Top 20 Museum Etiquette Rules- Don’t Ever Tour Again Without Them!

II. FDGB-Arbeiterfestspiele, Kunstausstellung

I was lucky enough for my last etiquette post to get so much attention. It was entitled Top 25 Airplane Etiquette Rules- Don’t Ever Fly Again Without Them! Based on the heated discussion in the comments, I can see that I hit a sore spot with a lot of people.

In light of recent events, I feel the need to make another list. This time about museum etiquette.

I was in the middle of writing a post about the behavior of college students living in Florence, when I get this article sent to me, American Tourist Knocks Finger Off 14th Century Statue in Italy. Basically, the man tried to either (depending on which story you read) high five  or measure his hand against the hand of a 600 year old statue of the Virgin Mary in Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence, Italy.

Not only is this upsetting because yet another piece of historical art has succumbed to human hands, but they were American hands. As a lover of Florence and of art, I am sad. As an American, I am embarrassed. In my research, I read many stories of historical pieces of art being damaged or destroyed by disrespectful tourists in Florence. Sadly, the majority were at the hands of my compatriots.

I love my country. but what gives?

All right, listen up!

The Top 20 Museum Etiquette Rules- Don’t Ever Tour Again Without Them!

Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F033797-0003 / Storz / CC-BY-SA

1. Do not high five the statues. As tempting as it may be, that quick laugh is not going to be worth the total humiliation you will feel when you break a 600 year old statue and the entire world finds out about it.

2. The golden museum rule- DO NOT TOUCH! No matter how tempted you are, RESIST! If everyone touches, nothing will be left for you to admire.

3. Do not climb the statues like these students did, breaking the hand, staff, and shell on the Fountain of Neptune in Florence.

4. Keep your voice down. Discuss the art, that’s what it’s there for. There is no need to escalate conversations to the point of disturbing those around you.

5. For the love of art, if you must get that photo, DON’T use a flash!  Ok, even I’m guilty of this one. It’s hard to resist snapping a shot when you are standing in front of one of the most famous masterpieces in the world (like I did when I saw the Statue of David for the first time). With a phone, it’s pretty easy to grab that shot (but don’t think the docents don’t know what you’re doing). The art is incredibly light sensitive and with millions of flashes hitting them, they will be affected.

6. If you don’t enjoy museums, don’t go. It’s when people get bored that they start acting up. If someone is dragging you along, suggest that you wait outside in the piazza with an espresso. The people watching will keep you entertained.


7. Hire a guide! A good guide will keep you interested and give you a whole new perspective on what you see. I personally recommend Alexandra Lawrence, editor-at-large for the Florentine. You will find her current tour schedule here in The Florentine. Molly Mcllwrath is a wonderful family guide in Florence. You can see both Molly’s and Alexandra’s bios and book with them here through Context Travel.

8. Do not pose on the furniture! The beds fit for kings and queens are not fit for you.

9. When you are pointing out details in a piece, stay far enough away that you do not make contact with the piece itself. I see this far too often. The oils from your fingers will cause damage.

10. The velvet ropes are there to keep you back. They are not your playground. This is not good museum etiquette.

11. Do not drink alcohol before or during your visit. Being drunk in a museum is embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone.

12. Kids. Make it fun for them. Many museums offer special activities for children- everything from scavenger hunts to wearing period costume pieces. Children that learn to appreciate art become adults that appreciate art. Nurture this in your children and be mindful. I have 3 kids that love going to museums. They will want to touch, it’s natural. Bring a small toy or something they can hold in their hands so they won’t be as tempted. Give them a pad of paper and a pencil and have them draw their favorite pieces.

Remember- When they are done, you are done. You have to visit a museum on their level, not yours.

13. Do not stand directly in front of the exhibit or the information plaque. If we all take a step back, we all can see.

14. Do not snack in the museum. Do I really need to say this? Your crumbs look horrible in front of that Michelangelo.

15. Don’t smoke. In the lines outside, or in the crowded piazza where everyone is admiring the art. It ruins the experience for everyone else.

16. Don’t push, shove, or run in the museum. Yes, people do this.

17. No one likes an an art snob. Well, except maybe another art snob. If you know something more than we do, share it. I love learning new things from other visitors around me. Just don’t walk around like you deserve to be there more than everyone else.

Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F014916-0034 / Wegmann, Ludwig / CC-BY-SA

18. Enjoy yourself. If you find something is funny and you want to crack a joke, go for it. Just do it quietly to your friends and respect the people around you. We don’t need to hear what you have to say about the size of David’s penis or your opinion of Venus’ breasts.

