Tag Archives: avoid crowds

Narrow canal with bridge in Venice, Italy. Architecture and landmark of Venice. Cozy cityscape of Venice.

How to Navigate Overcrowded European Cities

Many of Europe’s iconic cities are currently overrun with tourists. The overcrowding makes life harder for locals and potentially unpleasant for visitors who aren’t using the smartest strategies to bypass the masses and skip the lines. Recently, several cities have taken steps to ease the overcrowding, with Venice charging an entry fee; Paris and Barcelona increasing the tourist taxes that hotels are required to charge; and Amsterdam banning new hotels and barring cruise ships from docking in the city center. Most of these new rules can significantly increase the cost of travel to these places.

Here’s how to avoid some of the headaches that accompany Europe’s growing crowds:

Avoid Peak Season (June Through September)

Christmas in London

London gets decked out for the holidays. Photo: visitlondon.com

Choosing the right timing for your trip can make a major difference. Jennifer Virgilio, a Trusted Travel Expert for England, France, and Italy, recommends visiting Europe over Thanksgiving week, for example: Europeans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so there aren’t huge rushes of visitors, and holiday lovers will get a sneak peek at festive markets and twinkly decorations. And Wendy calls winter Europe’s secret season: Check out your fellow travelers’ best ideas for winter trips to Europe here; among the highlights are encounters with welcoming locals, no crowds at the iconic spots, mild weather, and yes, even sun. If you have kids, these are the best ways to take them to Europe over their winter break.

If You Must Go in Peak Season, Start Planning the Previous Fall

crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France

Plan ahead to avoid crowds like this at popular spots such as The Louvre museum in Paris. Photo: Wendy Perrin

When you have no choice but to travel from June through September, planning well ahead allows a savvy trip designer to employ every possible strategy to keep the crowds away from you and enable you to bypass the lines.

“Planning well in advance instead of at the last minute means we can help make sure the timing of each activity is ideal and tickets are available,” advises Thomas Stinglhamber, Trusted Travel Expert for Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Tickets for the Anne Frank House, for example, go on sale six weeks ahead and sell out in minutes. Entry to the springtime Keukenhof Gardens become available in fall, and many time slots fill up quickly.

If you’re dreaming of Europe in the height of summer, start making those arrangements the previous fall. That’s when in-demand trip planners will have come up for air after the busy summer season, and hotels will likely have announced the following year’s rates. Wait later and, especially if you’re traveling with a big family group, you may have to make compromises based on what’s still available.

Start Your Sightseeing Before 9 A.M.

When it comes to travel, the early bird really does get the worm—the worm being breathing room, even in popular spots. “Morning tours are always the best, especially if you start early,” says Stinglhamber. “I know people are on holiday and want to relax, but even if you start as late as 9 AM, you can still have some quiet moments before the crowds.” Earlier is better—and gives you an authentic glimpse of how the locals live, as they engage in early-morning activities (e.g., shopping at the fish market, taking their kids to school, sweeping their storefronts) that you won’t see once the tour buses arrive. Bonus: Early morning light is gorgeous for great pictures.

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

Avoid the bus-tour crowds by visiting the Louvre during evening opening hours. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

Alternatively, evening tours and explorations can be relatively peaceful and free of the bus-tour crowds. Many museums have special nights with music and unique exhibitions, a fun perspective on a city and its art. Wendy loves to explore a city when everybody else is having dinner—taking a canal boat ride in Amsterdam, say (with the added advantage that you can see the canal sights as sunset changes to twilight and the city becomes illuminated).

Think Off-the-Beaten-Path Itineraries and Under-the-Radar Sights

View of the island Isola San Giulio at the Lake Orta in Italy.

in Italy’s Lake District, Lake Orta is a beautiful, charming alternative to Lake Como. Photo: Shutterstock

Italy’s cultural capitals are iconic for a reason. “Each place is unique: There is not another Venice, or another Rome, or another Florence, and that’s why they attract so many visitors,” says Luisa Grigoletto, Trusted Travel Expert for Italy. “That said, there’s a myriad of other interesting places in the country that are full of history and comfortable accommodations but luckily haven’t become Instagram sensations yet.”  Instead of Sicily—still in the throes of its White Lotus fame—consider the still-undiscovered Aeolian Islands nearby; rather than joining the masses at Lake Como, try Lake Orta, which is similarly beautiful and charming, yet overlooked.

