Visit the top cultural landmarks and wonders of the world while avoiding the crowds
From the Louvre to Grand Canyon to Machu Picchu, there's a long list of world's top wonders and cultural landmarks we all hope to visit one day. But at the same time, we shudder at the thought of braving through the crowds at these top attractions. Mass tourism is a harsh reality but we should not avoid all these sites just because they're packed.
Read this guide for the best ways to visit the top 8 iconic landmarks without fighting the queue.
1. THE LOUVRE - PARIS, FRANCE
2018 Visitorship: 10.2 million
Located in Paris, the Louvre is the largest art museum in the world. Home to some of the most magnificent art collections in history, it is understandably the world's most visited museum. In fact, over-tourism resulted in the Louvre shutting its doors on 27 May 2019 as members of the museum's reception and security staff decided to go on strike.
Unions only reopened the famous landmark at 11 am on 29 May 2019, two hours after its regular start time, after management agreed to bring in 30 more employees on a temporary basis over summer which is the museum's busiest time.
Best time to visit: Low season from December to January
Tip #1: Buy the Louvre tickets online
Purchase the Louvre tickets online via Klook prior to your visit. Do note that this is usually done a few days in advance so book it early to prevent any disappointment! Alternatively, buy your Musee du Louvre tickets from the Tourist Information Center at the airport when you arrive. While this is not a skip-the-queue ticket, it will give you access to the pyramid within half an hour of the reservation time! Just be punctual!
Tip #2: Enter via the Porte Des Lions entrance
There are 3 entrances to the grand museum, but most visitors will choose the main Pyramid Entrance. Try to enter via the Porte des Lions gate first that few people know about. If this entrance is closed due to technical reasons, head to the Carrousel de Louvre gate, an underground entrance in the shopping mall.
Tip #3: Visit the Louvre on a Wednesday or Friday evening
Generally, the museum is only open from 9 am to 6 pm and closed every Tuesday. However, not many know that the Louvre is open in the evenings on Wednesdays and Fridays till 9.45 pm. Therefore, visit on a Wednesday or Friday evening if you want to view Mona Lisa all by yourself!
Tip #4: Go on a guided skip the line tour
Pay a little extra for a guided Louvre skip the line tour. Enjoy the impressive art collection in the Louvre with a professional guide without any hassle.
Take your pick from a selection of guided Louvre tours on Viator and earn 3 per cent cashback with ShopBack!
Tip #5: Get your 'Gram-worthy shot at night
There are so many interesting angles to shoot the Louvre from, but the best time is at night. Not only because there are fewer people around, but also because of the stunning contrast between the lit-up pyramid and nightfall.
2. THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
2018 Visitorship: ~10 million
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the Great Wall of China is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest wonders.
The architectural marvel stretches over 21,000 km from east to west of the country across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus.
So it is obvious why the site remains as one of the world's top attractions all these years. In fact, there is a saying "He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man". But finding a tranquil spot can be tough.
Best time to visit: Spring (April - May), Autumn (September - November)
Tip #1: Get off the beaten tourist path
Most visitors base themselves in Beijing because the more popular sections of the wall like Badaling and Mutianyu are about an hour's drive away. The proximity of these sections to Beijing also means higher traffic at these sections.
Therefore, get off the beaten tourist path and explore "wild walls" further from Beijing instead. Check out Jiankou (2.5 hours from Beijing) and Gubeikou (2 hours) which offer great hiking experiences.
Do note that some parts of it may be hazardous so do exercise great caution. Otherwise, you can also visit Jinshanling, a picturesque stretch of less steep hiking area that is mostly uncrowded.
Despite being relatively further from Beijing, there is a direct tourist bus from the capital departing at 7.40 am daily from spring to fall.
Tip #2: Go as early as 6 am
If convenience is key and Badaling is your only choice, head there around 6 am. Most tourists arrive between 11 am and 2 pm. So anytime before that, and even Badaling the most popular section can be quite empty and an amazing sight to behold.
Imagine taking in deep breaths of the refreshing morning air as you conquer the Great Wall!
Obviously, the best IG moments are captured if you follow the above tips. Avoid the masses of tourists during peak hours at popular sections of the fortification. Show you are a "true man" with a shot at its rugged and wild sections if your fitness allows!
Tip #3: Avoid the Golden Weeks
Golden Weeks in China happen during the Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) and National Day (Oct 1 - Oct 7).
