Overtourism is afflicting destinations worldwide, and the situation is being lamented and wrestled with everywhere: The Louvre staff went on strike, Dubrovnik and Bruges instituted caps on cruise ships, Amsterdam implemented an overnight tax, and Venice added an entry fee.
That said, all of us travelers in the WendyPerrin.com community want to keep going to the places that interest us and have rewarding experiences—rewarding for both us and the local people—despite the crowds. So, at our 2020 WOW Global Travel Summit, we talked with Trusted Travel Experts from Wendy’s WOW List—the ones who specialize in destinations known for being particularly overloaded—to find out their smartest strategies for beating the crowds and avoiding lines.
1. Book museum and monument tickets in advance.
Online ticketing opportunities are now available in places that have been plagued for years with notorious lines. In Israel, for instance, national parks have launched online ticketing, and that includes Masada and Caesarea. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, museums have started offering timed ticket entrances. Keep in mind that, even with timed tickets and skip-the-line tickets, you’ll still need to arrive much earlier than your assigned slot because you’ll have to queue for security.
2. Know what your ticket includes and excludes.
Some sights are not only limiting the number of visitors, they’re also limiting what those visitors can see. For instance, at the Paris Catacombs, several rooms have been closed off in an effort to manage through-crowds better.
3. Phone ahead and ask questions.
Online ticketing and Internet research are a great boon, but we all know you can’t trust everything you read online. If you actually phone the landmark to doublecheck opening hours and rules, you may get different and useful intel. For instance, Israel specialist Joe Yudin recommends calling ahead—and asking the people on the phone when is the best time to avoid the lines. For example, if you were to call the office at Masada or the Dead Sea, they’d tell you not to visit on the weekend: Everyone goes to those sites on a Saturday because that’s when other places in Israel are closed for the Sabbath.
4. Scout out a different entrance.
If everyone else goes in one way, look for another. For example, while the hordes will pile up at the Eiffel Tower elevators, savvy visitors will climb the stairs; you’ll get an exciting new perspective on a familiar landmark and great views the whole way. Similarly, most tourists to the popular temples at Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia enter at the same main spots, but smart local guides know where the little-used side gates are. Not only will you have a better chance of avoiding the mob at the entrance this way, but your alternative route around the monuments once you’re inside will also keep you from feeling like you’re on an assembly line with the busloads who took the usual path.
5. Use a savvy private guide.
Hiring a clever local guide will allow you to cut through the crowds. “They are there every day, they know the people, they know the lines,” said Jennifer Virgilio, a WOW List specialist for tourist magnets including Paris, London, and Rome. Experienced guides also build relationships with the gatekeepers, getting to know them and getting to be known by them—which can come in handy when your group of three arrives just as a giant tour bus does and you need a little extra love to get waved in ahead of them.
6. Go early in the morning—or at night.
Get to the sights you want to see before the first tour bus pulls up. When Eastern Europe specialist Gwen Kozlowski arranges for travelers to see Auschwitz, she has them start the day at 7 or 8 a.m. “People will often say, oh my god, what time? But when you explain it, they understand and agree. You’ll circumvent the crowds, and you get to be alone with your thoughts and feelings in this very solemn place.” There’s an exception to this rule, though, and it will require research or the help of a trip designer with solid local knowledge: If the tour buses tend to go to a place at a certain time, buck that trend. “Everyone wants to go to Prague Castle,” Gwen says, “so we’ve modified the itinerary so that we don’t take them there until lunchtime—which is when everyone else is gone.” Finally, check if any sights have early or evening hours, because those can be blissfully uncrowded. Museums often have a late night each week, and sometimes those include special tours or talks.
7. Save your meandering for later each day.
We all know how fun and freeing it is to spend at least a day just strolling aimlessly and letting serendipity guide you. But, increasingly, this can mean getting shut out of the specific museums or landmarks you’ve traveled so far to see. If there are specific sites on your Must See List, go first thing in the day. Then wander afterward.
8. Embrace unusual ways to soak up popular sights.
Even with the possibility of advance reservations in some spots, you still might not be able to score tickets (unless you’re using a Trusted Travel Expert). When visiting a particular sight seems like just too much of an exhausting hassle, look into alternative ways to engage with it. WOW Listers have a lot of ideas for this kind of thing, and their insider access is one of the reasons they made it onto the List in the first place. The right trip designer will suggest experiences such as a special boat ride on the Seine, a private afternoon with the head of an important archaeological dig, or exclusive after-hours entrance to a popular museum. But when you’re not working with such a travel specialist, dream up your own ways to achieve this kind of perspective shift. Something as simple as a market visit followed by a picnic on the Champ de Mars looking onto the Eiffel Tower could leave you much more relaxed, and with better memories, than battling the masses.