My top 10 tips for avoiding the crowds on your European vacation
For those of us who love solitude, contemplation and escape, avoiding the crowds is an essential part of enjoying our travels. Of course, there’s some irony in being a traveler who complains about all the other tourists cluttering up the landscape, because of course, 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? 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 our 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. I have several well-vetted private guides all over Europe that I use frequently for my 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. Your tour guide really DOES know it all!
2. Skip the line!
Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of working with a travel advisor who specializes in Europe (like yours truly) is that we often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line-up and whisk you inside the attraction you’d rather not wait to see. 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. 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 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; 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. I can suggest some great alternatives to the hustle-bustle where you will get the true “feel” of the destination you are visiting.
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. A good way to incorporate this wisdom into your trip-planning is to work with an experienced travel advisor. Many of our partners actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips.
8. Choose attractions off the beaten path
Of course you want to see the icons, and I know how to do that without the crowds. Perhaps the icons don’t interest you. 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 much 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. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe to stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western, did you? Plus, the owners and staff are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for dining 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! Today’s megaships can dump 3000 people off in Monaco… all at the same time and all heading for the same sights.
Let me help you plan carefully!
Do you have any tips to add? I would love to see them in the comments below! Reach out to me to help you plan an amazing and unique Europe vacation. You can connect with me here.