Intrepid explorers are dedicated to discovering places before the onset of mass tourism. But these days, it seems almost impossible to experience some of the world’s major sites — the Eiffel Tower, Coliseum and golden beaches of Maui — in a crowd-free environment, especially during peak travel season. While seemingly endless queues and aggressive crowds claim valuable travel time, it’s still possible to visit highly-trafficked hotspots in relative peace. Here are seven tricks to help you stay one step ahead of the crowds.
Book Tickets Online
By purchasing tickets online to a popular landmark prior to your visit, you avoid excessive wait times at the ticket office and fast track through security checks. Major attractions around the world offer this online service, allowing you to enter Venice’s Doge’s Palace, New York City’s Empire State Building or Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower when you arrive on site. Purchasing tickets in advance will save valuable time if you plan to visit attractions in the middle of the day.
Arrive During Off-Hours
Seasoned travelers rise at the break of dawn to experience the calm tangle of canals and atmospheric piazzas of Venice when crowds are thin. By midday when the cruise ships dock, the city’s most prominent basilicas and foot bridges become laden with tourists, and escaping the hordes becomes an impossible task. And if you forgot to book tickets ahead of time, showing up right when a museum or attraction opens can get you an early spot in line ahead of the crowds who prefer sleeping in. If you’re not an early riser, opt to show up later in the day or during dinner time, when the hectic afternoon rush has settled. To experience a destination’s most sought after restaurants in relative peace, adjust to dining earlier or later than proper meal hours and avoid the guaranteed long wait times.
Splurge for a Private Experience
Specialized tour agencies and private guides often have privileged access to an attraction after hours, as well as the ability to lead intimate groups through areas that are regularly restricted to the public. These dedicated guides fully customize your tour experience and know the tricks for dodging the crowds of their favorite sites, confidently sharing with you when to go where to beat the rush. Private tours are often a luxury expense, with an exclusive visit to the majestic Doge Palace in Venice beginning at $280 and after-hours private tours of the Vatican going for over $400, but the extra cost can be justified by saving your sanity. If you're only going to splurge once on your trip, a private tour might just be worth it.
Dodge the Cruise Ships
Cruise ships bring throngs of tourists to the world’s major ports of call on a daily basis, where they have the freedom to explore the destination’s major attractions in the span of an afternoon. Ask your hotel concierge or shop owners in the city centers of Barcelona, Oia or Havana for the cruise ship schedules and plan your visits to attractions accordingly, either getting up early before the ship docks, or saving your favorite activities for later in the evening once everyone is tucked back on the ship.
Sleep Away from the City Center
The majority of travelers opt for accommodation in the city center, where a destination’s landmarks are in close proximity and can easily be reached by foot. Instead, seek out the less touristy neighborhoods for a more authentic experience and to escape the crowds. With limited availability of accommodation in the villages of Cinque Terre on the scenic Italian Riviera, consider a stay in the laid-back town of Sestri Levante instead, a short four-minute train ride to Cinque Terre’s nearest fishing village of Monterosso. Choose one of Paris' other neighborhoods, like Piagelle or Batignolles, rather than selecting one of the hotels in the 7th arrondissement right by the Eiffel Tower. Not only will you escape crowds and inflated hotel prices, you'll discover a new corner of a city that most tourists won't ever reach.
Discover Local Delights
Avoid the crowds by discovering a destination’s local favorite neighborhoods and hangouts. Wander off the tourist laden trail and explore leafy courtyards, revel in tranquility in secret gardens and unwind at local cafes for respite from bustling city centers. In Marrakesh, journey away from the frenetic marketplace of Jemaa El Fna by midday and witness the interactions of daily life between locals along the narrow cobblestone paths instead.
Road Trip It
Traveling between destinations by public bus or train means you’re bound to a set schedule, and in the height of summer, you’ll be sharing cramped seats and quarreling with seat mates over who’s entitled to prime armrest territory. Trains can be convenient but when you're stuck waiting at a crowded station and rushing to hop aboard a moving car, it can add considerable stress to your travels. Consider renting a car instead and exploring destinations at your own pace, allowing you to navigate your journey with freedom and flexibility. Intimately explore the corners of the countryside, seeing local villages that other tourists flash by.