Museum Survival Tips: How to Avoid Tourist Crowds

If you’re one of the millions of people that visit art museums each year, you probably go to enjoy the art, not the crowds. But that can be quite challenging. According to the World Economic Forum, the world’s top art museums welcomed over 60 million visitors in 2018 alone! (1) The problem is that most of us have limited leisure time and travel opportunities that happen to fall at the same time as everyone else’s — mostly weekends, July/August, and December.

So how do you avoid the masses at the museum? Here are some insider tips on how to have the most enjoyable experience possible at the height of chaotic tourist season.

  1. Decide What To See & Narrow It Down

I’m still surprised at how many people blindly follow the guidebook of “must-see” attractions without actually stopping to think if it’s even worth their time and energy. Narrow down the options based on personal preferences and let go of FOMO. (2) Are you interested in a particular city, an art/science/history museum, or a cool temporary exhibition? Google the destination city or specific museum and check out their website! Once you explore the available options, choose 1–3 of the most interesting for you personally. Don’t feel pressured to visit the most popular museum or most famous treasures just because that’s what everyone else does. And don’t try to visit them all and see everything! It’s a recipe for disaster.

2. Note Opening Hours & Plan Accordingly

This is SUPER important! Museum opening times vary tremendously. The website should clearly state what days and hours the museum is open. And don’t forget about national holidays when exceptional closures are common. Look for “practical information” or “visit” or “contact us” to find these vital deets. Is there anything worse than eagerly showing up at a museum on a day that it’s closed?! (Cue the violins) Plan ahead to avoid the crushing disappointment and regret that will overshadow the whole trip!

3. Avoid Mornings, Enjoy Evenings

The WORST time to visit a museum is when the doors open. This may seem counterintuitive, but most school groups and large guided tours queue up outside first thing in the morning. Sorry early birds, this is one time when things don’t work out in your favor. #sorrynotsorry Instead, check for late openings. Many museums now offer one night per week where they stay open until 9–10pm. This is hands-down the BEST time to hit the galleries. After 7pm, crowds thin considerably and you’ll enjoy more breathing room. The only hitch could be special events that pack visitors in, so be sure to consult the online calendar of events. Then plan for an early dinner (after a power nap, if needed) to join the clever night owls for some intellectual stimulation and physical movement that will guarantee a good night’s sleep. #yourewelcome

4. Book tickets Online & Skip the Lines

What’s even less fun than being trampled by tourists on a mission? Waiting for an hour or more to buy tickets! This is a no-brainer. Since you’ve already decided what you want to see and when it’s open, save yourself the agony and just buy the tickets through the museum’s website right away. Print them out at home and put them in your fanny pack. Immediately. Even if you have an e-ticket, it’s useful to have a printed copy just in case you don’t have cell service or the wifi sucks. (3) The magical thing about booking tickets in advance is that you usually get to skip the lines. Hallelujah! Most major museums have priority entry for ticket holders. So whip out those printed tickets as you breeze past all the poor ticketless souls who weren’t as smart as you.

5. Grab a Map & an Audioguide

If you want to avoid crowds, don’t sign up for a guided tour. (4) Don’t get me wrong! I love guided tours, both professionally and personally speaking; but in peak season, it’s a very unpleasant experience. Guided tours organized by the museum itself or popular tour operators are large and cumbersome; making it difficult to move around freely or get a close look at the objects. Instead, rent an audioguide so you can wander to empty galleries and calmly take in the works on display. You can always go back to a high-traffic space once the tour groups have moved on! Another perk with the audioguide is that it helps you focus on the highlights if your attention is scattered or you have limited time. A efficient way to get the most out of your visit!

Some parting words of advice: Be comfortable. Wear walking shoes, bring a sweater or scarf, carry a small handbag (no backpacks), and take breaks when you need to. I’ll have another article soon with more detailed tips on how to prepare for your museum visit like a pro! Any burning questions? Put ’em down below. Until then, enjoy the museums!

(1) https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/the-worlds-most-visited-museums/

(2) FOMO = Fear of Missing Out (for my dear non-millennial readers)

(3) Museum wifi almost always sucks! Don’t count on it to access tickets from your email.

(4) I highly recommend booking a private tour (budget pending) if you want to have an in-depth, unique experience in a very popular, overwhelming museum like the Louvre or the Met. Search TripAdvisor with “private tour” + museum name for options and reviews.

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Hi, I’m Alexandra. I’m a creative multipotentialite, serial expat, and museum ambassador. Visit me at: www.museumable.com and www.gatheringstardust.com

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Alexandra Lawson

Alexandra Lawson

Hi, I’m Alexandra. I’m a creative multipotentialite, serial expat, and museum ambassador. Visit me at: www.museumable.com and www.gatheringstardust.com

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