Whenever I enter a museum, I rediscover rhythms that I haven’t used since my last trip to Adventureland for nerds. I’m the type who reads all (or almost) all the plaques in sight, and I’ve been known to stop in the middle of a sidewalk just because I’ve spotted a historical marker. But when I visit a museum, my time is limited. Sometimes my energy is too. I can’t read everything I see. Even if I could, I might wind up reading everything but enjoying nothing.

My 2022 was filled with a wonderful abundance of museums in Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Washington, D.C.; and Toronto, Ontario. I was grateful for the chance to visit so many last year, and this year—starting with last Saturday’s trip to the DIA—is shaping up to hold even more jaunts through dusty-but-delightful objects.

The more museums I visit, the more I learn how to visit any museum in any city. I can’t take my readers along with me on my travels–and, even more sadly, I can’t stow away on any of their adventures either. But I can share a few tips with you, a few ways I’ve learned to make the most of

Read the map.

Seriously, slow down. This might seem like a waste of time, but you’ll soon learn to scan the map of the building before you rush off and spend hours with content you liked but didn’t love. At the Museum of American History this summer, I spent a less-than-compelling twenty minutes in a very 1990s explanation of electricity and Edison’s innovations. I thought I could make myself interested in the content, but—in all honesty—I never knew the lightbulb could be so dull.

Once I climbed the stairs to the upper level, I was immediately enthralled by the exhibits and objects. George Washington’s wartime jacket! The table from the Appomattox Court House, with Grant and Lee’s chairs still alongside it! Dresses from most of the First Ladies, including a Mary Todd Lincoln gown likely made by Elizabeth Keckley (a fascinating woman in her own right)! I looked down at my phone, and I only had about twenty minutes until closing time. If I had glanced at the museum map ahead of time, I would have known not to spend my minutes with the material I liked least.

Track the patterns and give yourself odd scavenger hunts according to your interests.

Museum curators often build their collections along certain themes or interests; sometimes, we as visitors can pick up on those threads, like an affection for certain time periods or certain types of artifacts. My friend Alex likes to hunt for cats in art museums; I like to hunt for jewelry, hair, and fashion trends both timeless and timebound.

At the Royal Museum of Ontario this December, I was amused and delighted by Greek ox-head earrings (meh), Indian necklaces (spaaarkly), glittering Byzantine earrings (oooh), ornate Chinese hairpins (ahhh), even an Egyptian cat necklace (awww).

Let yourself linger with what fascinates you.

If my first tip is about saving time, this last tip is about making time. Sometimes I regret spending too many minutes with items and plaques I find uninteresting. And sometimes I wish I had allowed myself to stay with the pieces I love just because I love them. You won’t remember everything you see at a museum, but you will probably remember a few pieces, paintings, objects, or artifacts. Why not fill your memory with all the details your senses can collect?

At the DIA this weekend, I sat with Diego Rivera’s murals and Bruegel’s The Wedding Dance for as long as I wanted. In those moments, I wasn’t glancing at my phone, worrying about the time. I wasn’t even curious about what was in the next gallery. I was in the same place as something beautiful and precious—I might as well enjoy it.

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