In big-name cities, seek out lesser-known gems. In Amsterdam, “The Van Gogh Museum is great,” says Stinglhamber, “but the Kröller-Müller Museum—a national art museum and sculpture garden an hour away from Amsterdam—has the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world, and there is pretty much nobody there.”

Or, in Paris, instead of an excursion to Versailles, Virgilio recommends Chateau Chantilly. “It’s the biggest horse stable in Europe and so much less visited,” she says. “They have recently opened up new apartments following their restoration, and Versailles is just overrun with tourists and crowds.” Our Insider’s Guides are full of less expected but fully remarkable ideas like these.

Gain Special Access through our Trusted Travel Experts

aerial view of Famous palace Versailles with beautiful gardens and fountains in France

The right local fixer can get you into parts of Versailles that aren’t open to the public. Photo: Shutterstock

WOW List specialists can often arrange behind-the-scenes access and private tours after hours. Virgilio, for example, can get travelers into parts of Versailles that aren’t open to the public and orchestrate private tours of the Eiffel Tower and the Palais Garnier.  In Rome, Grigoletto can get you private entry into the Sistine Chapel or organize an after-hours visit to the Borghese Gallery.

The ceiling of Sistine Chapel painted in fresco, Vatican, Rome.

Imagine having the Sistine Chapel to yourself—or even getting to unlock its door in the morning. Photo: Shutterstock

Trusted Travel Experts can also arrange unique experiences with locals beyond major monuments. In Antwerp, Stinglhamber can take visitors to the closed world of the city’s diamond district, going behind the scenes with a diamond broker to learn the history and gemology behind one of the world’s major diamond centers.

Slow Down So You Can Soak Up the Scene

“I’m all for mindful, conscious travel, for visitors to be aware of their impact on their surroundings and the local communities,” Grigoletto explains. “I like the idea of slowing down and allowing for independent time to explore without an agenda, and without having to mindlessly rush from one place to the next.”

Give yourself time to take breaks, recover from what crowds you do encounter, and just meander at your whim. You’re sure to discover a few gems.

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Aerial view at famous european travel destination in Croatia, Dubrovnik old town.

How to Avoid Cruise Crowds in Europe

When you plan a trip, do you factor in when cruise ships will be visiting the places on your itinerary? A lot of us do (cruisemapper.com is my go-to), since several large ships at once can overcrowd a place, pouring out tens of thousands of tourists in a day.

This is one reason why certain European cities—historic coastal ports—have enacted restrictions on cruise-ship visits. Venice, a popular cruise port where space is tight, now prohibits vessels larger than 25,000 tons. Dubrovnik, Croatia’s ancient walled harbor, now limits the number of cruise passengers to 4,000 per day. And this summer, the city council of Amsterdam, a hub for river cruises, announced a ban on cruise ships docking in its historic center. Amsterdam’s dictate is still unfolding, but it would require ships to dock at less convenient places outside the city center.

Indeed, Amsterdam recently announced that, in 2024, it will increase its tourist taxes to the highest level in Europe. Guests in hotels will see an increase from seven percent in 2023 to 12.5 percent, plus an additional 3€ for any additional occupants. Cruise travelers will also pay more, from 8€ to 11€ per passenger, per day. And cruise ships calling at Scotland’s ports will be charged a new cruise tax in 2024; timing and fees have not yet been determined.

Venice’s new rule limits entry to the small ships operated by Ponant, Ritz-Carlton, Scenic, Sea Cloud, Star Clipper, Windstar, and the occasional river vessel. Larger ships must dock in off-the-islands manufacturing towns, such as Fusina and Marghera, or in cities even farther away, such as Ravenna and Trieste, both more than a two-hour drive from Venice. Below is the cruise-ship pier in Fusina and the waterbus that shuttles cruise passengers from there to Venice. It’s a 45-minute ride each way…and certainly not as glam as docking in Venice itself.

The cruise-ship pier in Fusina, 45 minutes from Venice.

The cruise-ship pier in Fusina, 45 minutes from Venice. Photo: Teijo Niemela

I love traveling by sea. More and more, though, I’m drawn to small ships, or even private yacht charters, where you need not worry about which ports you’ll be allowed into and they’re not overcrowded when you get there. Check out the articles below for water-borne trips that will keep you away from the masses.