These few weeks see the highest amount of tourist traffic in any tourist attraction. So we recommend staying away from visiting any tourist attraction during this period to avoid getting squashed and wasting your visit.
3. GIZA PYRAMIDS, CAIRO, EGYPT
2018 Visitorship: ~9 million
A trip to Egypt is not complete without making your way to the Giza Pyramids in Cairo. After all, The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest monument from Seven Wonders of the World that is still standing today. Don't let the tourist crowds scare you off from the grand archaeological site as it is a magnificent sight to behold. Beat the crowds with our handy tips for a smoother trip!
Best time to visit: October - November, February - April
Tip #1: Visit the pyramids at night
Most visitors head to the pyramids in the late morning or early afternoon. Instead of following suit, check out Great Pyramids and the Sphinx at night for an entirely unique experience.
Every night, the famous landmarks will light up for captivating Sound and Light Shows. Learn about Egypt's ancient history during the shows through the narration of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
Tip #2: Stay at a nearby hotel
Cairo is notorious for its congested traffic. And with the pyramids being such a hot spot, expect long travelling times to the ancient wonder even if you set off early in the morning.
Therefore, a safer way to get there before the rest is to stay at a nearby hotel, best if it overlooks the Pyramids and Sphinx!
Watching the sunrise from the comfort of your room with a cup of coffee in hand would simply be magical. Thereafter, you can stroll to the attraction when it opens at 8 am. We reckon your Cairo trip can't get any better than that!
Tip #3: Venture into the dunes to soak in the mind-blowing views
To get the perfect shot of the pyramids without throngs of other tourists in the background, take a 15-minute walk out into the dunes. It may be a little far to walk in the heat, but we promise the views will definitely be rewarding!
4. TAJ MAHAL, AGRA, INDIA
2018 Visitorship: ~8 million
Constructed in the Indian city of Agra during the 17th century, the Taj Mahal is a remarkable jewel of Muslim art in India. The UNESCO World Heritage Site sees as many as 70,000 visitors on busy tourist days. The touching story of Taj Mahal is known to many and hence attracts many who have heard of its wonders.
Best time to visit: November - February
Tip #1: Stay in Agra so you can get to the site early
Most tourists arrive at the site via train from Delhi, which takes about 2.5 hours. So staying within the city ensures you can get to the Taj Mahal earlier than them. There are various accommodation options to suit your budget within walking distance from the heritage wonder. Some even offer great views of the white marble marvel!
Tip #2: Enter through the east gate
There are 3 entry gates to the Taj Mahal, and it is advisable to enter through the quieter east gate.
The main southern gate will be the most crowded, especially at sunrise when visitors fight for the best viewing spot.
Tip #3: Venture beyond the Taj
So many people have their eyes fixated on only the Taj and struggle to find some space through the throngs of tourists. Why not check out the two buildings - the mosque and the Assembly Hall on either side of the Taj too?
Both are fascinating in their own right and never crowded. Besides, relish the beautiful views of the sunrise through the last two minarets of the mosque.
5. THE COLOSSEUM OF ROME, ITALY
2018 Visitorship: 7.4 million
Built during the reign of the Flavian emperors as a gift to the Roman people, the Colosseum of Rome served as a large amphitheatre that hosted popular gladiatorial games. Its glorious history is now matched by the endless queues to enter the largest amphitheatre ever built. Follow these tips to enter the Colosseum without breaking a sweat!
Best time to visit: November - February (except Christmas and New Year holidays)
Tip #1: Book your tickets online
Purchase tickets to the Colosseum via Klook to either skip the queue or get a guided tour. Booking in advance is required so don't wait till the last minute! You will need to indicate the entrance time during booking, so you can skip the queue upon arrival. Remember to arrive on time!
Tip #2: Plan your visit during the less crowded months, days and times
From November to February, except for Christmas and New Year holidays, the Colosseum is typically less crowded. Weekdays are also less busy compared to weekends, especially during mid-week.
If you can only visit during crowded periods, and do not wish to pay 2 EUR to reserve a time slot to skip the line, get there at 8.30am when it opens.
Otherwise, you can also arrive one hour before last entry, but it will be a rushed visit albeit the crowds would have thinned out by then. Note that the closing times vary throughout the year based on sundown times.
Tip #3: Try an underground tour or a special night visit
Prefer a unique private tour? Try the underground tour to the otherwise inaccessible tunnels beneath the ancient arena, where the gladiators once waited to fight, and up to its third tier.
