Avoiding crowds at Europe’s most famous sights
Several years ago at Versailles, just outside of Paris, I was unable to avoid lumbering through the palace on one of the most crowded days of the year — a Tuesday in July. A steady crush of visitors shuffled through the muggy one-way route leading to the payoff: the magnificent Hall of Mirrors. Sights like these are a thrill and worth every sweaty second, but I could have avoided the worst crowds by coming late on a Wednesday afternoon (it’s closed on Mondays, so Tuesdays are always packed). Sometimes I make mistakes so you don’t have to. Here are some of my tips for dodging crowds.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
In the most crowded cities, it pays to get out early and stay out late. This is especially true at places popular with cruise excursions and big-bus tour groups. In Athens, cruise passengers swarm the Acropolis until 5 p.m. That’s when I head in, and I’ll stay until the guard blows his whistle at me to leave. In Italy, midday crowds fill the streets and blockbuster sights in Venice, but at 7 a.m., you’re able to enjoy the beauty of St. Mark’s Square alone. In the evenings, cafes on the square can be relatively empty, even with the allure of their orchestras.
Many sights are open late one or two nights a week. For instance, London’s Tate Modern stays open Friday evenings, when you’ll enjoy Dali and Warhol in near solitude. When most tourists are lying exhausted in their rooms, I linger alone, taking artistic liberties with some of Europe’s greatest works in empty galleries.
At state-run museums in Italy, such as Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, admission is free on the first Sunday of the month — so they’re very crowded. It’s not worth enduring the mob scene to save a few dollars — visit on a paid day.
Traveling off-season (November to March) lets you avoid the peak-season pig pile. Big cities offer plenty to do year-round — and you’ll avoid the stampede of busier times. Ponder Rome’s
In Athens, a cruise-crowd queue forms at the Parthenon exit to catch their ship. Arrive late in the day to avoid the rush hours.