Last month, we visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens — and we love what they’ve got going on! From their incredible attention to detail regarding logistics (think layout, pathways, use of space, and more) to their interactive displays and exhibit enhancements, here are the best things to see at the National Archaeological Museum — and some takeaways you might be able to consider putting into action at your institution.
1. Intentional use of space
The National Archaeological Museum is Greece’s largest archaeological museum — and it has a very impressive collection with more than 11,000 exhibits. Despite the expansive collection dating back to the earliest of historic times, the museum never felt crowded during our visit. Museum staff have done an outstanding job arranging the thousands of exhibits so as not to overwhelm visitors (and to help reduce museum fatigue!). Some of the tallest items in the entire museum were housed in rooms with the highest ceilings.
2. Set the mood.
Museum staff spent a considerable amount of time focused on crafting just the right ambience for the space. Throughout the museum, the lighting is elegant and appropriate, which subtly helped to create a warm, inviting atmosphere.
3. Who’s here?
It may be an underrated aspect of a visit to the museum, but the NAM did a great job making their guest book part of the show by integrating it along a natural walking path through the exhibits. The guest book is accessible and set up in a special exhibit with just a couple of rooms. The design walks guests past the small crevice before exiting. Bonus: The guest book is set up at the perfect height for signing!
4. Take a rest.
It’s a big museum and the space incorporates plenty of spots for visitors and staff alike to sit, relax, and take in the impressive exhibits around them.
5. It’s not a maze.
The museum’s designers paid attention to layout and details, and their efforts are noticed during a day on site. The museum is full of great pathways; despite it being a large museum with a large collection, we never felt lost during our visit. It was always obvious where to go next and the pathways never felt obstructed even with displays in the middle.
6. Get involved!
The museum encourages interactivity between visitors and some of their displays. While visiting, we came across this perfume display that the museum recreated using original recipes and methods — and guests were encouraged to smell it! To us, the perfume smelled like wine, and it makes sense — a docent mentioned Greeks prefer wine to beer, so they crafted perfumes to smell like the succulent beverage. We also learned that perfume represented wealth and power to the Mycenaean Empire. The interactive nature of the display has left a long-lasting impression.
7. See double — or triple or quadruple!
We’re in Athens, the heart of Ancient Greek culture and craftsmanship, so there are large collections of similar objects. Rather than store similar objects off-display, NAM has embraced part of what makes Greece’s history so cool by creating incredible exhibits dedicated to showing all of the objects in visually intriguing ways, no matter how similar they may look. Check out how they did this with these figures, pots, and other objects below.
8. NSFW – No Problem!
The NAM doesn’t shy away from highlighting the NSFW parts of its collection; these were on display, front and center.
9. Context matters.
One of the coolest things we noticed about the exhibits was the manner in which staff used contextual clues to help enhance the displays.
Take these vases above, for example, which were displayed alongside sand, or the incredibly well-preserved specimens pictured below. These figures were found surrounded by objects similar to those displayed near them, which helps visualize the objects as they may have been uncovered outside the museum.
10. Embrace ways to enhance your exhibits.
Curators didn’t hesitate to provide add-ons to enhance displays, whether through simple aesthetics or educational tactics. We loved the mirrors used to highlights the objects below, and especially enjoyed the drawings designed to show how the items on displayed were once used. Helping your guests envision the objects in their previous lives is a great way to draw a connection between your visitors and your collection.
11. Build to a crescendo.
We started our journey with simpler objects:
Then, we moved on to more stand-out items, such as these:
Soon, we were into the collection’s most impressive pieces:
In our opinion, it all culminated in the collection’s star piece of Young Hercules with his lion’s pelt:
Of course, no post talking about incredible objects at the NAM would be complete for us as yoga aficionados without paying homage to this guy doing his Warrior 1. What do you think of his form?
Have you been to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens yet? What’s on your must-see list?