With famous sights growing more crowded (if that’s even possible!), and with peak season now upon us, it’s smart to have a strategy for making visits to the world’s top landmarks as efficient and enjoyable as possible. How to get past the lines and quickly to what you came to see? Here are eight ways to turn frustration into fun.
- Use a guide.
We’re accustomed to signage and audio guides at modern landmarks, but often at ancient monuments in foreign countries you’ll find no signs or labels to explain what you’re looking at or why it’s important. When you’re visiting the world’s top-rated landmark, the Incan ruin of Machu Picchu, optimize it with a guide who can explain what you’re seeing.
- Go at sunrise.
Sunrise is often when no other tourists are there, the morning light is great for photos, and—in tropical climes such as Cambodia, location of the world’s third most popular landmark—temps are as cool as they are going to get. A sunrise tour of Angkor Wat by bike allows you to watch the dawn break, then ride the back roads around the temples—a good way to escape the crowds.
- Gain early access.
When in Rome, one of the best ways to gain a proper appreciation of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel is to get inside these monuments before they open to the public.
- Think private.
If it’s a sight you’ve always dreamed of seeing, splurge on a private guide because you’ll have a much more efficient and personalized experience than if you’re touring with a group. When you’ve got a guide all to yourself at the Taj Mahal, for instance, you can focus on what interests you most and ask as many questions as you please—not just about the Taj Mahal but, if you like, about daily life in India. Hiring a private guide is, after all, one way to get to know a local. Bonus: You won’t have to catch up with the group if you linger to take a photo, or strain to hear someone ask a question the guide has already answered.
- See it at night.
Many landmarks are totally different at night than they are by day. You must see them twice to do them justice. The iconic palaces and churches and gilded domes of St. Petersburg, Russia, for instance, turn magical when illuminated in the evenings. If you haven’t seen St. Petersburg by night, you haven’t seen St. Petersburg.
- Skip the line.
The palace, fortress, and gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, can easily take the better part of a day to explore. When you can skip the ticket-buying line, you can save precious time—and, with a private guide, hopefully skip other lines inside the complex as well.
- Hit the roof.
Rooftops are usually less crowded than the ground level of a site, and panoramic rooftop views always make a place more memorable. An evening rooftop tour of Milan’s cathedral gives you unforgettable views of the city’s lit-up skyline from amid the Gothic spires and buttresses.
- Wash it down with wine.
European cathedrals can start to blend together after a while. The right tour, though, can leave them distinct in your mind. A walking tour of Spain’s Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba will likely leave its gold Byzantine mosaics sealed in your memory; and if it doesn’t, a glass of Montilla-Moriles wine in a Moorish courtyard afterward will.
Whatever famous landmark you’re headed to this summer, get more out of it by checking whether there’s a tour available that allows you to see it in an unusually memorable way.
Find more ways to turn travel frustration into fun at WendyPerrin.com.