Summer can spell trouble for the traveller in Europe. The weather may be gorgeous, but queues for popular attractions start to stretch.
That’s where a bit of savvy reaps tremendous rewards. A few tricks will let you stroll past the sweating hordes on your way to your highlight of choice. Here are some of our favourite ways to pack in the classic sights without sweating it out in line.
Many tourists take the long queues at the Louvre’s funky pyramid entrance as a given. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can buy tickets online in advance for general admission and specific exhibitions. Unfortunately you can’t do much about the crowds around the Mona Lisa.
Vatican excavations, Vatican City
Really get under the skin of St Peter’s Basilica. This hidden classic takes you along ancient narrow streets and through a pre-Christian necropolis, complete with excavations, to what might be the resting place of St Peter himself. Email or fax as far in advance as you can - and keep your fingers crossed. With only 120 spots a day, this is a seriously hot ticket.
Two weeks before you go to Barcelona, do two things. First, book your ticket for La Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s ever-expanding cathedral. Next, check the batteries in your alarm clock to make sure you don’t oversleep after a traditionally huge Catalan night out.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, Milan
Only those who have prebooked can guarantee a glimpse inside the Refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie Dominican Convent - making the Last Supper one of Europe’s most-missed masterpieces. Groups of 25 get 15 minutes with the painting, leaving the rest of the day to chuckle at the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding it. Book on the Cenacolo Vinciano website.
Alhambra Palace & Generalife, Granada
Six thousand people swarm over the Alhambra each day in peak season, many queuing before dawn. Steal a march by booking online. Book in advance also for a magical night visit to the Palace. In a nifty trick, you can collect your tickets from La Caixa cashpoints across the city.
Tower of London and other royal palaces, London
Until recently the best way to beat the queues on the banks of the Thames was to commit an act of treason. Now you can avoid making small talk with mobs of schoolkids and march right to the front. It’s still worth going early to the Tower and Hampton Court to escape the big summer crowds.
The Vasari Corridor is a covered passageway that links the Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery to the Palazzo Pitti, via the top of the Ponte Vecchio. It’s spectacularly lined with thousands of rarely-seen works of art, including the Uffizi’s self-portrait collection. The catch is that it can be visited only at certain times of year in small, prearranged groups. Florence’s Polo Museale has more details. Try not to look too smug if you do get in.
Enthusiasm for visiting Madrid’s premier art museum can wane once you’ve experienced peak-season queues. Book ahead online. More time for crawling the Sol and Huertas districts, less time standing around.
Sleeping accommodation for trains
Mark Smith, also known as the Man in Seat 61, recommends booking sleeping-car accommodation as far in advance as possible. Space is available from 90 days in advance for western European trains, 60 days for eastern European ones. This goes double if you are travelling with a rail pass. This will help avoid having to bed down outside the toilets on the Berlin-Prague night train with everyone else who’s missed out on a bed.