Heritage interpretation

Heritage interpretation is the “art” of revealing in situ the meaning of the natural and cultural legacy to the public that visits those places in their free time.

Heritage interpretation is a structured approach to non-formal learning specialised in communicating significant ideas about a place to people on leisure. It establishes a link between visitors and what they can discover at heritage sites such as a nature reserve, a historic site or a museum.

Good interpretation is always based on first-hand experience and often on personal contact with staff on site. Interpretation does four things:

  • it provokes visitors’ curiosity and interest in what may be an unfamiliar topic or theme
  • it relates the site or objects to visitors’ own knowledge, experience, background and values,
  • it reveals the significance of the site or objects which visitors can understand and appreciate, and
  • it helps people to enjoy a satisfying experience.

Interpretation is a form of storytelling…


If done effectively professional interpretation helps managers of protected areas, museums and heritage sites as well as municipalities, regions and tourism destinations to:

  • achieve their organisation’s mission, in relation to target audiences and stakeholders,
  • achieve goals for what people learn about their site or topic,
  • raise awareness of their site’s significance and win community support regarding conservation and management,
  • increase visitor numbers and revenues through quality interpretive programmes and activities, and enhance the image of the site, museum, local community or region by word of mouth from satisfied visitors.

Good interpretation helps visitors and locals to:

  • develop their curiosity to discover more about the natural or cultural heritage they are experiencing.
  • understand why a place, a collection, an object or a past event is regarded as significant.
  • enjoy the site because interpretation uses a non-formal approach that is designed for people on leisure.
  • gain deeper understanding of meanings and relationships and how what they see may be relevant to them.

Interpretation adds to a visit beyond simply gaining unrelated knowledge  or merely enjoying views


You will find interpretation in a wide range of media from guided walks to traditional panels and booklets, to interactive exhibits and GPS-controlled smartphones

  • in towns and smaller communities
  • in national, regional and local nature parks and reserves
  • in museums and visitor centres and
  • in many visitor attractions.

‘’Interpretation is a means to an end, a way of telling stories and communicating messages that inspire people’’.


It employs the art of communication techniques to provoke visitors’ interest, to relate what they see to their own  interests and experience and to reveal new meanings.

Accordingly any site and place with natural or cultural heritage can benefit from professional interpretation.

However, not all heritage communication is really interpretive!!

Not all guided tours, wayside panels or exhibits on such sites use interpretation. Some appear like lessons for students; others simply provide unrelated information.

In contrast, interpretation is about involving visitors in first-hand experience and helping them to discover a story that has impact, meaning and relevance – whatever the sites and the theme, and whatever media are employed.

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered, the point is to discover them.” Galileo Galilei

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