Any travel guide will tell you it’s best do some advance research to maximize your time en route. We’ve put together a museum travel checklist filled with tips for skipping the lines, getting discounts or free admission, avoiding crowds and making viewing more enjoyable for yourself and “museum-challenged” traveling companions.
Advance Reservations Required
If you’ve ever shown up at a top-rated museum only to find it’s sold out for the day, you already know the disappointment of potentially missing your only chance to see it. Fortunately, many of the world’s most popular museums have adopted an online reservation system. Put museum websites on your pre-trip checklist 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)
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, cafes, shops, interesting architecture, hands-on programs, audio tours, media and even scavenger hunts. Museums in unusual places or those that match specific interests can make all the difference. The rumble of a high-performance engine at BMW World in Germany may be just the advertisement needed to get a car lover to shift his or her attitude toward museums. To find vacation ideas with bonus education value, think about topics of interest (e.g., Anne Frank, Architecture, Basketball, Fashion, Literature, Transportation, War or Titanic), then search city travel guides.
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. Be sure to add member ID cards to your packing list.
Museum or City Pass
You can often save money if you plan to visit several points of interest in the same city or region. Check travel guides and scan city or museum websites for a city pass or card that combines museums with other local attractions and/or transportation. Cities rife with museums have some great options: Berlin, London, Moscow, New York, Paris, Rome (city pass or specific), Vienna.
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. Before traveling, 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.
Save Time & Avoid Crowds
As you make traveling plans, use these tips to avoid crowds and save time at major museums:
Special & Traveling Exhibits
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, including large traveling exhibits like Body Worlds, Leonardo DaVinci’s Workshop and Mummies of the World.
Don’t forget museums when you pack travel clothing. 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. These days, casual and comfortable is par for the course, unless you’re attending an opening gala or special event. But classic chic ensembles with flats are never out of style to view fine art. Bring a light sweater in case the air-conditioning gets too intense. See all of our clothing options at TravelSmith.com.
Make it Fun for Kids
These days, it’s easy to find museums that that can turn education into adventure travel 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 (think dinosaur sleepover, treasure hunt or undercover mission). 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.
One of the best travel accessories for museums is an audio guide. These “talking earphones” 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 give 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 questions, including insider tips for local dining or attractions.
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 at different paces. Rather than getting frustrated looking for people, choose a convenient time and place to meet (such as the café, lobby or garden) so everyone can meander in peace.