If you’re visiting Florence, Italy, you’ve got to see the world-famous Uffizi Gallery. But why? Because that’s what one does in Florence? Because you feel compelled to post a selfie in front of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”?
Those are obviously terrible reasons. We shouldn’t go to places because they’re world-famous; we should go to fully appreciate the thing that made them world-famous — an unparalleled collection of Renaissance art, for example. But that requires a thoughtful, well-planned visit, not just following the masses, snapping pictures and checking it off your bucket list.
I spoke with those in charge of some of the world’s great attractions to glean strategies for making the most of a visit, both substantive improvements and simple beat-the-crowds techniques. Because, no matter how great the view is from the crown of Lady Liberty, you don’t want to wait in a long line to get there.
Actually, you can’t visit the crown at all without serious planning. “On busy days you’re talking 25,000 people on a small island, and 500 a day get to the crown,” said Michael Amato, the lead park ranger for the Statue of Liberty National Monument. “Right now we’re sold out until late October, early November.” So it’s not so simple as “plan in advance.” You need to check on what’s available only in advance — say, tickets for a performance.
The ultimate way to avoid crowds is to visit during the off-season; in other words, not now. Many dismiss off-season travel as unviable because of school schedules, but remember American Thanksgiving and spring breaks (if they don’t fall over Easter week) don’t mirror other countries’ vacations.
Some American habits can play to your advantage. “Americans love to eat early,” said Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Galleries. “Have an early lunch, and get to the Uffizi something like 1 p.m., when the vast majority of people head off to eat.”
Timed tickets can often be bought days in advance and are increasingly available at crowded attractions around the world. At the Uffizi, they cost 4 euros extra (boosting admission to 16.50 euros, about $18) and take care of waiting in line, if not the crowds.
You can buy them at the official Uffizi website, uffizi.org*, if you can find it. Unofficial sites that look official are rampant. They often look good and sometimes contain good information, but look out. “You can pay $30 or $40 on a fake website,” Mr. Schmidt said. “And sometimes the tickets do not exist” — that is, they’re fakes. Even when they’re just reselling real tickets, look out for markups. For example, uffizi.com, one of the unofficial sites, charges 24.99 euros (about $27.35), and it even marks up the audio guides.
The official site is bare-bones and difficult to find (and is getting an upgrade). If you’re ever having trouble finding the official site of any attraction, search for it on a trusted travel site — say, LonelyPlanet.com — and follow the links.
Between planning and traveling, a lot can change. Keep up to date, Jade McKellar, the director of visitor experiences at the Sydney Opera House,said in an email. “If you’re looking for inspiration,” she said, “follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter.”
The Opera House’s Facebook page, for example, recently posted information on the free two-day Homeground festival in October, featuring indigenous musicians from around the world. In another development somewhat lower on the cultural scale, the Statue of Liberty’s Instagram account recently noted a new wave of visitors to Ellis Island: Pokémon.
Ms. McKellar noted that too many visitors “stop at the selfie.” Even without planning, visitors can often buy tickets for events that run 363 days a year. But like many sites, a true visit means dedicating a full day, something a rushed traveler might be loath to do but should do. You may want to append to a tour of the Sydney Opera House a pretheater dinner at the locavore Australian restaurant Bennelong, and an evening performance. (Just be aware that reservations at Bennelong need to be made well ahead.)
Another reason to set aside more time: Visitors skip the less-famous but equally worthwhile, often beautifully complementary sites nearby.
Susan Greaney, the senior properties historian at English Heritage, which oversees Stonehenge, recommended a trip to the nearby Wiltshire Museum and the Salisbury Museum, local history museums with Stonehenge-relevant exhibitions, each less than a 30-minute drive away but apt to be missed by anyone on a day tour from London.
Mark Thomas, the western district director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation — a fancy title that involves oversight of Niagara Falls State Park — recommended the New York Power Authority’s Niagara Power Vista, a free attraction that was recently overhauled and reopened, 10 minutes away from the park.
Mr. Schmidt noted that the copy of Michelangelo’s David on the Piazza della Signoria near the Uffizi was indistinguishable to nonexperts. Lines to see the real one at the Accademia Gallery can run hours if you don’t buy tickets in advance. “If someone has just three days in Florence, do you want to waste three hours in line when you can see a very faithful copy?” he said.
Sometimes, the skipped-over attraction is even part of the same complex. Mr. Damato noted that this year Liberty Island would attract 4.4 million visitors, while the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration will attract just 2.4 million. That’s preposterous, considering that the boat to Liberty Island also stops at Ellis Island, which costs nothing extra and (in my opinion, not his) is far more interesting. But again, it means killing a day.
Reading up on the attraction can make a vast difference in how much you appreciate it. I slogged through “The Conquest of the Incas” by John Hemming before visiting Machu Picchu for the first time, and it made for a rich experience. But there are easier ways. Mr. Thomas recommended visitors watch Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film noir picture “Niagara,” set at and near the falls. And in the next six months, Mr. Schmidt’s book about the Uffizi should come out. (Exercise some discretion — for example, Ms. Greaney of English Heritage did not mention the Stonehenge scene from the 1984 mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” and for good reason.)
Some final recommendations: Be an active visitor, engaging guides, rangers or docents and exploring lesser-known corners. For hard-to-reach monuments, consider a more adventurous alternative route to avoid crowds — walking the steep hill to the Peak viewpoint in Hong Kong or hiking up the rain forest path to Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro instead of taking the crowded trams that lead to each. Even if you’re not traveling with children, I recommend inventing a game before you go — even adults run out of steam on a long day of sightseeing. My favorite, applicable to any museum with abstract art, is “Name the Picasso,” in which you guess the name of a painting (“Death in the Jungle”) and then compare it to its real name (“Nude in a Black Armchair.”)
Of course, you can also simply skip the world-famous attraction. If you’re sick of museums by the time you get to Florence, forgo the Uffizi and take advantage of other things Florence has to offer. Perhaps a gelato (or tripe sandwich) crawl is in order? Don’t worry about what your friends will think. You can use Photoshop to show them you “saw” “The Birth of Venus.”
*Correction to the original nytimes.com article.
This post was excerpted from nytimes.com. Full attribution and a link to this article follow directly.
Published by nytimes.com
August 16, 2016
Written by Seth Kugel – Travel: The Getaway
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