How Can I Avoid Long Museum and Gallery Lines?

AskEd & AnswerEd
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 28, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: AskEd & AnswerEd, booking strategy, Ed Perkins, Europe, museum, Paris, United States.

With limited vacation time, the last thing you want to do is spend hours in line for a ticket or entry time to a major museum or gallery. A reader asked specifically about one of the world's top attractions:

"How can I buy advance tickets to the Louvre? We have very little time in Paris, and we don't want to waste any of it waiting in a long line."

The short answer is that you can easily buy them directly from the Louvre online. Alternatively, if you're already in Paris, you can buy entry tickets at several major local retail stores and at DeGaulle Airport.

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This question, however, raises the broader topic of gaining easy entry to museums and galleries in general and throughout the world.

Regular exhibits

As far as I can tell, only a few of the world's most renowned museums are so heavily visited that no matter when you want to visit you face long lines if you show up unprepared. At a few, however, advance reservations can help you bypass long entry lines, and a small number require advance arrangements. Among them are the Louvre, d'Orsay, and Uffizi, plus a handful of others in Europe. Here in the U.S., only a few museums and galleries—such as the Getty Villa and Hearst Castle—really require advance reservations. In either case, you have several options.

Go direct

If you want advance tickets to a major museum or gallery, the best place to start is directly with the museum or gallery. Most major galleries and museums operate websites, and most of those provide for advance ticketing. Just Google the name of the museum or gallery plus "tickets."

City pass

Many important museums and galleries participate in city passes that include most of the other important local attractions—often a better buy than individual tickets. In response to our reader's question, for example, the Paris Pass covers the Louvre, the Rodin, and d'Orsay, as well as dozens of top Paris attractions. You can easily locate such passes anywhere by Googling the city name plus "pass."

Ticket sites

Several local sightseeing websites arrange entry tickets. Among them:

Local tours

Sightseeing operators often offer preferred museum or gallery entry as part of a local package. Again, you can locate them either through the museums' or host cities' sites.

Blockbuster exhibits

Although you can usually get into most museums and galleries without a problem, the situation is very different with extremely popular short-term exhibitions. A few years back, for example, the traveling King Tut exhibit drew record attendance at every U.S. stop, and advance reservations were a must.

Certainly, you can start with the same places you look for ordinary admissions: directly and through ticket sites and local tours. In addition, however, consider two other approaches:

Membership. Many museums and galleries that host blockbuster exhibits offer special preferred entry to members or donors. You can usually become a low-level member for an annual fee starting somewhere around $50—often the least expensive way to bypass long public lines. Even where you don't need advance tickets, members usually get a discount on entry, as well as on merchandise from the museum's shop. The only drawback is that once you join, even if it's just to get tickets to one exhibit, the museum will forever thereafter pester you for donations.

Hotel package. Host museums and galleries for traveling exhibitions such as the King Tut and Cezanne typically team with local hotels to offer one- or two-night packages that included preferred or "VIP" tickets to the exhibit, accommodations, and possibly transport to/from the exhibit. You can find them online through the host museum's website or through an overall exhibition website covering the entire national or world tour.

 
 
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