Free museums


David Whitley looks at the downsides of getting into attractions without paying 

For all of its faults, it’s generally accepted that one of the best things the previous Labour government ever did was introducing free entry to museums across the country. It opened numerous priceless cultural institutions up to those who could probably get most value from them. It offered educational experiences to hundreds of thousands of kids whose parents would have been otherwise put off by the price. It made going to a museum for the afternoon as viable an option as going to the park.

I know deep down inside that free museum entry is an incredibly good thing. But I still find myself wishing there was a charge at times. I’d sooner pay and look around a museum in relative peace and quiet than feel frazzled, trying to dodge around hundreds of people all trying to look at the same thing. I’ve turned either old or horrendously snobbish.

Not everywhere works on the British system, but at many museums around the world there is at least one day a month or one evening a week where entrance is free. A travel tip that crops up repeatedly is to head to the museum on that day or evening. After all – it saves you money, right?

It’s a dreadful piece of advice, unless given to utter tightwads who care more about not paying for anything that having a good experience.

People follow that advice. Too many people. That free day or evening will be a case of fighting through a scrum of people who have thought either the same thing or that it’s something to do, and they may as well when it’s free.

The problem with free is that it attracts people who are attracted to free, rather than the museum. It’s also a magnet for tour buses – if a tour company can chuck in a few extras that won’t cost the company anything, they almost certainly will do. And there are few things worse in a museum than being swept up by huge tour groups.

With such free nights, you’re making the trade-off. It’s a discomfort versus cost thing. But when the cost isn’t that much anyway – with most museums you’ll never pay more than £10 to £15 maximum – surely it’s better to just stump up for that couple of hours of better, more rewarding experience?

What do you reckon? Is it better to pay for entry to museums or should all museums be free?