As we plan some custom itineraries in Europe, the necessity of getting very far ahead on some arrangements comes up as certain favorite sites book up so early nowadays. Gone are the days of winging it at the last minute – at least for a few certain attractions, so that inspires today’s article…
When we’re traveling to destinations filled with historical and cultural sights, such as Europe, there is a desire to have a mix of planned activities, along with free time to explore and visit certain attractions on a whim, or at least on a more flexible schedule.
But there are certain attractions where you can’t just show up and expect to gain access, and some are less obvious than others. Special planning is required.
On the Mediterranean cruise I did a few weeks back, our flight arrived very early in the morning, so we were exploring Barcelona with no specific plan until the time we could access our cruise ship. We took a hop-on hop-off bus around Barcelona. My travel advisor friend Debi had never been to Park Güell, a whimsical public park designed by renowned architect Antoni Gaudí, characterized by colorful mosaic sculptures and panoramic views of the city. Since it was a stop on the hop-on hop-off bus, I thought we should go there so she would have an opportunity to visit.
When we got there, it was an hour line for tickets. In January!
This is a great example that top spots require you to book tickets ahead of time if you don’t want to waste time during your travels. Now, quite frankly, it never occurred to me that in January Park Güell was going to be that busy. It seemed logical to do on a whim, but I think it’s a great example that with the increased popularity of travel, you really do have to book ahead for any sites you really want to see.
We plan ahead for our clients at key attractions, but first you need to identify your desired visits so those arrangements can be made. There are definitely attractions that you need to be aware of in your planning.
If you’re ever wondering, “should I buy tickets ahead of time or not”, the answer is always yes.
I’m going to be attending the River Cruise Expo in Amsterdam in March, and there’s been discussion on our group message board about tickets for the Anne Frank House, which is another site that you absolutely positively have to plan ahead for.
The Anne Frank House preserves the secret annex where Anne wrote her famous diary as she hid with her family during the Holocaust. It’s a very small museum with confined space, so the access is quite limited and controlled by timed slot tickets.
Visitors to the Anne Frank House must obtain their tickets online for a specific time slot, exclusively through the official website. Every Tuesday at 10 am CET (which is 4am Eastern time), tickets for visits six weeks later become available. Options include a standard museum visit or a visit with an introductory program.
Since they open their schedule on Tuesdays, I looked yesterday morning at the newly released slots for March 11 – 17. Five hours after the calendar had opened, 9am Eastern time, there were four mornings where the time slots were already sold out for the option of the ticket with the introductory tour, with only afternoon options available. That’s five hours after the schedule opened.
Think of what that really means if you’re in a high travel season. For March, the ticket availability is a lot easier, but once you get to April and beyond, those tickets can be sucked up within hours of the schedule opening up.
Other attractions that can have hard-to-get access in Amsterdam are the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.
For most attractions, a key thing to note is that you are not just getting tickets for a date – you’re booking a specific time.
Most of the busy attractions now have a timed entry so you need to plan your day and determine the appropriate slot. It’s important to select a time that you know you will be able to make, because if you miss your time slot – too bad, so sad.
Don’t plan on a time that could be difficult to make if you have some delays – build in extra time for any potential delays and arrive early in the area and go have a coffee until your time slot.
Tickets and Tours
There are sights that are obviously popular, like the Louvre in Paris, the Vatican in Rome, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, or even Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, and you would likely plan ahead for a visit.
But other sites might not be as obvious regarding the need for early ticket booking. One attraction that books tickets quickly is the Last Supper painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece that is displayed in the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan.
The calendar is currently open through April, and from now until the end of April, there is exactly one single day showing availability for tickets.
The tickets there are released in multi-month batches, and they sell out very quickly. There is a way to get around that, and that is by buying a guided tour.
In many of these locations, the local tour companies will buy the tickets ahead of time in batches and then combine those tickets with their tour of the area. This is a very common way to see the Last Summer – the tour company will have a tour guide at the church providing commentary and background information, before entering the area to view the painting.
The tour situation can be tricky.
The tickets to go into the Anne Frank House are sold only on their website through the process I described. That’s the only way to get into the House.
But there are tours that will say ‘Anne Frank’ tour. This is a tour with commentary about Anne Frank, where they walk around Anne Frank’s neighborhood and tell stories – but it doesn’t actually access the Anne Frank house.
This is an example where you have to read the tour description carefully, and not make assumptions about what is included. The details are important.
However, there are other attractions where a tour is the perfect way to gain access to a desired sight.
Going to Florence to see the David at the Academia Gallery is a must-see, but another example of how critical tickets are, and a location that sells out very early in high season. Part of the reason is because of the tour companies buying tours.
For me, this is a logical situation where you would want a tour, as you could get a walking tour of Florence that is combined with the Academia Gallery to see the David statue. It is important to work with a trusted tour company that actually has the appointed time slot for entry.
That became an issue last summer when tickets for the Colosseum in Rome were totally sold out. Tour companies had sold tours, with the expectation of buying their tickets when available, and when they couldn’t get the tickets, there were Colosseum tours cancelled at the last minute. Some of our trusted partners wouldn’t even commit to booking Colosseum tours because of the uncertainty of ticket availability – better to say no upfront rather than cancel and disappoint at the last minute.
Visiting all these incredible sites is 100% doable. It’s just not doable at the last minute.
The point is, if you are going to destinations with highly known attractions, identify those early in the travel planning process. Advise your travel professional of specific sights of interest so they can plan ahead and make those arrangements. If you are handling this yourself, get ahead of the game and find out the rules for how to buy tickets for each landmark.
There are amazing must-see spots all over the world, and with the right attention and action, they can be part of your travel experience.