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How to Save on Attractions in Europe
Money-saving tips and tricks for getting into can't-miss sights across the pond for less.
Visiting at off-peak times, buying multi-day attraction passes and reserving tickets in advance online are just a few ways to trim costs.(Getty Images)
There are thousands of places to explore in Europe. Whether you want to check out the instantly recognizable Big Ben in London, admire world-class art at the Louvre in Paris or retrace history at the Colosseum in Rome, there's no shortage of iconic attractions to discover. However, trying to experience it all can quickly empty your wallet. Fortunately, with a few smart strategies, you can hit the highlights without bursting your budget. Read on for tips for pulling off an affordable trip.
Purchase Multi-Attraction Passes
Many major European cities offer multi-attraction passes that grant access to a variety of attractions for less than the price of paying for them individually. Investing in a multi-day pass also saves you the time of booking each attraction separately and waiting in long ticket lines. The Go London Card, for example, saves you 35 percent versus buying each attraction ticket separately and allows you to choose among three, five or seven out of 20 attractions that include the Coca-Cola London Eye, London Dungeon, London Eye River Cruise and St. Paul's Cathedral.
Meanwhile, in Paris, you can purchase a Museum Pass for two, four or six days for entry into 50 Paris museums and monuments, including the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, the Arc de Triomphe, the Pompidou Center and more iconic attractions. You can also purchase museum passes in other popular European cities, including Berlin and Amsterdam.
Leverage Train Travel Perks
If you'll be taking the train on your European vacation, check to see if the company offers discounted tickets to top attractions. Eurostar, a high-speed train between London and major cities such as Paris, Brussels and Lyon, France, grants passengers savings at local attractions. "We have partnerships with a selection of the best museums and galleries across our destination," says Jane Ashman, head of sales and business development for Eurostar. "You can gain two-for-one entry to permanent collections or special exhibits simply by showing your Eurostar ticket." Also, at the bar buffet on the train, passengers can buy metro or underground tickets, as well as tickets to top attractions to save time once they arrive.
When traveling within Paris by metro or bus, consider purchasing a multi-day pass called the Carte Paris Visite for discounts of up to 35 percent on attractions like the Pantheon, a boat tour of the Seine with Bateaux Parisiens or a visit to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
Take Advantage of Off-Hours and Free Days
One of the easiest ways to save on ticket attractions is to visit during off times or days. "Crowds build toward the middle of the day and taper off in the last two hours, after being relatively sleepy early. We prefer going early over late, as the grounds haven't been worn or littered by a full-day of sight-seers. A safe rule is either the first two hours after opening or the last two before closing," says Justin Uselton, a seasoned traveler and one of the writers behind the travel site ACouplefortheRoad.com.
For example, lines begin forming early in the day to see the Statue of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, so arriving ahead of opening at 8:15 a.m. is a good plan. And one of the best times to visit the Louvre in Paris is on Friday nights when crowds tend to be slimmer and you won't have to battle other tourists to see the Mona Lisa. But be forewarned, a couple hours is not enough to see all of the famous museum's offerings, so make sure to strategize accordingly.
Also, keep in mind many museums offer free admission days. In Paris, for example, on the first Sunday of the month, many top museums, including the Pompidou Centre, Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre (from October to March only), are open to the public for free. While you'll save a bundle, plan to stand in long lines for entrance. Additionally, throughout Europe, there are often discounted tickets for anyone under 26 for both for attractions and train travel. If you fall in this category, you can even get into the Louvre for free.
Book Online in Advance
A simple strategy to save on ticket prices is to plan ahead. Even ordering tickets a night or two ahead of arrival can not only ensure admittance, but often a reduced fee. In Florence, tickets to climb to the top of Brunelleschi's famous Duomo often sell out, so purchasing a couple days ahead is a smart move. You can also buy a combined ticket that gets you access to the nearby baptistry, Giotto's bell tower and the cathedral crypt. Having a ticket in hand also lets you skip the lines that tend to wind around the piazza. You can also purchase tickets to the Galleria dell'Accademia online in advance.
In some cases where there are always long lines, you may pay a premium for advance tickets. "For a small up-charge that is worth its weight in gold, you can get a guaranteed admission at a certain time," says Uselton's wife, Tracy Uselton.
Tag Along Hop-On, Hop-Off Tours
To see a destination's major sights quickly and for a reasonable price, consider booking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. You can find Big Bus Tours in major European cities such as Paris, London, Vienna and Rome, along with similar services in Dublin.
With Big Bus Paris, for example, you can choose between two tours – one that visits the Right and Left Banks and another that heads north of the city into the Montmartre area, or opt to see the City of Light in the dark on their night tour. You can get off at any stop and hop back on when you're ready. Buses run about every 15 minutes. Tracy Uselton recommends another key strategy to hold onto your cash: "Don't eat within 1,000 feet of a tourist attraction. The food will be bad and overpriced, and you're more likely to get harassed by vendors," she says.
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About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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