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Unknown Beauty: How to Visit an Unfamiliar Art Museum When Traveling

Updated on February 2, 2012

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

As an informed traveler, you like to research the destination you visit as well as its attractions. However, sometimes, you may stumble upon an art museum that you did not encounter in your research, or that is too new to have any available information. If you decide to visit this unknown facility, you may make some wonderful discoveries. Here are some tips on how best to maximize your time and effort.

Herbert Art Museum in Coventry, UK
Herbert Art Museum in Coventry, UK | Source

Consult the experienced.

Wait near the museum exit for any visitors who have already gone through the galleries. Ask for their opinions of the facility, what they thought were the best pieces and if they have any advice on touring. Their responses can help you determine whether the museum is worth a visit, and what artwork to look out for when you enter.

Ask the staff.

Curators, docents, museum guards and information desk clerks serve the public and are delighted to answer any questions you may have. Ask for a map and have them mark down where the museum’s best pieces are located. The recommendations will act as your guideposts to exploring the institution further. If they do not have a map, you can still ask for their list of the museum’s top 10 pieces and where they are located.

Visit the gift shop first.

As part of its efforts to make money and publicize its institution, the art museum gift shop typically carries items related to the pieces located in the galleries. These include books, replicas, pictures and post cards. Look for any guides to the museum. If you cannot afford to buy one, browse quickly through it for information on collection highlights. If no such books are available, check out the postcards or souvenir replicas because they typically showcase the best pieces of the institution. Ask the gift shop staff to show you on your map where you can find the originals.

Look for tours.

Tours are the easiest way to maximize your time at an unfamiliar museum. You only have to follow, listen and look to enjoy yourself. Tours are normally heavily publicized near the front desk or entrance, and are usually free. You can also ask museum staff or gift shop personnel if any tours are available.

Develop a touring plan.

Many tourists visit museums by entering the first gallery that they encounter and then studying the first artwork that they see. They then move on to the next artwork and continue in this fashion until they’ve seen all the pieces. They then proceed to the next room.

While this strategy works well for very small facilities, you will quickly run out of time and endurance if you try that with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Louvre in Paris. A better way is to devote two or three hours to the entire museum viewing only pieces that interest you. With your map in hand, visit only those rooms and pieces you’ve marked out. If you have time after you’ve completed your tour, you can always go back and revisit rooms and pieces that you missed.

Go from the general to the specific.

If you don’t have a map or a touring plan, you can decide on-the-fly whether a room is worth your time. When you first enter, scan all the pieces in the room. Try to develop a sense of the style and type of artwork, the subject matter covered, the colors used and the historical period. If you need help, look for a general description of the gallery, which is usually placed near the entrance.

If the room does not interest you, skip it and move on to the next room. Otherwise, see if any of the pieces catch your eye. A gallery’s most important object is usually placed right in front of you as you enter. But don’t be afraid to ignore it, if it doesn’t appeal to you. Instead, spend time at the few items that you find worthwhile. Don’t be afraid to ask the room guard for his opinion of what is outstanding. Because he may spend all day in that one area, he is an expert due to experience, if nothing else.


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    • lifetips123 profile image

      Praveen P.V. Nair 5 years ago from Trivandrum

      ALocsin, this is a great hub on museum and beauty. Voting up and useful. Keep in touch

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Aurelio, wonderful and useful tips especially if short on time or if the museum is too big. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I know exactly what you mean about not having the time to see each and every piece if it is a large museum. Your suggestions are excellent! We have stumbled upon some great museums in our travels and ones that we had not planned on viewing. The Joan Miro Foundation was one like that in Barcelona. We needed a break from the heat and it more than "fit the bill." Wrote a hub about it if you are interested. Fortunately it was a small museum...not like the Prado in Madrid! Up and useful votes.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I've made that mistake many times, just starting from the beginning and walking around, and missing some important things because I simply didn't have the time to see them all. I like the idea of choosing the things you want to see first, and then looking at them first. Then you can keep looking around and browse if you still have time left. Voted up.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      These are great ideas, especially the one visiting the gift shops, this will really tell you whether they are worth taking a look at or not, I love visiting all sorts of art gallerys museums and old cathedrals, so this is really helpful, cheers, voted and shared! nell

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 6 years ago from Nepal

      I will keep this in mind when I'm traveling to some places and I come across a museum.

      Informative and useful!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 6 years ago from Peru, South America

      These suggestions are both unique and helpful. Voted up and useful! We plan on visting El Museo de Oro on our next trip to Lima and even though I've done some research on it already, I think this advice would still make our experience more enjoyable. Thank you!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Thanks everyone -- I expected we'd have a lot of hubbers who love museums. I obviously do, especially unfamiliar ones, because of all the discoveries you can make.

    • agreenworld profile image

      Dawn A. Harden 6 years ago from CT-USA

      I have heard that the museums in Japan especially are incredible. Nice job.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from North Carolina

      I love art and museums. I have always lived rurally so it is a challenge for me to navigate through the big cities. This is helpful information for me! Well done and inspirational.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 6 years ago from Western NC

      Every time I visit a new city, I HAVE to visit an art museum. I'm also an artist in my "other" life. Voted up and interesting. :)

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 6 years ago

      I love visiting museums. This is a wonderful Hub on museums and making the time and location work for a traveler passing through. Bookmarked, voted up and everything else.

    • radhikasree profile image

      Radhika Sreekanth 6 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Great tips on visiting a museum in order to make the most of it. Thanks for sharing.

      Voted up as useful.

    • cebutouristspot profile image

      cebutouristspot 6 years ago from Cebu

      Interesting tip. I agree visiting less popular place have a more local effect in my opinion. I mean everything is genuine even the people. Just my opinion. Thanks for Sharing and voting up

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 6 years ago from Thailand

      Great tips, particularly about hanging around the exit! It is often more fun to visit the 'less popular' places, as you see something different and come home with unique photos.

      Thanks for SHARING.