When it comes to Europe, museums are always high on the agenda. From the British Museum in London to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, no other continent stands adorned in such a powerful and engrossing collection of history and art. To help you dodge the queues and get the most out of each and every stop, consider these top 10 tips for tackling Europe's museums.
However popular a museum may seem, don’t automatically assume it’ll be open seven days a week. Many museums will close for one day – usually a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday – and often a number of them will close on the same day which, if you haven’t planned for, could put a dampener on your plans. Many museums also offer free entry on certain days of the week or month.
Even at the most packed sights, there’s often a shortcut to escape the crowds so always check for a side entrance with a shorter wait if you can’t skip the line. For example, the Louvre has an underground entrance that’s much quicker than the main glass pyramid entrance.
The easiest way to skip the lines altogether is to make an advance reservation. Book ahead to secure a reserved entry time and when you arrive, you can breeze right in. This is particularly helpful during high season when the lines are longest. In some cases, booking a day ahead is ample, but in others such as the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, it can book out over a month in advance.
In many cities, a range of passes and combo tickets offer savings in terms of money and time. They’ll usually include a number of attractions at free or discounted rates, and sometimes allow you to skip the cue. Do your research and find out which passes offer the best value for what you’re looking to experience.
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If you know you’ll have a long wait in line, there are ways to make it less painful. Usually a good idea is to arrive half an hour to an hour before opening time, or else arrive very late at the end of the day about two hours before closing time when the lines are typically shortest. Another way to make the line at least feel shorter is to take a book or some music to keep you occupied while you wait.
Before arriving, do a little research to see what works of art or exhibits are on offer. Most of the time there’ll be so much to see that it’d be impossible to see it all. Use your research to decide what you wish to prioritise on the day and potentially also discover collections of interest you’d otherwise have never known about. Also check for special events such as guest speakers, late-night events and special travelling exhibitions that may pop up on the calendar.
A great way to navigate the halls, gain insider info and discover the most important and renowned works on display is to take a guided tour. A knowledgeable guide can completely transform your experience from overwhelming and fiddly to utterly fascinating and easy. Audio tours are also common – sometimes at a charge and other times free – and a great way to get the story behind the displays but the independence to do it at your own speed.
As soon as you enter the door pick up a map from the information counter to help navigate the maze of rooms, levels and exhibits. Some museums also have their own apps to help you find your way around.
Most major museums have well-known permanent collections, but they also often have temporary exhibitions that change throughout the year. It’s nice to browse these exhibits for a unique experience that offers glimpse into different works of art. They’re also often less crowded!
Exploring the displays can be a mammoth effort and quite draining. Pack some snacks and water for a half-time break or sit down to a coffee and lunch in a nearby cafe if your ticket allows you to leave and come back. Better yet, the bigger museums will often have a cafe on site.
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