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Museum Tips: How to Visit a Museum

Museums Provide Varying Visit Experiences Depending on the Size and Type of Museum

If you haven't been to a museum in a long time, or have never been to a museum, this article explains the most common ways to visit and enjoy a museum.

Woman looking at art in an art museum. Museums spark curiosity.
Learning how to visit a museum

Self-guided and Guided Tours

Self-guided tours mean you wander at your own pace, seeing what you want. This is the most common format for visiting museums. The advantages include going at your own pace, resting when you want, and self-selecting the art and objects you want to focus on. The disadvantages include not learning the inside scoop from a museum guide and perhaps feeling overwhelmed about what are the most intriguing objects in the museum.

Group tour at Natural History Museum in London. Museums improve wellness.
Guided tours are one option when visiting museums.

Some museums only provide guided tours. These can be smaller museums and historic house museums, among others. Good museum tour guides are filled with knowledge, have good public speaking skills, incorporate stories not just facts, supplement their tours with objects to touch or images to examine, and provide opportunities to ask questions. Some larger museums have multiple guided tours based on a specific topic or time period. For example: Impressionist art, early American furniture, and 19th century transportation. It's appropriate to ask questions of the tour guide or docent.

Audio Tours

Audio tours can be a small device you hold or that hangs on a cord around your neck, or it might be something you access on your phone. They often have choices as to language, adult or child version, and which aspects you listen to or skip past. Smaller museums may not have any audio tours. Larger museums might have multiple audio tour options based on special exhibits or topics. Audio tours can be an excellent enhancement to a museum visit. At the same time, they can cut down on the natural interactions and discussions that you might have with the friends or family that have accompanied you to the museum.

What to Look At?

Especially at large museums such as the Museum of Natural History in New York or the Art Institute of Chicago, the collections are massive and it's easy to be overwhelmed with deciding what to look at. Be selective and go at a pace that's comfortable for you. Some visitors will want to see lots at a fast pace; others will want to slowly admire a small number of artifacts. Both are correct!

Chair of wood and metal. Metropolitan Museum of Art, public domain
Chair designed by Christopher Dresser, Scottish, 1870

At large museums, you might select a specific exhibit or gallery you want to explore. An alternative to picking the most famous objects is to ask a museum guard, docent, or admissions desk employee what their favorite object or gallery is. Or, you might ask where you can find art that ties into your hobbies, for example, paintings or objects that relate to gardening, or antique furniture that lets you indulge in your woodworking interest.

When did you last visit a museum? What did you think? What did you feel?


Books About Museums, Travel, Culture, & Wellbeing 

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