How to Museum 101

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During the past year, while I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve been to more museums than I can count. Whether it’s art, history, architecture or culture I absolutely love museums and I always have (thanks, mom!). Being centralized in one of the biggest European cities sets me up pretty well for feeding this addiction. It’s not very hard to wake up, decide where I’m going and hop on the metro – ending up at a museum featuring famous works from many of my favorites.

Like this morning, for instance, when I decided I would go to the Louvre on a whim. A sentence which I don’t think I would have ever dreamed I could write. Treating myself to Louvre days has been something I’ve done throughout the year. Not only is it important for my introvert artist self, but it really is necessary, since the museum is so incredibly huge.

While walking around the Louvre today I realized that I felt like more than a tourist. I “had down” the whole museum thing – I knew what I was doing, where I was going and I had everything in my bag to keep me happy for the rest of my time there. No longer was I the stumbling around scared expat I once was. It would seem, after all this time, I have FINALLY perfected my up-and-go technique. To save you all the months of confusion I went through, I thought I would share some of my tips on how to optimize your museum going experience! Sound good?! Great!

1. Check online for discounts/open hours BEFORE going: This may sound like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how often people pay more than they actually have to when going to a museum! There are a lot of discounts available, especially in European museums, so make sure that you know what category you fall under (under 26 year olds – you’re probably FREE!) and save yourself some cash. EU residents (including expats, aupairs, students etc.) can also get in most museums free in France, just make sure you have your passport with you!
Checking museum open and close times can also save you time and stress. Museums can have odd days when they’re closed, so make sure you’re headed there on a day when they’re open (many are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays), and when you have plenty of time to see everything! Again, sounds like a no brainer – but you’d be surprised how easy it is to miss.

2. Bring water/snacks!: Museums take time, and if you’re like me, you’re likely to be there for more than an hour (or two…or three) so make sure you’re stocked up! You don’t want to have to leave and go seek out food just because you need a snack, or have to pay the absurd museum prices! Water bottles are allowed in most places, as well as little snacks (I like to bring dried fruit) which can help you maintain your blood sugar throughout your time of exploration. On the same note, going after you’ve eaten a meal (ex: lunch) rather than right before, when you’re bound to get hungry, is always a good idea.

3. Audio guides: These are one of my favorite companions when it comes to solo travel through a museum. Of course, I do like going with friends as well, but some of my favorite museum experiences have been when it’s just me and my audio guide. Not only can audio guides give you the inside scoop on art pieces, but they can also give you tour routes which get you, more easily, through the museum without missing anything. Audio guide prices generally range from free – 5 euro. Especially if you did your research and got in for free/reduced, they’re a great little added extra!

4. Camera!: Whether you’re bringing a DSLR or just your smartphone, make sure all batteries are charged BEFORE you leave for the museum. There is nothing worse than arriving at a place and having a dead battery – especially if you’re about so see things you’ll definitely want preserved with more than just the recesses of your mind. Battery up! You won’t regret making sure you did!

5. Sturdy shoes: It always amuses/humors/horrifies me to see how many woman are walking around in heels when they’re at museums. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the biggest fans of pumps you might ever meet, but wearing them to an extensive building where you’ll be walking from exhibit to exhibit is just not ideal. Throw on a pair of tennis shoes for your museum trip, or if you simply must wear your heels, make sure you slip some flats in your bag (just in case).

6. Bathrooms: Some museums have bathrooms – but some do not. Which means it’s up to you to make sure this is something taken care of before you pay to get in. It wiill save you the annoyance of having to go out and back in again, as well as the uncomfortableness of the situation as a whole.

7. Know your favorites: Call me a nerd, but doing a bit of research before you go into a museum can save you time, frustration and energy once you’re there. For art museums there are certain favorite artists that I generally search before going in, so I know where in the museum they are, and can enter in the right entrance. Knowing the layout can also help save your legs from having to wander around parts of the museum which may not be as important to you.

8. Bring the proper baggage: For me this generally means a smaller backpack, but packing all of your *maybe items and then toting them around in an arm bag for three hours is exhausting and makes me want to leave twice as fast. Save your arms, and balance out the weight you’re carrying, with a bag/backpack/fanny pack that can hold everything (including souvenirs!) while keeping you comfortable.

*Maybe items to bring: Chapstick, jacket/sweatshirt (if you’re wearing light clothing), notebook/sketchbook, reading book (lines can be long), more snacks

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