How to Beat the Crowds at the World’s Most Visited Tourist Attractions
The world’s most visited tourist attractions stretch from San Francisco to Paris to Beijing, but they might not be what you expect. For example, Alcatraz doesn’t even make the top 50. The Eiffel Tower only sees about 7 million visitors each year, meaning it doesn’t land in the top 20. The Great Wall and the Louvre see a mere 9 million visitors per year, less than a quarter of the crowds the top attraction in the world pulls in. And there’s a lot of theme parks.
Still, the list is full of favorites, including several you’ve probably been to — or else have on your bucket list. But as anyone who’s been shoved up against a throng of sweaty bystanders knows, the most popular attractions in the world aren’t always the most pleasant to visit, thanks to everyone else wanting to see them at the same time as you.
Luckily, there are ways to avoid at least some of the crowds when checking out the world’s most popular sites.
50. Palace of Versailles – Paris, France
Annual visitors: 5.9 million
France’s Palace of Versailles served as the royal residence of France from 1682 until the start of the French Revolution in 1789.
Located about 12 miles southwest of Paris, the opulent castle, famed for its magnificent architecture, lavish furnishing, and sprawling gardens, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As one of the most popular attractions in Europe, the Palace is nearly always bustling, but crowds are at their densest during the busy summer travel season of late May through early September. Weekends are also busy all year round.
To stroll through the Palace like Marie Antoinette without a horde of peasants following you, visit on a weekday or go in off season; the colder months of November to March (excluding holidays) see far fewer crowds.
Palace of Versailles Tip:
Regardless of the season, go early. The Palace gets busier in the late morning and afternoon, so plan to arrive before 10 a.m. to beat the rush.
49. Nagashima Spa Land – Kuwana, Japan
Annual visitors: 5.8 million
Nagashima Spa Land Resort is comprised of five sections: the 50-ride Nagashima Spa Land Amusement Park, Nabana no Sato flower park, the 200-store Mitsui Outlet Shopping Park; Joyful Water Park; and Nagashima Onsen, a hot spring complex.
The park is busy year round, though it’s at its most crowded during the warmer months, particularly in June, July, and August when temperatures rise and locals head to the massive swimming pools at the water park. Throughout the year, weekends and holidays also see more visitors.
Spa Land Tip:
Shoulder season months like September, October, April and May combine pleasant weather with more manageable visitor numbers, while the coldest months (December to February) see far fewer crowds. The park is open reduced hours and some attractions (like the water park) aren’t open, but there are virtually no lines during this time.
48. Universal Studios Hollywood – Los Angeles, California, USA
Annual visitors: 5.9 million
One of the oldest Hollywood film studios still in use, Universal Studios Hollywood is a film studio and theme park, and was the first in the now large family of Universal Studios Theme Parks located around the world.
As with Universal Studios Orlando, one of its most popular attractions is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in 2016, and features the thrill rides Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Flight of the Hippogriff, as well as the interactive Ollivander’s Wand Fitting Experience and The Three Broomsticks restaurant.
The park is at its busiest during the holidays, including long weekends like MLK Jr. Day weekend, President’s Day weekend, and Memorial Day weekend, as well as holiday weeks like spring break, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. The best times to visit are weekdays in January and February, and September through December, excluding holidays.
Universal Studios Tip:
Weather is generally mild all year round, so when the kids are back in school, visitors can still enjoy all the perks of the park, but with far fewer people and much shorter lines.
47. Bourbon Street – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Annual Visitors: 6 million
One of the most iconic streets in the world, and the center of New Orleans’ party scene, Bourbon Street is located in the Big Easy’s oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter. The street extends for 13 blocks and is lined with bars, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Bourbon Street Tip:
One easy way to avoid the bulk of the crowds is to stick to visiting during the day, when it’s relatively quiet (one major exception: during Mardi Gras, when more than 100,000 people swarm the street). The hot and sticky months of June through September are low season, as are December, January and Lent, the seven-week period after the festivities of Mardi Gras.
