Locals never pay full-price for museum tickets!
You've arrived at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam only to discover the entrance costs €19.
During your stay in Brussels you visit the Royal Museums of Fine Arts and are asked to shell out €15 for entry.
You came all the way to Zurich just to visit the FIFA World Football Museum, but tickets at the door are an insane €21.
Europe is full of amazing museums that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. You can't visit The Hague without visiting The Girl with the Pearl Earring at the Mauritshuis (entry €15.50), and no trip to Helsinki is complete without experiencing the riches of Finnish history at the National Museum of Finland (entry €12).
But even visiting just a handful of museums in one country can end up costing hundreds of euros, particularly in cities with many big ticket museums such as Amsterdam, or expensive cities like Zurich or Helsinki.
So let me 'reveal' to you that the locals never pay full-price for museum tickets. In fact, the locals don't even bother with touristy 3-day or 5-day city passes. The average Dutch museum lover spends just 60 euros a year on unlimited access to nearly every museum in the country. Intrigued?
Don't pay the tourist surcharge - just fake being a local!
Many years ago, The Netherlands introduced a national museum pass called the Museumkaart (Museum Card), which is valid for 12 months and offers unlimited access to over 400 museums across the country for one low price (€64.90 as of 2019). Now, several other countries and regions around Europe have launched their own museum passes, so a similar card is on offer in Belgium, Switzerland and Finland, among others.
The idea is that these passes are geared towards local residents of each country rather than tourists visiting for a short time. However, there are no restrictions on who can actually buy these national museum passes, so a tourist visiting several museums in one country will nearly always save money by using a national museum pass instead of paying full price or even using the popular '3-day tourist passes' offered in many European cities.
If we compare the Dutch 'Museumkaart' to a typical Amsterdam tourist pass, the iAmsterdam Card, the savings become very apparent: the price of a Museumkaart is €64.90 and it allows free access to over 400 museums for a period of 12 months, not just in Amsterdam but across the whole of the Netherlands. Meanwhile, a 72-hour iAmsterdam Card costs a whopping €93 and is valid for just 3 days for attractions in Amsterdam alone. Of course, this card also offers unlimited use of public transport and entrance to many other non-Museum attractions, but for anyone who is interested in visiting other cities in the Netherlands such as Utrecht, The Hague or Rotterdam, or is staying for longer than just 3 days, the Museumkaart will always end up being better value. Remember: it's valid for 12 months!
There is just one small issue with playing local: some passes need to be mailed out by post, and for that you'll need a local postal address during your trip. It doesn't mean you need to rent an apartment - you can use the address of your hostel, airbnb or couch-surfing host. Just write down the address as 'c/o' (care of) the actual resident or business name.
Europe's national Museum Passes
Here's a short list of the various museum passes on offer in Europe, including prices and how to get them:
The Netherlands - Museumkaart (€64.90)
The easiest way to buy this card is by going to one of the participating museums and purchasing it there.
However, be aware that you will then receive a temporary card which is valid for just 5 museum entries within a period of 31 days. After that the temporary card is invalidated and you must start using a permanent plastic card. To obtain this, you will need a postal address in the Netherlands! (It could also be the address of your hostel or couchsurfing host).
So, as soon as you've bought your Museumkaart (that evening, or the next day), you should register it online on a PC and upload a passport photo (use Google Translate to translate the website into English if your Dutch is not amazing). Finally, you need to provide an address in the Netherlands for the card to be sent to. After a few days you'll be able to pick it up from your mailing address, and you have your permanent Museumkaart. Complicated, but worth it.
Belgium - Museum Pass (€50)
Unlimited access to 125 museums across Belgium for an entire year and for one low price! The catch? Again, this pass is geared towards local residents so a local address is necessary. However, remember you don't need to be an actual resident of Belgium - you just need to give an address to register the card. You can purchase the Museum Pass either online or at one of the participating museums (even so, you will still need to register it online and upload your passport photo; use Google Translate if your French or Dutch is not up to scratch).
Finland - Museum Card (€68)
For just 68 euros you get unlimited access to 280 museums across Finland for an entire year! You can purchase the Museum Card either online or at one of the participating museums. If you purchase at a participating museum, you'll receive a temporary card and will then need to register it online before getting a permanent card in the post. Once again, it is necessary to have a mailing address in Finland for this. The Finns are very helpful and suggest that if you don’t have in use a Finnish permanent home address, you can also give as your address that of a working place, an acquaintance, or a temporary address where you are staying for at least one month, marked with 'c/o' (Write c/o at the beginning of the address line). If you don’t have in use an address of this kind, you can contact the Museum Card Customer Service.
Switzerland - Swiss Museum Pass (CHF 166 / around €147)
This one is expensive, but remember Switzerland is currently the most expensive country in Europe, so museums are expensive to begin with!
However, for this price you get unlimited access for an entire year to an astonishing 500 museums across Switzerland! You can buy the permanent Swiss Museum Pass at railway stations, post offices, museums and tourist offices, and register it online. (So, no need to wait for it to arrive by post).
TheMuseums-PASS-Musées for theGermany-France-Switzerland border area (€108)
This one is a bit strange as it's a museum pass valid for several regions in Germany (including Stuttgart and the Upper Rhine Valley), France (including Franche-Comté and Lorraine) and Switzerland (including Basel), for a total of 320 museums. It is also valid for many castles and gardens in the area. You can buy the Pass at participating museums as well as online (though they only post within Europe). If you buy it in a participating museum, you get a permanent plastic card and do not need to give out a local postal address (though you can still register the card online to protect from theft).
Hopefully this article just made these expensive countries a bit less expensive for you now! Now put on your culture vulture face and see how many museums you can rack up in 12 months!