10 Engaging Winter Events and Marketing Ideas for Museums

Joslyn McIntyre

October 30, 2023

Depending on where you live in the world, winter can be rather cold and dark. It can also be a festive time, with all kinds of cultural and religious celebrations rounding out the calendar.

As winter embarks, your museum or attraction might be focused on celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another seasonal holiday. But these holidays are short-lived, while winter is long. During those endless months, people can get a bit stir-crazy. Your museum might be just the thing to satisfy their restless craving for experience and adventure.

For museums, in a sense, winter sells itself. People are less inclined to want to be outside, so they’re looking for things to do indoors. Still, they have options, and one of them is simply staying at home. How to make your museum stand out and invite people in?

Here are ten ideas for marketing your museum through and beyond the holidays, including the kinds of events that make marketing extra easy.

Winter museum marketing idea #1: Invite people in for some heartwarming music

Jazz concert at the National Museum of American History

In Washington, DC, the National Museum of American History hosts a series of concerts and events featuring the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. The concerts go hand-in-hand with the museum’s vast jazz-era collection, audibly connecting audiences with an important part of U.S. history. The museum considers the orchestra “one of the crown jewels” of its offerings. 

Jazz music is a natural extension of what the National Museum of American History is all about. How could you translate this idea for your own museum? You don’t necessarily have to have the resources to throw together a talented orchestra – nor the auditorium and sound system within which they can perform. You might outsource to a professional DJ or bring in a folksy trio to set ambiance on an ordinary winter’s day.

Winter museum marketing idea #2: Embrace an extended winter celebration

Winter Festival in 2022 at Museum of the Home

Winter is a time to celebrate for many cultures – and museums.

Museum of the Home in London sponsored a Winter Festival in 2022 that spanned the celebrations of Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Lunar New Year. The celebrations launched with a festival of lights around the Indian holiday of Diwali in the late fall. Winter decorations and Hanukkah family celebrations rounded out December. In January, the museum celebrated the Lunar New Year with a day of inspiring talks, creative workshops, film screenings, a makers market, and live performances.

The lesson: You can celebrate the whole winter season! The Museum of the Home holds a mission of “revealing and rethinking the ways we live, in order to live better together,” and that inclusive mission defined their winter festival. Perhaps your museum has a different mission that could be translated into an extended winter festival as well.

Winter museum marketing idea #3: Celebrate the New Year

New Year's Eve in the Natural History Museum in London in 2022

The Lunar New Year shifts from year to year, timed differently by different cultures. In China, it occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice, and Chinese New Year is celebrated by pockets of Chinese culture around the world. Like the Museum of Home in London, a lot of museums pay homage to Chinese New Year celebrations. The Met in New York City celebrated 2023’s Year of the Rabbit with a Lunar New Year Lion Dance, storytime sessions, and more. 

The Western New Year’s Eve is also a colossal time to party in many cultures. The Natural History Museum in London is one of multiple museums that hosts a party as the year changes over. As the clock struck in 2023, this bash included live music, a silent disco, and a special VIP area.

New Year’s Eve is a particularly poignant time for a museum party because the holiday, for many, already invites dressing up and getting fancy. People want to pick the perfect place to spend their New Year’s, and they’re often willing to spend more on this night than any other night of the year — giving you opportunities to upsell VIP experiences, champagne, schwag, and more.

Winter museum marketing idea #4: Make it sparkle

Amsterdam Light Festival from Central Station Lovers

If there’s one thing you can say about winter, it’s dark. A December day in Amsterdam, for instance, includes 17 hours of the night. 

Naturally, the Amsterdam Light Festival happens at this time of year, when artworks made of light are placed in and along the canals of Amsterdam Centre-East. Visitors are invited to stroll the route on foot or take a river cruise to view the luminary sculptures. 

Perhaps your museum or attraction already gets festive with string lights and other festive seasonal ornamentation, but consider taking it up a notch. You could turn decor into an actual event, like so many cities around the world do – Diwali celebrations at the tail end of Autumn in India; the Fête des Lumières in Lyon, France, in December; the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, Canada.

Winter museum marketing idea #5: Champion love

Venice Dinner Show

There’s another big winter celebration in many cultures throughout the world: Valentine’s Day. For museums, this non-denominational holiday is a perfect opportunity to launch special date-night events and romantically inspired marketing.

There are, of course, the obvious go-to romantic attractions, like gondola rides in Venice and pretty much anywhere in Paris. But any museum can play up its “romantic assets” this time of year. When Tiqets ran the Perfect Date survey in 2020, 40% of UK residents alone said that “going out to dinner” was not on the table for their Valentine’s Day celebration. Instead, their top ten list of romantic activities included museums, aquariums, castles, amusement parks, historical attractions, river cruises, zoos, and botanical gardens.