Occasionally, night tours with selected tour companies are available for booking to experience a different side of the Colosseum too.
6. GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA, USA
2018 Visitorship: 5.38 million
Enough of architectural wonders, for now. Let us share handy tips to avoid the crowds at Grand Canyon, one of the most talked-about national parks in the world. The timeless geological wonder is such a busy attraction that getting a trail to yourself is an art form.
Best time to visit: March - May, September - November
Tip #1: Visit after the summer rush
Summer is the busiest time of the year where many day-trippers arrive at the Skywalk in Canyon West and lodging is scarce too. Avoid the mad rush by visiting before or after that.
That is also the times when the weather is fair and not too windy or scorching hot.
Tip #2: Stay onsite for early arrivals
Instead of spending time travelling on the road for a day trip at the Grand Canyon, you are better off staying onsite in the national park. Hotels in the South Rim include El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge and Maswik Lodge.
Or stay at Grand Canyon Lodge in the North Rim for cooler temperatures and awesome views without the crowds.
Tip #3: Get off the maintained trails for a rustic experience
This tip works better for experienced hikers who seek a quieter walk away from the maintained trails.
Try the 5 km Grandview Trail on the South Rim and the North Kaibab Trail on the North Rim for a shady hike along its upper section. These offbeat trails are also where you snap some great photos for keepsake.
7. ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA
2018 Visitorship: 2.6 million
Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world sprawling across 163 hectares of the Cambodian jungle. It doesn't matter whether you are a Buddhist or not, as its five towering lotus-like towers create an enchanting sight. Discover how to enjoy the site at ease with these tips.
Best time to visit: June - August
Tip #1: Arrive early in the morning
Often, you hear "experts" telling you to visit Angkor between November and March as the summer months witness lots of rainfall. However, they forgot to tell you that it is peak season between November and March too! From June to August, the mornings are often sunny and rain typically falls in the afternoon. Therefore, you will be able to beat the crowds if you visit then and arrive early.
Tip #2: Don't forget the lesser known temples
Bakong, or even Banteay Thom and Chau Srei Vibol are some of the deserted temples in Angkor that are equally stunning. If you still prefer to stick to the main temple area, visit Preah Khan, Ta Nei and walk on the walls of Angkor Thom, as they are less crowded.
Tip #3: Get in just after the sun is up
Thinking of watching sunrise at the famed landmark?
Are you prepared to jostle with the crowds at Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng, Pre Rup and the lake of Srah Srang as these are the only sites open at 5 am for sunrise now? If not, it is probably better to head to these bigger sites just after the sun is up.
The tour groups would usually be leaving for breakfast after catching that iconic moment. This means there's hardly anyone around to fight for those 'Gram-worthy shots!
8. MACHU PICCHU, PERU
2018 Visitorship: 1.58 million
Set high in Peru's Andes Mountains above the Urubamba River valley, Machu Picchu is an enchanting place that few can resist. With a sharp increase in visitor numbers in recent years, how do you ensure you can enjoy the awe-inspiring Incan citadel to its fullest?
Best time to visit: April - May, September - October
Tip #1: Stay overnight in the nearby Aguas Calientes town
Most visitors arrive by train from 9.30 am, usually from the touristy towns of Poroy or Ollantaytambo. So it pays to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu's gateway town where you can catch the first bus to the site at 5.30 am and arrive at 6 am. If your budget allows, stay at Machu Picchu's luxury Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
Tip #2: Hit the zig-zag trail through the forest
The 42 km Inca Trail is a classic hiking route for most visitors so it is always busy. If you get in early to catch the sunrise, check out the zig-zag trail through the forest instead. The 25-minute hike will bring you to the last terraces on top of the mountain near the watchtower. This is an alluring spot where you can witness the dramatic changes to the mountains and site in peace.
Tip #3: Skip the queue with a visit in the afternoon
Machu Picchu is quieter to visit in the afternoon, as most prefer to visit in the morning. Given the maximum four-hour restriction to stay within the site, main sites will be almost empty by 3 pm. So skip the queue and enjoy the site at an idyllic pace in the afternoon.
Tip #4: Be the last to leave Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu closes around 5.30 pm daily. Throughout the day, there is a famous ledge for the best postcard photo of the site that is forever crowded.
However, since the crowds will have mostly dispersed by the time the gate is about to close, you should be able to get that classic shot without any photobombers.
The last train leaves at 6 pm so make sure you will still be on time for that awesome photo!
This article was first published in Shopback.