How to escape the crowds in the world’s most popular destinations
See the sights without the headache in these Travelers' Choice Best of the Best cities.
We’ve all been there: Waiting in a seemingly endless queue at a can’t-miss attraction, feeling those relaxed vacation vibes slip away as we nag to ourselves, “If only I had planned a little better…” To avoid chockablock venues and maddeningly long wait times, each destination requires its own strategy. And for the cities that ranked most popular among Tripadvisor reviewers (as is the case with each of the below destinations, which earned a spot among the 2023 Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best winners), a bit of out-of-the-box thinking can make for a hassle-free experience.
For some cities, you’ll have to pre-plan early and nab coveted timed-entry tickets during off-peak hours; for others, you might want to consider braving the elements and booking a trip during the winter or the rainy season. Here, our exhaustive guide to how to enjoy your favorite cities without the crowds.
We know, we know: You can’t come to Paris without getting some facetime with the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum. Even during the winter off-season, crowds pack into the world’s most-visited museum like canned sardines. Opt for timed-entry tickets to avoid queueing up around the Pyramide du Louvre, or better yet, come on a Friday night, when the doors stay open until 9:45 p.m. and other visitors are busy scurrying off to their dinner reservations.
Of course, with more than 130 museums within the city limits, there are plenty that still feel like hidden gems. Take the free Musée Carnavalet, which focuses on the history of Paris and occupies two neighboring mansions in Le Marais. It reopened in 2021 after a five-year, $70 million renovation and includes stunning rooms like George Fouquet’s ornate 1901 Art Nouveau jewelry shop. The neighborhood is also home to the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, a whimsical curated hunting and nature collection that elevates taxidermy to the level of contemporary art.
Between Holy Week, Christmas, and the summer vacation season, there’s never downtime in Rome, which almost makes you wonder if it’s called the Eternal City because it’s eternally busy. Visitors beeline to the Vatican City by the millions, which means you’re often shoulder to shoulder with other visitors as you take in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica. A number of tour companies, like What a Life Tours, offer early morning itineraries of the country-within-a-city so you can gaze in wonder at Renaissance frescos while your fellow tourists are still gazing at their cappuccinos and cornettos. If you don’t feel like shelling out the extra euros, there are plenty of other Michelangelo masterworks sprinkled throughout Rome that see fewer visitors, including his statue of Moses on the tomb of Pope Julius II at the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli and the Risen Christ in the Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, both of which can be viewed for free.
What one traveler said about What a Life Tour's Complete Early Morning Vatican Tour:
The British capital bursts to life during the late-spring and summer high season, and because many of its cultural institutions are free, that can mean long queues at perennially popular spots like the British Museum. To avoid droves of museum-goers, you can book an out-of-hours tour, which runs daily from 8:50 a.m. to 10 a.m. The tours aren’t free (£33 for adults), but there’s an undeniable magic to having the whole Egyptian sculpture gallery or Parthenon room to yourself.
That said, there are plenty of other world-class museums scattered throughout the city where you can wander unimpeded by crowds. Among the finest is the compact Sir John Soane’s Museum, the former home of the eccentric architect of the Bank of England, which is positively bursting at the seams with his collection of antiquities, furniture, sketches, models, and paintings. Farther afield, and even stranger, is the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History, a delightfully bizarre collection of everything from rare butterflies to a lock of Elvis’s hair, tucked in the basement of an absinthe bar in Hackney.
Spring in Vancouver may be shoulder season, but it’s a particularly lovely time to commune with British Columbia’s great outdoors. The rhododendrons, roses, and flowering bulbs of Stanley Park begin awakening from their winter slumber in March and April, just as the seas off the coast welcome migrating gray whales on their long journey (stretching through October) from Mexico to Alaska. Lovers of marine life shouldn’t skip the Vancouver Aquarium, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, known especially for its marine mammal rescue facility. Pre-book a morning entry slot to catch some of the most captivating sights, like sea lion training and otter feeding. Slightly off the beaten path, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the University of British Columbia campus is home to Canada’s largest blue whale skeleton, which measures some 85 feet long.
