It’s every travelers dilemma. How to visit those famous sites and see all that you want to see, but without a million other tourists. Unfortunately, the main reason an area or attraction is so busy is because it’s that good and everyone wants to see it.
I’ve had to endure visiting monuments, castles and other attractions with massive crowds but I’ve also had the opportunity to enjoy world famous sites with only a handful of others. Here are some tips that I’ve found useful on how to avoid the crowds.
1. Travel During The Shoulder Seasons
This is a common suggestion for those wanting to avoid crowds or to find cheaper prices. High season attracts the most number of visitors (duh, that’s why it’s called high season!).
I prefer to travel during the shoulder seasons for many reasons. It’s easier for me to get time off work and I usually don’t enjoy those months at home anyways. The weather is generally still nice during the shoulder season and sometimes I can find discounts on popular activities and accommodations.
Case in point. My boyfriend K and I received 20% off many of our chosen tours while visiting Iceland in early September. The main rush of the summer had passed but all tour operators were still running for another few weeks. To try and fill their tours they offered discounts.
If that wasn’t bonus enough, many of our tours ended up being very small groups (3 rafts of people rather than 12 for white water rafting!). On our super jeep tour of the Golden Circle we were the only ones! That meant we had a driver and jeep all to ourselves for the day.
While driving ring road, we saw many of Iceland’s famous waterfalls with only a handful of others (at Dettifoss there were only 3 other people!).
2. Don’t Let Bad Weather Change Your Plans
No matter what time of year you travel you’re bound to get some bad weather at some point. But don’t let this discourage you from exploring! If you’re dressed for the weather you may find that others chickened out and stayed in their hotels rather than venture outside. This means you’ll have the place all to yourself!
While visiting Jasper National Park a few summers ago, my dad and I woke to overcast skies and a rainy forecast on the morning of our planned hike. We didn’t let the weather stop us as we put on our Gortex and headed out for a hike anyways. That day turned out to be the highlight of my trip as we hiked the incredible Edith Cavell Meadows in the rain (and sometimes snow and hail with sunny breaks in between – mountain weather is crazy!). We saw less than 10 other hikers until we were almost back at the car.
By this time the weather had cleared up and there were crowds of tourists just heading out for the hike that we had enjoyed in near solitude. If we had waited for the weather like everyone else, we would have been hiking with everyone else!
3. Avoid Local Holidays
Do your research ahead of time and find out if you’ll we visiting during a local holiday. Sometimes this is the whole point of your trip (Carnival in Brazil, Holi in India, Day of The Dead in Mexico) but sometimes you’d rather avoid these.
Local holidays can make your trip more expensive, crowded and may limit your options for accommodations and transportation.
When I was in traveling in India, I happened to be there over Diwali. While this was a wonderful cultural experience, it made my visit to the Taj Mahal extremely crowded. Because I was on a tour (with G Adventures) I was on a set itinerary. The day we visited the famous Taj Mahal was on a Sunday afternoon, the final day of the Diwali Holiday. Well, everyone in India (and their entire family!) all choose to visit the Taj the same day (a holiday weekend, double no-no!).
What was supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip (and still was to a degree) ended up being a fight to move and an even bigger challenge to get a picture of me with the Taj Mahal that didn’t include a crowd of thousands!
4. Explore Lesser Known Sites
Often there is much more to see in a city or area than the 1 or 2 famous landmarks. Take the time to research and visit these lesser known sites as they can be equally impressive but with half the crowds. The day after I visited the busy Taj Mahal, my group did a tour of a few other incredible sites in Agra. Each one was a work of art and far less crowded than the Taj.
5. Timing Is Everything
Choose your time of day/week to visit a site wisely. As previously discussed, it’s a good idea to avoid local holidays. But it also helps to visit world famous sites on week days rather than weekends. Locals still like to visit these attractions too, but many will choose to go on their weekend off.
Time of day is very important as well. They say the “early bird gets the worm” and this holds true when traveling. Arriving for a sunrise or just when the attraction opens for the day will usually the least busy time.
While I was in Indonesia I signed to watch the sunrise from the famous Borobudur Temple, just outside Yogyakarta. The cost was slightly higher and I did have to get up at 3 am but it was totally worth it. There were only about 50 of us there to watch the sunrise at 4:30 am and the main gates didn’t open until 6 am. That gave us an hour and a half to have the entire temple complex to ourselves.
When I was leaving the temple I was astounded by the sheer number of tourists and school groups all trying to climb the stairs of the temple en mass. The place was literally overrun with people and I knew I would not have enjoyed my experience as much (nor captured the amazing pictures of the near-deserted temple) if I’d waited and arrived with everyone else.
6. Get The Inside Scoop From Locals
As always, the locals are your best resource when visiting a foreign land. Home stays and B & B’s are wonderful ways to meet members of the local population and the owners are usually keen to share their knowledge with visitors. Don’t be shy, ask questions! Where is the best view? What should I not miss while visiting? What’s the best time to visit <insert famous landmark> ?
If you have family or friends living in the area you’re one step ahead! My first time in the Czech Republic I went with my dad and my brother to visit family (my dad was born and raised there and I still have A LOT of family in this country).
While we did visit some of the more famous and well known sites, there were days when my dad would simply pull over on the side of the road and lead my brother and I up a random trail in the woods. While I had my doubts on my dad’s sense of direction we’d inevitably arrive at the remains of a fairy tale castle, long lost to the forest. How he knew where to go and what lay ahead is beyond me. But he grew up in the area and knew all the unmarked trails and castles. I never would have found these hidden gems without him.
Exploring new places, especially world famous ones, can be the highlight of any trip. But sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience with a thousand others can put a damper on the experience. Making the effort to try and avoid getting lost in a sea of tourists if always worth it. I hope these tips help you to avoid traveling with crowds so you can make the most of your adventures!