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Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

How to Avoid the Crowds at Paris Museums and Cultural Sites

The following tips from Jennifer Virgilio, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Paris, will help you make the most of your time in the City of Light, even at the height of tourist season. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Paris with Perks, and use Wendy’s trip request form to contact Jennifer in order to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Tips for visiting the major sites

• The best time to visit a Paris museum is on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Two notable exceptions to this general rule are the Louvre and Versailles. The Louvre is closed on Tuesday, and thus the days on either side tend to be very busy, so it’s better to go on a Thursday morning from 9 to 11 or for one of the late-night openings on Wednesdays and Fridays. Versailles is closed on Monday—another reason to avoid the Louvre on that day, as people tend to go there instead.

• Most museums are calmer after five o’clock.

• Avoid the first Sunday of the month, when the entrance fee to most museums is waived but the tradeoff is unbearable crowds.

• A new development: Some guides are not allowed to guide in museums on Sundays, specifically the Orsay. Ask ahead of time.

• Reduce wait time at the Louvre, the Catacombs, and other popular attractions by buying time-entry tickets three to six months ahead of your visit. Jennifer does this for her clients, and she knows the best times to avoid the crowds, but you can do it yourself via the museum’s website or by purchasing a Paris Pass.

• Consider skipping the Eiffel Tower this year. Because of renovations and because there are no more Behind the Scenes tours, the Eiffel Tower is especially crowded, time-consuming, and frustrating. “There are some times they don’t allow Summit (3rd floor) access, and people have to queue again or buy new tickets when upstairs,” says Jennifer. “And there were some occasions last summer when people had 2nd floor tickets but had to walk up and were not allowed on the lift.”

• If your heart is set on going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it’s still best to buy tickets in advance. But Jennifer notes that even if you buy skip-the line group tickets, you are going up at a set time and must arrive 15 minutes in advance of the slot on the ticket—and must still pass security checks, which, she says, could take a very long time. “Then you go up to the 2nd floor in the lift with your group and you can have the tour or leave and go off on your own, then you queue again for the 3rd floor (if you have tickets you don’t need to re-purchase but if you do not have tickets then you must buy them and queue for this and the lift). The line to get into the lift is very long here too, as everyone wants to go up to the top.” Jennifer cautions that some travelers find the experience to be disappointing and not what they expected. Jennifer adds that she often suggests the Montparnasse Tower Panoramic Observation Deck as an alternative, as well as restaurants looking at the Eiffel tower, rather than the ones in the Tower.

• The new Atelier des Lumières, a digital art museum in a repurposed 19th-century foundry, is one of the hottest tickets in Paris right now. Be sure to buy advance tickets if you want to check out its multimedia exhibitions, which currently include immersive creations about Van Gogh and Japanese art.

• 2019 is the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, and many museums around Europe are planning events in his honor. Paris is no exception. The Louvre will host an exhibit dedicated to the Italian master from October 24, 2019 through February 24, 2020. Jennifer advises travelers to take note that advance tickets are mandatory and that the museum is requiring that everyone—including those under 18, who are normally free—have a ticket to this special show in addition to the museum’s usual entry ticket.  “Under 18’s are still free,” she explains, “but need to register for their ticket and show ID on arrival.” She also cautions that even with advance tickets or a Paris Pass, lines at many museums will be long for these special events.


Excellent alternatives to the major museums

These lesser-known museums and historic sites in or near Paris are fabulous and uncrowded all year round:

Chateau Chantilly

Instead of Versailles, Jennifer recommends Chateau Chantilly. “It’s the biggest horse stable in Europe and so much less visited,” she says. “Our guides are recommending it more and more as they have recently opened up new apartments following restoration, and Versailles is just overrun with tourists and crowds.”
Driving time from Paris: 1hour and 30minutes each way
Best time to go: Any day
Don’t miss:  The apartments of the Duke and Duchess of Aumale recently reopened to visits after massive renovations to their furniture and decorations. Created between 1845 and 1847, these eight rooms were the princely domaine of Henri d’Orléans (a.k.a. Duke of Aumale), fifth son of the last king of France, King Louis-Philippe. A visit to the chateau, and to these rooms in particular, gives travelers a connection to life during the Monarchie de Juillet. The estate is also home to the largest horse stables in Europe. Called the Great Stables, they are set in an 18th-century building and host equestrian shows throughout the year.


