Art museums are an untapped treasure for solo exploring and meandering walks. I should know, since I have worked and volunteered in museums large and small since 2011.
But I love visiting museums alone in general, because it allows me the time to enjoy the art at my own speed and see only what I want to see. It also means I can spend as much time in the museum’s gift shop afterwards, because heck yes to artsy postcards and trinkets!
To some, however, art museums can feel a little overwhelming. I mean, they can be big, full of weird pictures and statues you don’t know anything about, and guarded by folks in uniform who view your visible water bottle in the same way we’d view a weapon of mass destruction. So here are my tips
“I’m a closet nerd. I love to study history and visit museums.”- Shakira
Things to do before you go
First: Locate an art museum online and visit their website. If you don’t have a particular museum in mind, try doing a general search for art museums in your area. Large cities will offer more variety of museums to choose from, but even a small town may have a museum or historical home with art you can see. You can also check your local college or university, as they sometimes have their own museums and art collections that are open to the public.
When choosing a museum, remember that some will feature many types of art from different places and time periods, while others may focus on one or more specific topics, time periods, or artists. Be sure to check their website to find out what kind of art they show or specialize in and what exhibitions will be open when you are visiting.
If you are unfamiliar with the artists, time periods being shown, or theme of an exhibition at a particular museum, do a little online research to see if you find something about the topics that spark your interest. I never knew how lovely Japanese cloissone could be until I saw an exhibition on cloissone snuff bottles.
Second: Check these important details on the museum’s website:
- Operating days and hours. Some museums limited days and hours for public visitors, so make sure you check for those.
- Ticket fees. While there are plenty of free museums to visit and enjoy, the overhead costs of conserving art, maintaining buildings with advanced HVAC systems, and producing exhibitions is not cheap, which means many museums need to charge an entrance fee in order to help cover these costs. To save money in the long-run you may want to consider a membership to the museum, as sometimes they are only a few dollars more than a single ticket and will include perks, like free parking, free guests passes, or invitations to exclusive opening events.
- Parking details. Some museums have their own parking lots. If they do, check the fee to park and note whether they take cash or cards so you are prepared. If they do not provide parking, you should check for parking suggestions on their website or try Yelp for suggestions reviewers may have left.
- Prohibited items. Most museums do not allow visible food or water in their galleries. Some museums will also have restrictions on photography, and bringing large coats, umbrellas, and oversized backpacks or purses into the galleries. This information is usually found on their website as well, so make sure you check so you don’t risk being turned away!
Third: Eat and bring a hide-able water bottle. That’s right. Food and beverages sold at museum cafes are usually overpriced and, let’s be real, not even that great. Save your money for the gift shop afterwards by eating before you enter the museum and bringing a water bottle you can hide in your bag. If there is outdoor space and the weather is nice, you can consider stashing an easy snack, like some nuts or a meal bar, in whatever bag you brought.
Once you get there
When you get to the museum you should locate the ticket counter, obviously, to get your ticket or become a member. At the ticket counter you will also generally find maps, flyers for exhibitions, and calendars of special events, which I do suggest you grab. If you want to check your coat or bag, these people can direct you.
Before you walk inside
SO now that you’ve got your ticket and are about to enter the museum, it is time to look at some art!
Before you walk in the galleries, make sure you:
- Hide your water bottle in your bag or jacket, or guards will yell at you.
- Check to check to see if you are allowed to take photos. Usually there will be a sign on the wall about whether photos are allowed in the galleries. If you take photos when they aren’t allowed, guards will yell at you.
- Remember that this isn’t your home and these aren’t your things, so don’t touch anything.
- Understand that it is common etiquette in a museum to stay at least 18″ (just under half a meter) away from all artworks to avoid potentially damaging them.
Exploring the art
Now that those things are clear, let’s get to the art!
There are a lot of ways to enjoy the art in a museum while on your own:
- You can take a guided tour offered by the museum. Many times these are free and led by docents or museum educators who are knowledgable in the museum’s art collection. (Don’t miss guided tours of the museum’s gardens or architecture that may be available as well.)
- You can take advantage of self-guided tours. Museums with usually offer self-guided tours using iPods or similar technology. It’s smart to bring some simple earbud headphones with a traditional jack along with you if you plan to take a tour like this so you can avoid using their headset on your head. (yuck)
- You can use the pamphlets and maps the museum provides to find specific things you want to see or experience.
- You can meander the galleries with no real plan and just enjoy the sights.
When I go to museums alone, I like to bring headphones. I put on my favorite music and just walk, listen to songs, and look.
Sometimes, if I’m in the mood, I’ll strike up a friendly conversation with one of the guards/gallery attendants or visitors in the gallery.
Exit through the gift shop
After you’ve soaked in some culture, art, and history, it is always wise to stop by the museum shop.
Now, if you are on a budget, like I am, a museum gift shop can be a little too pricy. However, they often have cheap, high-quality postcards of their most popular artworks and fun lower cost trinkets.
Even if you don’t buy anything, it is fun to flip through museum catalogs and look at eclectic jewelry before shuffling off back to the car to head home!