Melting alarm clocks? A mini fridge of Campbell’s soup cans? What really goes into a museum hotel?
Museums are constantly looking for new ways to make their exhibits more immersive. Some historical museums, like Beamish and Jorvik, take you on a tactile tour through the past, while an increasing number of art museums host painting and drawing classes encouraging visitors to express their own creativity in an inspiring setting.
As the pressure increases on institutions to drive footfall, museums are finding new and innovative ways to get visitors staying longer and visiting more often. Many have taken their cue from theme parks and invested in on-site accommodation. This means guests can spend a night, a weekend, or even longer, immersing themselves in their favourite collections or exhibitions. This signals the birth of a new phenomenon: the museum hotel.
What is a museum hotel?
Adding luxury or themed accommodation to an attraction is hardly a new idea. As I’ve already mentioned, theme parks have been doing it for decades. Even zoos have started following suit, with both Australia Zoo and Chester Zoo recently announcing their own wildlife camping experiences.
Some museum hotels follow the more traditional theme park route. Their accommodation is not located within the attraction itself, but is still on-site and thus easily accessible. The rooms may be constructed or decorated to follow a given theme: colour schemes to fit an art museum’s most famous pieces, for example, or period furniture to echo the style of a particular collection or exhibit.
Elsewhere, museum hotels take things further by incorporating the accommodation into the premises. This has the added appeal of offering visitors a genuinely unique experience. Whether it’s a stay in the tower of a medieval castle or bunking down in a knight’s village lodging (both of which are options currently available for guests at Warwick Castle), there are many ways to turn an exciting day visit into a magical overnight adventure.
It isn’t just ancient ruins and heritage sites that can get involved, of course. Meow Wolf’s new venture in Phoenix, Arizona, promises guests the opportunity to sleep in a room designed by a local artist, as part of what is being billed as a truly “immersive art exhibition”. The 400-room hotel in the heart of the Roosevelt Row Arts District explores different forms of overnight experiences, including: “Faux-glamping, capsule rooms, communal hostel environments, absurd luxury suites, and lodging inside of the art exhibition itself.”
What are the benefits of a museum hotel?
Every museum wants its patrons to enjoy and connect to its exhibits, but by giving guests greater time to admire and contemplate their surroundings, museums that provide accommodation can help to foster a much deeper connection in many ways. While many people find the traditional experience to be engaging enough, especially when confronted with a beautiful work of art or an ancient architectural marvel, there’s no doubt that there is a place for this prolonged, immersive format.
Museum hotels make the visitor an integral part of the exhibit – at least, for the duration of their stay. They can live with works of art for longer than a few fleeting minutes, get some sense of what it was like to live in a particular period in history, or spend time becoming engrossed in a region’s heritage, all the while enjoying the safety and comfort of a hotel.
Some of the most exciting museum hotels from around the world
Museum hotels are opening up all over the world, offering a range of accommodation for their guests. Here are a few of the most exciting examples of the present and the future.
Fábrica do Chocolate, Viana do Castelo
In Portugal, chocolate lovers can stay in the hotel of their dreams in Fábrica do Chocolate.
Above: Fábrica do Chocolate
The building was once a chocolate factory; today it is a museum, restaurant and hotel dedicated to the history of that production. Guests staying in the “Willy Wonka rooms” can enjoy “chocotherapy” treatments and chocolate fountains, before being taken through the origins and productive history of cocoa and chocolate in the museum. It is a completely immersive – and entirely delicious – experience (and yes, there is a restaurant).
Bodmin Jail, Cornwall
Bodmin Jail, a 240-year-old prison in Cornwall, has been converted into an immersive visitor attraction and hotel. Tourists with a taste for the macabre can stay in a former cell block, refurbished to enhance the jail’s historic atmosphere. As part of the experience, guests are taken on a “Dark Walk” to see what life was like for inmates in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Western Motel at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
When Virginia Museum of Fine Arts recently held an exhibition of the work of American Artist, Edward Hopper. They added a reproduction of one of his most famous paintings ‘Western Motel’. For $150 per night museum visitors had the chance to spend the night in the artwork. However, they were required to be checked out by 8am to allow the room to be open to the public.
Beamish, The Living Museum of the North
Located in the North East of England, Beamish has long been one of the country’s most beloved museums. An open-air working village that tells the history of the region in the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s, Beamish has recently revealed plans to add an authentic 1950s town to its grounds after winning a £10.9 million Heritage Lottery grant. This town will contain a recreation of the Three Tuns Coaching Inn on the Great North Road, where visitors will be able to spend the night and experience first-hand the hospitality of the 1950s. The inn will be both a hotel and an exhibit, with some of Beamish’s most prized collections on display within.
Whether it’s providing space for guests to rest their head or even the opportunity to take part in role play, there’s no doubt that enhanced experiences have a part to play in the future of museums around the world.
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About the author – Rebecca Carlsson
Rebecca Carlsson is a journalist writing extensively about the arts. She has a passion for modern art and when she’s not writing about museums, she can be found spending her weekends in them.