For those of us who love solitude and escape, avoiding the crowds is an essential part of enjoying our travels. The best-known places are always going to draw lots of people, and usually with good reason. So how can we see the sights without feeling like we’re stuck in a herd of sheep? I take great pride in carefully scheduling a great travel plan…designed to minimize crowds and time in line and maximize your enjoyment.Here are my top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
1. Hire a local guide
My very first suggestion is to hire a private guide, if your budget will allow. A guide knows when the busiest places will have lulls in the crowds, and exactly where to go to soak in a city’s ambiance without being joined by thousands of others with the same idea. If a private guide is out of your budget, book a small-group tour, as they can more easily gain access to special experiences and entrances.
2. Skip the line!
Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of using a private guide or booking a small group tour is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line-up and whisk you inside the attraction. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges are the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence.
3. Take advantage of jet lag
What does that mean? Imagine you managed to stay up until 8pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Now it’s 5am the next day and you’re wide awake. Get out of bed and go for a wander through near-empty streets as the city quietly stirs. Enjoy a coffee alongside locals on their way to work. Early morning can be a magical time to explore the streets of Europe.
4. Travel off-peak
Have you ever been to Paris in August? The locals have fled the city for their summer vacation, leaving the tourists to take it by storm. Many stores, cafes and restaurants are closed. Consider traveling in your destination’s shoulder season (May and September-October) – and avoid school holidays like the plague!
5. Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly
Many museums have “free” days once a month; these are always going to be busy days, and best to avoid. Some major attractions (e.g. London’s Tate Modern) stay open late one or two nights a week; visiting the gallery during these extended hours tends to offer a quieter experience.
6. Investigate “alternative” destinations
Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s much magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities. For instance, if you’re looking to experience Dutch culture, Leiden or Haarlem are beautiful and less crowded alternatives to Amsterdam.
7. Benefit from local insight
Talk to the locals to learn about what’s popular with people who live in the city, rather than what’s popular with people who visit it. Don't be afraid to ask their opinions, as many locals would love to share their wisdom with someone who will listen!
8. Choose attractions off the beaten path
Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it; you won’t get a failing grade for skipping the supposed “must-sees”. You can visit London without going to Buckingham Palace; You can experience Italy without snapping a photo of yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s way more to a city than its icons, so let the icons draw the crowds, while you discover more unique ways to spend your time.
9. Stay in locally owned smaller hotels that are centrally located
Choosing a smaller hotel in a more residential neighborhood with easy access to the places you want to visit is a nice way to escape the crowds at the end of the day. Plus, the owners and employees are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for restaurants and sightseeing
10. Be aware of cruise ship dockings
If you’re staying in a port-city, find out when the cruise ships dock – then hightail it out of there! And if you’re one of the people debarking from the ship, see Tip #1...then hightail it out of there with your private guide. The goal is to stay one step ahead of the crowd, and a good guide will do just that for you!
Planning a getaway to Europe can be a daunting task, but that's where I come in! I have dozens of travelers visit Europe every year, so I have plenty of experience making recommendations based on a variety of interests. Click here to set up a time to begin planning your European adventure. I'll look forward to it!
Lisa is the travel loving, animal adoring, Mickey Mouse hugging owner of Dreams Delivered Travel.