What to expect from the world’s top attractions in the age of coronavirus

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It’s anything but business as usual as the world’s top attractions reopen amid the backdrop of a global pandemic. 

New guidelines aim to strike a balance between providing attraction-goers with an experience to remember while keeping visitors and staff safe.

Still, questions remain: Should you go? Is it safe? Will lines be short or unbearably long?

Here’s what to expect from major attractions in the U.S., U.K., Italy and Dubai. 

9/11 Memorial & Museum

Closed: March 13
Reopened: The Memorial opened July 4 (the Museum is still closed)

While the 9/11 Museum remains closed, the open-air Memorial that occupies eight acres of the 16-acre World Trade Center complex has reopened with shortened hours and a defined tour route.

The Memorial is open from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and has one way in (Greenwich Street) and one way out (Liberty Street).

The 9/11 Memorial has a canopy of nearly 400 oak trees and twin reflecting pools outlined with victims’ names inscribed in bronze.

Courtesy of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Masks are strictly required. Visitors can also buy masks through a “buy one, give one” initiative that provides a mask to an essential worker for every one purchased at the Memorial or through the online Museum store.

Tours are not currently permitted, as all visitors must stay six feet apart. Social distancing hasn’t been difficult, said Michael Frazier, the site’s executive vice president, owing in part to the fact that the Memorial is now drawing hundreds of visitors each day, compared with thousands before the health crisis.

Frazier said there is a queue to enter “but visitors shouldn’t expect long wait times.”

Visitors must use hand sanitizer before and after touching the names inscribed on the bronze walls at the 9/11 Memorial.

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Visiting the 9/11 Memorial is still free, and tickets aren’t required, though to offset “staggering financial challenges,” a fundraising campaign was started to help keep the Memorial open. Live, interactive virtual tours led by museum staff — with one geared to children aged seven and up — are available online for $25.

“The memorial is a sacred, powerful and special place, and every American should visit,” said Frazier. “This pandemic has changed a lot about our world; it hasn’t changed that.”

London Eye

Closed: March 20
Reopened: Dates to be announced soon

When the London Eye reopens, new social distancing restrictions and a reduced capacity for visitors may result in slightly longer wait times, said Neil Dolan, the site’s head of operations.

Fewer people will be allowed into each Eye “pod.”

Wayne Gerard Trotman / 500px

To streamline visits, Dolan recommends pre-booking tickets which, after temperature and adapted security checks, allow visitors to proceed directly to the boarding area at their preferred time slot.

Walk-up tickets are available, though visitors must follow a new, one-way queuing system and cannot pay with cash.

Visitors are asked to distance from one another while moving inside the London Eye “pods.” They’re asked to wear masks at all times. “Although the experience has evolved … seeing the iconic views of London that we’re known for remains the same,” said Dolan.

Burj Khalifa

Closed: March 15
Reopened:
May 28

Since Dubai reopened its borders on July 7, international tourists can once again visit the “At the Top” observation deck located on the 124th floor of the world’s tallest building.

All 160 stories of the Burj Khalifa were used to send safety messages to the residents of Dubai.

Burj Khalifa (left); Umar Shariff Photography (right)

The site is operating at 30% of normal capacity with elevator limits and multiple temperature checks — once before entering The Dubai Mall, and again before accessing the deck. Gloves are recommended and masks are required as they are everywhere in the United Arab Emirates.

The Burj Kalifa has published a series of new videos to show visitors the efforts being made to clean and keep the attraction safe.

Despite the new guidelines, visitors are not expected to encounter longer wait times. Emaar Entertainment, which operates the attraction, estimates 150 visitors every hour, a marked departure from 1,000 visitors per hour before the pandemic. 

Taj Mahal 

Closed: March 17
Reopening status: Still closed

Not all sites are throwing open the doors. Though most of the nearly 3,700 centrally-protected monuments and archaeological sites maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India have now been reopened, the Taj Mahal is not one of them. 

When it reopens, visitors can tour the Taj Mahal with hundreds, rather than thousands, of others.

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Local authorities decided against opening it in part because the 17th-century mausoleum is located in a containment zone, an area within a town or village that has been sealed off to prevent the spread of new infections. There were 85 containment zones in Agra as of July 18.

When it does reopen, visitors to the Taj Mahal will be capped at 5,000 a day (in two segments) and be subject to time limits, reported The Indian Express. Before the pandemic, the site was known to draw 70,000 daily visitors on busy days. 

Milan Cathedral

Closed to tourists: March 9
Reopened: May 29

Travelers can tour the Milan Cathedral, provided they wear masks, sanitize their hands, submit to a temperature check, and stay more than six feet away from others. 

Openly wandering around the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) is no longer possible; visitors must now follow a specific route.

Buena Vista Images

Guests must wear gloves to use automated ticket machines and other touchscreen devices. This can be avoided by purchasing tickets in advance or on-site via their mobile phone through travel booking platform GetYourGuide

The Milan Cathedral is working with the Berlin-based platform to install sensors that are designed to give real-time crowd density information inside the cathedral. Visitors can check waiting times and congested areas via an app before they visit. 

“Overall, we’ve reduced the Cathedral’s opening hours, but new visitors are in for a treat,” said Valentina Gallazzi, the site’s visitor services manager. “Be sure to come around sunset, as we’ve extended the evening opening times during the weekends to let people enjoy the view on our rooftops.”

Milan at sunset from atop the Milan Cathedral.

Stefano Bertelli

Since local regulations and outbreaks can change quickly,  GetYourGuide’s COO and Co-Founder Tao Tao recommends travelers closely follow the local news before venturing out. He also advises booking tickets through platforms that allow travelers to cancel or postpone activities, no-questions-asked.

“As travelers take their first cautious steps out into the world, (our) data shows that the flexibility to change plans is their top priority, even above specific hygiene measures,” he said. 

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