There are many reasons why people visit museums. Some want to learn about the past, while others are curious about the country they are visiting or want to enjoy art and culture. Museums are great for meeting new people, learning how our ancestors lived and expanding our minds.
There are different types of museums out there. Each offers an opportunity to learn more about our past and the world. No matter how you feel about them, you might have wondered why go to museums anyway. Here are my reasons why museums are important.
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5 Reasons why it’s important to visit museums
Early museums were not as accessible to everyone as they are today. They were reserved for the wealthy and educated elites. Once museums became accessible to everyone, they offered more people a chance to learn and see what’s inside.
People visit museums for different reasons. For some, they are wonderful places filled with wonder and mystery. To others, they are just boring storage places for old crap and not worth a visit. Here are some of my reasons for exploring museums.
- Museums teach us about the past. In a museum we can learn how things were done, what life looked like and even what people wore and did in the past. It is living history from times gone by that helps us understand ourselves.
- Museums make us smarter. When we visit museums, we gain new knowledge. Many museums even partner with schools to enhance education while others host hands-on workshops for people of all ages.
- Museums are great for research. Academics, researchers and regular folks often come to museums to study. Examining old artifacts is a great way to collect information. For example, old pottery is not just showing us how others consumed food. The techniques and materials used to make it tell us more about how we progressed and evolved in addition to what people ate.
- Museums inspire. They are great for stimulating new ideas, recharging and providing new perspectives. When you visit museums, you have access to the works of great masters, inventions and objects that changed our lives.
- Museums are a testament to the perseverance of humanity. The first known museum opened in the 3rd century BC at the University of Alexandria in Egypt. Museums document history and show us that people have needed to collect and preserve things for a long time.
Museums also house historically significant items that have influenced what we know of the past. Take the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum (London), the Mona Lisa at the Louvre (Paris) or the world’s oldest soccer ball at the Smith Museum (Scotland). Each has a different story yet provides us with a vast knowledge of how people did things in the past and how that has changed over time.
Another great benefit of visiting museums is finding things from places and cultures that no longer exist. Take the handmade prehistoric tools used by our predecessors, ancient texts that talk of items lost and forgotten or the mosaics of civilizations that once thrived then were lost over time.
The dark past of many museums
Many museums started as private collections donated by wealthy donors. Quite often, they had the means to travel and collect objects. Sometimes they did so by questionable means or by simply claiming them. Unfortunately, the black market in antiquities has always been tempting for those with the means and desire. Tomb robbing has been as old as tombs themselves.
Today, many countries are staking claims to objects removed in the past and now stored in foreign museums. The case of the status taken by Lord Eglin from the Parthenon, now held at the British Museum, is one of those examples. Who has the right to them? Should they be returned to their original home? It’s something worth thinking about and acknowledging as a moral issue.
different types of museums
Museums are versatile and diverse in their offerings, with something for every taste. As there are so many of them, it’s challenging to slot them into neat categories. Some museums have a general theme, while others focus on a specific subject, location or theme. Museum offerings can also depend on who is funding them. Funding can come from state, municipal or private sources, meaning not all museums are funded equally. When you visit museums, you often contribute to their upkeep.
According to Britannica.com, the collections at general museums are on “more than one subject […] were founded in the 18th, 19th, or early 20th century. Most originated in earlier private collections and reflected the encyclopedic spirit of the times.” People often love to visit museums with a variety of exhibits.
- The British Museum (London) – With over 8 million works, its permanent collection is the largest and most comprehensive in existence. Noteworthy exhibits include the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies.
- National Archeological Museum (Athens) – Museum collections include artifacts that were stored in various locations around the city before the museum opened. Here you can visit the extensive collection of jewellery, pottery, bronzes and sculptures from ancient cultures.
- The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) (Toronto) – As one of the largest museums in North America, it offers global art, culture and nature exhibits from across the ages. The museum collections include more than six million objects and specimens.
As the name implies, art museums focus on art, including paintings, sculptures and decorative arts from different times. Most people visit museums in this category as they are widely available.
- The Louvre (Paris) – With over 38,000 objects ranging from prehistoric to current, this is the world’s largest art museum. Once the home to French kings, it’s one of the most visited museums in the world.
- The Uffizi Gallery (Florence) – Here you can see an extensive selection of priceless Italian works of art from the Renaissance period.
- Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam) – A museum devoted to the works of Vincent Van Gogh. Here you’ll find an extensive collection of his work as well as personal items, including sketches and letters.
Some museums are hard to define. They are focused on a particular specialty, dedicated to a specific subject. When you visit museums in this category, anything goes.
- Museum of Broken Relationships (Zagreb) – The exhibition revolves around mementos of broken relationships. There are letters, keepsakes and photographs. Each has a description of the story behind what happened. Some are funny, others sad and heartbreaking.
- Bata Shoe Museum (Toronto) – A one-of-a-kind museum in North America dedicated to footwear with a vast collection of 13,500 items. If you think women today are wearing crazy shoes, wait until you see what they wore in the past ones.
