I have to confess something: when I first started traveling, I found a lot of museums and art galleries to be pretty boring. And I know I’m not the only traveler to think so.
However, as my travels continued I learnt to appreciate museums in a vastly different way and now I’ll actually add a city to my itinerary just because there’s a museum there I don’t want to miss.
To make sure you can also get the best out of your museum and gallery experiences while traveling, I have put together this list of tips to help you make every museum visit feel much too short.
Choose Your Museum Wisely
Don’t grab a guidebook and try to visit every museum and gallery in a city. You’ll quickly get museum fatigue and fail to enjoy even the best museum possible. Do some research before your trip and decide which museum is most likely to appeal to you.
Sure, the Churchill War Rooms are meant to be one of the most interesting museums to visit in London, but if you’re totally disinterested in war history you might be better off heading to a more obscure place like the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (perfect if you’re working in marketing!).
Read Up on the Museum Before You Go
Once you’ve picked a museum or gallery you’re keen to visit, take the time to learn a little about it before you arrive. For example, if you’re an art lover and definitely want to make it to the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, you could explore their website and decide which of the permanent collections or visiting exhibitions you’re most interested in.
Planning to see all of it will just leave your feet tired and your brain in overdrive. Reading up before you go means you’re also likely to discover treasures that you may not see if you just go in and wander the halls — it’s great to have something to look for.
And finally, many museums and galleries have changing exhibits and if you do your research ahead of time you might even adjust your schedule to be able to catch a particular exhibit.
Take Your Time
Allow plenty of time to explore the museum of your choice. If you’re traveling with companions who aren’t so keen, that’s a perfect time to split up for a few hours and meet up later.
Build in time for a break — many museums and galleries have great coffee shops where you can sit back, rest your feet and reflect on what you’ve seen so far, and perhaps check a map or brochure to decide what else you want to see before you leave. There’s nothing worse than hurrying past numerous exhibits and not seeing anything properly — definitely one of those times when less is more.
Join a Tour
I’m usually a staunch anti-tour traveler but museums and galleries are a big exception. Many of them provide expert guided tours through parts of their collections and this can be a great way to see the highlights and hear things you wouldn’t learn by exploring the museum on your own.
Most guides who work in museums or galleries are very passionate about the place (and some of them will even be volunteers) and they are very keen to answer your questions and show you the best bits.
Become an Expert
Information is truly at our fingertips these days so it’s easy to become an amateur expert in a topic that you can then explore more fully at a museum.
If you’re an animal lover, for example, you might get really excited about the native animals of Australia and then be able to compare what you’ve learnt online to the reality of the exhibitions at the Australian Museum in Sydney. Or you might look up a bunch of Monet’s pictures, learn about his motivation behind them and then see some of them in real life at a gallery.
Be Thirsty for New Knowledge
Travelers are usually keen to learn new things — that’s one of the reasons we like to travel — but we don’t always consider how museums and galleries fit into this.
If you’re finding visiting museums is more of a chore than a joy when you travel, stop and think about the purposes of museums and what the curators are hoping to share with the public. Museums around the world have similar goals despite being located in numerous different cultures and it’s interesting to notice how each one is similar and different to the ones you’ve seen before.
Get Into the Detail
I think one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy museums and galleries when I first traveled is that I was seeing everything at a surface level (and racing past things because I needed to get off to somewhere else I wanted to see).
Look at a painting that particularly captures your eye and explore the detail — the colours, the brushstrokes, the choice of subject, and so on. Find an artefact or explanation about a historical period and examine it carefully enough that you could explain it to someone else. It’s the details that becoming particularly fascinating, so take the time to go deeper.
A practical consideration that has spoilt many a museum visit — make sure you’re dressed appropriately for a museum exploration.
For a start, you’ll be standing around a lot so wear comfortable shoes. Many museums need to be kept relatively dark and cool to preserve artefacts or protect paintings so take that into consideration and bring a jacket or extra layers.
Take Away Something You Love from the Museum or Gallery Store
Museum and gallery shops are often treasure troves of the best kinds of souvenirs a city or country has to offer. Steer clear of the kitschy fridge magnets (unless that’s your thing!) and take a look at the kinds of products they sell which reflect something you loved or learnt about in the museum.
Books or catalogues can be great if you’re the type to read them in great detail when you get home, although I prefer a poster for my study wall which reminds me of some interesting aspect of my day.