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The rise of the museum walking tour

The rise of the museum walking tour

When we opened the COP Conversations fund last year, a number of museums responded with plans to develop a walking tour, combining local culture with a low-carbon delivery option. Here we explore the increasing interest in museum walking tours and how they help tackle a number of today’s challenges.

The basic premise is simple, a tour of the local community on foot encouraging visitors to engage with the people and places that are part of the neighbourhood. These can be themed around particular subjects, like Surgeons Hall Museums’ Blood and Guts walking tour of Edinburgh’s medical history and Cupar Heritage’s Tales of the Riverbank, or be more general Walking tours | London Transport Museum. Once developed, they can be delivered flexibly according to demand and capacity, either by the museum or in partnership with others, like National Museums Scotland partnership with Mercat Tours. The idea is not new so why is there renewed interest?

During the pandemic we saw a surge in online engagement with museums and collections, as people found ways to engage with the world despite lockdowns and limited social contact. With restrictions easing and public confidence growing however, visitors are seeking opportunities to connect directly with museums again and outdoor walking tours are a low-risk activity that invites social interaction.

The climate emergency is another key driver in the development of museum walking tours. Both in development and delivery they are low-carbon and require few resources. People can discover their local heritage without feeling they are impacting on its natural heritage. Museums already fit strongly with the Scottish Government’s PLACE principles and the creation of 20-minute neighbourhoods and walking tours are a visible extension of the museum into the community, encouraging people to explore and value their local environment.

The financial impact of the pandemic has also seen museums expand their range of income streams, with walking tours being one option for increasing revenue. Offering a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional giftshop items, they also have the added advantage that they don’t require space.

Health and wellbeing is perhaps the final reason walking tours are making a comeback. Media focus on obesity, mental health and the benefits of being active make walking tours an attractive option for museums to support the health and wellbeing agenda, especially where the museum is part of a wider leisure trust. An hour’s walk with company and cultural interest is a gentle and pleasant way to exercise.

If you have created a walking tour for your museum, get in touch as we can help share your tour on social media.

Published 28 March 2022