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Free Entry to Cultural Sites with the ICOM Card

A couple months ago I did a 16-day backpacking trip through Europe as part of my final major trip before I moved back to Canada. One thing I had to pack was my ICOM card, which saved me about €200 in museum and art gallery admissions. €200 that went towards extending my trip, food and transportation. If you work in a museum or are taking Museum Studies, you'll want to continue reading.

Hampton Court Palace in the background and large green garden in the foreground
View of Hampton Court Palace from the gardens.

ICOM is short for the International Council of Museums, which is an NGO that works closely with UNESCO. The organization basically sets international standards for museums as well as fighting illegal trading of cultural goods and protecting international heritage sites. One of the things they also do is offer a card that you can use at many museums worldwide to gain free entry. To get a card you have to contact your country's museum association (mine is the Canadian Museum Association). You'll need to show proof of working in a recognized museum or that you are taking a degree in Museum Studies. I initially tried to get a student one, but since I was doing a Master's in History, it wasn't approved. So I did it as an "individual" working in a museum. There are fees, but it's so worth it.

Here's an example: I got my card at the beginning of the year and paid $125 CAD for an individual membership. Mid-January I was in London, and while most museums in the city are free the palaces are not. I went to Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London, which would have cost me a combined total of $80 CAD, but thanks to the card I got in free. I made back more than half of the amount I spent on the card. By the end of March, after my 16-day trip and visiting many cultural sites, I made back more than double what I had spent on the card.

The front entrance of the Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles in France. Yup, got in for free here thanks to ICOM.

This card was so worth it and I can't stress that enough. Free entry is only one of many things you get access to. You'll also be able to attend professional development courses and workshops, join ICOM committees, and participate in national and international committee meetings. Even if you only travel within your country or province/state, many museums will honour the card. So if you work in a museum or are taking museum studies, I highly recommend getting a membership. Trust me, you won't regret it!

For those of you who aren't museum employees or students, this card is not available to you. However, most cities have city passes you can purchase and gain free or reduced entry to select museums.

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