We’ve never enjoyed standing in line and we like it even less with kids in tow. But honestly, I get just as antsy in a long line as they do. So we developed a few strategies to avoid the lines. Some of these ended up saving us money as well as time.
Join the Club
Our family was visiting England a couple of years ago and we wanted to tour Dover Castle, Stonehenge and other sites part of English Heritage. We found we could buy a nine-day family pass for £62 (about $79) that covered two adults and up to four children under 18. As family admission to Dover Castle alone was £50.00 and Stonehenge £45.00, this was clearly a good deal and we entered both without a wait. A number of other popular attractions in England are owned by the National Trust, which also offers overseas memberships.
Time Your Visit
Be there before opening time or late in the afternoon when tourists are getting tired (but not so late as to cut short your visit when the attraction closes). Crowds and lines tend to be shorter at lunchtime, too. If your kids wake up early, have a light breakfast, be in line early, then have an early lunch and hit the next attraction just after noon (but be careful in Mediterranean countries where some close in the middle of the day). As with any travel, do your homework first. Sometimes that pays in other ways: Because I read the excellent guidebook 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, I learned that by arriving at the Great Mosque of Cordoba at 8:30 a.m., we could enter free instead of paying €10 apiece, and see it during its quiet first hour when no tours are allowed.
We discovered this one in our advance research on Seville. Lines to get into the magnificent cathedral usually stretch around the block. But if you visit the lovely church of San Salvador, a few blocks away, there is never a line and you get a combination ticket that allows you to walk right into the cathedral. The same trick works in Rome, where the popular Colosseum is grouped with the Forum and Palatine Hill under one two-day ticket. Enter at the Palatine Hill first, where there are rarely lines, and you’ll already have your ticket in hand when you get to the Colosseum.
You can often pay extra for tickets that bypass the line. These are available online and, at the Colosseum for example, cost about $18 instead of the regular $12. At the popular London Eye, a Fast Track ticket costs £33.30 ($42.48), while a regular ticket is £24.30 ($31). If the attraction’s own website doesn’t offer these, Viator is often a good source.
Take a Tour
Usually the most expensive option, but it adds the value of a guide who can point out the most significant features and provide some cultural and historic background. Discouraged by the endless lines at both St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace in Venice, both of which we wanted our teenager to see, we reserved spots on a combined tour by Walks of Italy. We learned a lot with this local guide, and our teen got to cross the Bridge of Sighs and see inside places not on the public tour circuit. And, we skipped the lines to both places.