Making the Most of Art Museums While Traveling

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is going to art museums and checking out local galleries. Especially when the weather is cold and rainy, there is nothing better than escaping reality for a few hours!  Use these tips to make the most of your time in art museums.

Oftentimes going to art museums can be exhausting, especially if your visit is sprinkled in with sightseeing. There is so much to see, and lot of museums are not doable in just one day, such as the Museum of Modern Art, Louvre, British Museum, Rijksmuseum, and National Gallery in Prague (Veletržní). 

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In the past, I always wanted to look at everything in a museum- even if it meant just walking through a room like a zombie to say that I’ve been there. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to want to make the most out of your short time in the museums, especially if entrance isn’t free or if you are only visiting a city for a few days. Plus, in most cases it is very unlikely that you will revisit the museum again soon.

Make sure to avoid the fruitless effort of trying to see everything. Focus on going to museums and exhibitions that interest you most! Talk to friends and people you know that have been to the museum before for first-hand tips. Read forums and helpful guide online! The sooner in advance you plan the more likely you are to find out about great events, such as guided tours, and showings coming up.  

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Don’t forget to check if you need to reserve tickets for the museum, such as with the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Less is More! – Survey Your Options

How do you decide what to see? And, yes, limiting yourself is the first step. Check out the museum’s website and ask at the ticket counter what exhibitions are currently on display. Normally a handy brochure will be given to you with quick summaries and a few featured images to spark your interest.

Do Your Homework- Find Museum Treasures

Focus your efforts on viewing whatever it is that sticks out to you! Try to see some highlights of standing collections, as it is something that always seems kind of obligatory. Like when you go to the Neues Museum in Berlin you have to see the bust of Nofretete! It is on the ticket and people associate this image with the entire museum.  

Finding these infamous museum treasure should be relatively easy, seeing that these images are normally on brochures and featured on the museum website. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with other institutions such as the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, have published the main body of their collection online, making your pre-visit research even easier.   

Pick and Prioritize Exhibitions

If selecting specific pieces still doesn’t limit much of the museum, pick an era or period that you are most interested in. I always try to check out the temporary and featured exhibitions, and there are usually free tours given for these exhibits. Consider checking out an retrospect, even if you are familiar with an artist, to gain a new perspective on their development. Lastly, keep in mind combination tickets that give you access to several museums and exhibitions at once.

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Ditch the Audio Guide

Audio guides give you the false sense that you can leave the exhibition knowing everything. My tip is to avoid the using an audio guide so that you can focus more on the images that really speak to you, not simply the ones that are preselected.

Take (some) Photos if Possible

To document or to not document that is the question? Taking pictures in an art museum is something I always view as a trigger for your actual memory of an artwork. Think of photos as a way to remind you of what the images looked like, and to spark your memory of details such as texture, goal, form, etc. Avoid trying to photograph everything, that is what the books sold in the museum gift shop are for. Also, don’t forget to take a picture of the placard, so that you can look up pieces by title and author later.  

Pick up on Regional Influence

Expand your understanding of a movement by focusing on the regional artists presented. Many artists you probably won’t know, but it will significantly expand what you think of a school or moment. Try not to focus too much on understanding the title and avoid being disheartened by small language barriers and bad translations.

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Learning about Czech Surrealists at the Museum Kampa in Prague.

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