According to data from 2017, our planet has over 55,000 museums in 202 countries. Their subject matter and must-see status range widely, from the Louvre and Guggenheim on one end and, say, the Ramen Museum and Lee’s Legendary Marbles on the other. While not all museums represent must-have, life-altering experiences, there are still too many in the upper echelon to be seen in one lifetime.
I’m here to shorten the list a tad, not necessarily with specific museum recommendations (with one notable exception), but instead a few must-have experiences that museums can provide just about anywhere. Ready? scroll down for the list!
4 must-have museum experiences
The jet-lagged museum jaunt
This does not have to be one’s first experience with jet lag, but it certainly helps. Here’s your step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Board an overnight flight from Chicago to London
Step 2: Thanks to screaming children and an inability to sleep sitting up, get zero sleep
Step 3: Upon arrival, proceed straight to the nearest world-renowned art museum (in my case, London’s Tate Modern)
Step 4: Struggle to keep your eyelids—weighing roughly 20 pounds at this point—open while aimlessly walking by priceless works of art
Step 5: Feign enthusiasm when your parents ask if you’re having a nice time when all you want to do is take a nap in the coat check room
Step 6: Forget all of it and have a re-do the next day. What fun!
The real Mona Lisa experience
This is not the romanticized version you might see in a movie… you and your best friend stroll casually through the magnificently adorned walkways of the Louvre. As you step around a corner into an empty exhibit hall, you find yourselves face to face with the most famous woman the art world has ever known. Instantly, you’re inexplicably overcome with emotion. Mona’s glowing face and effortless smile shine large on you as you walk back and forth capturing different angles, and of course, checking to see if her gaze really does follow you throughout the viewing gallery.
(Spoilers ahead) Well, here’s the reality: first things first, she’s tiny. The entire painting only measures 30 x 21 inches, with maybe a bit of extra heft for the frame. Now, this wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the hordes of tourists—who have clearly never felt a need for personal space in their entire lives—crammed together at a density level that defies engineering.
And all of these people, smooshed together so tight they can smell each other’s breakfast are clamoring for the same thing: to snap a photo of the Mona Lisa on their phone. Seriously. They’re trying to take a photo of the most famous work of art on planet earth. However, a simple Google search will provide a better image that you’ll ever capture from 20 feet away with 100 other sweaty, aggravated individuals all trying to clog their iCloud their own terrible photo.
That’s not to say that the entire Louvre experience is consistent with the one described above. There are a multitude of priceless (and frankly more impressive) works of art contained within the Louvre’s walls, Many, if not most sections are much quieter and absent the traffic of Mona’s exhibit space. So go, get lost in art and enjoy the solitude away from Mona. It is still an essential part of any Parisian experience.
Embrace emerging tech with VR exhibits
For many, a great reason to visit a museum is having a break from screen time. In reality, there are very few activities that I, like most millennials, take part in that do not involve a screen. Well, this one takes the quest for less screen time to its logical conclusion: more screen time.
It’s truly remarkable what some institutions are currently doing with both Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Both in a permanent and traveling exhibit perspective (this, this and this come to mind), with the right subject and execution, AR and VR can significantly elevate the museum-going experience.
Marry your best friend
Museums make outstanding backdrops for all kinds of life events. This of course includes wedding festivities, and more so if you ask my wife, the all-important wedding photo. For my wife and I, we even got to combine the museum backdrop with a performing arts center in our college town.
The clean lines and open spaces of Madison, Wisconsin’s Overture Center/Contemporary Art Museum turned out to be the perfect choice for us, and provided me with my first piece of marriage advice: never get in between a bride and her wedding photos.
What other museum experiences should everyone have in their lifetime? Let us know in the comments!