it would have been like to have a room like that if they’d been born in the Victorian era, say. Then they can head to the screen and watch the components of the room break out one by one. So if none of you is sure what that thing in the corner that sort of looks like a toilet brush is, the answer is just a swipe away. To get to the period rooms, you’ll need to walk through a bright and airy indoor sculpture garden, a perfect place to sit and take a break. Don’t miss the trio of bears, so big they attracted a gaggle of wee gawkers.
The second floor galleries, rife with Romanticism and Post-impressionism, may not seem like an obvious must-go with the kids. But tucked away in the back of the early-20th century room is a nice-sized collection of Picasso paintings. This area seemed to draw an inordinate number of kids. Maybe because these works looked more like paintings they’d make than anything else in the museum? There was definitely an air of “Maybe I can be famous too!” afoot. We all played a rousing game of “What do you think it is?” That’s time well spent.
The Crypt Gallery
The heavily-traveled Great Stairs are one of the most-photographed features of the museum. But few visitors explore the so-called Crypt Gallery tucked away under the staircase. Until recently, it was a storage area, but now brick archways and rough-hewn granite surround works in gold, ivory, and stone from the Byzantine period in Egypt. This little spot doesn’t see much foot traffic, and kids will like pretending they’re Indiana Jones—once you explain who that is!
Ambrym Slit Gong
The galleries of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas aren’t necessarily what tourists flock to. But they have some pretty amazing holdings, among them a slit gong from the Pacific island of Vanuatu. At 14 feet high, it’s carved from a breadfruit tree and is one of the largest freestanding musical instruments in the world. The slit represents the mouth of ancestors.
“Madonna and Child” by Duccio di Buoninsegna
Older kids tend to think in terms of money. One of my charges wanted to know how much it would cost to buy everything in the museum. That I can’t answer, but if your kid asks to see the most expensive thing in the museum, it’s a little painting. Don’t be fooled by its size (11 x 8-3/4 inches including the frame, which shows burn marks from worshipers’ candles). Dating to the 1300s, the museum paid $45 million for it.
Know Before You Go
The museum has fairly strict security policies. No backpacks are allowed in; they will need to be relinquished at coat check. So while your kid may look adorable toting that Dora knapsack, best to just leave it at home. Using writing instruments of any type is prohibited in the exhibit halls, as is eating and drinking. Still photography, without a tripod or flash, is OK, but videos aren’t. So if your child is going with the intent to parlay the visit into a school project, he’s going to have to do it without sketching or taking notes.
Strollers are permitted in most areas, but double and jogging strollers are prohibited.
While the museum has four spots to nosh, the one best suited to kids is the cafeteria behind the Medieval Hall on the first floor.
Does the museum seem overwhelming, even with our cheat sheet? If you’re still not quite sure where to begin, consider a guided tour. They’re free! And since they can be done one-on-one with your family, you know the guide will keep it at a kid-friendly level.
What about the Cloisters?
The Cloisters Museum and Gardens is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, housed in a French monastery in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. A ticket to the main branch gets you into the Cloisters on the same day, and vice versa. Given the distance, though, it would be a pretty exhausting effort to do both.
Should you take the kids? Not unless they’re into religious artwork. Yes, the exhibits are inspiring, and the grounds are gorgeous. But even perfect weather, vibrant flowers, and a view of the Hudson couldn’t keep my tweens from fussing. The highlight of their day was spotting a groundhog on the walk back to the subway station. The Cloisters are for sure worth a visit…just make it a grown-ups only outing. And when you do go, a tip: the walk from the Cloisters back to the A train is uphill. Do yourself a favor and take the M4 bus (it stops right at the exit) one stop back to the 190th Street station.
1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan
A pay-what-you-wish policy is in place. Recommended admission, though, is $25; $17 for seniors; $12 for students; Free for younger than 12 with an adult.
Sunday–Thursday 10am–5:30pm; Friday and Saturday 10am–9pm. Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1, and the first Monday in May.