A four-hour wait is a surefire way to ruin a visit to one of the world’s most amazing attractions. While the wait might leave you with glazed eyes and hangry, the worst part is that you often don’t get much out of the visit. Have you ever tried to enjoy Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral crammed shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other people, each trying to photograph its strangely stunning interior? How about waiting 40 minutes in line for a toilet in Venice at the height of summer?
If you just can’t miss out on visiting some of the most popular attractions, there are plenty of ways to skip — or at the least minimize — the time you spend waiting in line or stuck inside hot, stuffy rooms teeming with people. With a little planning and a few online-ticket purchases, you can skip the lines at many famous sights, plus find the best possible times to visit — decreasing your chances of becoming a human sardine.
1. The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Tip: Buy your ticket online and plan your visit wisely.
Catherine the Great spent vast amounts of the Russian state coffers collecting paintings for the Hermitage, the monumental Russian museum in St Petersburg. The attraction is so popular that the line can snake up to a kilometre away from the main building. While visiting during the Russian winter might be pushing it, you can still visit in summer and skip the line. Buy your ticket online, arrive first thing in the morning, and make your way straight to the most popular rooms on the first floor via the Grand Staircase, including the Malachite Room and Pavilion Hall. These will be at their busiest between 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Alternatively, go in the afternoon on a Wednesday; it’s open until 9:00 PM and numbers die down after 4:00 PM.
2. The Great Wall of China
Tip: Skip Badaling and don’t go on Chinese public holidays.
Badaling is visited by 75 percent of people who make a trip to the Great Wall of China. However, Mutianyu is nearly as close to Beijing — and far less busy. Best yet, visit in the winter season to see the Great Wall in a whole new light, covered with snow. While public transport to Mutianyu is a little trickier, you can negotiate with a taxi driver to take you there, and you’ll have an infinitely better time than visiting Badaling. Wherever you go, don’t travel there on a Chinese public holiday. You have been warned.
3. Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Tip: Treat yourself to high tea and avoid the crowds.
If you want to experience the world’s tallest building in comfort, go at lunchtime and opt for the At.Mosphere Lounge Le Gourmandizes High Tea package. The At.Mosphere lounge is located just a few levels below the public viewing platform, and it’s much quieter. Instead of being crammed in with hundreds of others, you can dine in style. You don’t even have to enter the Burj Khalifa via the public entrance in the mall: you get to use the swanky one at the Armani Hotel. Just note that there are no outside viewing areas included in the High Tea package and, at 515 AED ($140) per person for a window table, it isn’t cheap. A non-window table, which defeats the point, is 440 AED ($119). If you can stand the heat, visiting Dubai in the summer months means you’ll likely find most other attractions in the city nearly abandoned, including the Burj Khalifa during off-peak hours.
Tip: Pack your rain jacket and visit in the off-peak season.
Okay, so you’ve decided you just can’t miss out on seeing the famous floating city. Your best bet is to travel during the off-peak season, where you’re much less likely to experience the throngs of Venice’s cruise ship and summer swell. Hotel room prices are between 25 to 50 percent lower from November to March, provided you avoid Carnevale. Remember, attractions will generally open for shorter hours, and you might find some closed altogether. There could also be a little rain on your parade, but it’s something else to see the wait staff wearing goloshes and dinner suits in the main square.
5. The Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Tip: Get there really early, or late, or stay overnight on site.
A visit to the Blue Lagoon, much like the rest of Iceland, is an expensive endeavour. If you haven’t been able to book online, which lets you skip the line, your best bet is to get up really early and wait in the parking lot to make sure you are the first in. You can alternatively visit towards the end of the day when crowds also thin out. If you’ve got a little more cash to splash, book at the Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon. You’ll be staying just a 5-minute walk from the famed attraction, so you can monitor when the crowds are heavier. Plus, it includes free entry to both the Blue Lagoon and the private, hotel-guest-only Silica Lagoon. Bliss!
6. The Grand Canyon
Tip: Wrap up warm for a winter adventure.
Off-season travel is your key to enjoying the Grand Canyon without thousands of other people enjoying it alongside you. The South Rim can be visited year-round, though make sure you dress warmly. It can get very chilly from September onwards. While the North Rim can’t be visited in winter, it is generally much less crowded if you have to go during peak season, and can even be bearable during July and August. The SkyWalk is always much quieter in winter, too. Just make sure to get there early, as the last ticket is sold at 4:30 PM.
7. Sagrada Familia, Spain
Tip: Book online and arrive on time.
Like many European attractions, there are two entrances to Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia Cathedral: one for pre-purchased online tickets and one for ticket purchasers. The online ticket entrance on Carrer de la Marina is nearly always empty. Because tickets are allowed for a 15-minute window only, lines don’t have the time to build up to the online-ticket entrance. Just make sure you are on time, and if you have a really tight time slot you need to make, book about a week or so online in advance. Visiting in the winter season means you can go along to the Basilica and suss out the ticket-buying line. If you see it’s too big, book online using your smartphone and then hop around to the other entrance.
8. The Vatican
Tip: It’s always busy, but buying a ticket online should speed things up.
Rome is, surprisingly, one of the best European winter destinations. The city is near deserted and, if you can manage a visit close to Christmas, it’s magical. Despite this, the Vatican always seems to be heaving with people. Your best bet is to book your tickets online at the official Vatican website, ignoring the many ‘skip the line’ touts harassing you outside. You should still be prepared for a wait of around thirty minutes for security, but it’s much less than the three hours to stand in the ticket line. You can also avoid some of the crowds by visiting in the evening. The Vatican is open until 11 PM on Fridays from April to October.
9. The Louvre, Paris
Tip: Visit at night, and use the alternative entrance.
If a trip to the Louvre is one of your bucket list must-dos, you really are best to buy your ticket online. In addition to this, you should always use the underground entrance to the Louvre. It normally has a much shorter queue for entry than the famous Pyramid entrance. Head to 99 Rue de Rivoli, the underground/metro entrance, and go down the escalators, wandering past the shops until you find the Carrousel du Louvre entrance. To further your chances of minimal crowds, visit on a Wednesday or Friday evening. On these nights, the Louvre is open until 9:45 PM, meaning even if you arrive mid-afternoon you’ll have plenty of time to peruse its treasures.