Tips for skipping the lines. How to get free admission. Make the most of your museum visit by reading up on our museum Travel Tips before you go.
Advance Reservations Required
If you’ve ever shown up at a museum only to find it’s sold out for the day, you already know that many of the world’s most popular museums have adopted an online reservation system. Visit the museum’s website to find out if they have one. Reservations are virtually required for the following:
- Accademia (Florence, Italy)
- The Alhambra (Granada, Spain)
- Borghese Gallery (Rome, Italy)
- Santa Maria delle Grazie convent (Milan, Italy)
- Scrovegni Chapel (Padua, Italy)
- Uffizi Gallery (Florence, Italy)
- Vatican Museum (Rome, Italy)
Free Days & Closures
Many museums have special days (such as the first or last Sunday of the month) or designated times (such as Friday evenings) when entry is free or heavily discounted. Similarly, most museums are closed one or two days a week, often on Mondays or Tuesdays. Phone ahead or check the museum’s website for specifics—either to save money or to avoid the crowds of students, locals and budget-minded tourists who are likely to make use of free-entry days.
Each museum has different offers when it comes to discounts. Anyone from seniors, children, families, students, teachers, locals, disabled guests and even the unemployed (at the Louvre) may get special discounts. Always ask or look on the museum’s website for specifics. If you are a museum member or belong to a club (such as AAA, an art club, historic society or fashion guild), extra discounts may also apply.
You can often save money if you plan to visit several points of interest in the same city or region. Look on travel websites or those of the city or museum itself for passes that combine museums with other local attractions.
Audio guides can make your museum visit more informative and interesting. Expert narrators impart the history and background of particular exhibits while sharing colorful tidbits that you’ll miss by strolling through the museum on your own. They’ll also save you from reading the fine print on the signs, which may not be in English (most museums in France only provide literature and descriptions in French). Look for audio guides—available for rent in multiple languages—at the museum entrance or outside the entrance of special exhibits.
Very popular museums often offer tour groups earlier access (for example, at 8 a.m.), so you get more time to enjoy the exhibits that may be jam-packed later. Even if you’re not on a tight timeframe, it’s often worthwhile to join a tour. Guides can be a wealth of knowledge, providing personality and local perspective to your visit. They’ll also usually answer any question you ask.
Save Time & Avoid Crowds
Try these tips to avoid crowds and save time at major museums:
- Arrive before the museum opens
- Go at night if the museum has evening hours
- Stay in the galleries during mealtimes
- Avoid free days, weekends and rainy days
- Buy advance tickets
- Join a tour
- Consult the museum map and visit your must-see exhibits first, in case you run out of time or steam later
Museums are always on the lookout for new and unique exhibits to bring people through the doors. While pieces of a museum’s permanent collection are rotated in and out of display, special exhibitions include pieces from other museums and collections. These usually require an additional entry fee (in Italy, it may be mandatory whether you see the special exhibit or not). Check the museum’s calendar of upcoming exhibits—some of which are hugely popular.
The most important piece of your museum wardrobe is a pair of comfortable walking shoes—a day trip through the massive Louvre in Paris can put your feet to the test. Beyond that, it’s casual and comfortable, unless you’re attending an opening gala event. Bring a light sweater in case the air-conditioning gets too intense. See all of our clothing options at TravelSmith.com
Something for Everyone
If you have a spouse or travel companion who rolls their eyes at museums, don’t despair. Museums have worked hard to become more visitor-friendly, adding restaurants, shops, interesting architecture, hands-on programs, audio tours and movies to create a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Museums in unusual places or those that match specific interests can make all the difference. From architecture, history, war, science, and sports to wildlife, crafts, film, fashion and automobiles, there’s a museum for every taste. The rumble of a V-8 engine at BMW World in Munich, Germany, may be all the advertisement needed to get a car lover to shift his or her attitude toward museums.
Make it Fun
These days, it’s easy to find museums that are fun for kids and grandkids. While children’s museums are popping up all over the world, many mainstream museums also offer exhibits and programs that might entice them to explore (such as a dinosaur sleepover). Kid-friendly audio guides, learning demos and children’s wings can open young eyes to the wonders of art, history and nature. Take breaks when necessary, and ask about in/out privileges so the kids can run around outside and return later.
Arrange a Meeting Point
If you visit a museum with friends or family, choose a meeting place before entering. Popular museums and special exhibitions can get crowded, and it’s easy to get separated when moving through the exhibits. Rather than getting frustrated looking for people, choose a convenient time and place to meet (such as the café or lobby) so everyone can wander in peace at their own pace.
Armchair Museum Travel
If you want to preview a museum—or you run out of time on your travels—Google’s online Art Project lets you tour the world’s top museums from your own computer. Click on the website, select a museum, “wander” through its galleries and zoom in on intriguing art pieces. The site’s info panel lets you find other paintings by the same artists, read more about the works and watch related videos.