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A blog post has already been written about entry fees and free museum days. This post is about using memberships creatively.  Written by SWMBO with various random photos.

Dog WC, Malveira (Portugal)

Say what?!  Dog WC, Malveira (Portugal)


National Trust

Just before we left, I purchased a membership to Heritage Canada, an obscure organization. The membership cost $78.50 (including tax) and allows each member of our family free entry to the National Historic Sites of Canada. Big whoop-dee-doo you say?

Heritage Canada has a reciprocal agreement with the National Trust. If a Leclerc Hypermarche can be found every 200 metres in France, the same is true of National Trust sites in the UK.

What is a National Trust site? What isn’t?! Castles, gardens, manor houses, “coed” (woods in Welsh) the list goes on and on and on. There is an interactive website where you can apply various filters to find one/some of the over 1000 sites best suited to you.

So, the hope was to visit at least 4 National Trust properties during our 6 weeks in the UK, one of them being the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The entrance fee to that site alone is about $50/family. That was the hope, but I was prepared for the possibility that we would not end up visiting any National Trust properties and my $80 would end up being a donation to Heritage Canada, a very good cause in its own right.

Portuguese cork on Welsh slate

Portuguese cork on Welsh slate

Lucky that I felt that way because the way things have turned out, we will spend so much time in Wales that we won’t be going to Ireland! There were many National Trust sites close to the canals we travelled in our narrowboat but we never got around to visiting a single one! In fact, 3 of our 6 weeks have elapsed without a single National Trust visit. But I don’t mind. I am confident that we will visit the Bodnant Gardens and Penrhyn Castle at an absolute minimum.  Breaking News: We went to Speke Hall near Liverpool yesterday.  We have made it to our first National Trust site!!

My main reason for getting the membership was to avoid gateway financial angst. Most people have experienced it, but for some reason, I am particularly prone to it. The family entrance fee to Penrhyn Castle is 25 pounds sterling ($50). Standing at the gate, I start dancing like a little kid who needs the loo. What’s it like inside? Will we like it? How long will we spend in there? How much per hour/minute/second does that work out to? Is it cheaper to buy individual tickets (it never is but I still feel compelled to do the mental math)? And so on and so forth…

My second main reason, is closely tied to the first: if we enter and we think it is lame, we can just leave right away without feeling like we have just wasted a good chunk of our daily budget.

Not everything ancient is a National Trust Site. Some are part of other organizations like CADW, a government-run Welsh heritage group. Some are privately owned, like Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). National Trust will not afford any discount to these.

Portmeirion, Wales

Portmeirion, Wales

Science Museums

So the science museum in your hometown is kinda lame and hasn’t changed it’s exhibits since you were in Grade 3 and now your own kids are older than that? Oh wait, they have made changes if by changes you mean they have quietly removed some of the better exhibits? I hear ya. But did you know that that very same mediocre museum has reciprocal agreements with some stellar science institutions across North America? And because it is so blah, the membership fees are incredibly reasonable. A single, family visit to a good science museum elsewhere will pay for the pass. Just remember to plan ahead and buy your pass before you leave home. Museums tend not to advertise their reciprocal agreements, which seems odd, because they are a real selling point. To find out which organizations have reciprocal agreements, it may be easiest to phone and ask. You can also try a google search of the institution of your choice (e.g. Louvre reciprocal agreeements).

Science Museums and Nature Museums tend to have the most extensive reciprocal agreement networks but you can also try zoos, art galleries, steam railways, sports organizations, and independent movie theatres.

Become a Member

Most people do not consider becoming members of an organization in a city in which they are tourists. That is too bad because the fee schedules of many organizations strongly favour locals. How? By offering annual memberships that pay for themselves in as little as two visits. Memberships usually come with other perks like parking/gift shop discounts and quarterly magazines.

At humungous, world-renowned sites like the Centre Pompidou, a membership will allow you to skip the queue and march right in. An adult entrance fee to the Pompidou costs 13 euros, an annual pass for one adult is 48 euros (pays for itself in 3.69 visits). An annual pass will also mean that you can visit the museum for an hour and then come back another day for another short visit.

Letter from Speke Hall archives

Letter from Speke Hall archives

Speke hall letter

Speke Hall letter

In 2006, we spent a month in Vienna. We bought a membership to Schonbrunn Zoo at a cost just over that of a single entry. We went twice and then gave the membership to a local family.

Membership cards and quarterly magazines are nice souvenirs. Visiting a gallery/museum more than once at a gentle pace rather than as one long marathon session makes you feel more connected to the place.

Just recently, we joined the Northern Welsh library. Harlech is a touristy community with a castle right in the centre of the village, and a UNESCO World Heritage site to boot. Visitors are all trying to photograph the perfect view of the castle. Sitting in the tiny library affords one of the nicest views of the medieval fortress. Plus, I can’t wait to see the look on our Welsh couchsurfing family’s faces when we pull out our library card and casually mention that we have to renew some books that are due…


If you are already a member of some major group or professional organization (university professors, teachers, Scouts, architects, ICOMOS), it is worth asking if there is a discounted (or free!) entry.

What is a family?

Without getting into a major debate on modern families, let’s make note of a few points as they relate to entrance fees and memberships. My favourite type of family membership covers two adults and all of their children under the age of 18. Love that one. Two adults and all children under 16 is also a pretty good deal. Some enlightened organizations offer a cheaper family membership for single-parent families.

Lately, SWMBO has noticed a disturbing trend of a three-tier system where there is a set price for a family with two adults/two children, a higher price for two adults/three children and yet another tier where additional children are charged per. Say what?! Let’s hope this insanity ends quickly.

From my family to yours – Happy Travels!

Good Friday lunch in Portugal - kids enjoying pork schnitzel sandwiches!

Good Friday lunch in Portugal – kids enjoying pork schnitzel sandwiches!