Forum in peace, kick up sand on lonely Adriatic beaches, and stroll by Big Ben in London as you wonder “Where are the tourists?”
Use an up-to-date guidebook. Even at the most packed sights, there’s often a strategy that can break you out of the herd, whether it’s a side entrance with a shorter wait, a guided tour that includes jumping the ticket line, a better place in town to pick up your ticket, or a pass with line-skipping privileges. Sometimes getting in more easily is just a matter of picking the right door. Grand as the Louvre’s main entrance is, that glass pyramid stops looking impressive as you wait — and wait — to get through security. You can’t bypass security checks, but you’ll encounter shorter lines if you use the less-crowded underground entrance.
Self-service ticket machines can provide a faster way in. On my last trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, I bought my ticket to the Hermitage at a kiosk and walked right past a ticket line bulging with cruise-ship travelers — and within minutes was enjoying the czars’ grand art collection. Many museums now also offer convenient mobile ticketing, saving time and paper.
BUY ADVANCE TICKETS OR PASSES
Many popular sights, like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, sell advance tickets online that guarantee admission at a certain time (often with a small booking fee that’s well worth it). Given how precious your vacation time is, it makes sense to get reservations for any must-see sight that offers them — it’s worth giving up some spontaneity.
Many cities offer a citywide sightseeing pass. These often can save you serious time as well as money. For example, Paris’ Museum Pass covers many top sights and allows you to skip ticket-buying lines. Combo-tickets can save time, too. Buy the ticket at the less-popular sight and avoid the ticket-buying line at the popular sight. You can wait in line at Madrid’s Prado Museum — or buy a combo-ticket at the less-trafficked Reina Sofia Museum.
AVOID THE BEATEN PATH
Visit less-well-known destinations. The beaches of Greece’s Peloponnesian Peninsula enjoy the same weather and water as the highly promoted isles of Santorini and Ios, but are wonderfully deserted. If you’re traveling by car, take advantage of your mobility by leaving the well-worn tourist routes. The Europe away from the train tracks is less expensive and feels more peaceful and relaxed.
No matter how well-conceived your plans, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll find yourself packed shoulder-to-shoulder with other visitors, but equipped with these crowd-beating strategies, you can elude the worst of the hectic tourist routine and make the most of all Europe has to offer.
Paris’ Louvre Museum is famously crammed with tourists and school groups, but by using its less-crowded underground entrance instead of the one in the central courtyard, you can bypass a lot of that.