With over two million works of art housed in 2.2 million square feet of space, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the undisputed behemoth of the New York City arts and culture scene. Inside the iconic façade lies a network of galleries so vast that visitors would need weeks to explore them in their entirety. Navigating its sprawling halls, while somewhat daunting for first-time museumgoers, is always an enriching and worthwhile experience. This comprehensive guide will walk you through unmissable works and galleries, along with nearby hotels and eats for those who plan to extend their visit beyond a single day. 

What is The Met?

The Met, as the museum is known colloquially, is one of the world's largest and most prestigious art museums. It's home to works of art spanning over 5,000 years of global culture, from ancient artifacts to contemporary masterpieces. Whether you've come to marvel at the museum's most famous works – including Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and Pollock's "Autumn Rhythm: Number 30" – or simply to appreciate the ambiance, you won't leave disappointed.

Location, Hours, and Tickets

Location: The Met is located along the eastern edge of Central Park on Fifth Avenue, between East 80th and 84th Streets, in Manhattan's Upper East Side. 

Hours: The museum typically opens its doors to the public six days a week and is closed on Wednesdays. Hours vary depending on the day, with the museum open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It's advisable to check the Met's official website for the most up-to-date information on operating hours.

Tickets: While the Met suggests a fixed admission fee, it operates on a "pay-as-you-wish" policy for New York State residents and New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut students. Visitors from outside this region are encouraged to contribute the recommended admission fee of $30 for adults, $22 for seniors, and $17 for students. Keep in mind that special exhibitions may require additional ticket purchases beyond the general admission.

Exhibits at the Met

A visit to the Met can be as short and sweet or as long and involved as you want it to be, provided you do your research ahead of time. The map provided by the museum is available online and at the door, and can be an excellent resource. If you're on a time limit or find yourself overwhelmed by choice, look for the path marked by the red dotted line. It's a route intended for first-time visitors to see the museum's highlights. You'll encounter most of the popular attractions, but don't shy away from stopping into galleries that catch your eye along the way.

Another way to explore is to make two passes, starting off with a brisk walkthrough. Try to cover as much territory as possible, making note of the pieces and galleries that catch your eye, then return to spend more time with them. Many dedicated museumgoers swear by this method.

Even if you choose to wing it, make sure you still come armed with some knowledge of what you most want to see. You'll get lost in the Met in an instant if you don't know what you're looking for, but perhaps that's the point.

Permanent Exhibits: The Met boasts a rich array of permanent collections, including Egyptian art, European paintings, American design, and more (and more and more). The 19th and Early 20th Century European Paintings and Sculptures section on the second floor is where you'll find most recognizable works by preeminent artists like Monet, van Gogh, Degas, and Rodin, but here are a few other rooms that should be on every visitor's itinerary.

Gallery 131 – The Temple of Dendur

There are thirty-eight galleries that make up the Met's Egyptian Wing, and they're organized so that a visitor walking through them can essentially walk through Egyptian history in chronological order. The Temple of Dendur in Gallery 131 is a particular draw for Met visitors. Commissioned by the Roman emperor Augustus in 15 B.C., it's currently the only ancient Egyptian temple in the United States.

Gallery 162 – Greek and Roman sculpture courtyard

There's plenty worth seeing within the museum's array of Greek and Roman art, but the heart of the collection is undoubtedly the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court. The soaring barrel-vaulted central hall is lit from above by skylights and packed with Greek and Roman sculptures. The result is a meditative space reminiscent of how the artwork would have been displayed in antiquity.

Gallery 217 – The Astor Chinese Garden Court

This recreation of a Ming dynasty-style Chinese garden is the focal point of the Museum's Asian Wing. Entering through a circular "moon gate," viewers of the deceptively simple space will find elaborate compositions of rocks, half-pavilions, and water features beneath a pyramidal skylight. 

Gallery 501 - Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio

This study is made from thousands of interlacing wood pieces, and is an incredible example of period woodwork from late 15th century Italy. At first glance, the room appears to be filled with cabinets, objects, and places to sit, but it's all an illusion created by wood inlay.

Gallery 508 – AfroFuturist Period Room 

Unlike the other period rooms in the Met, this installation embraces the African diasporic belief that past, present, and future are intertwined. It imagines what Seneca Village, a predominately Black community displaced by the city to expand Central Park, might have been had it been able to continue thriving.

Gallery 745 – Frank Lloyd Wright Room

The American Wing of the Museum houses a number of period rooms, including the living room from the Francis W. Little House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's grander Prairie School designs. Every element of the living room was dismantled in Minnesota, shipped, and reassembled in New York. The totally immersive gallery is the only Wright-designed domestic space in the city.

Rotating Exhibits: In addition to its permanent displays, The Met hosts a dynamic range of rotating exhibits. These temporary showcases often feature contemporary artists, thematic explorations, or collaborative projects, ensuring that each visit offers a fresh perspective. Check the Met's website to see what will be on display during your visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What restaurants are near The Met?

After an afternoon spent immersing yourself in art, you might find yourself craving a culinary masterpiece. The nearest option is of course The Met Dining Room, an upscale spot with a seasonal menu and views of Central Park. If you'd prefer to exit the Met, Serafina and Sant Ambroeus are two nearby Italian gems perfect for a post-museum meal. A few blocks further, Toloache offers excellent Mexican fare, and Flex Mussels is a great seafood place with a bright, design-heavy ambiance.

What hotels are near The Met?

If you're planning an extended stay, there are plenty of hotels in the vicinity catering to varying budgets. The Mark Hotel is a decidedly luxurious (and accordingly pricey) Art Deco establishment, right around the corner from the equally elegant Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel. On the more budget-friendly side of things, The Franklin is just a short walk from the Met.

Does The Met host any special events?

The museum does often hold events, including themed nights, live performances, and exclusive exhibitions. Check The Met's event calendar for upcoming activities, such as explorations of the Harlem Renaissance, celebrations of women artists, and the ever-popular Date Night at the Met. Don't be discouraged if you don't have a date – every Friday and Saturday night, you can bring a friend or come solo to enjoy an evening of live music, drinks, and art.

What's the best way to get to The Met?

The museum is accessible by public transportation, including buses and subways. Taxis and ride-sharing services also offer convenient drop-off points. The closest Subway stop is 86th Street, and if you have your own set of wheels, head for the Museum parking garage at 80th Street.