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How to Avoid Museum Fatigue in Europe

Museum fatigue is that feeling of just walking through a museum, looking but not really seeing, as row after row of sculpture or painting just blurs and everything seems the same. Your legs drag behind you, your mind shuts down, and it becomes about as enjoyable as having a tooth extracted. As travellers who enjoy the cultural aspects of travel, discovering art is such an integral part of every trip we take. It’s always been a major highlight of our travel itinerary, so whether it was to explore the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Uffizi or the Bargello in Florence, the Vatican Museum or the Borghese Gallery in Rome, Museu Picasso or Fondacion Miro in Barcelona, it’s always been most exciting. There’s so much history and culture to be discovered and understood, but museum fatigue hits even those most interested in art. And when you’re just visiting someplace, trying to cram a whole lot of sights and museums in, can be not so enjoyable.

How to avoid Museum Fatigue (especially in Europe)

1. Itinerary Planning

Even if it’s summer and the days are long, remember that you’ll only have the enthusiasm and energy to walk through a museum in the first half of the day. So try and schedule one museum visit per day, and begin your day with that. If you must visit two museums in one day, use lunch as a refreshing break between the two.

Museum Fatigue

2. Museum Cards

Every city has this amazing “money-saving, time-saving” Museum Pass or Card. And from the Paris Museum Pass to the Firenze Card, we’ve used them all, but there are pros and cons to consider. Most cards grant you free access to a whole lot of museums and sights, but only when used within a brief time period, like 2 or 3 consecutive days. That basically nullifies point 1 above then, doesn’t it? Not if you use it smartly. These cards also usually grant you skip the line access, thereby saving you from wasting hours standing in a queue when you could be covering something else. So mix up your day, with museums and sights covered by the card. If there are Museums that allow you to reserve your entry time, book those for the days after your card’s validity ends, and keep your card as more of a skip- the- line tool. Often, these cards also include free public transport (which just lets you reserve your energy for all the walking around you’ll do inside the museum).

Museum Fatigue

3. Guides

Now we’re the first one’s to admit we HATE tour groups and guides in museums because they’re large, take up a lot of space, are usually filled with kids who aren’t the least bit interested, and of course make you wait to see the next exhibit because the guide is busy explaining something. But we’ve figured that sometimes eavesdropping can help you not only pass the time while you wait, but also reveal an interesting insight or perspective. But you can’t exactly walk around eavesdropping on tour groups, so here’s where having your own handheld guide comes in handy. I’d leave brochures, maps or paper guides as the last resort because trying to read things as you walk around looking at art can get very cumbersome. Our favourite pick is the audioguide. Plug it in, leaving yourself free to walk around, take photos, listening to stories being brought alive and delivered into your ear. We either download an audioguide in advance, find an app, or rent the museum’s audioguide. I find that it not only allows you to set an appropriate pace for your visit, but also lets you admire and study a painting from across the room without jostling with others to try and read the exhibit description. So much more elegant.

Museum Fatigue

4. Making Peace

The Louvre, for example has over 35,000 exhibits spread across 652,300 square feet. There’s no way you could see even half of that in one visit. So make peace with yourself, there is only so much you can see. So whether you choose to walk all over, looking only at the highlights, or pick only a particular section and study it thoroughly, that’s up to you. But make that choice realistically. The same applies for the museums you select.

Museum Fatigue

5. Be comfortable

Wear comfortable shoes that don’t hurt (you will be on your feet for quite a while), dress in layers so you can be comfortable regardless of what the temperature inside the museum is. Leave backpacks or anything else you don’t need at the cloakroom, nothing is more irritating than having to lug stuff around while you’re trying to appreciate art.

Museum Fatigue

6. Take a break

About halfway through your visit, it’s always a good idea to take a break. Some museums have a cafeteria inside, some just chairs and benches. If you don’t want to waste time stepping away, try and find a chair or bench inside a room that has an interesting exhibit and settle down, to observe the exhibit. Staring at it for a while may help you discover another side to it. Or look out the window if there’s one. If you’ve got company, talking about the pieces you’ve liked so far. Just letting your mind (and body) pause for a bit will recharge your batteries and help you get through the second half. And it’s the simplest little trick on how to avoid museum fatigue.

