Tourist Hell — The Museum Gift Shop


The museum gift shop combines the three things that give the travel industry a bad name — dopey tourists, a cheapening of a brand and buying crap you don’t need.

It’s inevitable that your visit to a museum ends with an exit through the gift shop. They are designed that way so that when you go through the chronology of the exhibits, you’re only way to get out is through a gauntlet of garbage.

This past weekend I ventured down to Washington, D.C. take in the Indiana Jones Exhibit at the National Geographic Museum and the International Spy Museum. Both had eye-rollingly bad souvenirs waiting for visitors when you’re done with your visit. I now know where I can buy a lawn gnome ninja and crystal skull shot glasses.

You remember the controversy over the 9/11 Museum gift shop? There were selling all sorts of branded content. The worst offense was the cheese cutting board in the shape of the United States. I’ve been to the Anne Frank House. They don’t sell branded merch. They have a bookstore, not a gift shop. Same at Auschwitz.

Here’s a list of tat you find in all museum gift shops:

  • silk scarfs
  • chocolate or fudge
  • stones/gems made into jewelry
  • key chains
  • buttons
  • t-shirts
  • postcards
  • pens
  • books selling for MSRP
  • mugs
  • posters
  • “educational” toys

The silk scarfs makes no sense. The argument to sell them is “wearable art”. There’s a reason Saks or Bloomingdale’s don’t sell these things. With the fudge, I’m at a loss for words.

For a while, I went on a keychain binge where I would always purchase one at the big museums like Prado, Tate Modern, etc. Eventually, my keys where getting lost in my keychain vortex. Indeed, less is more.

The practical purchase are the postcards of the art you saw. There’s a reason why museums don’t allow photography, so you can pay for it later in the gift soft. Postcards are cheap, easy to carry and can be framed easily. I got a set of beautiful postcards from the BMW Museum in Munich that hang in my hallway.

Yet, the museum gift shop is loaded with crap. The International Spy Museum was like more nightmarish version of Spencer’s Gifts. The Indiana Jones gift were selling a sheet of stickers for $15.

Which leads me to the biggest rip off of the gift shop, nothing is a bargain. Even if it was, you shouldn’t pay for it. If you have a kid screaming over a toy, you better drag them out of there as fast as possible.

To end, head for the postcards, skip the rest.

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