- Wieliczka Salt Mine (Cracow) – Once a salt mine, today a popular tourist attraction. Inside you’ll find dozens of statues and four chapels carved out by the miners and many carvings made by contemporary artists. It is genuinely mind-blowing if you consider this is all made out of rock salt.
If aviation is your thing, here is a handy list of aviation museums around the world.
These are some of the most unique places for people who like to visit museums.
- Abba Museum (Stockholm) – Very quirky homage to the Swedish band Abba. Although not technically qualified as a museum as it is for-profit and doesn’t’ conduct research, it’s still a fun place to visit.
- Computer Games Museum (Berlin) – If you didn’t know this was a thing, it’s alive and kicking in Berlin. From early design ideas to popular games of the past, this is the place for game fans.
- Motown (Detroit) – Detroit was home to the sounds of music that had a significant impact on the industry. The label’s original administrative building and recording studio are now a museum. The guided tour is like a performance in itself.
Sometimes ancient ruins make for a great history lesson. These types of museums are probably my favourite. I love to visit museums that are filled with history and ruins.
- The Parthenon (Athens) – Perched on top of the Acropolis, the Parthenon stands silently above the city. It is an architectural marvel that influenced other buildings all over the world.
- The Roman Forum and the Colosseum (Rome) – Once clad in the finest marble, then looted and abandoned, history is drenched in every piece of rock and stone. This was the heart of the Roman Empire and a must-stop in Rome.
- Pompeii (Pompeii) – In a category of its own, Pompeii offers a unique and interactive way of learning about life during Roman times. Preserved by the ash from the Vesuvius volcano’s eruption, this once vibrant city now stands silently, waiting for more to be discovered.
Residences turned museums
This is probably the most interesting type of museum. Walking through actual rooms where people once lived is informative and enlightening. It allows you to see things in context, and it’s easier to imagine how they lived.
- Palacio Nacional da Ajuda (Lisbon) – Once home to Portugal’s royals, the Palacio is now a museum. Many of Lisbon’s state events are still hosted here in a spectacular dining room. The architecture is as impressive as the interior.
- Kensington Palace (London) – While many members of the British Royal family still live here, visitors have an opportunity to tour selected parts of the building. The museum also hosts many temporary exhibitions worth visiting.
- Versailles (Versailles) – It’s hard not to imagine Marie Antoinette running through the hallways with her entourage in tow. The grand parties of the French court were legendary and having stepped foot in this place, I can believe that. Then there is the garden. Do yourself a favour and check it out.
Like to visit museums that used to be royal residences? You might like Rundale Palace!
Why people dislike visiting museums
There are many reasons why people dislike visiting museums. Let’s be honest. They are not for everyone. Museums are usually housed in huge buildings. It can be tiring and boring if you have to shuffle from one exhibit to the next and not understand what you are looking at.
Without context, a vase is just a vase. It doesn’t matter why it’s there or how old it is. If you go in with the expectation that everything will come to life, you’re going to be disappointed. Most museums offer audio guides that will explain what you are looking at and why it’s there. They provide context for visitors and help to make the experience more enjoyable.
If you want to visit museums, here are some tips to make the experience more enjoyable.
- Pick a museum that has collections of things you find interesting. I wouldn’t say I like modern art, so I don’t go to modern art museums. While that is my preference, many out there love to visit contemporary art museums. I leave that experience to them.
- In many countries, you can visit museums for free. Those that charge admission often has a specific day (like every last Sunday of the month) where admission is free for everyone. Find out when that is and go on that day. You won’t feel like you have to stay because you’ve paid the admission. You can also come back on another day to see a different exhibit if you enjoy your visit.
- Don’t spend hours walking around a museum building aimlessly. Get an audio guide and choose which exhibits you want to see. Once you feel tired, bored or restless, call it a day. There is no point in forcing the experience, and you’ll be glad you did.
- Set your expectations before deciding to visit museums, especially ones you’re not sure about. Many museums offer virtual tours that you can access on their site. Take advantage of that and check it out before you go. The virtual tour might be enough for you, and that’s perfectly fine. You’ve just saved yourself some time. Or, it will make you want to visit in person and learn more about the exhibits.
- Respect museum rules. There is a reason why things are roped off or under a glass cover. Many items in museums are one of a kind and, once damaged, can’t be replaced. They can get damaged by heat and light or knocked over by accident. Locking them away helps preserve them and keep them out of reach of people who have no appreciation or respect for what’s there.
Final thoughts on why people visit museums
Most people first visit museums as kids, usually on a school trip or with parents. These experiences likely shape how they feel about museums later on. Even if you haven’t visited one as a child, you’re likely to visit a museum at some point in your life. You’ll either love it or hate it. One isn’t better than the other, so don’t feel bad if you don’t enjoy it. But if you go in open-minded, it will make the experience more enjoyable.
With such a variety of museums, there is likely something that will appeal to everyone. If you’re like me and love to visit museums, I don’t have to tell you why you should see one. You’ve probably been to many and have a list of your favourite ones. I’d love to compare those lists! We all have different interests, which makes museums fun and exciting for everyone.