Museum Vocabulary: How to Speak Confidently About Art and History

Grover Laughtonreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process9 min
Created: Jan 30, 2023Last updated: Jan 29, 2024
Museum Vocabulary

It’s impossible to imagine traveling without sightseeing, and where is the first destination tourists usually head to when desiring to explore a new culture? Of course, it’s hard to pass by the museums that hold history and impressive masterpieces of all times. It doesn’t matter whether you visit these places out of interest or for educational purposes. Just learn all the museum words you might need to avoid unpleasant situations during your trips.

So, we will first consider the definition of the term “museum.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is an establishment where pieces of artwork that bring historical or cultural value, scientific collections, technical items, and other significant objects are kept. Visiting museums requires following particular etiquette, so let’s learn about it.

Museum Etiquette: What’s Important to Know When Visiting Such Places?

Of course, cultures and traditions vary according to the country you plan to visit. However, some basic rules apply to every establishment, regardless of which items are presented there. So, stick to the following points if you want to avoid judgmental glances from other visitors and get maximum pleasure when looking at the exhibits:

  1. Leave outerwear and large bags in the wardrobe, so you don’t accidentally hit valuable works with your things.
  2. Remember that it’s prohibited to touch the exhibits in most museums.
  3. Try not to interfere with others when moving: if you notice a queue to view a certain exhibit, do not push people away, and do not try to slip through the crowd.
  4. Refrain from discussing objects too loudly since you can express all emotions after leaving the building. If you still can't wait, speak as quietly as possible.
  5. If a guide accompanies you, do not interrupt them. You can ask all the clarifying questions after the monologue.
  6. Check whether it is possible to photograph one or another object in advance. Some museums issue fines for unauthorized filming, so don't try to break the rules.

The last point usually raises many questions from tourists. When visiting world-famous monuments, people often want to capture everything in a photo or video. However, shooting some paintings or other art objects may cause them to lose their original appearance. It is forbidden to take photos not to spoil visitors’ impressions but to preserve the exhibit safe and sound. Of course, you won’t even understand the rules if you don’t know the words to describe a museum, so you should familiarize yourself with them in advance.

Overall, corresponding to all the above regulations is essential if you want the best experience when looking at a worldwide-famous object. And now, let’s pass on the terms you might need when visiting such places, so be attentive and note everything!

Main Museum Terms That Might Be Helpful for Everyone

At least once, everyone has visited exhibitions or similar locations, so knowing the necessary words will be helpful. Even if you have never been a fan of such a pastime, you will hardly deny yourself the pleasure of visiting famous places like the British Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Knowing the following vocabulary will significantly simplify your trips around English-speaking countries.

  • Admission fee

It is the amount of cash a visitor should pay to enter the museum. It’s worth noting that the same word is used when you are planning to go to the cinema or theater.

  • Free admission

Many museums don’t imply any charge for visitors, which makes them free for everybody. It’s a rare situation since, in most cases, tourists have to pay at least a small sum to enjoy the exhibition.

  • Box office

It is a place where visitors can buy tickets to a museum. Even though most people prefer purchasing them online, they are still relevant in many establishments.

  • Gift Shop

It is a souvenir store near the museum exit where people can buy items that may later remind them of the visit. Tourists usually choose books about all the masterpieces, cups with famous paintings, or pretty magnets.

  • Museum plan

It is a map that contains all the critical museum exhibits. With its help, visitors can quickly find the necessary works of art without wandering through the halls for hours.

  • Gallery

It is a place that provides a collection of artworks by both famous and less-known artists. It is worth noting that galleries are available not only in museums. Many contemporary artists rent separate rooms to showcase and sell their work.

  • Cloakroom

It is a place where visitors can leave their outerwear and other excess things that may interfere with viewing exhibits. Furthermore, it is worth noting that it is unnecessary to hand over your belongings, but the rules of etiquette suggest that only the most valuable items should be left with you. 

Learning the Museum Terminology: Important Words Every Tourist Should Know

Now that you know the basic terminology, it's time to take a closer look at the museum's contents. Catch a selection of important words to understand the English-speaking guide better. Replenishing your museum vocabulary is easy!

  • Temporary exhibition

Such an event implies that a museum presents some objects only for a limited time, and after that, they are removed from the building. Such an approach inspires visitors, as they can easily enjoy different artworks in one location.

  • Exhibit

It is an object or a group of items shown publicly in a museum. As a rule, it implies a painting, a statue, a document, an artifact, or other valuable things that bring historical or cultural value.

  • Significant exhibits

Well-known museums are often giant, and more than a few days is needed to explore them fully. As a rule, tourists do not have so much time and try to see only the most famous masterpieces by spending a couple of hours inside the establishment. That is why you should pay attention to significant exhibits on the plan since the pearls of the collection are usually marked like this.

  • Masterpiece

It is a unique artwork, considered the highest achievement of a particular author. As a rule, such a piece of art is presented in a single copy and is a work of world heritage that is guarded carefully. Some masterpiece examples include “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci and “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli.