Auvers-sur-Oise is the final resting place of Van Gogh and was a favorite village for other painters of the 1800s. In the last 70 days of his life Van Gogh painted 70 paintings in and around Auvers-sur-Oise. He came here to be near his brother Theo, who lived in Paris. Sights include the cemetery where the two brothers lie side by side; the Romanesque/Gothic church immortalized by Van Gogh; Daubigny’s studio, with its wonderfully restored decor painted by the Daubigny family and friends Corot and Daumier; the house of Dr. Gachet and its beautifully planted garden, painted by so many artists; the Absinthe Museum, a superb tribute to the notorious “green fairy”; the nearby château (Château d’Auvers); and the Auberge Ravoux, known as the House of Van Gogh.
Driving time from Paris: 45 minutes
Best time to go: Arrive by 10:30am and spend the day visiting the different sites, with a lunch break at Auberge Ravoux. Note: Some sights in Auvers-sur-Oise are closed during certain months of the year.
Don’t miss: The charming garden of Dr. Gachet, a specialist in mental illness who became the doctor and friend of many painters who stayed in Auvers—Corot, Cezanne, Pissarro—and took care of Van Gogh during his stay there.

Basilica of Saint Denis

Final resting place of the kings of France, the former abbey of Saint Denis was for centuries a spiritual, political, and artistic center. The cathedral basilica is a masterpiece of Gothic art, and the royal necropolis houses the archaeological crypt and burial site of Saint Denis, eight recumbent effigies commissioned by Saint Louis, the tomb of King Dagobert, and 60 other sculpted tombs.
Driving time from the center of Paris: 45 minutes
Best time to go: Monday–Saturday 11am–1pm or 4–6pm
Don’t miss: The heart of the youngest son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was taken secretly by the chief surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu after the child’s death, preserved in alcohol, and is displayed here in a glass egg. The boy died in prison of tuberculosis at age 10, two years after his father was beheaded.

Château de Malmaison

Malmaison was the private residence of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine from 1799 to 1814. Bought by Josephine as a retreat from the formality of the emperor’s residences at the Tuileries and Fontainebleau, it has charming rural grounds. While Josephine loved the country manor, Napoleon scorned its entrance as fit only for servants. Instead, he had a curious drawbridge built at the back of the chateau. The finest rooms are the frescoed and vaulted library, the canopied campaign room, and the sunny Salon de Musique, hung with paintings from Josephine’s private collection. Many of the rooms overlook the romantic gardens and the famous rose garden that was cultivated by Josephine after her divorce.
Driving time: 30 minutes
Best time to go:  10am–12:30pm. Closed Tuesday.
Don’t miss:  Josephine’s bedchamber, a magnificent indulgence bedecked in red

Musée Marmottan Monet

The Marmottan houses the largest collection of Monets in the world—more than 150 works. Jennifer recommends a visit before or after Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. (Note: Giverny, though well worth seeing, is one of those places where you should be sure to book a timed-entry ticket to shorten your wait.)

Best time to go: Tuesday–Sunday 1–3pm
Don’t miss:  Monet’s Impression, Soleil Levant, which gave its name to the Impressionist movement, and the Berthe Morisot collection

Musée Nissim de Camondo

Just a stone’s throw from Parc Monceau, this museum houses a magnificent collection of decorative art from the second half of the 18th century. Aubusson tapestries, paintings by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and furniture by cabinetmakers Riesener and Oeben are on display here.
Best time to go: 11am–3pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Don’t miss: The porcelain collection by Sèvres, and Marie-Antoinette’s sewing table

Museum of Romantics

The Paris residence of the painter Ary Scheffer, now a house museum, entertained many a famous guest back in its day. Among the visitors: Delacroix, Rossini, Sand, Chopin, Turgenev, and Dickens.
Best time to go: 11am–3pm. Closed Monday.
Don’t miss:  The quiet garden, which exudes greenery and tranquility. Come here for a drink after a stroll around Montmartre

Rungis Market

Rungis International Market is the principal market of Paris and the largest wholesale market in the world. It’s located in the southern suburbs, near Orly Airport. Jennifer can arrange a guided tour, or you can contact Rungis directly.
Driving time from Paris: 30 minutes
Best time to go: Your only option is 4am.

Winemaking Workshop at Les Caves du Louvre

The wine cellars where this workshop takes place were built by the sommelier of Louis XV for his private mansion, and were used to store wines for the king and his court. They’re located a five-minute walk from the Louvre. The wine-tasting experience is perfect for those who don’t know anything about wine except drinking it and want to learn the basics.  You can also create your own wine here in a workshop. The winemaking workshops are at 11:30am, and the tastings are from 2:30pm.

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