Have you stood in line for seemingly ages to get into a famous museum? Has a major museum completely overwhelmed you? Have you ever left a museum only to realize you missed some of the things you really wanted to see? Does visiting a big museum fill you with so much dread that you just decide to pass? If any of these apply, this blog of how to visit a museum is for you.
For an enjoyable museum experience, especially if you are going to one of the bigger, more famous galleries around the world, you need to plan ahead. I suggest the following advice:
- Visit the website. Most museum websites have a list of their collections online, along with a map of their building, so you can familiarize yourself with the facility before you even get there.
- Get to know the layout of the museum ahead of time. Before I visit a museum, I study the architectural plan of the building so I have a good sense of where things are and how the collections are clustered. This helps me make my “plan of attack.”
- Watch videos from travelers who have been there. I love watching YouTube videos from travel vloggers who have visited places I want to see. Regular travel shows only show a place for a couple minutes at best, whereas a travel vlogger will often give you a good tour of a museum and walk you throughout the place so you can get a real sense of the place.
- Pick the top things you want to see. Some pieces will be obvious—most people who go to the Louvre for the first time want to see the Mona Lisa for instance—but others will be up to your personal taste and what interests you. Look at a list of the collections and think about what pieces you would find most interesting. In really large facilities, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, look for items that are near others you wish to see.
- Decide how long you are going to stay and what is feasible to see during that time. Disappointment and fatigue often occur from unrealistic expectations and trying to do too much. Two hours is a good length of time for a museum visit. Pick specific pieces/exhibits you would like to see during that time. Reconcile yourself to the fact that you won’t see it all, but use this knowledge to excite you for future trips. Every time I leave the Vatican Museums, the Met, the Louvre, or any other big institution, I remind myself that leaving it “undone” means I have a reason to come back.
- Map out a logical way to see your “can’t miss” pieces. Now that you’ve decided which pieces you want to see in the hours you’ve allocated for, use online maps of the museum to map out the easiest way to see those items.
- Plan time/places for rest and snacks. Check to see if you’re allowed to bring a water bottle or snacks. Many museums don’t allow them (or bags either for that matter) so you may want to locate a place where you can rest and have a beverage. I always pack a candy or granola bar in my purse for a quick pick-me-up, if necessary. Jon and I get can get hangry fast; it’s far better for us to sneak into the bathroom and devour a Snickers than allow our hungry stomachs to override our good time..and positive personalities.
- I suggest not planning another “big” attraction for that day if you can help it. If you visit a big museum in the morning, then plan a lighter day of sightseeing for the afternoon.
- Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers with a light sweater/jacket you can tie around your waist if you get hot.
- Check out the museum’s guided tours or audio guides. Many of the bigger museums offer guided tours for highlights of the museum or for special themes or exhibits. If you’re going to be there when one is being offered, this might be a nice option. Most museums offer audio guides. Although these are very informative, I find they make a visit lengthy. If you rent one, make sure you are still sticking to your original plan.
- Purchase tickets ahead of time. If the place you’re going to visit is known for lines, try to book through the museum’s website. If this is not possible, then you may want to seriously consider booking a private tour with skip-the-line access.
- Book a private tour. We have often enjoyed small group tours in the past. Private tour companies can get you skip-the-line access and sometimes private time (or near private) alone with famous attractions. The added perks, ability to skip lines, and knowledgeable, fun guides are worth the extra price. It’s nice to have someone to ask questions to about what you’re seeing. It’s also well worth the money to have someone who knows where they are going and can easily get you around a monumental complex like the Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art, or Vatican Museums. Our affiliate links for The Tour Guy and Take Walks will give you options in numerous cities around the world for museum tours (links to our pages with more information about their tours below).
I hope these tips help you easily navigate when you next visit a museum. If you have any tips or tricks that you employ, please share them in the comments. Happy travels!
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