Museum Fatigue

 

7. Look with your mind

While I do understand that after a while everything starts looking the same, studies have shown thats because people spend an average of 10 seconds looking at any single exhibit. I’ve seen people walking around, zeroing in on the pieces that have a crowd around them, or just entering a room, taking a bunch of photographs and leaving. Sometimes, it makes more sense to put down that camera, and look around, gravitate towards a piece that really appeals to you and discover a new artist, jotting down the name to look it up later.

Museum Fatigue

8. Go with the flow

Be flexible. Don’t try to meet targets just because that’s how much you decided to see. If after covering the first floor, you don’t feel like seeing the second floor, skip it. Seeing something you’re forcing yourself to see is as good as missing it. If a floor or a room or a temporary exhibit looks interesting but it wasn’t on your map, go on, but remember you’ll probably have to skip something else instead. If you’re entering a museum at opening time, remember that working your way backwards might mean you’ll skip the crowds at least for a part of the visit.

Museum Fatigue

9. Visit the gift shop

It’s a great re-cap of the work you saw in the museum, because the most important or famous pieces are usually splashed on all sorts of merchandise. It also lets you buy a keepsake version of a piece you liked, making the museum experience a little bit more meaningful.

Museum Fatigue

Do you have any other tips on how to avoid museum fatigue? How do you handle it? Which are your favourite museums in the world? Let’s talk museums in the comments below!

30 Discussions on
“How to Avoid Museum Fatigue in Europe”
  • I love the Louvre, the Smithsonian museums, and recently I visited the MSK, the Museum of Fine Art, in Ghent–I think its layout, flow, and spacious rooms, really helped showcase its pieces and special exhibits. I enjoyed your post, and am looking forward to both the Vatican and Borghese museums in Rome on our upcoming trip to Rome!

    • One thing that I’d recommend for Rome is booking ahead for both these galleries. Galleria Borghese books in time slots and you can book alone, use an audio guide or book a tour but don’ t think that you can turn up on the day. The Vatican is so so busy that it is best to do a tour. The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St Peters have so many incredible treasures that you could spend days there. Just enjoy everything even if you feel a little rushed. Rome is amazing, I really enjoyed the Musei Capitale and Museo Nationale as well as the Museo Orientale and so many of the churches and ruins.

  • Revati, I feel like I hit the mother lode. This is just such a treasure trove of information. I agree about audio guides, they can be really helpful. And I guess with places like the Louvre, the only way to go is pick and choose.

    Thanks for laying it all out like this. It is super helpful.

  • In Florence, I found it valuable to buy the Amici Degli Uffizi membership. It’s good for a year, gives you front of the line benefits and also gives you admission to 23 museums and galleries in Florence. Even if you won’t be able to use it more than once, it’s still really nice to not have to schedule your museum visits or wait in line!

  • I am not a museum man but I prefer to research before going to anywhere. If the grammar of the place us well understood in the mind..I think there should not be any mental fatigue

  • You have covered it all very nicely. I agree on all of them because I can see myself doing them such as taking audio guide, taking rest, skipping a part of the museum etc.

    Loved the post. 🙂

  • I’m a major museum lover and usually go to quite a few when I travel. These are some great pointers, as standing around for hours can be quite tiring–especially if you’re walking around seeing a city too. I agree on the museum cafeterias–a great way to break up a visit if you need more of a “pick me up” than a couple minutes resting on a bench in front of a painting. And it gives you a chance to reflect on the exhibits you’ve seen before continuing on to others.

  • Having a child traveling with me these days means I almost never get fatigue in museums… because we only get about 5 minutes to zip through them! Great tips though. I do remember being n Paris finding myself just going through the motions. I think I needed a good break in between all the museums!!

