If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, or the Statue of Liberty, you should know now: You’ll likely run into hordes of slow-moving, selfie-stick-carrying tourists at any popular tourist attraction.
This week, the Louvre Museum in Paris was even forced to close for a day because of its overcrowding problem. (Some union representations for the museum said tourists have stifled renovation work on the Mona Lisa, crowding them into tight, unworkable spaces.)
While not fail-proof, there are a few effective strategies in avoiding tourists while visiting popular travel hotspots; just be sure to reserve tickets early and make use of your destination’s city-pass option.
Book during shoulder or off-season
If you’re planning ahead, the easiest way to avoid the hordes of tourists is to visit during the off-season, which depends on where you’re traveling to.
In Europe, peak season is summer and off-season generally spans the months of November to March. (“Shoulder season” occurs during the transition months from peak to off-season and back). Meanwhile, Australia’s peak season happens between December and February, when weather conditions are at their best, and low-season takes place from May to August.
If you’re headed on a trip to visit the Statue of Liberty, USA Today recommends visiting during fall or winter when lines are expected to be shorter. Visiting the Eiffel Tower? You should expect waiting times as long as two hours during the summer and less than 30 minutes on weekdays during shoulder and off-season, SmarterTravel writes.
Still, it’s important to understand if visiting during the off-season is actually worth it to skip crowds; maybe dead-winter in New York sounds miserable or attractions have limited hours or are closed altogether. (You should an online search for any attractions you want to visit well in advance.)
A good middle-ground might be to book during shoulder season, as recommended by the Points Guy, when the weather might not be an issue; during both shoulder and off-season, you can usually expect to pay less for things like airfare and hotel accommodations, too.
Buy tickets for attractions in advance and go early
Before you even book a flight, you might want to take a look at popular attractions’ availability; as the New York Times writes, tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty—which require a ticket to visit—can book out months in advance.
For this reason, you’ll want to buy a ticket as early as possible, which can usually be done online for major attractions. By booking in advance, you won’t have to worry about getting in an annoying line to buy a ticket.
“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),” Rick Steves writes on his website. “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.”
You might find that some cities offer city-wide passes to visit a number of attractions, too. Purchasing a Madrid Card, for example, will let you into a number of attractions in the city and skip any lines. (Some cities may offer museum combination-tickets which work similarly, too.) You should research any ticketing options by doing an online search for your destination’s tourism board, for example.
If you do have the option of selecting a time when purchasing a ticket, you should try to book the earliest option. The earlier you arrive, the less likely you are to run into tourists. If it’s a place like Times Square or Piccadilly Circus, this advice works well, too. You’ll likely run into fewer tourists at 5am than you would at 5pm; visiting places at late-hours might also prove crowd-free. Some museums, like the Tate Modern in London, are open late on weekends.
Also, be sure you’re booking through legitimate websites (and not tourist-bait scams); NYT recommends finding official attraction websites through popular travel platforms like Lonely Planet.
Book a tour guide
If you want a guided tour, your host will likely know the best time to visit to avoid crowds. They might also have an “in” with the attraction and have the ability for your group to skip lines.
“At the Vatican Museums, joining a guided tour gets you right in (this also works at other places, such as Versailles or the Colosseum),” Steves writes on his website. “In Milan, you can sign up last-minute to take a bus tour that includes an easy stop at Leonardo’s Last Supper, normally booked up more than a month in advance.”
For this reason, you might want to consider booking a guide while traveling. You can use platforms like TripAdvisor to find reviews of local tour guides.
And if you just can’t avoid the tourists wherever you go, opt for the lesser popular attractions! I took a “weird attraction” tour through Tokyo recently, which wasn’t actually weird, as it was a tour through lesser familiar parts of the city. You might learn more about a city from it’s lesser familiar attractions and have an actual moment to breathe, away from any selfie-taking tourists.
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