46. Museum of Modern Art – New York, New York, USA
Annual Visitors: 6.1 million
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is one of the largest and most influential modern art museums in the world, boasting more than 200,000 examples of modern architecture, design, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, film and electronic media. But be warned: The museum can easily become jam-packed with revelers.
MoMA is especially crowded on Fridays after 4 p.m., when admission is waived, as well as during Easter week, Thanksgiving week, between Christmas and New Year’s, Spring Break, during the summer and on rainy days. To see MoMA’s works without jostling for space, go earlier in the day (particularly on Fridays, when most visitors will wait until the free time) or on Sunday.
45. Universal Studios Orlando, Florida, USA
Annual visitors: 6.1 million
A theme park and production studio opened in 1990, Universal Studios Florida is part of the Universal Orlando Resort, and is themed around the idea that guests can “ride the movies.”
Along with thrill rides and themed attractions, it includes several live shows spread across eight lands with surround a large lagoon. With the 2014 edition of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, the park has become even more popular, especially during peak times: summer, school holidays, spring break, Easter, and the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year holiday weeks.
Universal Studios Florida Tip:
The best time to visit for lower prices and smaller crowds are January through early March (avoiding holidays), and the second half of August through December (also avoiding holidays). As with other parks, rainy days and weekdays also see fewer crowds.
44. Lincoln Memorial – Washington, DC, USA
Annual Visitors: 6.2 million
A national monument built to honor its namesake, President Abraham Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial is located on the western end of the National Mall across from the Washington Monument. Dedicated in 1922, the memorial, a marble sculpture of a seated Lincoln, is housed in a large Greek-style temple with an inscription of two of Lincoln’s famous speeches — “The Gettysburg Address” and his Second Inaugural Address — inside.
Lincoln Memorial Tip:
The memorial is at its most crowded when the city is at its busiest, including during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (late March-Early April) and holiday weekends like Memorial Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Summer and weekends in general are busier, while the winter months and weekdays are quieter. The memorial is open every day, 24 hours a day, so a visit late at night or early morning ensures a viewing with fewer crowds.
43. Lake Mead – Nevada, USA
Annual Visitors: 6.2 million
Located on the Colorado River about 24 miles southeast of Las Vegas, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States. It’s formed by the Hoover Dam, and though that engineering marvel is often what draws visitors to the lake, the water also offers its own attractions, including boating, fishing, swimming and kayaking.
Lake Mead Tip:
Summer is peak season on the lake and at the Dam, and holidays like the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Memorial Day are particularly packed. To enjoy the lake’s watery wonders without thousands of fellow tourists, aim for a weekday in May or September. If swimming weather isn’t a consideration, go in January or February, when crowds decrease significantly.
42. Disney Hong Kong – Hong Kong
Annual visitors: 6.7 million
Set on 68 acres, Disney Hong Kong consists of seven themed areas, including some from its American counterparts, like Main Street, U.S.A; Fantasyland; Adventureland; Tomorrowland; and Toy Story Land. Cast members speak Cantonese, English, and Mandarin, and signs are in English as well as Chinese.
With a daily capacity of just 34,000 visitors, it’s the smallest (in terms of capacity) of all the Disney parks. That doesn’t mean it’s not busy though, and during peak times its smaller size can make it feel more overwhelmed than some of the larger parks.
Disney Hong Kong Tip:
The busiest times are during the hot, humid summer tourist season, weekends, and holidays like Chinese New Year. Unlike some of the other parks, attendance can actually be lower here during the Christmas season. Other great times to visit including weekdays, and from September to April, excluding holidays.
41. British Museum – London, England
Annual Visitors: 6.7 million
Dedicated to human history, art and culture, the British Museum is home to a collection of more than 8 million artifacts and works of art. Opened in 1759, it was the first national public museum in the world and, to this day, it charges no admission fee.
British Museum Tip:
The museum is always busy, even more so during the opening and closing weeks of special exhibitions, on Saturdays, and on rainy days, when people visit in droves to avoid London’s gloom. To beat the bulk of the crowds, visit on a weekday (Tuesdays see particularly light crowds), Sunday or Friday evening.
