Avoid­ing crowds at Europe’s most fa­mous sights

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - TRAVEL - RICK STEVES

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

Rick Steves’ Europe/RICK STEVES

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.

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