When we’re taking a city break, we inevitably end up going to a few museums or galleries. As I love to over-plan and make the most of my time no matter what, here’s a list of some of the things I do before we visit.
Check if there’s an app
The bigger museums all have apps these days, and they’re often identical to the ‘media tours’ or ‘audio tours’ they charge extra for when you’re buying your tickets. Generally their website will say if they have an app; sometimes you have to do a little more digging. Even if you don’t realise until you’re there, it’s not too late to download an app if they have free wi-fi. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a free app for smartphones, the Louvre a cheap one for the 3DS. All you need are a couple of sets of earphones and an earphone splitter and you’ve saved yourself 10 euros a time. This is particularly beneficial for museums where there’s no information in English.
Find out the busiest times
TripAdvisor, Google, and often the museum’s website will tell you when the peak times are. Getting there outside those times makes a huge difference to how long you spend there and how much you enjoy it. Even if you’re not an early bird it’s still worth checking the opening times because later on in the afternoon can be quiet too, and many museums are open late: some as late as 10pm.
Ataturk Mausoleum, Ankara
See if you can book online
There’s often an incentive for booking online, including discounted tickets, better deals, and queue jumps. Just make sure you plan your time carefully if you have to book a specific slot, and still choose a time outside the busiest hours. Don’t forget to search for discount codes online, or see if you can bag a discount by subscribing to their mailing list, looking at their Facebook page or Twitter account, or even just asking. It’s worth a shot!
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Get discounts and queue jump just by booking online.
It’s worth seeing if you can make your tickets even cheaper by doing a bit of googling. Many cities have a city card that gives you discounts, or you can get discounts off/passes to museums by buying a city bus tour or similar. Always compare the offers carefully; there’s no point buying a city card if it only gets you entry or discounts to two or three museums you’re actually interested in visiting.
It’s also worth doing your research on the city itself to see if there are any standard discounts, particularly if you’re a student or young person. For example, pretty much all museums are free to those under 25 in Paris (student or not).
Plan your time
Look up any special or temporary exhibitions before your trip, and decide if you want to see any of those. They’ll require more of your time and occasionally cost more too, so plan accordingly.
For large museums, it may be worth looking at the different themes and exhibitions and deciding what you definitely want to see. Popular exhibits will always attract large crowds.
The Louvre. If you look closely, you can see the Mona Lisa.
Decide on refreshments
Find out what food and drink is available, and rough costs. It may be worth taking your own to eat before or after if there’s somewhere convenient and the weather is good. If not, see what restaurants and cafes are nearby. It’s usually best to avoid eating a proper meal at a museum or gallery – it’s overly expensive and you waste a lot of time queuing. A short stop for a snack or drink isn’t too hard on the wallet though, and provides a good opportunity for a rest!
Take as little as possible: a small bag, no rucksacks, and layer up in base layers, cardigans, and hoodies if you really need to. Big coats are a pain to carry round and will need to be checked in, which means more waiting around in long queues. Unless you’re somewhere relatively open, museums and galleries tend to be overly warm as a general rule, so items of clothing that you can remove and tie round your waist if needed work best. I tend to take a small camera bag that I can sling over my shoulder.
The Titanic Exhibition, Las Vegas
Learn the photography rules
If you plan to take photos or videos, find out the rules first because they aren’t always clearly displayed. Sometimes cameras, photos and videos are banned altogether, like in the Sistine Chapel, but often it’s just ‘no flash’. Different rules may apply for tripods and selfie sticks, so always check that before you lug them around.
If you can take photos, do. Even if it’s just with your smartphone. Museums usually have fantastic, well-thought out lighting so I love photographing in them.
The Chernobyl Museum, Kiev
Search for little-known tips
Search TripAdvisor and google reviews for tips – for example, larger museums may have different entrances allowing you to beat the queues, sometimes buying a ticket to jump the queue is a worse option than no ticket at all (see my experience at Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, Illuminated), and sometimes heading left when everyone else heads right means you can skip the crowds even if you are seeing everything in reverse
Do you visit museums and galleries often? What are your top tips?