What I Learned Spending All Day Visiting Museums and Churches


The past couple months have been a blur, between travel and wedding, so I’m going to make a list of a couple observations I had along the way.

  • Research before you buy a ticket.

    My grandmother passed away less than a month before our wedding. I couldn’t leave to go to her funeral, so I wanted to honor her by lighting candles in as many churches as we could.

    I was surprised to learn that in Florence, at least in August when we were there, a ticket to go into a church costs around 20 euros. You can’t even if you want to light a prayer candle. The lines are so long at it takes a full day to go through just one. You can usually go into most churches for free if there isn’t a long line outside and if you tell them you’re there to pray. Sometimes there’s even a separate entrance where you can do this.

    Which brings me to my point, the lines and tickets at churches can be really confusing for popular churches. You can avoid a lot of that confusion by doing research ahead of time.

  • Churches are FASCINATING. Google the one you’re in and see if you can find something cool about it.

    In Munich, there’s a church with a black footprint. I didn’t know what it was because it’s a church, not a museum. I searched for it and found that it’s supposed to have been the devil’s footprint. Basically, the devil struck a deal with an architect to have a church built for him, but then the architect cleverly kept his deal with the devil and also built a kick-ass church for God. Clever, clever architects.

    In Milan, the Chiesa Rossa is a church with lighting by artist Dan Flavin. Flavin’s art has to do with light and illumination, and I’ve seen his work in museums all over. It’s cool to me to think that there’s a church here with contemporary art commissioned for it, the way churches commissioned art in the Renaissance.

  • If you’re going to a lot of museums and you feel overwhelmed trying to absorb it all, pick a few things to specialize in to help contextualize your visit.

    There are so many things you can focus on other than, I am in the Vatican Museum and I need to be present in this moment. I get bored easily, so I try to find things to keep me grounded, otherwise every museum bleeds into the next.

    • See if all the paintings in a room are by the same artist or all from the same time period. Curators organize art in ways that are logical, whether it’s by time period, by artist, by type of painting, or one of many other reasons artwork might be grouped together.

    • Pick one artist and specialize in their paintings and the paintings they are related to (paintings by their tutors or by their students). Or do what I do and see if you can find all the artists the Ninja Turtles were named after in one place.

    • Search for monsters. There are so many monsters, especially in medieval art.

    • Search for animals in paintings or in ornamentation.

    • Pick your favorite bible story, saint, or mythological characters and try to find it. Lots of museums are really well-ornamented, so if you’re like me and you like Medusa, you’ll start to see her everywhere. No joke, there are statues, paintings, she’s in the molding and randomly painted onto walls, windows, and ceilings. I wish I could figure out why that is.

Shelly Welch