Regardless of the subject matter of your museum or attraction, find the romantic angle for those on a first date as well as those celebrating a Valentine’s milestone.

Winter museum marketing idea #6: Invite visitors to come get cozy

The planetarium at ARTIS Great Museum in Amsterdam

The Danish concept of hygge was trending not that long ago, as aficionados of coziness and comfort touted the benefits of a chill winter lifestyle. Museums can still tap into the hygge vibe with marketing that reminds visitors what a nice, quiet, chilled-out place a museum can be on those cold, dark winter days. 

The planetarium at ARTIS in the heart of Amsterdam offers some excellent winter escapism in the form of two experiences: Spacetrip, an adventure through space, and Habitat Earth, which takes the viewer below the Earth’s surface. 

Maybe your museum includes a planetarium, a 3D movie experience, or another type of activity that doesn’t just tolerate the darkness but embraces it. Perhaps you even serve hot chocolate or tea! Make it cozy, and they’ll come.

Winter museum marketing idea #7: Celebrate diversity

While it began in the United States, Black History Month (February) has quickly become an internationally observed celebration of Black culture. 

Culture and history are second nature to museums. There are many museums and attractions dedicated to Black history and culture in the United States, but for other kinds of museums, and museums elsewhere in the world, there are other opportunities to participate in the celebration.

In 2022, UK museum institutions such as the National Museums Liverpool launched programming specifically focused on Black History Month. The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, for instance, hosted an exhibition of artworks by schoolchildren celebrating Black Britons, while the Museum of London offered a program of themed readings, talks, tours, and activities.

Consider the intersection of your museum’s subject matter and the focus on Black History Month, and see what you might come up with to celebrate in February.

Winter museum marketing idea #8: Immerse visitors in all the senses

Kew Gardens in London is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a botanical collection that includes over 50,000 living plants. Collections include an edible Kitchen Garden and the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse, which holds a cathedral of plants from four different continents. 

During the Christmas season, Kew Gardens hosts an immersive event that combines the natural world with spectacular displays of light and music. One of the highlights of the experience is the chance to snap a selfie under the Christmas Cathedral with its sparkling display of fairy lights.

Sights and sounds are just the start of the Kew Gardens Christmas experience. The Fire Garden is the place for fragrance, and along the way, visitors are invited to taste mulled wine or hot chocolate. There is even a sublime Christmas dinner offering at the Botanical, the museum’s onsite restaurant. Guests come for the Christmas pudding alone!

Your museum, too, is probably a lot more than just a collection of stuff to look at. The holidays that populate the winter season are all great excuses to infuse your venue with some extra-sensory spirit.

Winter museum marketing idea #9: Team up to give back

The holidays are a perfect time of year to give back. Consider teaming up with a local or national non-profit to host an event to raise money and awareness for a cause. 

In tiny Brattleboro, Vermont, the nonprofit Groundworks Collaborative hosts an annual Empty Bowls dinner each fall, working with local galleries, storefronts, and artists to sell tickets.  Participants who purchase a handmade bowl by a local potter are invited to a community dining event featuring simple soups and breads, and the proceeds from the tickets support a local food redistribution program for those in need.

Nonprofits and charities are often grateful for the partnership of museums that can lend support in terms of venue space, event hosting, and co-marketing. This is a potential win-win for every organization involved, as well as for your local community.

Winter museum marketing idea #10: Pick up speed with your socials

While social media marketing is something that should happen year-round, a lot of museums struggle to pay it adequate attention during busier times of the year. If things slow down for your marketing team in the winter, it’s an ideal time to turn your focus back to platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. 

Consider trying something new with your social media marketing. Perhaps you run a contest or promotion – an excellent choice for the doldrums of winter, when people need a little extra motivation to leave their house, but not to pick up their phone and scroll. Tag-a-friend contests are probably the most popular type of competition brands use because they automatically spread awareness to an exponential audience.

There are other types of promotions, too: photo contests, caption contests, and giveaways. Imaginative promotions are a surefire way to build fan enthusiasm into your winter days.

Another approach you might consider is adding more video content to your social efforts. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Empire State Building in New York City, and the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, England, have all gained huge followings with their cheeky, low-production TikToks.

@vamuseum 2 years on repeat #cbat #reddit #redditstories ♬ original sound - user19192570443

Well-executed social media marketing can help you reach not just a wider audience but a younger audience. For in-depth strategic advice on this endeavor, read Social Media Strategy for Museums: How to Reach a Younger Audience Online.

Tackle your winter museum marketing with renewed zest

Winter might be long and, in some places, quite dark, but that’s no excuse to let your marketing go dormant. Your visitors are looking for things to do during the colder months, and your museum could be just the inviting venue they seek.

Download our latest e-book - Museum Marketing: A Go-to Guide to Maximizing Visitors All Year Round - to get more inspiration and ideas for every season. 

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