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What’s New at D.C.’s Zoo and 7 Smithsonian Museums, Reopening in May? | Frommer's Bobbymartinez14 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What’s New at D.C.’s Zoo and 7 Smithsonian Museums, Reopening in May?

Next month, members of the public will get their first chance to see the new panda cub at Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo in all his adorable, bamboo-nibbling glory.

The zoo and seven other Smithsonian museums have set reopening dates in May following months of closure due to the pandemic. 

The move could give a much-needed boost to tourism in Washington, D.C., where visitor spending was down a whopping $5.3 billion from mid-March 2020 through January 2021 compared with the same period the year before, according to the Washington Post. A staggering 52% of hospitality workers lost their jobs.   

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The first Smithsonian facility to reopen will be the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, on Wednesday, May 5 (note that this is not the very popular National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall; that location remains closed for now). 

Then two clusters of museums will resume welcoming visitors on each of the following two Fridays.

On May 14, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the latter's Renwick Gallery will reopen.

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On May 21, the National Museum of American History, the D.C. location of the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Zoo will follow. 

Admission will be free at all of these places, as always, but each visitor must reserve a timed-entry pass for each location in advance. 

Reservations are currently open for the Udvar-Hazy Center. You can book passes for the other facilities starting a week before each is scheduled to reopen. 

Reserve passes online at si.edu/visit or call 800/514-3849, extension 1.

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Some museums will open with reduced hours and some exhibits and indoor spaces may be closed or operating at limited capacity. Check each museum's individual website for detailed info on what's available as well as Covid-19 safety procedures. 

All Smithsonian facilities not mentioned above, including the National Museum of Natural History, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the main location of the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, remain temporarily closed with no plans for reopening yet announced.

(Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

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Here's a quick look at what's new, ongoing, and upcoming at the Smithsonian outposts reopening in May.

National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Reopening date: May 5
Hours of operation: Daily 10am–5:30pm
What's new: To mark the 60th anniversary of the first U.S. human spaceflight—also on May 5—Alan Shepard's Mercury capsule, Freedom 7, will be on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center for the first time.

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Reopening date: May 14
Hours of operation: Wednesday–Sunday 11am–4pm

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Upcoming: An enormous exhibit on the Reconstruction Era is planned for September, according to Smithsonian magazine, to coincide with the museum's fifth anniversary.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery
Reopening date: May 14
Hours of operation: Wednesday–Sunday 11:30am–7pm
On display: The American Art Museum has landscape paintings inspired by 19th-century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (through July 11) and a vibrant display of 1960s Chicano graphics (through August 8). The National Portrait Gallery has pictures of First Ladies (through May 23) and photographs of women writers from the last 100 years (through January 23, 2022).

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Renwick Gallery
Reopening date: May 14
Hours of operation: Wednesday–Sunday 10am–5:30pm
On display: The Renwick Invitational (through August 15) features the work of artists who engage with the natural world.

National Museum of American History
Reopening date: May 21
Hours of operation: Friday–Tuesday 11am–4pm
What's new: One of the dresses worn by Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians has been added to the museum's extensive collection of pop culture memorabilia. 

National Museum of the American Indian
Reopening date: May 21

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Hours of operation: Wednesday–Sunday 11am–4pm
What's new: The National Native American Veterans Memorial pays tribute to Native peoples who have served in the U.S. military. Dedicated in November 2020, the memorial, an elevated stainless steel circle balanced on a carved stone drum in front of the museum, can be visited any time.

National Zoo
Reopening date: May 21
Hours of operation: Daily 8am–4pm
What's new: The zoo's newest panda cub, Xiao Qi Ji (pictured in a December photo at the top of this post), was born in August 2020 during a Covid-afflicted summer otherwise short on good news. Now zoo-goers will finally get the opportunity for limited in-person viewings with a separate (but also free) timed-entry pass available upon arrival at the zoo.  

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