These tips are for travels in Italy, but they work for most any place you decide to travel.
Be An Early Bird-
St. Peter’s Basilica opens at 7 a.m. most days. I’ve visited around 7:30 a.m. several times and I’ve never had to wait in line. Check the websites for your favorite churches and avoid the crowds.
Sometimes you wake up extra early on your first day of travel. This is a great time to walk the city streets, visit an uncrowded piazza or watch the shop owners opening up.
Visit Minor Churches for Major Artworks
When in Rome and Florence, especially, don’t miss the minor churches. You can find a Michelangelo sculpture or the amazing works of Caravaggio in several small churches throughout Rome. Google your favorite Italian artist and there are many great tips on where to find their work.
Buy Museum Tickets Online
Don’t waste your time standing in long lines! Most museums offer tickets online. Avoid the peak hours of 10-3 if you can. This is often the most crowded times to visit. Some museums (and popular churches) are open one eveing per week. This can be a much quieter time to visit.
Sometimes a Guided Visit is Well Worth the Price
The Vatican Museum is one venue that might merit a guided tour. There are tours that get you in early to avoid the crowds. This museum is a major visual overload, so an expert who can focus on the highlights could really enhance your visit. The Roman Forum is another site where a knowledgeable guide would be invaluable. There are several touring companies online, so read the reviews. One of my favorites is ContextTravelTours.
Seek Out the Minor Museums
There are many minor museums (not listed in the guidebooks) that have some fantastic temporary exhibits and no crowds. I love the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Rome’s Centrale Montemartini (classic sculpture in an Art Nouveau Power Plant) and the Museo Correr in Venice. Pay attention to the colorful banners that promote these temporary exhibits. While in Venice a few years ago, we stumbled upon a watercolor exhibit of John Singer Sargent in the Correr. You never know what you might find.
Try a Food Tour
Even though I consider myself an informed “foodie”, I learned a lot on EatingItaly’s Testaccio Food Tour. We discovered a whole new neighborhood with wonderful food shops, restaurants, street food, a market and artisan gelato. The guide knew her neighborhood well and shared some great insights as well an excellent variety of Rome’s gastronomic specialties.
Avoid the Busy Tourist Routes
When visiting a large city, don’t take the most direct route from one famous site to another. If you do, you might be run over by the larger tourist groups being led around. Instead, take an indirect route to discover quiet lanes and a less crowded piazza. If you see a public park, wander around to enjoy a quiet haven in the large cities.
Try a Walking Tour
Many cities and even the smaller towns offer a free or very reasonably priced walking tour. This is a great way to get orientated to your surroundings and gain a few helpful insights. Without our wonderful, local tour guide, we would have missed the beautiful Protestant Cemetery in Rome.
Although you can find many touring companies online, we often visit the City’s Tourist Information Center for our city tours.
Stay tuned for Part 2–Eating in Italy