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10 Tips to Make the Most of a Museum Visit

Whether you're traveling to Milwaukee or Milan, let this be your guide


Whether you will be chasing the grandkids through a children’s museum or sipping cocktails at the latest art exhibit, you can probably spend more time and less money on a museum outing. Here are 10 smart tips for museumgoers:

1. Check the Calendar First

Have your heart set on seeing the Mona Lisa? Don’t plan to visit the Louvre on a Tuesday — it’s closed. And remember a museum might not be open on a national holiday like Bastille Day in Paris. Typically, many U.S. museums are closed on Mondays. It may sound simplistic, but always check the museum’s website to see which days and hours it is open.

Take advantage of extended hours on select days, holidays or for special events, too. For example, The Dallas Museum of Art stays open until midnight the third Friday of each month with special concerts, readings, performances, film screenings and tours. And you’ll have three more hours to linger at London’s British Museum if you go on a Friday, when closing isn’t until 8:30 pm.

Review the museum’s online calendar for information regarding special lectures, tours and programs. Many of these offerings are free, but require a reservation. When you arrive, stop at the Information Desk and pick up a map of the museum — it will guide you to the “must see” exhibits.

Coordinate your travel plans to take advantage of a “Museum Month.” Many cities offer museum discounts — typically during the slow season.

The Louvre in Paris, FranceCredit: Photo by Jim Twardowski
The Louvre in Paris, France

2. Get In for Free

Some museums, such as the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., always offer free admission, while others provide free admission on select days or specific hours. For instance, families get in for free at the Chicago Children’s Museum on Thursday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. and Denver’s Museum of Nature & Science is hosting a dozen free admission days in 2016. So if you’re trying to sightsee on a budget, take advantage of these savings.

You don’t always have to travel far to save. Dozens of museums grant free admission days to residents of their state, county or city. For example, Wednesdays are free for Louisiana residents at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

3. Show a Card and Save

Do you have a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card? You’re in luck! Get free admission to more than 150 museums through their “Museums on Us” program. Each cardholder is entitled to one free general admission per year to 150 museums; the offer is good the first full weekend of every month.

4. Visit During Museum Month

Coordinate your travel plans to take advantage of a “Museum Month.”  Many cities offer a month of museum discounts — typically during the slow season. The month for a museum discount varies from one destination to another. For example, San Diego’s is in February, Miami’s is in May and Las Vegas’s is in October.

5. Become a Member

Another way to save is to become a museum member. The benefits of a membership vary, but often include unlimited free admission, discounts on art classes and workshops, invitations to special openings and lectures, newsletter subscriptions and discounts on Gift Shop and Cafe purchases. Some museums even belong to a reciprocal program like SERM (Southeastern Reciprocal Membership), which gives members admission to museums in 13 states.

6. Buy a CityPASS

On your next trip to a big city, consider purchasing a CityPASS ticket booklet, which can save you up to 50 percent off the typical admission on popular attractions. Some of the museums you could explore at a significant discount include: the Royal Ontario Museum, Tampa Bay’s Museum of Science and Industry and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Before buying a CityPASS, determine how many of the offered attractions you will actually visit and compare costs; some museums offer discounts for seniors, members of the military and people with disabilities.

Royal Ontario MuseumCredit: © Royal Ontario Museum/CityPASS
Royal Ontario Museum

7. Consult the Visitor’s Bureau

If you’re still on the hunt for good deals, check with the local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for money-saving discounts. San Antonio’s SAVE (San Antonio Vacation Experience) coupons can add up to $1,800 worth of discounts at attractions, hotels, tours, shops and restaurants; all you have to do is print the coupons or download the app.

Even international destinations have discount cards worth considering, like the “Berlin Welcome Card,” which includes local transportation and some 200 deals.

8. Book a Hotel Package

Hotels frequently partner with museums to offer package deals. The Hilton City Center in Milwaukee’s Harley-Davidson Package, for instance, provides guests with tickets to the museum, free parking and a keepsake. A quick Google search is all it takes to uncover these promotions.

9. Refuel

Take a break from touring and savor your surroundings. Some of the coolest eating establishments are inside museums. At the Museum d’Orsay Restaurant in Paris, you can dine under dazzling chandeliers and a gilded ceiling originally installed in 1900. If you visit New York in the spring, the best spot for a panoramic view of the Big Apple is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roof Garden and Martini Bar.

Restaurant at Musee d'Orsay in Paris, FranceCredit: Photo by Jim Twardowski
Restaurant at Musee d’Orsay in Paris, France

10. Shop

Museum gift shops are a fun place to spend your dollars while supporting a good cause. Gift items range from note cards and scarves to jewelry and books. Before you leave the museum, pick up an item for your housesitter or snag a souvenir for yourself to remember the experience.

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