In this age of mass tourism, millions of people travel the world and many famous tourist destinations are… well, quite busy. For many passionate travelers, though, masses of other tourists are hell. Not only can visiting attractions and places of interest with a lot of other people be overwhelming, hordes of people can really be off-putting and may even ruin your experience. So what to do if you want to avoid those crowds? Although you should keep in mind that at many destinations you will not be the only one, and at some places crowds are virtually guaranteed, there are a few things you can do to avoid the worst crowds.
1. Plan ahead
Planning ahead is one way to avoid the busiest places at the busiest time, simply because you can plan around them. Last-minute decisions often mean you arrive at the attraction at the same time everybody else does. Think about where you want to go and what you want to see before you go and plan to visit the most popular attractions during the quieter hours.
2. Go early – or late
Many tourists start the day slowly and tour busses will only arrive in the course of the morning. Mid-day is peak hour. So head out early and beat the crowds. Visit sites and attractions when the doors open. Or alternatively, go late in the afternoon, after the tour busses have left.
3. Avoid peak season
Peak season means higher prices and bigger crowds. The shoulder season and low season see much lesser crowds. Especially the shoulder season is often a great time to travel. Leaving a few weeks earlier or later can make all the difference.
4. Book in advance
These days you can book entrance tickets for most attractions and places of interest online. Booking your tickets in advance means you get to avoid the queue at the ticket booth. You may also be able to select a time slot during the quieter hours (like early morning or late afternoon).
5. Step off the tourist trail
Mass tourism has caused many popular places to become over-touristed. But sometimes the best parts of a city or country are not where all the major sites and attractions are. Ask yourself if you really want to visit the ‘bucket list items’ everybody else is going to. Maybe you can visit lesser-known, but equally rewarding cities and villages.
6. Don’t come by organised tour
Generally speaking, organised tours visit the same major sites and do so during the same hours, being the middle of the day. Joining an organised tour means you are virtually guaranteed to be one of many people visiting. Go by yourself instead, this gives you maximum flexibility.
7. Avoid holidays and special events
Holidays and special events not only mean prices for accommodation and transportation go up, they also attract large crowds. Unless you are keen on visiting a certain special event, check which holidays and special events may coincide with your travel plans.
8. Adjust your lunch and dinner time
It’s simple: If you don’t like crowded restaurants, don’t eat when everybody else eats. Arrive at the restaurant of your choice a bit early to avoid the peak dining hours.
9. Choose a weekday over the weekend
Most attractions see fewer visitors on weekdays than during the weekend. For obvious reasons: during the week most locals are at work and their kids in school. Although this trick may work at let’s say a museum, it may not make much difference at the really popular attractions.
10. Use the wisdom of the crowd wisely
Don’t blindly follow the recommendations at Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet. Because lots of people do, and you will all end up at the same restaurants and bars. Use them wisely, or check out Google reviews by locals to find a nice place with less other tourists.
11. Think twice about guided tours
Guided tours can be great fun, but they can also be busy. Plus they tend to visit the most popular (= crowded) places in the middle (= busiest part) of the day. So think twice if a tour is a good option for you, or if you prefer to venture out at your own time and pace.
Instead of taking crowded local busses or subways packed with commuters, walk. Walking is a much better way to soak up the atmosphere and see a city at a leasurely pace. Or hire a bike for the longer distances.
13. Be aware of tourist traps
Some so-called ‘must-sees’ are nothing more than over-hyped spots that fail to impress in reality. Most attractions that are especially designed for tourists have little to do with an authentic experience – even if they claim they do. One thing you can be certain of though: they attract loads of tourists. Skip them.
14. If you can’t avoid the crowds: Surrender
Sometimes there is no way you can entirely avoid the crowds. In that case: surrender. At the most popular places, there is no alternative than to accept the fact that we are not the only ones who want to see them. Don’t let it ruin your day and make the best of your visit anyway!