How to visit museums and galleries

I am always a bit saddened when I hear people say that museums are boring or have nothing for them. I truly believe that with the number of museums and galleries and the vast subject range they cover, that there truly is something for everyone (art! science! animals! historic houses! vikings! swords! jewels! The list is endless). Or even those who don’t consider themselves art people- I think every art gallery can have something for you too.

I think, though, that there is still a huge issue with how museums are perceived. I know, having been on the ‘inside’ that many (although not all) museums are striving to be accessible in all forms of the word- physically, intellectually, for different audience groups. But it still doesn’t necessarily seem that way to the public, who might picture whispered strolls through art museums, with comments on the symbolism. And there is nothing wrong with visitors who prefer that- I am one of them sometimes; the one who reads every label and looks at every piece. But YOU don’t have to view museums that way. Museums can be fun, engaging, educational, surprising. A place to learn about art and artifacts, but also to dress up, take some selfies (look up #museumselfie on instagram and twitter! Talk about museums embracing interaction, fun, and technology), do some crafts, have fun with the family.

I have a friend who visited the Louvre this past summer and I felt a bit sad/disappointed for her, as her approach to the overwhelming amount of art was to look at the ones with the audio tour symbol, since that must mean they are important, because how else are you supposed to approach art when you’re not an art person. Sure, they probably were important. And it might mean that you should pay attention, but if you don’t know why or how, or you don’t like any of those pieces, then you’re not going to get much out of it.

Museums are increasingly getting more fun and engaging, and less stuffy, and I would encourage a variety of other ways to check them out. Many museums now have audio tours- often more than one with different themes, or directed to children, guided tours of the highlights, or various visitor trails. They may have scavenger hunts, crafts and activities themed around an exhibit (you’ll hardly know you’re learning), or late night openings aimed at adults complete with cocktails. Here are just some examples:

The British Museum has a top 20 objects self guided tour that’s printed on the map you can grab at the front. An easy way to explore the highlights, learn about many different cultures, and good if you’re short on time; you can also do this in a 90 minute guided tour. Other options:
Family trails and family highlights tours:
Gallery backpacks with activities:
Specific gallery tours:
Multimedia interactive guides:

The Louvre has a variety of themed visitor trails, including the masterpieces of the collection, including the Mona Lisa, of course, but also tours like ‘The DaVinci Code.’

A company called Museum Hack specializes in tours of the Met in New York for people who normally aren’t museum goers. A snippet of their description: Our un-highlights tour puts an alternative spin on the museum, featuring other sides to the highlights we love, as well as some of the strangest, wildest, sexiest stories hidden throughout the museum. Each Museum Hack tour is customized based on the audience

So many museums are doing lates and adults only nights:
Telus Spark, Calgary
You mean I get to do all the kids stuff like play in the water and hula hoop and do the memory tests and draw, while drinking cocktails? Awesome.

Victoria and Albert Lates:

I think another great way to visit a museum, especially if you’re a newbie, is to just pick what you like and go with it- make your own trail. You can do this with a bit of research ahead of time on a museums’ collections page, or by asking the front desk or gallery attendants for suggestions! (&some of them ma be really happy they have someone to speak with!). For example, I was in the new Rubens and his Legacy exhibition a couple of weeks ago with a friend. He had been really drawn to one painting because of the way the light was painted He didn’t know what the subject was or who the artist was, but after looking at the label we found out it was a Turner. Now we know that the next time we’re at a gallery we can look for more Turners and similar artists because he likes the way that artist paints. In France, and like Marie Antoinette and co? Ask what artifacts or art might be associated  with her or that time period, and go bask in all the gilding.

‘Stuck’ at a huge art amazing with a bunch of museum/art geeks talking about styles and such? Make your own scavenger hunt. While I might be geeking out over all the symbolism in that Renaissance painting, you can be looking for all the tiny details that interest you- is that a dog curled up by the fire? A girl picking a flower? Find all the hidden animals in the paintings.

Still not having fun? Make your experience more interactive. Take some selfies with some statues or paintings, mimic their poses, interact with the artwork. I’m really a fan of things like this. People have fun with the art, plus they need to look at it a little if they’re going to mimic that pose correctly- more so than if they just took a quick pic of the piece and moved on.
Just no selfie sticks- those things are a nightmare to both art pieces and fellow visitors.
(And don’t physically touch the art… it can be more damaging than you realize. Even if you think your hands are super clean, there are always oil on our fingers that are a bit damaging).

So many museums also have special events, movie nights, free days, fairs, open houses, behind the scenes, workshops, courses… there really are so many options, and something for everyone. Next time you think you’ll be ‘stuck’ at a museum, or put it on a must-do list, because you just have to go to the Louvre when in Paris, remember a museum visit is what you make of it! Or search out the quirkier, smaller museums and galleries that may be more aligned with your interests, or just really bizarre. Go and have fun. And maybe learn a little too.
Sadly, most of these photos are not mine. But they are all fantastic.


One thought on “How to visit museums and galleries

  1. I am saddened to say that I found out too late in my trip that these highlight tours were a thing. I (the friend spoken about who looked at the art with audio symbols) was in Europe for over 2 months and by the end I was so tired of museums I vowed to never to go in one again (unless it was a natural history museum… those I can’t do without).

    That being said, I certainly did it wrong. I am the opposite of Cass when it comes to museums. I only want to see the popular pieces and the ones that involve animals; if I can see them all in half a day – even better. But in order to do it my way, these tours are necessary.

    I went to Pompeii, for example, and we only realized half way through that there was a recommended guide on our pamphlet – designed for length of time spent. We had started at 1 and were working our way up (1, 2, 3, 4, etc), and nearing the end of our day we realized we had missed so much because we hadn’t gotten to the gems past #50 (or whatever it was we made it to before sitting down and wondering how many more empty square rooms we could take – which wouldn’t have been a problem with a highlights tour).

    When I got to London to visit Cass she introduced me to the highlights tour at the British Museum and it was my best museum experience yet! I got to see all of the important ones so I can tell people ‘oh, I saw that in person’ when they talk about the top pieces of art in the world, and I also didn’t break my back and my mind (I have a short attention span) doing so.

    These are great tips Cass.

    note: I did play the scavenger hunt with animals at the Louvre, so I at least got that right.


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