If you can stand the heat, the summer low season is the perfect time to score sizzling deals on hotels and flights. And with many visitors coming here explicitly to stay inside air-conditioned casinos, lounge poolside, or experience the city’s many award-winning bars and restaurants, the heat doesn’t have to be a deterrent. (If you really want to avoid the oven-like Strip, hit the resorts connected via the Las Vegas Monorail.)
Counterintuitively, one of the best ways to cool off is by heading out for a hike in the desert: Located northwest of the city, the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area is a high-elevation escape surrounding the 11,916-foot Mount Charleston, with miles and miles of hiking trails that start over 6,000 feet above sea level. At these altitudes, you’ll find gnarled bristlecone pines growing out of seemingly inhospitable crags, and the temperatures are often 20 to 30 degrees cooler than down on the Strip.
Once Times Square is swept clean after the confetti blizzard on New Year’s Eve, New York City enters into a bit of a winter tourist lull. If you’re not afraid of the cold, it’s the most wonderful time of the year to snag incredible cultural deals and to have normally packed museums all to yourself. Even the hottest Broadway tickets can be had for a bargain: The TodayTix app offers day-of digital rush deals, often for under $35, while the twice-annual Broadway Week (mid-January to mid-February) runs two-for-one ticket offers on popular shows like Hadestown and Aladdin. If you want to see iconic stage props without paying a hefty ticket price, grab a drink at the nearby Civilian Hotel, where the Blue Room bar is lined with Broadway ephemera like Elphaba’s hat from Wicked and cherry-red thigh-highs from Kinky Boots.
Thanks to Miami’s tropical climate, summer and fall can mean blistering heat, torrential downpours, and oppressive humidity—and that’s before you factor in hurricane season. March through May brings gorgeous weather, with lows in the 60s and highs in the 80s—avoid rowdy spring break crowds by eschewing party-hard Miami Beach for more serene spots like the Pérez Art Museum Miami.
If you still want to dip your toes in the sand, you’re in luck: Biscayne National Park remains one of the most accessible and yet least-crowded parks in the National Park System, filled with secluded cays, coral reefs, mangrove forests, and a Maritime Heritage Trail, connecting a string of shipwrecks that beckon snorkelers and divers.
Rio is blessed with close-to-ideal weather year-round, meaning that visitors can take full advantage of the winter off season, during the Northern Hemisphere summer: Crowds and rain clouds disappear during this time, and high temperatures remain in the upper 70s—only about 10 degrees cooler than summer averages. Sunshine is abundant, but you won’t have to jockey for position on Copacabana Beach or Ipanema Beach, and the hordes clamoring at the feet of the monumental Christ the Redeemer will be decidedly more manageable.
During any season, however, you can find respite in Parque Nacional da Tijuca, located about 30 minutes inland. Even though it attracts its fair share of outdoors enthusiasts, there are so many different hidden hiking trails and hidden waterfalls that you can often carve out your own little slice of paradise all for yourself.
What one traveler said about Parque Nacional da Tijuca:
Like many destinations in the Caribbean, this Yucatán Peninsula party spot experiences low-season doldrums come summer, when the risk of thunderstorms (and the guarantee of humidity) keeps travelers away. But hotel rates and airfare drop, and if you’re a nature lover, it’s worth braving the heat to take advantage of one of the most majestic wildlife displays in the Americas: the annual arrival of the whale sharks, who stick around the plankton-rich waters here from May through September. Just off the coast, Isla Mujeres is a perfect jumping-off point for swimming or snorkeling with the world’s largest fish. While there, further your underwater exploration at the Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA), which comprises some 500 sculptures placed along the seafloor.
Thanks to its tropical climate, this brilliant port city on the Caribbean coast can get muggy, with a rainy season that runs from May all the way through November. And with rainfall totaling about 40 inches a year, summer days can be drenching; opt instead for February through April, after peak season crowds have returned home, but the dry season is still in full force. One of the city’s top attractions is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which was built in 1536 to ward off pirates and the English navy. These days, it’s attracting bombardment from a different nautical onslaught: cruise ship passengers. Beat them to the punch by getting to the fortress first thing in the morning (visiting hours begin at 8 a.m.). Also worth checking out is the Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver: built between 1580 and 1654, the church now houses a museum dedicated to Afro-Caribbean, pre-Columbian, and religious art.
