Above: Exploring Mallorca
Planning a trip to Europe this summer? I’m so excited for you! I’ll be heading to Ireland in July and Portugal in August myself–I cannot wait! I’ve received a few questions asking for any tips for traveling to Europe in high season and the best way to avoid crowds and tourist traps–so that’s what I’m sharing today!
My personal favorite time to visit Europe is, well, anytime, really. Visiting in each season has its own set of benefits (and drawbacks, of course). If I had to choose, early September is pretty tough to beat as you still get super warm weather but many of the crowds have ceased with kids back in school.
However, summer travel (I.E. peak tourist season) is just typically a more convenient time for most people–making it the most busy, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have an incredible time! There are definitely a few things to keep in mind that will help make your trip more smooth
9 Tips for Visiting Europe in High Season
Here’s how to make the most of Europe in high season!
Buy skip the line tickets:
You’ll want to book popular attractions in plenty of time, and pay extra for the Skip the Line tickets! These are worth their weight in gold! When you’re traveling and trying to make the most of your time in any city, time is money! You don’t want to spend an hour + waiting in line when you can pay a bit extra and get in within minutes. Skip the line tickets basically give you access to a priority line–it’s an absolute must in packed places like the Vatican, Coliseum, Sagrada Familia, etc. Just google “skip the line tickets + [name of attraction]” and you’ll get to the right place.
Get a tour guide:
Whether it’s for a specific attraction, or a general city tour, a guided tour can be a great idea. While I admit, some can be misses and be incredibly boring, but I think more times than not, they offer a TON more interesting background than what you’d normally get on an audio headset. Plus, they typically also get you skip the line tickets–so it’s a two-for-one.
For example, we paid extra to do a guided tour of Pompei last time we were in Italy and it was worth every penny–our tour guide was an archeologist and SO interesting–it really made the whole experience. I also recommend doing a guided tour of the Coliseum because there’s such rich history there. If you book with a travel agent (like Whitney!) they can get in you with the best tour companies!
Do a walking tour your first day in a new city:
I think a walking tour (whether that’s a food tour–like my favorite below–or a history tour, etc!) with a local is the best way to get a feel of a city. They give you insider tips, lots of restaurants to try, ideas of how to spend your time, some even give you an overview of things like how to use the metro, or some local phrases to learn! Booking through AirBnB experiences is a super affordable ways to do this–I’ve never done one, but always wanted to! The guides are all locals and you can see all their reviews, so you know what you’re getting!
Take a Secret Food Tour:
We took our first Secret Food Tour our last day in Rome and we were SO bummed we didn’t do it our first day in the city because we learned so much amazing history, got to explore a totally different neighborhood and got so many local tips that would’ve made our stay in Rome 10x better. We loved it so much that we booked one in Barcelona for our Spain trip the following year and it was equally as amazing. And we made friends with others on both tours as well–it’s a great way to meet people from other countries and all walks of life!
Get up early:
To get a better look at any city before it’s swarming with tourists, get up early to explore! Nothing will be open, but you can get to take in the views without crowds of people! Hike up to Piazza Michelangelo in Florence in time for the sunrise, hit the Trevi fountain and Spanish steps at dawn. (Let’s call a spade a spade, it’s when you’ll get the best photos, too. 😜)
A hotel with a pool is a huge bonus:
Depending on where you’re visiting in Europe, chances are you will be roasting, sweaty, tired, and ready for a break by late afternoon–time for a siesta! There’s nothing better than coming back to the hotel for a refreshing dip, poolside Spritz, and a nap before heading to a late dinner. If you can spring for a hotel with a pool, it’s a very nice perk. Which leads me to my next point…
Go to dinner late:
On that note, a great way to avoid the tourist crowds is to eat when the locals eat! Think 9 or 10pm dinner. You’ll have much better luck getting into any restaurant you like at that time! Beforehand, use the extra time to take a nap after a long hot day, and then hit a bar for a drink before dinner. (If you’re in Italy, this is a MUST–Italian happy hour is called Aperitivo and its my favorite Italian tradition. Grab a spritz and you’ll get little complimentary snacks to go along with them!)
