The Museum Diet – How to lose weight on holiday

British Museum Great Court

The British Museum – great for calorie burning

Every wondered why you lose weight on city break holidays?  Could it be that you’re doing the ‘Museum Diet’?

There have been many famous food diets – the Atkins, the Macrobiotic, The Zone and South Beach Diets. There was even one called ‘The Paleo’ or Caveman Diet which focused on ‘prehistoric’ exercise and non-processed foods.

But what weight watchers have failed to grasp is that the Museums Diet could be the best of all.

It’s simple and fun. All you have to do is walk around museums and galleries for hours on end during a holiday.

The health benefits of a Museum Diet occurred to me a couple of years ago when I realised that I was losing around four pounds in weight every time I went on a city break or vacation.

That set me thinking about the health benefits of cultural tourism… so here’s my tongue-in-cheek guide to the Museum Diet and how you can shed those pounds by looking at a few Michelangelos or Monets.

The Vatican Museum, Rome

Walking distance – 9 miles

Vatican Museum

St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum is huge with mile-upon-mile of paintings and art works. As a result, it’s one of the best tourism attractions for weight watchers.

With over nine miles of halls, corridors and galleries, you could find yourself burning off more calories than a work-out at the gym.

It’s been estimated that if you looked at every painting for a minute, it would take four years to complete a circuit of the museum.

It took me four hours to get around the Vatican Museum’s rooms on my first visit and, even then, I whisked by many of the exhibits, giving them barely a glance.

Vatican Museum

Don’t forget the Vatican Museum gardens

Naturally, you’ll want to see the famous Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo but committed weight-watchers shouldn’t miss the far-flung rooms including the Gregorian Museum and Borgia Apartments.

And don’t forget to take the walk through the Papal Gardens and complete the full tour of St Peter’s to maximise the benefits of this fitness plan.

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Walking distance – 7.5 miles

The Victoria and Albert Museum is London’s treasure-house of decorative arts with everything from ancient rugs to fabulous fashion and furniture.

It’s also one of the capital’s biggest maze-like attractions. I’ve lost myself in its complex layout of rooms and endless corridors many times.

So it came as no surprise to find that it has an estimated walking distance of 7.5 miles if you cover every nook and cranny.

Best of all, it has plenty of staircases which are an excellent substitute for step classes at the gym. Throw in a couple of big temporary exhibitions and you’ll be losing a couple of inches around your waist in no time.

For fitness addicts, why not combine the V & A with the Science and Natural History Museums as they are located in the same ‘museum triangle’.

Elmgreen and Dragset

The V & A with art banner c/o Elmgreen and Dragset

The Smithsonian, Washington DC

Walking distance – 9 miles +

The Smithsonian in Washington DC is the ‘daddy’ of museums, covering 19 museums and galleries with more than 137 million objects detailing America’s story.

As the world’s largest research and museum complex, it’s ideal for several strenuous days of walking and looking at ‘stuff’.

You’re guaranteed to lose pounds as long as you can resist the temptation of giant-sized American burgers, fries and huge cakes after your trip.

Amongst the Smithsonian highlights are Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the original Star-Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History.

Over at the National Air and Space Museum, there are large collections including the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 command module. Plenty more walking!

Smithsonion Museum

The Smithsonian – a series of mega museums

It has been estimated that if you spent one minute day and night looking at each exhibit, in 10 years you’d see only 10% of the whole collection.

This is an ideal choice for those looking for an advanced fitness regime which can be tried over several days.

The Louvre, Paris

Walking distance – 8 miles

The Louvre

Exhaustion after The Louvre tour

The Louvre is another belly buster of monumental proportions with a huge collection that ranges from antiquity and statuary to period rooms and paintings.

A good place to start your weight loss regime is the Sully Wing at the heart of the Louvre. Then work up a sweat with a trip to the Egyptian rooms.

Finally, make sure you do a complete lap of the Louvre’s superb art collection including the Venus de Milo, The Winged Victory of Samothrace and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Lose yourself in the period apartments, discover the extensive furniture collection and don’t forget to walk down to the basement for the ultimate fitness work-out!

With 35,000 art works, it has been estimated that if you spent one minute observing every piece of art, it would take 64 days to see the entire museum.

Like Mona Lisa, you’ll be smiling with your super-healthy exercise regime but don’t overdo things. On my last trip, I succumbed to two painful blisters on my feet.

The Louvre

Lose yourself in The Louvre

The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Walking distance – 14 miles

The Hermitage  has a stunning art collection which boasts more than 3 million objects ranging from the Stone Age to the early 20th Century.

The museum occupies six buildings along the Neva River including the famous Winter Palace. There are 120 rooms of art ranging from the Middle Ages to present day masterpieces.

Catherine the Great founded the museum but since her time the collection has mushroomed. Today, the museum is also home to Emperor Nicholas II’s private collection including his paintings, drawings and medals.

There are miles of corridors and galleries to test the fitness of the keenest ‘culture vultures’. As you walk the circuit, look out for paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Cézanne and Van Gogh.

You could lose yourself for days in this place.

By the end of this fabulous feast of art treasures, head for the bathroom scales to measure how much you’ve lost in weight.

The British Museum, London

Walking distance – 3 miles

British Museum exterior

The British Museum

The British Museum is the largest museum in the UK with a collection of more than 8 million objects ranging from archaeology to ethnography.