19. On that note: do not molest the statues. Pretending like you are humping the naked statues or getting your photo taken grabbing their body parts is not cute.

20. Oh, one more thing. Don’t touch.

Do you have any that you would like to add? Have a museum story? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Thinking of touring Tuscany? Allow us at Capturing la Vita Tours to share the beauty of Tuscany with you.

* I was not paid or compensated in any way for links or recommendations.

Photo attributes- 1.  Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-73766-0052 / Hochneder, Christa; Krisch, Wern / CC-BY-SA     2. Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F033797-0003 / Storz / CC-BY-SA     3. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-E0108-0008-008 / CC-BY-SA     4. Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F014916-0034 / Wegmann, Ludwig / CC-BY-SA

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15 Responses to Top 20 Museum Etiquette Rules- Don’t Ever Tour Again Without Them!

  1. wanderingeducators August 7, 2013 at 1:24 PM #

    LOVE these – and have seen them all! I’d add in the people who are cracking their gum loudly all the time, people who push, and the people that are on their smartphone the whole time (bumping into people, even) – if you don’t want to see the art, leave! :)

    • Laurel Perry Turner August 7, 2013 at 2:16 PM #

      The smartphones! How could I forget the smartphones? Thanks for sharing :)

  2. ronnie August 7, 2013 at 2:28 PM #

    Oh my goodness…do people really do all those things to the statues? Yikes! Great tips :)

    • Laurel Perry Turner August 7, 2013 at 3:37 PM #

      YES! I’m sure each one of them that grabbed the butt of that statue thinks he was the first!

  3. Keryn @ walking on travels August 7, 2013 at 5:11 PM #

    Ugh! I have seen far too many of these as well. Why do idiots even go to museums? Are they really getting anything out of it? We are slowly working on our two little men to make them good museum patrons. Lucky for them, even as an art major, I can’t stay cooped up in a museum for very long. You advice for “when they are done, you are done” really is key. I always have one in a tiny stroller (not a monster one). So they can stay back if acting up, and I can give them my phone with a game (on silent) if we still have a ways to go to the exit. GREAT POST LADY! Thanks!

  4. Erin Bender (Travel With Bender) August 19, 2013 at 8:06 AM #

    Haha I cant believe they broke it. How embarrassing? Do you know who it was? Send him your guide :D

  5. Heidi Wagoner August 19, 2013 at 8:15 AM #

    I read about that… what were they thinking. These are great! I love your humor.

  6. Alyson August 19, 2013 at 10:41 AM #

    I have a child who vomited beneath a rather splendid triceratops skeleton at London’s NHM. Is that against the rules? The attendant got on his walkie talkie for backup as there had been a “spillage”. I promise nobody in the family high 5s statues!!

  7. Andrew August 25, 2013 at 6:10 AM #

    It’s amazing what some people seem to think is acceptable in places like museums, and like you say the ones doing the silly poses think that they are the first, I took about 20 13/14/15 year olds on a school trip to Paris last year and when they were in the Louvre they behaved much better than I have seen some adults behave.

  8. Colleen Lanin August 27, 2013 at 4:31 AM #

    Love this etiquette post too! Pinning!

  9. Charu September 5, 2013 at 2:01 PM #

    Definitely true, and spot on about almost everything! Also, should we add “no skating” lest there are Ferris Bueler junkies out there? :)

  10. Victoria September 10, 2013 at 6:22 PM #

    Have seen all of this & more…I would add…please don’t stand right in front of the painting, description, display case blocking the view of all others and please don’t take photos of every single painting and the plaque with thename of the painting, etc. (saw this at the D’Orsay)…buy postcards or the book, please!
    Enjoy yourself but allow others to do the same!

    • Laurel Perry Turner September 11, 2013 at 10:29 AM #

      You have to wonder what they are even going to do anything with those photos anyway! Yes, step away and allow others to appreciate. Thanks for the comment, Victoria.

  11. Cynthia Gould January 21, 2014 at 2:24 AM #

    One I would like to add is – Don’t hog the exhibit. Standing too close for a long period time (it seems like ages when they do that) keeps others from enjoying the exhibit. Make room for others to see and move on. You can always come back to it.

  12. arlene January 31, 2014 at 6:43 PM #

    Hi,my name is Arlene, I am a student of City College. I would like to share that if you’re traveling in a group to all stay together. I’ve found that how in a group everyone no the basic rules because the professor give you a 20% grade average base on museum etiquette.:).


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