40. Lotte World, Seoul, South Korea
Annual visitors: 6.8 million
Lotte World is a recreation complex that includes both indoor and outdoor amusement parks areas, an artificial island on a lake linked by monorail, a Korean folk museum, an aquarium, a hotel, mall, and movie theater. It has both indoor and outdoor elements, and includes the world’s largest indoor theme park. The indoor park, Lotte World Adventure, has 22 rides as well as parades and shows, and the outdoor park, Magic Island, has 17 thrill rides.
Despite its massive size, it can often feel quite crowded, especially during peak times: summer, weekends, and holidays. Since the park has a large indoor space, it can also be very busy on rainy days and during the winter.
Lotte World Tip:
To avoid some of the crowds and spend less time in the line, the best times to visit are Monday through Thursday, as well as the milder months during the spring (March and April) and fall (September and October).
39. Everland Resort – South Korea
Annual visitors: 6.8 million
South Korea’s largest theme park, Everland, includes a zoo, a water park, several rides and roller coasters, four gardens, and multiple shows. Peak season at the park runs from the third week of July until the end of the second week of August, as well as the weeks of Christmas and New Year.
Spring or fall generally means pleasant weather, fewer crowds, and lower prices, however, there are some exceptions: including the last Friday of April through May, and from late October until mid-November, as many Koreans travel to see the fall leaves change.
To enjoy the park with far fewer crowds, visit in the the winter low season from late-November through early March (avoiding the holidays listed above). Visiting mid-week anytime of year will also mean reduced crowds compared to the busier weekends.
38. Eiffel Tower – Paris, France
Annual Visitors: 7 million
An icon of Paris, the world-famous Eiffel Tower was designed by Gustave Eiffel and constructed from 1887 to 1889 for the 1889 World’s Fair. It originally received harsh criticism from many locals, but has since become one of the most enduring symbols of the city. At 1,063 feet, it’s the tallest building in Paris and provides sweeping views of the city from its top-level observation deck, located at 906 feet.
Eiffel Tower Tip:
An average of 25,000 people ascend the tower every day and the lines can be interminable. Skip-the-line tickets (or reservations at one of the Tower’s two restaurants) can help you avoid some of the wait for the lift, but if you don’t plan on going up in the tower and just want avoid some of the crowds at ground level, plan to visit closer to sundown or on a weekday in winter. The busiest times tend to be the summer months, particularly in July and August.
37. National Air and Space Museum – Washington, DC, USA
Annual Visitors: 7 million
A Smithsonian Institution museum, the National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976 and is dedicated to the history of aeronautics, aviation, and space technology and innovation. It’s also a center for research into planetary science and terrestrial geology. Among the nerd-out items on display are the Apollo 11 command module, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and the Wright brothers’ plane.
Air & Space Museum Tip:
To avoid the bulk of the aviation-loving crowd, visit in the afternoon, as the museum is at its busiest in the mornings. Like much of DC, it’s also more crowded during the summer, so a winter visit all but guarantees you’ll enjoy a bit more breathing room among the historic planes and aviation artifacts. (while simultaneously beating DC’s oppressive summer heat.)
36. Victoria Peak – Hong Kong
Annual Visitors: 7 million
A mountain on the western half of Hong Kong Island, Victoria Peak towers 1,811 feet above the city. As the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island, it’s a popular spot to see Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour and Lamma Island from above. It’s also home to several restaurants and two shopping malls, one of which is connected to the upper station of the Peak Tram, a funicular railway that brings passengers up from sea level to take in the staggering views from the top.
Victoria Peak Tip:
Weekends and public holidays are the busiest times to visit, especially from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., when crowds head to the peak for a bird’s-eye-view of the Victoria Harbour light show. Weekdays, and mornings before 9 a.m., are the best times to go avoid some of the largest crowds.
