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Travel Toolbox: Beyond the Exhibits at Museums

Sometimes tour groups suffer from the museum blahs.

You’ve probably seen it before: The group is traveling in some fabulous destination, and your itinerary includes an afternoon at a museum that, by all accounts, is one of the best attractions in town. But when you arrive, nobody seems excited about it. A few might halfheartedly wander through the galleries while others skip the exhibits and go straight for the gift shop. By the time you’re scheduled to leave, the entire group has been sitting around for half an hour or more, just waiting for the museum visit to be over.

Museums can be great components of a group tour, but if they’re not integrated into your itinerary the right way, they can fall flat. Whether it’s travel fatigue or simple disinterest, group members often don’t feel like spending an hour or more on their feet listening to docents drone on about exhibits. To make museum visits memorable, smart travel planners arrange for special experiences.

Here are five suggestions for eliminating the museum blahs from your trips.

Go Behind the Scenes

Sometimes, the things that happen in the background of a museum are just as interesting as the exhibits, if not more so. To satisfy the demands of curious visitors, many museums have begun offering behind-the-scenes tours that showcase storage areas, artifact preservation techniques and other things that most museum visitors never get to see. Some even include the opportunity to put on white gloves and hold historic items or pieces of artwork that aren’t on public display. Many museums will offer these tours for groups with advance notice.

Dine On-Site

Your memories of eating at museums may consist primarily of cafeteria-style food served on school field trips, but museum dining has come a long way in the last 20 years. Many prominent museums now have equally prominent restaurants on-site, offering locally sourced, chef-inspired food and upscale ambiance. Many such restaurants feature menus and decor designed to dovetail with the curatorial mission of the museum, and some even feature special food items that help guests taste the culinary culture of the groups highlighted in the exhibits. Adding a lunch or dinner in one of these restaurants can elevate the museum experience for your group.

Plan Personal Encounters

It’s one thing to look at a static piece of artwork on a wall; it’s another to watch art created before your eyes. Even better is making some yourself. Inventive museum directors have begun to see the value in helping people connect with their subject matter through personal experiences, and as a result, many museums have artists in residence, professional storytellers or other experts on hand to help bring the museum visit to life. Groups can watch artists create in on-site studios or even schedule hands-on workshops for some hands-on fun.

Visit After Hours

One reason your groups may not respond to museum visits could be that you’re taking them at the wrong time of day — or during the day. Though every museum has normal daytime operating hours, many also offer a schedule of special programming and opportunities that happen after normal closing time. You can plan your museum visits to coincide with special evening concert series, lectures or events that include appetizers and cocktails. Some museums will even let groups plan their own after-hours visits, complete with food and beverage and private exhibit tours.

Have Fun With Photos

If the museum you’re visiting doesn’t have any special experiences or options available to liven up your visit, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands. One great way to do that is by planning some photo fun. Since all your travelers are likely to have a camera or a smartphone on hand, set up a photo scavenger hunt through the museum. Or you could hold a photo contest, offering a prize to the traveler who can take the funniest or most creative photo at the museum. Show all the photos at the end of the visit, and let the group vote on the winner. This also creates great material for sharing on social media.