When planning a trip to India’s capital, many visitors tend to avoid the tandoor-hot summers, the drenching monsoon season, and the post-monsoon autumn, when smog returns in full force after the cleansing rains. However, February and March are warm and pleasant, with fewer visitors than the high season (outside of major festivals like the rainbow-blasted Holi, when revelers throw handfuls of colorful powder). As you plan your visit to popular architectural marvels like Humayun’s Tomb, the Lodhi Garden, and the Red Fort, opt for weekday mornings to avoid the crush of locals out for a weekend stroll. For more of a off-the-beaten-path vibe, check out Majnu Ka Tilla, the city’s Little Tibet neighborhood, where you can find Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and stalls doling out plump, flavorful momos (steamed dumplings).
What one traveler said about Majnu Ka Tilla:
Known for its enchanting gamelan music, stunning temples, and wellness retreats, this Indonesian island experiences its rainy season from November through March. While the weather can be a bit unpredictable, the months of February and March are blissfully tourist-free, meaning incredible deals on flights and accommodations. Sure, there’s a pretty solid chance you’ll get caught in a soaking, sudden downpour, but there are plenty of benefits to visiting during the wet season. The jungle landscape is at its most lush and gorgeously overgrown, with the terraced rice paddies in spots like Jatiluwih taking on a shade of green so bright that you almost have to wear sunglasses to take it all in. Best of all, the island’s waterfalls, like Sekumpul, Gitgit, and Tegenungan, are at their finest. If you want one all to yourself, consider the Bali Secret Waterfall Tour, which includes a stop at the hidden Leke Leke falls, which plummet between two black cliffs into a crystalline pool.
Much like Las Vegas, Dubai hits its low season in the summer, and while there’s plenty of air-conditioning to be found, this heat is not for the faint of heart: When the temperature climbs up to 120º F, the sand on the beach can feel like a griddle, and you can’t even cool off in the waters of the Persian Gulf, which hit the 90s during the summer. Instead, head to Dubai during shoulder season, which falls from April to May and again between September and October, offering a sweet spot in terms of weather and crowds.
The city’s most famous landmark is the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper at 2,722 feet high, with two incredible observation decks on the 124th and 148th floors; while sunsets are particularly popular, early risers can enjoy a stunning sunrise from on top of the world, with slots opening up as early as 5 a.m. Alternatively, you can opt to include a meal in the price of your high-altitude admission by heading At.Mosphere Burj Khalifa, an elegant restaurant on level 122 that offers similarly dazzling views.
What one traveler said about visiting the Burj Khalifa:
There’s an infectious energy to Marrakech’s UNESCO-protected Medina, a labyrinthine warren of donkey carts, carpet merchants, and vendors hawking everything from babouche (snail soup) to pastillas (savory pigeon pies). Crowds thin in January and February, which is helpful as you navigate these densely packed streets, but if you’d rather leave the navigation up to the experts, an unexpected way to take in the scenery is from inside a vintage sidecar with Marrakech Insiders.
Fewer visitors during the winter months also means shorter lines at attractions like the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech, a must-visit spot for fashionistas since it opened in 2017. YSL’s former villa has been converted into the Jardin Majorelle, a cactus garden and Berber museum that attracts selfie-seekers with its vibrant cobalt blue walls; for a similar vibe with much shorter queues, check out the 17-acre Cactus Thiemann, one of Africa’s largest succulent farms.
Weather in Kenya is a bit of a roller coaster ride, with two rainy seasons punctuated by drier seasons. The heaviest downpours come during the “long rains,” or masika, which hit in April and May, when lush vegetation can make wildlife-spotting tricky. If you’re here to enjoy the thrumming energy of the capital city, these months mean cheaper hotel rates and fewer visitors at cultural institutions like the Nairobi National Museum, the African Heritage House (founded by one-time Kenyan vice president Joseph Murumbi), and the Karen Blixen Museum (located in the farmhouse once owned by the Out of Africa author). Right in the city’s backyard, Nairobi National Park is home to zebras, giraffes, lions, and black and white rhinos. While some roads in the park can get a bit muddy, the wet season coincides with the arrival of birds migrating from Europe and North Africa, making it an excellent time for birdwatchers.