Ever Wonder Why Museums Close So Early? (Solved!)

I’m sure you’ve seen the Ben Stiller movie “Night at the Museum,” where all the exhibits come to life after the museum’s doors are shut for the night. But, what really happens when it’s closing time at the museum, and why do museums close so early?

Most museums close on average at around 5 pm (17:00). There are a few reasons for this, many of which are linked to finances. Museums may not have the budget to pay staff to work past 5 pm, and Museums tend to rent out their space in the evenings for events as an additional source of income.

Okay, so the truth is a far cry less whimsical and exciting than what is portrayed in the movies as the early closing times are mostly to do with finances. Below we’ll take a closer look at some of the rationale behind why museums close so early.

I’ll also share with you the opening and closing times for some of the top museums in the U.S. and abroad.

This is why museums close early.

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The Facts Behind Museum Closing Times

Although it would make sense for museums to open during the evening hours to allow those who work a chance to visit and make use of the facilities, most museums would not be able to afford to stay open late. 

Perhaps even more importantly, many people leaving work would rather head home and spend time with their families or participate in their after-work activities than explore the wonders of a history or art museum.

  • Museum boards recognized this issue and instead offered their museums to individuals and corporations as venues for various functions. This is a significant income stream that would not be possible if the museum remained open in the evenings.
  • In other cases, museums operate as not-for-profit institutions that are manned by volunteers. In these instances, asking the volunteers to work late for no payment would probably make it difficult to find anyone willing to help!
  • Curators and boards need to understand their target audiences’ needs, wants and limitations, and plan their opening and closing times accordingly. It would not make much sense to stay open late if no one took advantage of these times to visit.
  • Another factor influencing closing time is that educational and school groups are a large focus of many museums. The most convenient time for these groups to visit is between 10:00 am and 03:00 pm.
  • In addition to early closing times, many museums and galleries close for a day or two during the week. The purpose of these closures is for maintenance, repairs, cleaning, and to change the exhibits, to name but a few. These tasks are much simpler to achieve without the presence of noisy school groups or curious tourists. These “off” days are generally days that would have been quiet in terms of visitors anyway. From personal experience in the tourism industry, I can attest to this fact. Monday’s and Tuesday’s were generally low attendance days when we could do maintenance tasks on vehicles and buildings in preparation for the busier days of the week.

As with any business, museums and galleries operate on “people power.” Employees need to rest, and managers must know when they will require “all hands on deck”!

When Do Museums Stay Open Past “Closing Time”?


There are, however, exceptions to the rule that “museums are a 9-5 job”. For example, many museums have evening exhibitions (or night tours) once a month, overnight programs where children can sleepover at the museum, and extended or reduced hours during the holiday season.

These “deviations” help to reinforce the idea that there needs to be careful planning of staffing and other resources to ensure that the museum can achieve the most value for the hours they are open.

Many museums have a membership program. In this case, a member pays a yearly fee, and in return, they will receive some special benefits, like attending the museum for an extra hour or two, either before or after opening time. 

In addition, members may have access to a special guided tour that can only be conducted in the evenings (especially if there is a planetarium).

When I was younger, my family had a membership with the local aquarium. The sleepover next to the shark tank, along with the midnight tour, are both fond memories for me.


Opening and Closing Times Of Popular Museums In The USA

Now that we know that museums close rather early, here is a table of the opening and closing times of 21 museums in the United States to help you.