35. Ocean Park Hong Kong – Hong Kong
Annual visitors: 7.4 million
Opened in 1977, Ocean Park Hong Kong is an oceanarium and amusement park set on 226 acres and separated into two areas, known as the Summit and the Waterfront, which are connected by a cable car and funicular. The park features rides like roller coasters, as well as animal exhibits such as a giant panda habitat and a large aquarium. Here, as in much of Hong Kong, crowds are avoidable, through the hordes peak on weekends, particularly Saturdays, and during Chinese holidays such as New Year (Jan/Feb), Dragon Boat Festival (May) and Mid Autumn Festival (October).
The best time to visit the park is during off-peak season (the sticky, sweaty months of May to September) and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Shoulder season, the months of September to December, brings better weather and crowds are moderate.
Ocean Park Tip:
Any time of year, you can skip some of the time waiting in line at the park entrance by buying tickets online or at any 7-Eleven store in Hong Kong.
34. Disney California Adventure Park – Anaheim, California, USA
Annual visitors: 7.7 million
Disney California Adventure Park, part of The Walt Disney Company, is a 72-acre park in Anaheim themed after the history and culture of California. Opened in 2001, it incorporates themes and characters from Disney, Pixar and Marvel, including “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Cars,” “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” and “Monsters, Inc.”
Though it’s one of the less popular Disney properties, it’s by no means unpopular and during peak times it can feel as crowded as any other Disney park on a busy day. It’s at its busiest in summer, on holidays and school breaks, and on weekends.
California Adventure Tips:
To avoid the throngs, follow the best practices for most other Disney parks: go midweek, make a beeline for the top attractions first, and aim for popular attractions during off peak times, such as when most people are dining. The best months to visit include the off-season months of November to February (avoiding holidays) as well as the shoulder-season months of March, April, September, and October.
33. Islands of Adventure, Universal – Orlando, Florida, USA
Annual visitors: 7.9 million
Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened in 1999 as part of an expansion of Universal Studios Florida. It features eight themed lands, including the incredibly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the newest land, Skull Island, themed around King Kong.
The busiest times at the park include New Year’s and the days after, Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, March-April (during various spring break weeks), the late-May to early-August, summer season Thanksgiving week, and Christmas through New Year’s. Conversely, the best times to visit are January and February, and weekdays from September through December, avoiding holidays.
Islands of Adventure Tip:
September is generally considered the most optimal time for those who don’t want to sacrifice mild weather for shorter lines. Kids have just returned to school so fewer families are visiting, but temperatures are still warm. Fall’s Halloween Horror Nights have made the month more popular (particularly on Friday nights) but crowds are still significantly reduced from summer highs.
32. Smithsonian National Museum of History – Washington, DC, USA
Annual Visitors: 8 million
The National Museum of Natural History is part of DC’s Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall in the heart of the nation’s capital. Opened in 1910, it has 325,000 square feet of exhibition space that houses more than 126 million specimens — including plants, animals and fossils—and more than 1,000 staff members, including 185 professional natural-history scientists.
The museum offers free admission and is open nearly every day of the year — and it sees large crowds nearly every day of the year as well. For a less-crowded experience, go on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and definitely avoid Saturdays and school holidays. It’s also busier during summer, especially from mid-May through the end of July. September and February tend to be the slowest months.
31. Sydney Opera House – Sydney, Australia
Annual Visitors: 8.2 million
Formally opened in 1973, the Sydney Opera House is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Though its purpose is hosting more than 1,500 performances each year, the bulk of the tourists come simply to see the exterior of one of this century’s most famous works of architecture. In fact, while 1.2 million people attend a performance and 350,000 visitors take a guided tour of the building each year, many visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage Site never actually set foot inside it.
Opera House Tip:
If a photo of the exterior framed against the harbor is all you need, head to the relatively quiet Blues Point Reserve, which offers beautiful views of both the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Otherwise, plan your visit to Sydney during Australia’s winter — from June to August.
30. Pier 39 – San Francisco, California, USA
Annual Visitors: 8.5 million
Located on the north edge of San Francisco, near the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 is most famous as the home of a massive group of California sea lions, who regularly (and noisily) haul themselves out of the water to laze on the adjacent dock. Other attractions include several shops, an arcade, a large double-decker carousel and the Aquarium of the Bay.
