(on a scale of 1-10, 1 being crap and 10, perfection)
Hassle (as in lack thereof): 7
Parent’s Enjoyment: 5
Kid’s Fun: 7
Cost: $18.00 General Admission per adult; $15 additional per family for tour
The second you step into the Guggenheim museum you instantly feel like a more sophisticated, cultured person. It’s just that kind of place.
First, there’s the lofty space itself designed with stylish panache by Frank Lloyd Wright, with its endless, spiraling ramp and its high domed ceiling, which evokes the awe of visiting an imposing cathedral.
The Guggenheim has an impressive permanent collection too, modern and contemporary art, housed in the museum’s gallery annexes. But the real show-stoppers are always the Guggenheim’s temporary exhibitions—ranging over recent years from the work of Mathew Barney to the Art of The Motorcycle and Kandinsky—which take center stage, winding up the length of the museum’s central ramp.
None of this may sound exactly appropriate for kids. And one look at the place and you’d think that the last thing in the world they’d want would be a bunch of sticky-handed, little monsters messing up the joint. But believe it or not, the Guggenheim Museum actually goes out of its way to make the smaller set feel welcome. It has a huge array of programs for families, children and teens.
Many are class series, which require registration or even application for admission, but several of the Guggenheim’s junior offerings are single installments. We opted for the full-on kid’s tour option. Known as Second Sundays (or Summer Sundays) and taking place, you guessed it, on the second Sunday of every month.
Be Prepared To Put Some Leg in First
The Guggenheim’s family programs are a hidden gem in one of New York City’s crown jewels of cultural attractions. And when I say hidden, I mean that literally, starting with their out of the way placement on the museum’s website. Because we aim to serve, we’ll save you the hunt and peck, here's a link.
You also need to make reservations in advance by calling the reservation line. This too is easier said then done. The reservation line is only open between 1 and 5 pm and it took repeated attempts before someone actually answered the phone. There’s a charge for the tours too—$15 per family ($10 for members) on top of museum admission—which must be paid in advance and is non-refundable.
Life as a VIP
The upside of the price tag and all the prep is that the experience of the tour itself is lovely. Aside from the one for general admission, there are no lines to brave or crowds to navigate or stress that the tour might get filled up before you get in. You do have to be on time, but you don’t have to worry about arriving early. Plus, they have these little folding stools for you and your child that you carry from spot to spot so that you can sit while the tour lingers in front of a particular piece.
It’s all quite refined, in fact, civilized. For your extra $15 you do feel like you’re having a special experience.
Be prepared to linger, and linger and linger
Tours depart from the main lobby near the ramp—ask at information if you don’t see them—and consist of approximately twenty or so adults and children. The content of tours vary each time, though each follows a similar format. We focused exclusively on three pieces, of varying complexity, that were part of the temporary exhibit filling the Guggenheim’s central rotunda.
And we spent a long, long time, in front of each of these three pieces.
The museum educator that led our tour was a enthusiastic young woman with a great beaming smile and eager demeanor that made me wish she was my child’s kindergarten teacher—or maybe my friend. The children responded to her too, the sizable group of young ones staying calm and listening intently.
In turn, she listened intently to them, giving them each an opportunity to say everything that was on their mind. This was sweet, at first. But we had some chatty Cathy’s. And this was how I knew our tour guide couldn’t ever be a teacher. A real teacher would never have the patience for that kind of thing.
Not for the little ones
You’re welcome to bring the entire family along, including younger siblings, but the tour is geared for older kids. I’d say an exceedingly mature and patient four year old would be the absolute lower end of the spectrum. Kids are expected to pay attention and be quiet for long stretches. A younger child would also have a hard time following what’s going on. If you have little ones, consider bringing an extra set of hands with you, so you can divide and conquer as necessary.
What might annoy the crap out of you, your kids are going to love!
The best part was that the kids absolutely loved the Guggenheim tour. Ranked it tops among the kids’ museum tours they’d been on. Because that’s the thing about kids: they like to hear themselves talk. And they don’t find it monotonous when some other kids says for the fifth time that one particular abstract work looks like a garage—no a garage with a ramp, wait no a garage with a dirty floor, wait no a garage for motorcycles.
Like other kid’s tours at major art museums around the city, the focus of the Guggenheim kids tour is clearly to give kids some exposure to art and to get them thinking. And that, without question, it does. It’s interactive too, and there was a drawing component too. But it isn’t really about content. It’s about kids learning how to look at art and seeing that it doesn’t need to be intimidating.
And, as long as you remember that it’s your kids who you’re doing the tour for, you’ll be fine too. Besides, you are in the Guggenheim on a Sunday afternoon with a cute little portable stool. It’ll instantly up your IQ and transform you into a well-heeled, urban sophisticate. The tour only lasts about an hour too and the Guggenheim is blessedly compact. You can easily breeze through the rest of the museum on your remaining steam once the tour is over.
