A hack to enjoy museums

The idea of visiting a museum is great. The execution can be hard for most people.

The reason some people hate visiting museums is because of how they’re organized.  Museums usually have a daily entry fee, which can be pretty high. Therefore, people feel compelled to spend several 3 to 5 hours in museums, trying to take in as much as they can for their money’s worth. The most famous museums always have bigger collections than anybody can see in one visit.

Visiting a museum is like eating at a buffet. Sure, the variety is nice, but like our tummies, our minds have limits for how much information they can take in one sitting. Unlike our stomachs, though, our minds do not offer immediate feedback when they are full. Before we realize that has happened, we have spent several hours walking past exhibits like a zombie. When the visit ends, we are often so mentally exhausted that we do not go anywhere near another museum for several years.

To take the dietary analogy further, museums ought to be designed like a-la-carte restaurants rather than all-you-can eat buffets. That way, one can pay for merely the sections one wishes to see in that visit and leave in about an hour with a satiated mind. But I don’t foresee museums doing this anytime soon. The onus falls upon us as visitors to salvage this situation.

Now here’s the hack – enter the museum about an hour before closing time. Walk up to the information desk, ask them for a map and decide which section you would like to see. This selection is the most important part. Be sure to pick a section that you can relate to. For instance, if you’ve recently read a book on the story of Genghis Khan, you must head to the Chinese / Central Asian collections. If you’ve read the Iliad, head to the section with ancient Greek exhibits. If you don’t find something good enough to see in an hour that justifies the entry price, you should leave and do something else with your time and money.

By entering about an hour from closing time, I put a cap on how long I would spend there. Besides, the limited time automatically makes me cut through the noise and pick a section that is most relevant to my visit. There’s nothing like a deadline (and a high entry fee!) to bring this sense of clarity. And given that I often leave before I have had my fill, I visit another museum in a few months.

Museums aren’t optimized for the enjoyment of regular folks. Ironic as it may seem, limiting how much time I spend inside museums has been the best use of my time and money.

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