Pier 39 Tip:
Summer is peak tourist season in San Francisco, which also means lots of people convening at the Pier. However, it’s not peak season for the sea lions, who head to breeding grounds on the Channel Islands for most of June and July. They’re back from late summer to late spring; to see them in peace, visit during the months of November through March. Crowds are also thinner earlier in the morning and around sunset.
29. South Street Seaport – New York, New York, USA
Annual Visitors: 9 million
A designated historic area along the East River, the South Street Seaport is home to some of the oldest buildings in downtown Manhattan, as well as New York’s largest concentration of restored early-19th-century commercial buildings. Among these are several renovated mercantile buildings and refurbished sailing ships, and the former Fulton Fish Market, which opened in 1822 as one of the city’s first open-air fish markets.
These days, the seaport is a commercial hub of a different kind, with a tourist mall offering several dining and shopping options. As with most of New York, the South Street Seaport sees the largest crowds during summer months and on weekends. To visit it with fewer tourists, go in winter or on a rainy day. Or visit early in the day or late in the evening.
28. Great Wall of China – Beijing, China
Annual Visitors: 9 million
Built over centuries starting as early as the 7th century BC, the Great Wall of China is a series of stone, brick, wood and earthen fortifications that stretch more than 13,000 miles from east to west across the country. The wall served as both a barrier to invaders and a border to regulate trade and immigration, and its stone towers functioned as lookouts, barracks and stations for smoke signals.
Today, the aptly named Great Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s recognized as one of world’s most impressive man-made structures. It’s also incredibly crowded, especially at its easier-to-access sections, such as Badaling near Beijing. Those areas are at their most jam-packed during Golden Week (beginning of October), the Labor Day holiday (end of April to beginning of May) and the Spring Festival (40 days in February and March).
Great Wall Tip:
Peak time in Badaling tends to be 11 a.m. -2 p.m., so going earlier or later will help you avoid some of the fray.
Another option is to visit some of the less developed spots, such as Jinshanling and Huanghua Cheng, which are only partly restored, or Jiankou and Zhuangdaokou, which are even more decrepit (and should only be visited by fit travelers up for the challenge of steep climbs and crumbling stones).
27. Musée du Louvre – Paris, France
Annual Visitors: 9.2 million
The Louvre Museum is the world’s largest art museum, housing more than 38,000 objects in its 782,910 square feet of space. Located in what was originally the 12th-century Louvre castle, it’s now most recognizable by the glass pyramid, designed by I. M. Pei, that marks its entrance. The Louvre has appeared in countless movies, including “The Da Vinci Code” and “Wonder Woman,” and is home to one of the world’s most iconic paintings, the “Mona Lisa.”
Lines to enter the museum regularly snake throughout its expansive inner courtyard, particularly in the peak summer months of June, July and August. Winter sees far fewer visitors. Additionally, the museum is open late (until 9:45 p.m.) on Wednesdays and Fridays and come dinner time, the crowds tend to thin out.
Regardless of when you go, you can bypass some of the crowds by buying skip-the-line tickets in advance, or heading to one of the lesser-known entrances away from the glass pyramid (at Porte des Lions or the Galerie du Carrousel).
26. Navy Pier – Chicago, Illinois, USA
Annual visitors: 9.2 million
Originally opened to the public as the “Municipal Pier” in 1916, the 3,300-foot-long Navy Pier sits on the edge of Lake Michigan on Chicago’s North Side. In its lifetime, it’s been home to a jail and a training center for the U.S. Navy; today it boasts multiple theaters, a park and indoor botanical garden, more than a dozen restaurants, a beer garden, several amusement rides and the Centennial Wheel, a 200-foot-tall Ferris Wheel that gives riders 360-degree views of the city and lake below.