Don’t look like a tourist:
High season is peak potential for pickpocketing and petty crimes and tourists are always the easiest targets, so you’ll want to make sure to keep your wits about you. This certainly isn’t a reason to be frightened–just aware. Don’t be mindlessly scrolling on your phone on the metro, unaware of what’s happening around you. Don’t wander into a super crowded train station looking lost, don’t leave your bag leaning against or slung over your chair at lunch (keep it in your lap!) Don’t leave your wallet in your back pocket. Don’t get drunk and walk home late through a deserted city. Be alert, be aware, be smart, and above all, be a respectful traveler.
Go with the flow:
In high season, know that things just inevitably take longer. Expect some frustration. Sometimes things don’t go as planned–but let it go. Often the only thing you can control in these situations is your perspective. You’re in a beautiful place on an amazing vacation. You don’t want to look back and regret the time you lost to being angry or upset when you could’ve been having fun. Expect the hiccups and plan ahead accordingly–turn lemons into lemonade. Remember that everything that goes wrong ALWAYS turns into a great memory later. You’ll be telling those stories for the rest of your life!
Be kind and respectful:
There is a general consensus among those who work in tourism that the pandemic has made travelers MORE irritable and rude. Isn’t that awful!? Again, this should be a given (and I know none of YOU would be like this!) but it’s worth repeating. Like I mentioned above, it’s easy to get irritated if you have to wait a long time for something, or things don’t go exactly as you envisioned in your head. BUT. Take a deep breath! (We all need that little reminder sometimes, right?)
Don’t be short, please don’t ask to speak to the manager. (Nobody cares. 😂) Don’t ask for a bunch of modifications or order off the menu. Don’t get annoyed if they can’t accommodate a specific request, or if you’re having a hard time flagging your server down to bring the check. Americans have a bad enough reputation as it is abroad for being impatient and rude. (We are always so flattered when locals ask us, “you’re so nice–are you Canadian?”–and it happens often!)
On the flip side, kindness gets you SO FAR. Smile. Be pleasant. Say please and thank you–it’s impossible to overuse these two phrases. (Preferably in the local language). Tip. Be understanding. Service staff are dealing with the rudest people in their busiest season. Be the exception and make their day. Ask people’s names. Introduce yourself. Learn about their story! If you love their service or the food is wonderful, say so. Making friends everywhere you go is what makes a trip abroad so rich and wonderful. And it’s even more wonderful when you can return and see them again!
Plan ahead, but don’t over pack your schedule:
I am a big proponent of white space in your schedule. You definitely want to have enough leisure time where you’re not rushing anywhere, where you can just sit at a cafe, enjoy a leisurely glass of wine (and a second, if you fancy!), get lost wandering down streets, etc.
I would recommend breaking your trip up geographically, so you can use your time wisely but also not waste time by ping-ponging all over the city to hit the latest “instagrammy” hot spots. For example, hit a museum first thing in the morning, then explore the area around the museum the rest of your day at your leisure–maybe look up a couple restaurants for lunch but be open to going with the flow, too! My favorite parts of Europe are rarely the bustling tourist attractions. The best memories are made just soaking up the city itself and experiencing the culture! You don’t want to be so busy “packing it all in” that you miss the most important part!
I’m often asked “If I have X days in X country, how many cities should I visit?
How long should I spend in each city?” and my advice is always to plan less than you think you want to. We typically don’t like to spend less than three nights in one place. Otherwise, it’s just too much moving around.
Even if your train is only 2 hours, or your flight is only an hour–moving around still takes up the bulk of the day. It’s a lot! Especially in tourist season when everything is so busy. You lose so much time moving around and you’re also EXHAUSTED.
Plus, I don’t think a day or two is enough to even scrape the surface of a big city. (I’ve been to Paris 4 times now–twice for a week at a time–and I still feel have so much I still want to see.) I’m in the camp of spending a week in one or two cities, vs trying to cram 4 cities into 10 days. (You’ll thank me, I promise!)