Travel Tips: How to Navigate a Museum


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Lars Leetaru

Whether it’s the Louvre in Paris, the Prado Museum in Madrid or the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, museums are major tourist destinations. There are ways to get the most out a museum visit, according to Natasha Schlesinger, an art historian, curator and the founder of ArtMuse, a company that provides private tours of museums and galleries in New York City and Europe. “You want to do the museum justice and have fun at the same time,” she said.

Here, Ms. Schlesinger’s top tips on navigating a museum successfully.

Set a Time Limit and Eat Before You Go Your visit should be between 90 minutes and two hours at most. “A common mistake people make is to stay at a museum too long to try to see as much as possible, but this will only result in sensory overload and leave you overwhelmed,” Ms. Schlesinger said. In addition, never visit a museum when you’re hungry: Ms. Schlesinger said that the hunger will eat at you, leaving you unable to concentrate.

Have a Focus Instead of briefly glancing at 100 objects and forgetting about what you saw afterward, you’ll have a more fulfilling and memorable trip if you pick a maximum of 20 works and spend five minutes on each. In a large museum, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Ms. Schlesinger recommends sticking to one area, such as the Islamic art wing. As you view the works, read the information that goes along with them and any larger presentation about the overall exhibit — these give both a big- picture perspective as well as individual stories about the art.

With smaller museums like the Broad in Los Angeles, it’s possible to walk through the entire space in a single trip, but even then, you can’t absorb everything on display, so spend your time on works that most interest you.

Use Audio Tours Most museums have prerecorded audio tours available at the visitor’s desk, Ms. Schlesinger said, and they can be a great resource to get an in-depth lesson on the art. Many are also free or can be borrowed at a small cost, and some museums have kid-friendly guides with music, storytelling and interactive elements.

Consider a Private Guide A knowledgeable private guide, who is well-versed in a museum’s collection and has a background in art, can create an enjoyable tour customized to your interests. If you’re traveling with young children or teenagers, for example, a guide will be able to design a visit that appeals to either age group. Find a guide by asking your hotel concierge, on sites like TripAdvisor.com or through the museum itself. But be aware that private guides can be costly — Ms. Schlesinger, for example, charges $400 for a 90-minute tour for up to five people.

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