Navy Pier Tip:
Despite the fact that many Chicagoans wouldn’t be caught setting foot on the pier, it’s the city’s top tourist attraction and in summer, it’s swarmed with visitors. The winter months (November to March) see far fewer tourists due to Chicago’s famously frigid temps. Other less crowded times are midweek, early in the morning or closer to sunset. To avoid the hordes, skip a visit on July 4th, or over Memorial Day or Labor Day weekends.
25. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee, USA
Annual visitors: 9.6 million
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park stretches across the border between North Carolina and Tennessee and encompasses the Great Smoky Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, Established in 1934, the park is the most visited national park in the United States and is home to an estimated 187,000 acres of old growth forest and the densest black bear population in the Eastern United States.
The park has been designated a Biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it contains five historic districts and nine buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The peak sees peak crowds during the summer (June-August) as well as in October. It’s also busier on weekends, particularly long weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend.
To see more of the park’s natural beauty without the crowds, visit during the off season. Mid-September sees fewer crowds than busy October, though fall foliage isn’t yet at its peak. January to March are also much slower, though these month often see snowfall. For the best mix of good weather and low crowds, early spring (late March to mid-May) is a good compromise.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tip:
Visiting early in the day or later in the evening can also assure fewer crowds, as can simply walking; much of the park’s natural beauty is easily accessible from the road, but those who take to the trails, will leave the crowds behind as they venture farther away from the pavement.
24. Universal Studios Japan – Osaka, Japan
Annual visits: 9.7 million
Universal Studios Japan opened in 2014 and has 10 themed areas, including perhaps its most famous and popular attraction, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” which includes a series of shops, rides, and restaurants based on the books and movies. Other rides and shows are themed around internationally beloved characters including Sesame Street, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, Spiderman, and Shrek.
As with other theme parks in Japan, and Japan in general, it’s more crowded during warmer months (May to September), during holidays, and during cherry blossom season (late March-early April). Other popular times include Golden Week (end of April to beginning of May), Tenjin Matsuri (July 24-25), New Year, Thanksgiving Day weekend (end of November), the Emperor’s Birthday (23rd of December) as well as school holidays (the last week of November and winter holidays, from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6) and the “Bon” festival season, the week around Aug. 15.
Universal Studios Tip:
Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to visit, as well as the months of January (after the 6th, when New Year crowds have dissipated) and February—two of the coldest months of the year. Avoiding holidays, October through December offer the best of both worlds: milder weather and reduced crowds.
23. Disney Hollywood Studios – Bay Lake, Florida, USA
Annual visitors: 9.9 million
At the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a theme park opened in 1989 (originally knowns as the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park).
The 135 acre-park is dedicated to film, television, music and theater, and is divided into six themed lands with attractions based on “Star Wars,” “Toy Story,” “Frozen,” and other classics. As with other Disney parks, particularly those based in Florida, it’s busy year-round, but crowds swell during the summer months, winter and spring breaks, and over the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays. Long weekends also see bigger crowds.
Hollywood Studios Tip:
To make the most of your time and avoid long lines, go mid-week during off-season or shoulder-season, such as the weeks in December or January right before/after the holidays. September, October, and February also see fewer crowds.
22. Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Orlando, Florida, USA
Annual visitors: 9.9 million
A zoological theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort, Animal Kingdom is the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres. Opened in 1998, it is themed around the natural environment and animal conservation, two subjects dear to Walt Disney himself.
Millions of visitors come to see the park’s exhibits, which include thousands of wild animals in recreations of their natural habitat, and like at the other parks, the bulk of those visitors come during the summer months, school breaks, holidays, and weekends.
Like the other parks in the Disney empire, the Animal Kingdom offers Extra Magic Hours on select mornings to guests staying at Disney hotels. For guests who have this perk it’s a great time to go without the crowds; if you don’t have this perk, though, it’s best to avoid these mornings as by the time you get to your first attractions, all the Extra Magic Hour people will already be in line.
Animal Kingdom Tip:
Arriving early at Animal Kingdom is recommended, as many of the animals retreat to shady spots when the afternoon heat hits. A visit in the afternoon may mean fewer crowds, but it might also mean less opportunity to see the animals.