• The Guggenheim’s Second Sunday tours are held, you guessed it, the second Sunday of every month from 10:30 a.m.-12:00 pm
• Advanced registration is required; call 212 423 3587, Mon–Fri, 1–5 pm
• Admission to the Guggenheim is $18 for Adults, but children under 12 are free
• Family tours are an additional $15 ($10 for members) per family, paid in advance at the time of registration. We were told refunds for cancellations in advance weren’t available.
• Tours are intended for ages 5-10. Though the entire family, including younger siblings, is permitted, we would not recommend bringing children under 4, unless they’ll be asleep.
• The tour is stroller accessible, though we reached our first exhibit stop via the stairs.
• There are also Tour/Workshops 11 am–1 pm on various dates, which include a tour as well as a hands on component and are $30 per family
• You can also enjoy, hands on creative projects in a drop in area for free, on Sundays from 1-4 pm for ages 3-10 pm. Advance registration is not required.
• If all this advance planning is just too much commitment for you, consider a self-guided tour. Family activity packs, recommended for ages 5-10, are available, on loan anytime from the Information Desk. Last pick-up is at 4 pm.
• The museum is open Sun–Wed 10 am–5:45 pm; Fri 10 am–5:45 pm
Sat 10 am–7:45 pm. It is closed Thursdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day. Some galleries may close prior to 5:45 pm Sun–Wed and Fri (7:45 pm Sat)
If You Go
You can grab a snack after the tour at Cafe 3, an espresso and snack bar adjacent to the permanent Kandinsky Gallery on Annex Level 3 of the Guggenheim. The café serves sandwiches, pastries, chocolates, coffee, tea, wine, and beer and is open 10:30 am–5:30 pm Friday–Wednesday. There’s also a more upscale restaurant The Wright, located across from the rotunda on Fifth Avenue at 88th Street. According to the Guggenheim’s website, “[t]he Wright combines an upscale atmosphere with a sleek, modern, and comfortable venue, comprising 58 seats and a full-service menu that emphasizes seasonal, local, and sustainable ingredients.” Now, if that sounds like kid-friendly dining to you— lunch is served Monday–Wednesday 11:30 am–3:30 pm; Friday–Saturday 11:30 am–5 pm; dinner Thursday–Saturday 5:30–11 pm and Sunday brunch 11 am–3:30 pm— by all means have at it, but we’d recommend enjoying it on a weekend when Nana and Pop Pop have got the kids.
Another good local option with kids is Le Pain Quotidien (1131 Madison Avenue, Madison & 85th;; 212.327.4900). Around the corner from the Guggenheim, this uber-kid friendly Café serves reliably good sandwiches, and pastries and soups. Part of a mini-chain, Le Pain Quotidien is great for breakfast, lunch or a quick snack. They even have a decent kids menu, though they seem reluctant to offer that information up, unless you ask. Most importantly, they have caffeine. Lots of it. And after a long day, politely listening as children fastidiously, dissect modern art, you might seriously need it.
Across the street from Le Pain Quotidien is also a Dean & Deluca (1150 Madison Ave at 85th Street; 212.717.0800) where you can grab sandwiches, snacks or desserts. There’s a small seating area, or you can take your booty a block west to Central Park for an impromptu picnic. Entering the park around 84th Street and heading up to the lawn behind the Met is probably your best bet.
Glutton for Punishment?
After you’ve satiated yourself and you and your little ones are cruising nicely on a sugar high, consider taking in the Metropolitan Museum of Art too. It’s right there, on 84th street. What are you, lazy?
I’m kidding, of course. Doing both the Guggenheim and the Met with children in a single day wouldn’t make you a Glutton for Punishment, it would make you certifiably insane.
Instead, stroll over to the 11-foot statue of Alice in Wonderland located north of Conservatory Water at East 74th Street. Central Park has a fantastic interactive map, if you need help finding it. The map also marks out other nearby points of interest is Alice isn’t your, well, cup of tea.
But we think it’s pretty awesome. Commissioned in 1959 by philanthropist George Delacorte, children are invited to climb, touch and crawl all over the Alice in Wonderland sculpture. Doing so will feel illicit and wrong to your children, and with therefore, of course, delight them. And don’t miss the line from “The Jabberwocky,” also by Lewis Carroll printed in the stone nearby: “'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” Memorize that for your friends at home, and between that and your visit to the Guggenheim, your cultural trasnformation will be complete. Okay, you might want to pick up a copy of the New Yorker too. But don’t worry, you don’t actually have to read it. No one really does.