With airline tickets to Europe cheaper and the U.S. dollar stronger (a euro costs 17% less to buy today than it did two years ago), many Americans are expected to travel to Europe this summer, despite any terrorism fears. Those travelers are sure to jam Europe’s iconic monuments, museums, sights, and neighborhoods. As someone who cannot stand to waste precious vacation time waiting in lines and battling crowds, here are ten tips for avoiding these in Europe:
- Stroll the neighborhoods at sunrise.
One of the best times to sightsee is from 6 to 9 am because you can see the locals living their everyday lives (going to work, going to school, going to the green market), minus the tourist hordes. You also get great light for photos, with none of the crowds to spoil them.
- Visit big museums at night.
There’s usually at least one night of the week that world-famous museums are open to the public, and it’s a calmer time to visit. Many museums in London, for instance, are open at night; the Tate Modern even stays open till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Landmarks may be open at night too. The Eiffel Tower admits visitors until midnight in summertime.
- Arrive at famous tourist magnets early or late.
Staying ahead of the bus-tour groups means arriving at the sites they visit—e.g., castles on the Rhine—at the extremes of the day: an hour before the site opens, so you’ll be the first inside, or an hour before it closes.
- Use a side entrance.
Sometimes there’s an alternate entrance with a much shorter line or none at all. My family saved at least an hour in Paris by entering the Louvre via the Porte des Lions—a side entrance where there was no line—rather than via the main entrance at the Pyramid.
- Take the stairs.
Often lines are shorter if you forego the elevator. My family saved at least two hours at the Eiffel Tower by climbing the 670 steps to the second floor and taking the elevator from there to the top, rather than waiting in the scary elevator line at the base. Climbs to the top of European bell towers, fortresses, and the like are atmospheric and memorable—and if you’ve ever followed the circuitous, increasingly narrow route into the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you know what I mean. Just wear comfy walking shoes.
- Reserve entry times.
Often museums and monuments let you make a reservation for a specific time slot. Don’t even think about showing up at Rome’s Vatican Museums or Borghese Gallery, or at Florence’s Uffizi or Accademia galleries, without one.
- Purchase city museum passes that let you bypass the line.
The Paris Museum Pass and the Madrid Card, for instance, let you skip the queue at dozens of museums and monuments in those cities.
- Buy a combination ticket.
Don’t need a multi-day museum pass because there’s really only one museum you want to see? Sometimes three or four related museums—one the world-famous one you want to see, the other lesser museums you’re not interested in—sell a combo ticket. Buy the ticket at the lesser museum with no line, then use it to skip the line at the world-famous one. In Venice, for instance, the combo ticket to the four Museums of St. Mark’s Square allowed me to zip inside the Doge’s Palace.
- Book a skip-the-line tour.
You can find and book them on TripAdvisor. Just type in the city you’re headed to and, when a dropdown pops up, click on “Things To Do.” Up will come an assortment of tours and activities, including skip-the-line group tours and sometimes also Viator VIP tours that get you past the line. In Rome, for instance, you can choose between this skip-the-line tour of the Vatican Museums or a Vatican VIP Experience that gets you into the Museums before they open to the public.
- Hire a private guide to get you past every crowd and line.
The most well-connected guides can get you privately into sites at off-hours when they are empty and even into places that are off-limits to the public at any hour. The right person can get you into the Acropolis Museum at night, when you can have it all to yourself and see the dramatic views of the Acropolis spot-lit after dark, or inside the Giardino Torrigiani, Europe’s largest private urban garden, in the heart of Florence. Here’s a list of fixers who can arrange a start-to-finish trip that spares you from every crowd and line. All you need to do is show up.
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