21. Plaza de la Constitución – Mexico City, Mexico
Annual Visitors: 10 million
More commonly referred to as the Zócalo, Mexico City’s sprawling central square is the gathering place for military parades, concerts, festivals, and political and cultural events. It’s also adjacent to other top tourist attractions in the city, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace, which means it sees a lot of foot traffic even when there’s no event taking place.
Plaze de Constitucion Tip:
Mexico City’s slowest tourist season is November to March, and if you visit then — and avoid holidays like Dia de los Muertos (October 31 to November 2), Christmas and New Year’s — you might even have much of it to yourself.
20. Pike Place Market – Seattle, Washington, USA
Annual Visitors: 10 million
One of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States, Pike Place Market has been bringing fresh fish, flowers, produce and other goods direct from farmers, producers and craftspeople to Seattleites since 1907. Seattle’s most popular tourist attraction, it takes up eight buildings and is home to nearly 500 vendors.
On weekends, the market hums with activity as locals do their shopping, tourists queue up at the original Starbucks, and both groups dine on delicious clam chowder, doughy Russian piroshkis and freshly cracked crab.
Pike Place Market Tip:
Big crowds are all but guaranteed on weekends and during summer afternoons when cruise ship passengers flood the city. The market is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and is at its quietest before 11 a.m. or closer to closing.
19. Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade – Hong Kong
Annual Visitors: 10.1 million
The Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade is one of the busiest and most crowded spots in a busy and crowded city. It’s home to half of the major museums in Hong Kong, including the Hong Kong Space Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art and Hong Kong Science Museum, as well as hundreds of shops and restaurants.
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade Tip:
It’s also an ideal place to admire the view of the Hong Kong skyline and Victoria Harbour. There’s no avoiding crowds on the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront, but you can see it with slightly fewer people if you visit in low season (the hot, humid and typhoon-prone months of July and August). At all costs, avoid Golden Week, which takes place twice per year in January or February (around Chinese New Year) and October.
18. Sacre Coeur – Paris, France
Annual Visitors: 10.5 million
Sacré-Cœur (the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris) is in the Montmartre neighborhood in the 18th arrondissement. Set on Montmartre hill, the area is the highest point in Paris. Built between 1875 and 1914, it’s one of Paris’s younger attractions, but it holds significance as a political and cultural monument and the center of the city’s most bohemian, artistic neighborhood.
Crowds that climb the many steps (or ride the funicular) to the top of Montmartre hill not only get to see the famous basilica, they also get a spectacular view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Sacre Coeur Tip:
Sacré-Cœur is open from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. every day. The dome closes at 7 p.m. in the summer and 6 p.m. in winter, so if you’re less concerned with climbing the 300 steps of the dome and just want to see the interior, come later at night to avoid the bulk of the crowds.
17. Epcot Park, Orlando, Florida, USA
Annual visitors: 11 million
Part of Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort Epcot Park opened in 1982 as a futuristic celebration of human achievement. Covering 305 acres, it’s more than twice the size of the adjacent Magic Kingdom and has a focus on technology and culture.
A sort of “permanent world’s fair,” its name stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” and it’s comprised of two main ares, Future World and World Showcase. The latter is made up of 11 pavilions representing the food and culture of countries around the world.
While Epcot Park isn’t as popular as other Disney parks, it’s still sees its fair share of visitors and, like the other parks, is busiest during the summer, on weekends, and over holidays including New Year’s Eve and Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve and Day.
The best time to visit for fewer crowds is on a weekday in September, January, or February, avoiding holiday weekends. Epcot Park also offers Extra Magic Hours on Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings, so guests staying in Disney hotels can visit before/after the park is official closed and enjoy the attractions with fewer fellow guests.
16. Disneyland Paris – Paris, France
Annual visitors: 11.2 million
Originally known as Euro Disney Resort when it opened in 1992, Disneyland Paris spans 140 acres and is largely modeled after the original Disney parks in Anaheim and Orlando, right down to the centerpiece fairy tale castle. Its five themed lands house 49 attractions, including classics like Thunder Mountain.