  • Ancient artifacts

These are old and rare artworks or objects with a high historical value. They usually include books, furniture, household items, etc.

  • Label

A tablet with a brief description of the exhibit allows the viewer to find out basic data about the value of the item, the year and history of its creation, the author, and so on.

  • Excursion

It is a collective visit to the museum with a group. As a rule, several hours are allocated for this event, after which they leave the exhibition in an organized manner and share their impressions.

  • Guided tour

It is an excursion with a guide who tells tourists about each exhibit, collection, or sight. You can always ask the guide all your questions, which makes visiting the museum even more exciting.

  • Audio guide

It is a device that allows visitors to enjoy the tour without a guide. Tourists often choose this option as they can remain autonomous and not be tied to a group. The audio is simple to use: press the necessary button as you approach the exhibit and listen to all the essential information in your headphones.

  • Museum display case

It implies special equipment that reliably protects the exhibit. At the same time, it is thin and weightless, allowing tourists to see all the details.

  • Museum curator

This term points to a person who controls the integrity and inviolability of the exposition, equipment, and other important items in the building. Furthermore, it is their responsibility to ensure that all rules are followed by visitors. For instance, touching masterpieces in a museum is usually forbidden, so a curator will reprimand you even if you get too close.

  • Reproduction

Unfortunately, not all art objects have survived to this day, but people still strive to see world masterpieces in real life rather than on photoshoots or in books. That is why reproductions, which are copies as close as possible to the original, are required. It is not a deception since, as a rule, museums notify their visitors that they’ll see a copy of a masterpiece.

  • Painting

It is one of the fine art types, where artists create their works using paints on canvas, paper, wood, cardboard, stone, or other materials.

  • Abstract art

This style implies departure from reality in artworks, where objects only partially resemble their natural shapes, forms, and colors. Random elements of abstraction can be found in world art throughout its development so that you can find similar paintings or sculptures in almost every museum.

  • Realistic art

In this style, representatives strive to completely and adequately reflect reality in their artworks, depicting objects as close as possible to the real world.


Expressing Emotions After Visiting a Museum

Sharing emotions after a trip or a particular exhibition is vital for most people. And it often happens that you would like to discuss everything with your group right after the excursion. Grab some phrases on how to share your impressions:

  • It’s worth seeing!

This statement will express your positive emotions after visiting; moreover, it can become your sincere recommendation for other people to attend a certain exhibition.

  • It isn’t really my cup of tea.

It’s used to describe a museum or an exhibit negatively. The surrounding people may consider you rude if you directly say that the museum was awful and you didn’t enjoy your pastime, so it’s better to say the above phrase.

  • It’s not my favorite subject/style.

It is a great way to express your dissatisfaction with the exhibition without being considered ignorant by others. After all, for example, how can you not appreciate the Mona Lisa? And it’s elementary: it’s enough to love sculpture more than painting.

Where to Learn How to Describe a Museum?

If you still think that the museum topic is something incomprehensible to you, do not be upset. Learning any vocabulary in English takes time and patience, so you will definitely succeed. And online school Promova will do everything to make the educational process easy and exciting! Our tutors follow all the trends and offer students the most innovative methods currently available.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you are interested in interacting with highly qualified teachers and constantly improving your grammar, speaking, and reading English skills. We can form an individual schedule according to your needs and are ready to cope with even the most complicated issues.


Why do I need to know museum terminology?

Many people love traveling, and it’s hard to imagine trips without visiting local sights and exhibitions. Therefore, it’s essential to know at least the basic terminology to understand your tour guide or learn some details about the exhibit yourself.

How to learn whether a museum is free or if I have to pay to enter it?

It’s enough to ask how much the admission fee is. The museum employee will be happy to tell you the amount or mention that the exhibit has free admission, implying that you don’t have to pay a cent to enjoy the masterpieces.

Why is it essential to comply with museum etiquette?

Exhibitions are destinations where people come to enjoy masterpieces and receive positive emotions; therefore, it is critical not to interfere with others’ enjoyment of the tour and receipt of such experience. Moreover, museums often present unique, irreplaceable exhibits, so it is essential to be as careful as possible not to damage valuable objects.

Where to search for words from museum?

You can familiarize yourself with all terms mentioned on this page and learn them, or search for the necessary words in well-known English sources like the Collins Dictionary. Contacting Promova school is the easiest option since our professional tutors will form an individual program and help you learn the necessary terminology as soon as possible.


Alexis FrostJan 18th, 2024
your pictures are so beautiful!
PromovaJul 25th, 2023
Yes, there are many online resources and virtual museum tours available for English learners to explore and practice museum-related vocabulary. Websites like Google Arts & Culture and museum websites often offer virtual tours, educational materials, and interactive exhibits, providing learners with an immersive learning experience from the comfort of their homes.
Elliana MolinaJul 25th, 2023
are there any online resources or virtual museum tours that english learners can access to practice museum-related vocabulary and learn about different cultures and historical periods?