Museum NameLocationOpening TimeClosing TimeDays Closed (excluding public holidays)Focus
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)New York City10 am5 pmTuesday and Wednesday  Art-Ancient to Modern
Museum of Modern ArtNew York City10:30 amSun-Fri: 5:30pm Sat:        7:30pmMondays 10:30 am-1 pm Members onlyArt-Contemporary
The Art Institute of ChicagoChicago11 am (non-members)Mon, Sat & Sun: 6pm Thu & Fri: 9pmTuesday and WednesdayArt-Ancient to Modern
National Museum of American HistoryWashington D.C.10 am5:30 pmWednesday and ThursdayHistory-American: Politics, innovation, business, and entertainment.
American Museum of Natural History  New York City10 am5:30 pmMonday and TuesdayHistory-Global, Human and nature.
National Gallery of Art  Washington D.C.10 am5 pmn/aArt- Western, Ancient to Modern.
National Museum of African American History and Culture  Washington D.C.  11 am4 pmMonday and TuesdayHistory- African American life, history, and culture.
Museum of Fine Arts  Boston  10 am5 pmMonday and TuesdayArt- Ancient to Modern
Detroit Institute of Arts  DetroitWed-Fri: 9 am Sat-Sun: 10amWed-Fri: 4 pm Sat-Sun: 5 pmMonday and TuesdayArt- Ancient to Modern
Cleveland Museum of Art  Cleveland10 amTue, Thu, Sat, Sun: 5 pm Wed & Fri: 9pmMondayArt- Ancient to Modern
National 9/11 Memorial & Museum  New York City  10 am5 pmTuesday and WednesdayHistory- Commemoration of 9/11 attacks
The National WWII Museum  New Orleans  9 am5 pmn/aHistory- World War 2
Kennedy Space Center  Titusville, Florida  10 amMon-Fri: 4pm Sat & Sun: 5 pmn/aHistory- Space and NASA
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis  Indianapolis10 am5 pmMondayHistory- arts, sciences, and humanities
Greenfield Village  Dearborn, Michigan  9:30 am5 pmn/aHistory- American
Asian Art Museum  San Francisco  Thu: 1 pm Fri-Mon: 10 amThu: 8 pm Fri-Mon: 5 pmTuesday and WednesdayArt- Asian
The Getty Center  Los Angeles  10 am5 pmMondayArt- Medieval to Modern
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum  Washington D.C.  10 am5:30 pmTuesday and WednesdayHistory- Aviation and Space travel
USS Midway MuseumSan Diego, California10 am5 pmn/aHistory- Naval, U.S. Military
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History  Washington D.C.10 am5:30 pmMonday and TuesdayHistory- Human and nature
The Houston Museum of Natural Science  Houston, Texas9 am6 pmn/aHistory- Natural Science
Check out the top 10 museums to visit in the world.

Opening and Closing Times Of Popular International Museums

If you are traveling abroad and would like to look at some of the local historic culture, you will find a table below of the opening and closing times of the Top 10 International Museums to assist you.

Museum NameLocationOpening TimeClosing TimeDays Closed (excluding public holidaysFocus
LouvreParis, France9 am6 pmTuesdayHistory and Art
Egyptian MuseumCairo, Egypt9 am5 pmn/aHistory- Egyptian
Vatican MuseumsVatican City, Italy8:30 amMon-Thu: 6:30 pm Fri & Sat: 10:30pmSundayArt- Christian
British MuseumLondon, England10 am5 pmn/aHistory- Global, Ancient to Modern
The Uffizi GalleryFlorence, Italy8:15 am6:50pmMondayArt- Medieval to Modern
State Hermitage MuseumSaint Petersburg, Russia11 amTue, Thu & Sun: 7 pm Wed, Fri & Sat: 8pmMondayHistory and Art
National Palace MuseumTaipei, Taiwan9 am5 pmMondayHistory and Art- Asian
The National Museum of AnthropologyMexico City, Mexico10 am5 pmSunday and MondayHistory- Mexico, Ancient to Modern
Museo Nacional del PradoMadrid, Spain10 amMon-Sat: 8 pm Sun: 7 pmn/aArt
RijksmuseumAmsterdam, Netherlands9 am5 pmn/aHistory- Dutch


The biggest factors determining a museum’s closing time are the human and financial elements. If resources were infinite, museums, art galleries, libraries, and other public amenities could remain open indefinitely.

However, this is not the case. So, in order to avoid disappointment, phone ahead and double-check that the museum/art gallery you desire to visit will be open when you get there!

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