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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!