Why You Should Take a Chance on a New Museum or Gallery for Museums at Night

I am lucky enough to live in London, where the sheer number of museums, galleries and theatres mean it's almost impossible not to find yourself visiting places from time to time.

I am lucky enough to live in London, where the sheer number of museums, galleries and theatres mean it's almost impossible not to find yourself visiting places from time to time.

This time last year, however, I was managing just that - unconsciously dodging anything that resembled a cultural experience. Having lived in London for two years I had yet to visit major institutions like the British Museum, the Natural History Museum or the V&A.

This all changed last June, when my girlfriend and I stumbled across a list of the Top 101 London Attractions, a list of museums, galleries, bars and restaurants that people travel from all over the world to see - and which I had never visited, despite them being just a short trip from my front door.

We hatched a plan to visit all 101 on the list, but alone this was not enough. We needed a deadline, a goal. So we decided there and then that we would "visit all 101 top London attractions in the year before the Olympic Games opening ceremony on the 27 July 2012".

We no longer had a list, we had a challenge.

Of the 101, 23 are considered 'Cultural Highlights' - museums, galleries and heritage sites. Since June we have visited 17 of the most diverse and wonderful places you can imagine. We have until July to visit the remaining six.

My life has gone from a cultural black hole to having seen dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, played with space ships in the Science Museum and stared up at totem poles in the British Museum.

But it's not all about the big and famous.

Located close to London Bridge is the wonderful Old Operating Theatre Museum. Never again will you moan about the NHS as you are transported back to a time when medical instruments looked more like torture equipment, and pain relief - if you were lucky - was a sharp drink.

Other top picks from the list include the bizarre Hunterian Museum, which displays all sorts of human and animal anatomy in jars, the Handel House Museum that celebrates the musician's life (for those that don't know, think Champion's League music) and modern and intriguing exhibits at the Saatchi Gallery.

Also included on the 101 list is to spend a night at a museum, and this alerted me to the Museums at Night festival. And what a brilliant idea.

We have already attended Museum Lates at the Science Museum, where adults get to play with some of the exhibitions and prove we are all big kids. But never have we had the chance to sleep over! Normally to spend the night in a museum you must be accompanied by a child, and even then events are few and far between.

That's why I am so excited about Museums at Night, as it offers an opportunity to visit old favourites, or newly-discovered museums in a different way - literally experiencing them in a different light.

Whether it's a sleepover or a late night opening, visiting after hours gives you an opportunity to experience these spaces in a completely fresh way. Like rediscovering a favorite book, or hearing a record for first time in a decade, visiting a museum at night will transform even familiar places into a new experience. But like all special things, the opportunities don't come around very often.

So with three months until the opening of the Olympics we still have much to do and visit. Museums at Night this weekend will no doubt be a highlight.

In the meantime if you think that creating your own list would be fun, then here are some tips:

1.Try to pick places you wouldn't otherwise visit.

2.Visit small museums. They are run by an army of volunteers who are full of knowledge they are normally keen to impart, making a good visit a great one.

3.There will always be an excuse not to get up and go out, but making the effort is 100% worth it. Setting a deadline like ours might be a little extreme, but setting aside time to explore museums and galleries is definitely time well spent.

This post was originally published on the Museums at Night behind-the-scenes blog. Find Museums at Night events in your area at www.museumsatnight.org.uk


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