It’s one of those museums where you can easily find yourself walking around in circles. Didn’t I see that magnificent, gold helmet from the Sutton Hoo half an hour ago, three corridors away?

Never mind because this is another great exercise destination which beats power walking on a gym treadmill.

The Egyptian gallery boasts a fine collection of antiquities as well as the Rosetta Stone. Naturally, you’ll want to explore the hidden corners of the gallery and its temporary exhibitions to maximise your calorific burn-off.

I’m convinced that the distances covered at the British Museum might be more than 3 miles so why not take a pedometer to measure your walking distances?

The Prado, Madrid

Walking distance – 6.5 miles

The Prado in Madrid features all the stars of Spanish painting including Velázquez, Goya, Ribera and Zurbarán as well as boasting big collections of Italian and Flemish artists.

It is renowned for being one of the biggest museums in the world. There are 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures and over 8,000 drawings plus a new wing has enlarged the gallery by a further 400 paintings.

With the added bonus of the Spanish heat, a visit to the Prado is a great way to sweat off a few more pounds on holiday.

Museum Walking distances and calories

Walking distances and calories

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Walking distance – 10 miles

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in North America with more than 2 million items covering antiquity to the present.

Within the museum there are galleries which are so large that they might be considered to be museums in their own right.

Start on the ground floor with antiquity and the Egyptians, take a tour of Assyria and then finish off with the massive collection of paintings which range from Greek and Roman to medieval works and contemporary art.

Met Museum New York

Marvel at the Met’s giant collection

Despite our best efforts to cherry-pick key masterpieces from the collection, we must have walked through every room in the Met. When we got to room 950, I started to think we’d overdone things…

We ended up taking several unwise ‘short-cuts’ which led us through antique clocks and musical instruments. Bottom line – we couldn’t find the way out.

Three hours later, we were exhausted and hungry but had put our bodies through a fitness work-out of epic proportions. Later that night, we sat exhausted in the hotel bar feeling refreshed by our tour of the Met’s marvels.

The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Walking distance – 1.5 miles

Tammy in Florence

Tammy before the epic Uffizi trip

The Uffizi boasts the world’s finest collection of Renaissance paintings. All the famous names of Italian art can be found in its many galleries —from the Renaissance masters to early medieval, baroque and mannerist painters.

Before you get in, there’s the joy of waiting in a two or three-hour queue so this in itself will burn off some calories.

Once inside, there’s a sprint to get to the Old Masters, notably Botticelli, Titian and Caravaggio. Jostling elbows with fellow visitors is also a good exercise regime which can be added to your walking work-out.

By the end, you’ll be so exhausted that you’ll be beyond the point of feeling hungry.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Walking distance – 1 mile



Although the Rijksmuseum has the smallest walking distance on the my museums list, it’s amazing how many calories you can burn off here.

With 900,000 objects the Rijksmuseum is the largest collection of art and historical works in Holland. It’s most famous for its paintings by 17th Century Dutch masters including Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals.

For an even more effective regime, why not squeeze in several museums on a single day to create the ultimate burn-off diet.

The Rijksmuseum sits within a cluster of galleries in Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter. Try combining it with the Van Gogh and Stedelijk Museums next door for maximum results.

Storm King, New York State

Walking distance – Approx 4 miles

Storm King, New York

Storm King, New York

Storm King is an immense site which is home to some of the world’s most interesting art works and outdoor installations.

Located in the Hudson Valley, it’s set amidst 500 acres of fields, hills, and woodlands which provide the setting for more than 100 sculptures created by some of the biggest international artists.

On a sunny day this is a great way of getting those legs moving as you’ll need to get close to the sculptures to see them at their best.

I shouldn’t disclose this but there is a tram that traverses the site, but don’t cheat if you want to drop a dress or jacket size.

Rating the Museum Diet

To be honest, there’s a fine line between burning off those carbs and enjoying yourself on holiday.

Despite losing pounds on my last cultural adventure,  I’m starting to think that the Museum Diet isn’t really the solution after all.

Museum overload

Watch out for museum overload

First, there’s the strong possibility of ‘museum overload’ and fatigue as you traipse around miles and miles of corridors.

Just look at this photo of my partner Tony after a full day spent at the Met and Guggenheim Museums in New York.

Not a pretty sight. He looks like a zombie!

There’s also the potential damage to your feet and joints. Not to mention, family relationships and your sanity.

Perhaps it’s better to embark on a proper adventure holiday like a walking trip in Nepal or trekking across Colorado?

Then, there’s always the sporting holiday with swimming, wind surfing and beach buggying.

Or you could try Disney World in Florida which has around 12 miles of attractions to walk around?

Keeping lean on holiday is a challenge because we’re likely to over-indulge with eating and drinking when we’re on vacation.

But even with that in mind, I still manage to lose weight by being active on holiday – even when I’ve gorged myself on Belgium chocolates or French pastries.

To diet or enjoy yourself? Ultimately, the choice is yours…

Tammy’s Note – The distances around museums are based on the best available information from travellers with pedometers or from the collections themselves. The number of calories burned is based on the average person’s weight and 100 calories per mile of slow walking.

Walking distances and calories

4 replies »

  1. That’s full of brilliant “dad” facts! The distances are amazing but as I walk around them at a snail’s pace and get museum fatigue after 2 hours I doubt I’ll ever make the true distance of the Hermitage. Great post.

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