Rick Steves' Top Tips For Avoiding Bustling Crowds When Visiting Europe

If you've ever been to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, The Tower of London, or the Trevi Fountain in Rome, you know the crowds can be horrendous. Elbowing fellow travelers just to get a closer look at an iconic structure can become an Olympic sport. Just look at this TikTok by user @thepetitewanderer that depicts Santorini, Greece, at peak hours. Nobody can even move! So some savvy travelers have figured out a clever way to have the best sites all to themselves — going before peak crowd hours. That means early morning. One TikToker, Biana Krigovsky, shared with her over 19,000 followers a video of the Trevi Fountain at 5 a.m., when the visitors were minimal. It was quiet, and she could get all the beautiful pics she wanted without others in the shot.

It turns out there is a method to the early-morning-sightseeing madness. Travel expert and trusted name in travel tips Rick Steves agrees with this idea, writing on his official website that "timing is everything." He writes that if you don't mind being flexible by visiting the iconic must-see sites in the early morning or in the late evening when most of the tour groups and buses have departed, you can get an unparalleled, quiet, and practically all-to-yourself experience at St. Marks Square in Venice or the Acropolis in Athens. Steves has more crowd-avoiding recommendations for your next European adventure, and we've compiled the best of the best.

Rick Steves suggests visiting the second cities off the beaten path

Speaking with The Seattle Times, travel expert Rick Steves elaborated on his tried-and-true tips to avoid massive crowds when traveling in Europe. According to him, on top of timing your excursions to avoid the midday crush, he also recommends avoiding the beaten path. Sure, Amsterdam and Berlin are must-sees, but they're not going anywhere, so why not check out the smaller cities nearby that offer the same amount of culture and historic sites without the crowds? Steves calls these spots "second cities" and "fringe countries" while observing that "Everybody goes to Lisbon, why not check out Porto? Everybody goes to Madrid, why not check out Cordoba?"

He later adds, "Those are popular destinations compared to previous years. People are still wanting to go to France and Germany and England, but a lot of people have had that kind of experience and now they want to do something a little more away from the mainstream." So why not skip Naples during your Italian trip and instead take the train down to Tropea? Instead of Dubrovnik in Croatia, take the ferry to the Island of Hvar! Instead of Prague in the Czech Republic, check out all that Cesky Krumlov has to offer! You might find it's the towns off the beaten path that offer you the most memorable and picturesque experiences.

Avoid summer vacations

When the thermometer rises, and the sun finally comes out, it stands to reason many of us would use our vacation time to travel during the summer. However, Rick Steves suggests that if you want a European trip unencumbered by crowds, you might want to hold off until the temperatures become more moderate. Writing on his official website, Steves advises that travel during the off-season (a.k.a., November to March) means more hotel vacancies, easier accommodations, smaller crowds, and even more affordable prices. If you don't mind packing a scarf and a woolly hat, you may have a more meaningful sojourn, too. He beautifully describes the experience like this: "Off-season adventurers loiter undisturbed in Leonardo da Vinci's home, ponder Rome's Forum all alone, kick up sand on lonely Adriatic beaches, and chat with laid-back guards by log fires in French châteaux." Sign us up!

But perhaps his most relatable and applicable tip is that, quite often, no matter where you are in Europe, you will encounter a crowd or two, so you might as well be "zen" about it. He writes, "Some lines are unavoidable. You don't have to like it, but you will need to pack a little extra patience." That's good advice because there probably isn't a time of the year when the Mona Lisa isn't surrounded by throngs of tourists at the Louvre. So, if it's your life's mission to see Da Vinci's masterpiece, you will just have to grin and bear the throngs.