  • Museum fatigue is a real thing and as travelers we tend to cram in as much as possible. The same thing happens with churches. The one museum that has always stood out in my mind is in Austria and is the museum of natural history and in particular the room of extremes. Very bizarre but holds your attention and keeps the day lively.

  • Great post with some good tips! I remember my first trip to Paris and being completely overwhelmed with the Louvre! We “wasted” so much time there because we didn’t book a guide or audio guide so we didn’t know what we were looking at! Secondly like you said, its so big that we missed all the best parts! So my advice in addition is do your research before going to a museum so you don’t miss out the famous bits like you know…Mona Lisa!! 🙂

  • Totally agree with your points. I try to do one museum per day, at the start of the day as well. Another favourite is the museum shops. You can buy unique gifts!

  • Great tips. I think it’s important to know why you are visiting this or that museum instead of just going through the motions because is something you should see. Doing some research before hand helps you up things in perspective I find too and also as you say concentrating your efforts on a certain section and taking regular breaks helps.

  • Great advice! I always try to fit too much in. I have a fear of missing something! Taking breaks and having a relaxing lunch really does help. I will try next time to select the bits I really want to explore and focus on enjoying them.

  • These are all great suggestions. I have practiced many of them and at times been so exhausted because I forgot about them. For me, doing the Hermitage in St. Petersburg was by far the most exhausting as we toured 3-4 other places first. My brain was fried. 😉

  • I totally feel you guys on this. You know you’re reaching your limit when your shins start to hurt. Unfortunately its often unavoidable, and something you just have to do and suck it up. I am a fervent believer in doing one country a trip, which usually takes two weeks – massive Eurotrips are just going to skim the surface unless you’re looking at a multi-month excursion.

  • I really agree with point 5 – being comfortable really is key while experiencing a large amount of museums! The more comfy you are the less distracted you will be! So true!

  • I’ve already commented but just thought I’d share a tip. I have a hard time with museums because of my feet. Standing so much while reading information plaques really takes its toll on my feet. So I try to always have some postcards to write or my travel journal with me. Then I plan to sit for a portion of the time I’m in the museum to give my feet a break. At the end of the day, rolling a cold soda can under my feet really helps!

  • Totally know that feeling! Love number 3 especially 🙂 When you have a good tour (either live or on headphones) it can be so great! They should put some effort in it, but it can make major difference 🙂

  • Omg yes! It can really get too much in Europe – and im someone who looooves museums. I think the get a guide is a great way to see a museum as they often know extra bits of info that’s not mentioned. We’ve rarely regretted getting a guide

  • Great advice! We love visiting museums, but they can be overwhelming. I definitely agree with the idea of picking just a certain section, and really spending the time to appreciate it — it’s so much better than try to rush around cramming everything in and not really appreciating anything.

  • I really enjoyed your article! I am a freelance museum worker and really understand what you are writing about. Having just visited Ireland and Rome I totally understand that it is important to prepare for museum overload even for those of us who work in and think that we understand museums. I usually have a museum or two in mind before I visit a place and I may have a particular interest in their collection or architectural design. I don’t try to read every label and look at every object. I actually look at the objects and then I read the labels of those things that I am particularly interested in. It’s really great when you re travelling overseas that there are guides and labels in more than one language ( something that we don’t do well in Australia). I agree that small doses are probably better and more meaningful. Also do some research before you go. The internet is a wondrous thing!

  • Loved this post! Just in time for my Amsterdam/Kinderdijk/Rotterdam/TheHague museum spree! The museum that left me in a daze (if we may call it a museum, as technically, they have named it Museum-cum-Memorial) was Auschwitz! Over there, I walked about, stopped at the signages/informational boards, saw the exhibits, listened to the guides, listened to other visitors’ reaction, intently gazed at their horror-writ faces, stepped aside and smoked moodily… did it all. Though that was a concentrated dose, that was one museum I couldn’t get enough of (I must confess I am an avid WW-II trail follower).
    Thanks for sharing these useful tips!

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