10 Tips for Avoiding Crowds on Your European Vacation
Many of us love solitude, reflection and escape and avoiding crowds is an essential part of enjoying our travels. Of course, there’s a great deal of irony in being a traveler who complains about other tourists cluttering up the landscape, because we’re all contributing to the crowd!
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 camera-toting sheep? Here are my top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
1. Hire a local guide The very first recommendation is to hire a private guide. 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 throngs of people with the same idea. We have several well-vetted private guides all over Europe that we recommend frequently for our clients. You will get so much more out of sights when you see them with a local guide who can make the history come to life.
2. Skip the line! A major benefit of using a travel agent is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line-up and whisk you inside the venue. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges include the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence and so many more! 3. Take advantage of jet lag If you manage to stay up until 9 pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight, by 5 am the next day, 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 or anywhere, for that matter. 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. A lot of 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! If you are worried about taking your children or Grandchildren out of school, get over it! A family trip to Europe will contribute so much more to their future than a “Perfect Attendance” award in 6th grade. 5. Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly Many museums have “free” days once a month which 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 so that visiting the gallery during these extended hours tends to offer a less busy experience. 6. Investigate “alternative” destinations Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities as well. For example, 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. Most of the suppliers we use to design your vacation actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips and offer some wonderfully authentic experiences. 8. Choose attractions off the beaten path Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it. For example, you can experience Italy without taking 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 ferret out 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. The owners and employees of these establishments are usually very 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 avoid it like the plague! And if you’re one of the people disembarking from the ship, see Tip #1...then hightail it out of there with your private guide! Today’s megaships can dump 3000 people off in Monaco…all at the same time and all heading for the same sights so be sure to plan carefully and I can help you accomplish this!