NMDC Good Practice Guidelines for Reopening Museums

England is still in a national lockdown. You must stay at home, leaving only where permitted by law, and follow the rules in this guidance.

The government has published the 'COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021' setting out the roadmap out of the current lockdown for England. This explains how restrictions will be eased over time. 

From the 8th of March some of the rules on what you can and cannot do will be changing.

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.


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.

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.

Hospitality businesses (including cafés and restaurants in museums and galleries) 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 recent changes to legislation affect museum cafés and restaurants?

On Test & Trace:

  • 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 restriction levels, including regarding table service and the serving of alcohol, can be found on pages 28 and 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. These tours may be comprised of more than one individual group, as outlined below. Tour guides do not count towards the 30-person limit, due to the exemption for work. 

Indoor guided tours can go ahead in tier 1, provided that the rule of six is observed for individual groups on the tour, and that these groups do not mingle. In tier 2, indoor tours can go ahead if it is possible to ensure that individual groups are comprised of a single household or bubble, and that these groups do not mingle. As indoor attractions are required to be closed in tier 3, no tours are able to go ahead.

In all tiers, outdoor guided tours can proceed, provided that the rule of six is enforced for individual groups on the tour. This is in line with general visiting restrictions for such venues, where the rule of 6 applies.

Further information on local COVID alert levels is available here.

How do tier three restrictions affect outdoor museums?

In tier three, outdoor museums are able to open, but all indoor attractions within the museum must close. Indoor shops, through-ways and public toilets may remain open. 

Restrictions apply to the number of people who can visit and outdoor museum as a group: if the attraction is open to the public without payment, or is a botanical garden or the grounds of a castle, stately home, historic house or other heritage site and is open to the general public with or without payment, visitors can attend in groups of up to six (or a single household or bubble) and must not mingle with other groups.

For any other types of outdoor attractions, visitors must only attend alone or with other members of their household or bubble, and must not mingle with anyone else.

Please see pages 19 and 20 of the guidance for further information on local restriction tiers. 

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.

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.


  • February 12th, 2021:
    • Page 37 updated to include new requirements for international arrivals.
  • January 4th, 2021:
  • Page 1, 2 and 29 updated to reference addition of Tier 4: Stay at Home
    • Page 20 updated to outline new measures under Tier 4: non-essential retail must close and further limits to contact between households.
  • December 2nd, 2020:
    • Page 1 updated to reference new government tier regulations, in force from December 2nd.
    • Page 2 edited to reflect new limits on capacity of event and conference venues.
    • Page 9 altered to align with Government guidance on working from home.
    • Pages 28 and 29 updated to include regulations on new local restriction tiers for museum cafes and restaurants.
  • 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.