The euro’s value has fluctuated significantly over the last couple of days, briefly becoming worth $1.0985 before recovering somewhat Monday. But even after recovering (and as we’ve written before), if you’re looking to stretch your dollar in Europe, now is the time to go.
The downside* for travelers is that a lot of Americans seem to have gotten the message, leading to especially large crowds. Though my evidence is observational, in the past month I’ve traveled in France, Germany, and Italy. In each country, I’ve noticed there were many more (specifically American) tourists than during previous European trips.
This means that although it’s a great year to go to Europe, it may not be the best year to see major sites. Here are a few tips to beat the extra crowds in Europe this year:
1. Focus on the city itself instead of the sites
One of my favorite things to do in any European city is to simply stroll the streets. This has been especially true during my recent visits to Paris and Rome, which were both overwhelmed with tourists. There are obviously major sites we all have to check off our list — the Eiffel Tower, say, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa — but if you can, it’s worth postponing these places until a future trip either in the off season or when the exchange rate isn’t so good.
2. Opt for secondary sites
Major tourist sites in Rome like the St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum (where the Sistine Chapel is located) were insanely crowded. It sometimes felt like we were cows being slowly herded in a never-ending, zombie-paced processional down halls. And although the art and history were amazing, the actual experience was pretty terrible because of the crowds.
The Church of the Gesu, on the other hand, is a secondary site but with master Baroque artwork throughout, and we basically had it and its museum all to ourselves. A docent even gave us a private mini tour.
Although it is a secondary site, the experience was calming, individualized, and a highlight of our trip.
3. Go early in the morning, and stay out late at night
A lot of tourists are mainly out during the daytime hours when the major sites are open, so avoiding the typical 9am – 5pm hours, lets you experience Europe with fewer tourists and more locals. It also allows you to avoid the hot and sunny parts of the day. Going for night walks is one of my absolute favorite things to do: it’s cooler, and there are fewer crowds, and it’s magical to see an old European city lit up.
4. Brave the rain and enjoy it!
A lot of tourists will stay indoors when the weather gets a bit wet. However, that can be some of the best times to go out and skip the long lines of some major attractions. When we went to the Vatican Museum in Rome, there was virtually no line because there was a torrential downpour. Instead of fleeing the rain, we got cheap tourist ponchos from a street vendor nearby. Not super fashionable, but worth skipping what usually is a 1-2 hour wait. Similiarly in Venice, rain kept the tourists at bay from St. Mark’s Square, which let us have basically a private performance from Florian Cafe’s string quartet.
— Laura Rowley and Jim Dalrymple II
* The other big downside is the economic turmoil going on in Greece. There’s plenty of smart writing out there about that issue, but in general economics falls outside the scope of this blog.