NMDC Good Practice Guidelines on Opening Museums After July 4th

IMPORTANT: New national restrictions mean museums and galleries in England must close from 5 November. More information is available on Gov.uk

Published by the National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) with support from DCMS and the Museums and Galleries Working Group, these guidelines are intended to help employers, employees and the self-employed, and volunteers in the museum sector in England understand how to work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidelines should:

  • provide a set of practical considerations museums will want to work through before a museum is ready to reopen
  • be used in conjunction with COVID-safe guidelines published by HM Government, and is intended to enhance, not supplant existing regulations
  • sit alongside and inform existing business practices and standard structures museums already consider when managing risk and conducting business planning activities

The guidelines will periodically be updated when new Government guidance becomes available as we move through different steps of adjustment to lockdown.

To download the guidelines please click here, or please see below to read them on this page.

NMDC has also produced a timeline of possible stages of reopening, as there will be no single date on which all museums reopen, but rather a range of different approaches depending on the individual museum. The timeline can be found here.

A summary of recent changes to Government measures (as of September 24th) is available here.


Is there a date on which museums must open?

No, Government has announced that on the current trajectory museums are allowed to reopen from 4th July 2020 onwards. There is no date on which museums must open, each will make the decision based on public health advice, safety, financial security and local context.

Are these guidelines just for national museums?

No, these guidelines are for all museums in England. Museums in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will also find the guidelines useful, but they should also refer to other relevant guidance for each country within the UK where available. 

Scottish Government guidance for museums, galleries and heritage attractions is available here.

Welsh Government guidance for Culture and heritage destinations and venues is available here.

Can any schools activity continue during lockdown?

While there are specific educational exemptions in the regulations for a number of different premises (e.g. leisure centres, libraries etc), there are no exemptions for museums. This means that museums must cease carrying on their business or providing their service.

For outreach to schools, the Department of Education advises that school leaders will want to consider how to minimise the number of visitors to the school where possible.  Schools will also have the discretion to require face coverings for visitors where social distancing cannot be managed safely. Where it is necessary to welcome visitors to the school, those individuals will be expected to comply with the school's arrangements for managing and minimising risk, including taking particular care to maintain distance from other staff and pupils.

How do we support NHS Test and Trace?

NHS Test and Trace is a key part of the country’s on-going COVID-19 response. Museums are required to support this service by keeping a temporary record of their staff shift patterns, customers and visitors for 21 days, and by assisting NHS Test & Trace with requests for that data if necessary.

As of the 24th of September, hospitality businesses (including cafés and restaurants) are required to display a QR code for use with the NHS app. Information on generating one of these QR codes is available here. Department of Health and Social Care guidance for maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors is available here.

How do the September 24th changes to legislation affect museum cafés and restaurants?

On Table Service:

  • New regulations around mandating table service apply solely to cafés and restaurants which serve alcohol.
  • Cafés and restaurants which serve alcohol may now only sell food and drink on the premises if “the food or drink is ordered by, and served to, a customer who is seated on the premises” and “the person takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the customer remains seated whilst consuming the food or drink on the premises.”
  • This applies to all food and drink served on the premises – not just alcohol.
  • Cafés and restaurants which do not serve alcohol must still “[take] all reasonable steps to ensure that the customer remains seated whilst consuming the food or drink on the premises”, but will not be required to operate table service.
  • Museum café and restaurants must now close at 10pm, in line with new regulations on opening hours for restricted services.
  • The new legislation is available in full here.

On Test & Trace:

  • From today, hospitality venues (including cafés and restaurants in museums) will be required to refuse entry to customers and visitors who do not provide the relevant contact details, or have not checked in with the QR code using the new NHS app.
  • all the visitors can be admitted, provided that at least one of the group provides their name and contact details and agrees to be the 'lead member', or all of the group have checked in using the QR code.
  • if no member of a group provides their name and contact details, all the group must be refused entry, with the exception of individuals who check-in using the QR code.
  • This legal requirement does not apply to museums and galleries generally, solely to restaurants and cafés situated in museums.

NMDC has been advised that museum cafés and restaurants may have to gather data for NHS Test & Trace separately from the museum in general, particularly in cases where the café is a separate legal premises from the museum or gallery.

Museums may need to seek legal advice on their liability in this context.

NMDC is seeking further clarification on these points, and we hope to update guidance soon.

Specific regulations for different local alert levels can be found on page 29 of the guidance document.

Can tour groups still visit museums?

NMDC has been advised that guided tours of up to 30 people are allowed. Tour guides do not count towards the 30-person limit, due to the exemption for work. 

In areas at Medium alert level, the Rule of Six applies to individual groups within the tour. Groups of six may join together to form a tour of up to 30 people, while maintaining social distancing between groups. Individual visitors must remain in their group while visiting, and cannot join another group of six. Within a group of six, social distancing must be maintained if the individuals within the group are not from the same household or support bubble. 

