I leave for England in a week (ack!). I booked this trip 4 weeks ago and let me say, it’s been a whirlwind experience. Buying the necessary supplies, having to get an expedited passport, finishing up work and freelance projects has made these 4 weeks fly by. But if I had my time back, I would have booked this trips months back. Why? Well, it would have saved me a lot of money on my passport for starters, but mostly because little did I know, Europe has turned into Disney World and you need ‘fast passes’ to get into most of the major attractions that I want to see.
I’ve been planning my daily itinerary waywardly; I sometimes spent 2 hours looking up cool things to do in London when I really don’t need to. I know London better than most people. And the rest of my time has been dedicated to researching the first few stops on my trip – Brussels, Bruges, Amsterdam, Berlin… Until last week, I hadn’t really given much thought to my time in Rome or Paris since I booked my trains and hostels there. Well, let’s just say I’ve paid a price for that oversight.
I read in Rick Steve’s Europe guidebook that you could take a special tour of the underground areas and supposed tomb of St. Peter’s at the Vatican. This was SO up my alley. So I followed Rick’s directions and email the Vatican directly to see if I could join one of the tours over the 3 days I’ll be in Rome. The next morning, an email back said that they had been booked up since before Christmas. Well, shit.
And that got me thinking. What else did I need to get reservations or advanced tickets for before I left? Here’s what I found out about the major attractions in Europe:
The Eiffel Tower
Note: I’ve never been here, but the lineup is LEGENDARY. Same thing for The Louvre. If you’ve seen the movie Eurotrip, you’ll remember the scene where the camera snakes around 4 city blocks to find the actors at the very end of the lineup to enter museum. As much as I’d like to witness a Robot Fight on the side of a busy Parisian street, I only have 2-3 days in these big cities and I didn’t want to waste my time lining up for 2-4 hours for the Eiffel Tower.
I did my research and discovered that you can book lift passes for the Eiffel Tower in advance (buy tickets here). For €15.50 you can get access from the ground floor to the summit of the tower. Unfortunately for me, these tickets (even the lift tickets to the 2nd floor) are sold out until July.
My options at this point were: Option A – walk the 770 stairs to the 2nd floor platform and get the lift the rest of the way (ugh) or Option B – find a tour that I could join that offers a ‘skip the line’ package. I went with Option B and booked a “Behind the Scenes” tour of the Tower for € 23 with Isango Tours. This was the cheapest option to get a skip-the-line ticket to the 2nd floor platform (the ticket that’s sold out). From there, I can pay the extra €14 to get to the summit (there seems to be much less of a wait time for these elevators).
Overall, it’s going to cost me double — €57 instead of €15.50 to do this — but it’s better than waiting for 2-3 hours in the rain or hot sun when I have limited time.
Advanced tickets can be bought at any Tourist Info office and other main attractions in Paris. I’ll be buying my ticket once I get to Gare du Nord so I can avoid lines like these:
…. so I can spend my time fighting my way through the crowd that forms in front of the Mona Lisa. Ughhhhhhh.
Paris is my last stop on my trip, so I’m treating myself to a night at the Moulin Rouge as an early 30th birthday present to myself. TIP: It’s actually cheaper to get a ticket for just the show and champagne through Isango tours (here) than it is through the actual Moulin Rouge website!
The Colosseum is #2 on my top 3 things to do in Rome list, so I was less than happy to discover that the cool behind-the-scenes tour of the dungeons and top level was sold out until July. BUGGER! I could still get advanced tickets for general entry to the Colosseum, but the only way I could see the dungeons was to book another guided tour. This time I found a tour that did the Dungeons, Main floor and top level of the Colosseum, plus the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (find the tour here).
The Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s Basilica
A somewhat similar situation to the Colosseum. The wait times to get into the Vatican are MASSIVE (3-4 hours), so I definitely wanted advanced tickets. These were still available when I went looking and are only €16 (available here). I considered doing it this way, but every review I read or article about visiting the Vatican suggested doing a guided tour because items in the Vatican museum are very poorly labeled, or just not at all.
For something that important, I wanted someone to tell me what I was looking at, and for someone to show me what’s important and what isn’t. So I booked another tour. This time, however, I found a tour that gives my group access to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel at 8am, a whole hour earlier than the rest of the crowds. Plus, we get access to the Cabinet of Masks. I’m a sucker for exclusivity.
Galleria dell’ Accademia
I’m only in Florence for one day, so my time is unbelievably precious. With this in mind, I bought an advanced ticket for the Accademia so I didn’t have to wait for 3 hours to see the statue of David. Advanced tickets aren’t necessary (actually, they aren’t necessary anywhere), but they save SO MUCH TIME.
Reservations are necessary in order to visit the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle. I found this amazing blog post that listed everything I needed to do to reserved a guided tour of the castle.
The Sound of Music Tour
After my four days in Munich, I’m spending a day in Salzburg, mostly so I can take a tour of the Sound of Music filming locations. It’s the 50th anniversary of the film, so what better time to channel my inner Julie Andrews! I’m taking a tour with Panorama Tours and they cover many of the film locations and the Salzburg Lake District… all while listening to the soundtrack! *GEEK MOMENT*
Anne Frank House
This is the only historical site that I couldn’t get tickets to see in advance. They were sold out until August! There also doesn’t seem to be any other options, so I have to wait until late in the evening to try to avoid the queues. Supposedly the crowds dwindle down around 7pm. Fingers crossed.
Final note: while none of these options (except the ticket for Neuschwanstein Castle) are mandatory, they will allow you to get the most out of your time in any of these cities if you plan to visit these same sights.
Everything else I’ll get up to will be planned during my many hours of train rides between countries. There needs to be some spontaneity to my trip after all!