The Met with Kids: Exploring NYC's Biggest Art Museum

Gaze at modern and ancient masterpieces at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Gaze at modern and ancient masterpieces at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One Friday afternoon, my son came home from kindergarten and announced that we must go to The Met over the weekend because he had to see the Renoirs. (His wonderful art teacher had introduced the class to Impressionist art.) I was overjoyed—and I had to laugh, too. Hey, maybe my husband and I were living up to the NYC parenting dream after all, if our 5-year-old was requesting weekend visits to The Met instead of his favorite playground!

If you're lucky enough to live down the road from a world-famous art museum, why shouldn't your whole family should take advantage, and explore it together? We've made countless trips to this irreplaceable cultural institution over the years. The anchor of NYC's Museum Mile, The Met is more than 2 million square feet and houses at least that many pieces in its collection, which date back more than 5,000 years—so, as any parent knows, it's impossible to really cover it all in one outing, or even several. Fortunately, admission is always "suggested," so you can visit as often as you like. And with the enticing Ancient Playground and all of Central Park right outside its doors, The Met is always worth the trip. Here are our top tips for visiting The Met with kids, including our favorite sections to explore, and hidden treasures.

Tips for Visiting The Met with Kids

Pace Yourself
The halls are vast, and tiny feet get tired quickly from traversing the marble floors. Set aside a couple of hours and focus on one or two halls, but when your kid gets tired, resist the urge to see just one more piece! You can always come back another day because there's always something new to explore, whether it's a special exhibition, a newly unveiled piece, or a completely different wing that you didn't get to that day.

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Bring your sketchpad and be an artist. 

Let Your Child Be Your Guide
While we set off with our kindergartner to see the Renoirs, we stumbled into the impressive Arms and Armor gallery first, and ended up spending most of that trip (and many others) exploring the knight's impressive shields, chest plates and weapons. Seeing the Renoirs was a rushed afterthought, but by following my son's lead, we discovered something new, and Arms and Armor is now a regular stop for us, no matter what else we're at The Met to see. 

Take Advantage of the Family-Friendly Programming
Check out The Met event calendar for family-friendly programs. There are regular toddler storytimes in the Nolen Library and after-school "Start with Art" programs introduce kids ages 3-6 to the various galleries and pieces through in-gallery story hours and sketching activities. Family tours are also available as are drop-in art workshops, and all are included with admission. Teens age 13-18 can also enjoy Teens Take the Met nights, and other age-specific programming. All family programs are included with admission, and kids ages 12 and younger are always FREE.

Residents of the tri-state area pay suggested admission at all times. The price you pay is up to you. Teens can also download the Teen Pass for free unlimited admission with a middle or high school ID.

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Check out the David H. Koch Plaza which runs along Fifth Avenue for four city blocks.

What to See at The Met with Kids

Once you're in the door, here are the can't-miss-with-kids sights you've got to see:

The American Wing: It took me years and several visits to find the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware painting here—and while it's definitely worth seeking out, it's not even our favorite piece in this part of the museum. My girls love gawking at the lavish interiors of the colonial homes recreated in the galleries at the northern end of The Charles Engelhard Court, which remind of us another favorite haunt, the Morris Jumel Mansion.

Toss pennies into the reflecting pool in the Ancient Egypt Wing.

Ancient Egypt Wing: This entire, light-drenched wing is spectacular. Kids will enjoy tossing pennies into the reflecting pool and exploring the imposing Temple of Dendur (look for the nineteenth-century graffiti carved into the walls by European tourists and soldiers). Impress them with the knowledge that The Met's vast collection of 26,000 objects is one of the most comprehensive in the world.

RELATED: Visiting The Met Cloisters with Kids

Get up close to knights' armor and other medieval weaponry in the Arms and Armor gallery.

Arms and Armor: This gallery of weapons, suits of armor, and jousting equipment is a favorite with my crew. Get an up-close view of the intricate designs that went into these pieces from medieval Europe and Asia.

Cantor Rooftop Garden: The Met's rooftop is a bit tricky to find, but worth the view once you're there. Take the elevator from the first floor near the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries to the fourth floor, and a separate elevator to the top. Not only will you find a rotating array of large-scale installations, there's also a stunning view of Central Park and greater New York.

Marvel at the Heavenly Bodies exhibition where fashion meets the Catholic imagination. 

The Costume Institute: Any budding fashionista has got to glimpse the gorgeous gowns on view here. The current Heavenly Bodies exhibition has dozens of hand-stitched, intricate pieces on display to marvel at.

The Little 14-Year-Old Dancer by Edgar Degas is an awe-inspiring sculpture.

European Paintings: The Met's collection is known the world over, and its list of artists is really too vast to list. Of course, my son will tell you can find the Renoirs here, but also the Monets, Manets, Van Goghs, Degas, Cézannes, Gauguins, and so many more masters. Bring a sketchbook, and find a favorite to spend a little time with. Whether you're an artist or not, join in on the drawing and see how your impression of the art differs from your kid's.

Islamic Art: This department houses an exquisite, tiled prayer nook, The Moroccan Court, which makes a beautiful spot for a quiet bit of relaxation if you need to recharge before you continue on. There are also beautiful examples of intricately detailed architecture, textiles, and more from throughout the Islamic world.

Medieval Art: The choir screen from the Valladolid cathedral of 1763 makes an imposing background to the displays held in this hall. We're particularly fond of visiting during the holidays, when the "angel tree" is set up in front of it. With daily lightings, it's a sight to behold.

Modern and Contemporary Art: Large lines, bright colors, abstract shapes: These galleries are what a preschooler's dreams are made of.

Musical Instruments: Sad but true: I had never visited this collection in all my trips to The Met, and only stumbled upon it in a quest for a better view of the Arms and Armor Hall during our most recent visit! My daughter, a budding violinist, was wowed by the pieces of art on display here, dreaming of playing such exquisite instruments.

The Sculpture Gardens: Spanning both the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and the Greek and Roman Arts collections, the imposing collection of sculptures at The Met creates a visually stunning backdrop. There's a certain sweet spot here: Little kids won't notice or care about the nudity; tweens and young teens might giggle, and older teens will gradually appreciate the masterworks on display.

When you've had your fill of the artwork, head outdoors to the Ancient Playground, just north of the museum to get those worked up wiggles out, and then consider one of these kid-friendly restaurants to complete your outing. Soaking up culture is hard deserve a night off.

A previous version of this story was published in 2007, but it has since been updated.

Photos by Jody Mercier

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