In areas at High and Very High alert level, museum tours can only go ahead if households do not mix while on the tour, and the tour operations are carried out in a Covid-secure way. This means that a tour of up to 30 people (excluding the tour guide) can take place, but individual groups on the tour must consist of a single household (including support bubble), and social distancing must be maintained between groups.

Further information on local COVID alert levels is available here.

Can school groups still visit museums?

There are exemptions to the Rule of Six for school groups, mentioned in point 3.9 of this government FAQ

Where can I find information on exemptions to mandatory face coverings?

Information on exemptions to face covering requirements are available here, and badges for those wishing to indicate their exemption are available here

Where can I find information on forming a support bubble?

Information on making a support bubble with another household is available here.

How do I use the timeline?

NMDC has also published a preliminary timeline outlining some of the anticipated phases of museum reopening, however, these timings will all depend on individual contexts and will be driven by the evolving Government timeline for lifting lockdown.

The timeline will be updated as more up to date information is received. It is not prescriptive, but a general outline based on what we already know from museums that are making their reopening plans.

My museum isn’t planning to open yet, will the guidelines be updated?

Yes, NMDC will work with DCMS to reflect the most up to date Government position and update with any new additional information to consider.

Once museums begin to open, there will be opportunities to learn from experience and incorporate further considerations as they are identified, for example on social distancing, experience, accessibility and how learning activities can be delivered.

How was this guidance developed?

NMDC’s Planning and Remobilisation Group worked together with the DCMS Cultural Renewal Taskforce Subgroup on Museums and Galleries and other museum sector colleagues to develop the guidelines. The Museums Association, Association for Independent Museums and Arts Council England will also be sharing the guidelines and providing further signposting to additional resources where appropriate.

I can’t find the information I need, where do I find more information and support?

There is a list of other organisations publishing resources and providing assistance at the end of the Guidelines document.


  • October 21st, 2020:
    • Pages 19, 20 and 29 changed to include further information on the implication of local alert levels for museums, including cafes and restaurants in museums.
  • October 13th, 2020:
    • Page one altered to reflect the new 'three-tier' lockdown regulations.
  • September 25th, 2020:
    • Page 8 altered to include new requirement for display of NHS Test & Trace QR code.
    • Page 11 changed to reflect new guidance on working from home.
    • Page 18 updated to reflect new enforcement requirements for the rule of six for gatherings.
    • Page 24 now includes reference to the fact that face coverings are compulsory for certain hospitality staff.
    • Page 28 changed to reflect new requirements for table service (please see FAQ above for an explanation of current rules)
    • FAQ updated to include current information on café and restaurant regulation.
  • September 17th, 2020:
    • FAQ updated to include current information on tour groups.
  • September 10th, 2020:
    • Page 8 updated as recording data for NHS Test & Trace has been made mandatory.
    • Page 19 altered to reflect new 6-person limit on social gatherings.
    • Page 28 now includes a link to Health and Safety Executive guidance on air conditioning and ventilation during the Coronavirus outbreak.
  • August 19th, 2020:
    • Page 8 changed to provide information on what data is needed for NHS Test & Trace program.
    • Page 20 altered to reflect current guidance on live performances and wedding and civil partnership celebrations.
  • August 11th, 2020:
    • Page 23 altered for further clarity around wearing of face coverings in museums.
  • August 6th, 2020:
    • Pages 23, 24 and 25 altered for further clarity around new government regulations which mandate wearing face coverings in museums from the 8th of August.
  • August 5th, 2020:
  • August 4th, 2020:
    • Pages 8 and 11 changed to reflect evolving guidance on working from home.
    • Page 13 updated with new guidelines on self-isolation.
    • Page 18 altered to reflect new timeline on indoor performances.
  • July 24th, 2020:
    • Introduction altered to include information of local restrictions.
    • Pages 23 and 24 updated to reflect new guidance on face coverings in shops.
  • July 21st, 2020:
    • Page 19 updated to reflect further guidance on live performances indoors.
    • Page 23 updated to include new requirements for face coverings in shops.
    • Page 24 updated to include guidance on disposal of face coverings.
  • July 9th, 2020:
    • Page 19 updated to reflect latest government guidance on live performances and the performing arts.
  • July 7th, 2020:
    • Introduction updated to include link to local Leicester lockdown guidance.
    • Page 6 updated to reference importance of fire risk assessment.
    • Page 19 now includes further detail on measures for COVID-19 secure premises.
    • Guidance on use of PPE (page 24) now includes reference to lip reading and clear communication.
  • July 3rd, 2020:
    • Page 8 updated to include a link to current Department of Health and Social Care guidance for maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace.
  • July 1st, 2020: 
    • Two points of clarification added to page 19. First bullet point under 'Mass Gatherings' altered to clarify regulations around COVID-19 secure premises. Risk of 'droplets and' aerosol transmission added to second bullet point.
    • Page 34 altered to include exemptions to wearing a face covering on public transport.