A mid-week visit (Tuesday to Thursday), particularly during mid-January through mid-March or from mid-April through mid-May, guarantees shorter lines, but it also means some attractions may be closed. If a visit in peak season is unavoidable, the same tricks apply as at other parks: aim for the big-name rides first, and get in line for the most popular attractions during off-peak hours, such as meal times.
Disneyland Paris Tip:
As with other Disney resorts, it sees peak crowds on weekends, during the summer, during major holidays like Bastille Day on July 14, and when schoolchildren are on break.
15. Tokyo Disney Sea – Tokyo, Japan
Annual Visitors: 12.6 million
Tokyo DisneySea is the second theme park within the Tokyo Disney Resort. It was also the fastest theme park to reach the milestone of 10 million guests, which it hit just 307 days after its grand opening, and the hype hasn’t dissipated. The park features seven distinct lands, each with a nautical theme, and it’s just about always busy.
As with much of Japan, it’s busier during the warmer months of May to September, during cherry blossom season in late March and early April, and during national holidays.To explore the park with fewer fellow guests, go in off season — you’ll trade colder temperatures and more fickle weather for shorter lines — or stick to weekdays.
Disney Sea Tip:
Guests who stay overnight at one of Tokyo Disney Resort theme parks’ hotels, get Happy 15 Entry privileges, which means they can enter the park 15 minutes before regular opening time. It’s not a huge lead, but that 15 minutes can mean getting in line for a popular attraction or obtaining a FastPass ticket (which allows you to skip the line at a selected attraction) before everyone else.
14. Golden Gate Park – San Francisco, California, USA
Annual Visitors: 13 million
San Francisco’s largest urban park sprawls over 1,000 acres. It’s the second most-visited city park in the world and is home to several of the city’s iconic attractions and best museums, including the deYoung Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, several windmills and lakes, a carousel, and even a bison paddock.
Golden Gate Tip:
On weekends and during popular events like the Bay to Breakers race and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands music festivals, the park buzzes with activity. For a quieter experience, stick to weekdays, early mornings and the off season (late fall through early spring).
13. Notre-Dame Cathedral – Paris, France
Annual Visitors: 13 .6 million
Completed in 1345, Notre-Dame Cathedral has been an icon of Paris for nearly 700 years. Set along the banks of the Seine river, its gargoyles and towers top most tourists’ Paris bucket list, which means the line to enter can be hours long.
Here’s another option: skip the line and climb its 387 stairs, then pay a €10 entry fee to take in breathtaking views of Paris from the cathedral’s towers. The line starts to grow by mid-morning so get there early, or download the JeFile app; it updates with the current wait time and allows you to make a free same-day reservation so you can skip the line and show up at your reserved time.
12. Tokyo Disney Resort – Tokyo, Japan
Annual visitors: 14.8 million
Opened in 1983, the 115-acre Tokyo Disney Resort was the first Disney park to be built outside the United States. The park has seven themed areas including four traditional Disney lands: (Adventureland, Westernland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland) and plenty of classic Disney rides featuring beloved characters, including Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
Like other Disney parks, crowds here peak on weekends, major public holidays, during the summer high-season, and during Golden Week (which usually runs from the end of April to the beginning of May) and New Year holidays.
Tokyo Disney Resort Tip:
To avoid the bulk of the crowds, visit midweek, on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, particularly in January (after the 6th, when New Year’s visitors have gone home) and February. Crowd size can also vary quite a bit with the weather; rainy days mean some rides might close but it also means fewer people to contend with if the rain stops and rides reopen.
11. Grand Bazaar – Istanbul, Turkey
Annual Visitors: 15 million
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar more than lives up to its name. It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, encompassing more than 61 covered streets and 4,000 shops selling everything from hand-painted ceramics and silk carpets to delicate jewelry and fragrant spices.
Grand Bazaar Tip:
It’s easy to get lost in its labyrinth of halls, and even easier to get overwhelmed by the crowds during peak times. Fridays are typically less crowded, as are early mornings and late afternoons, when you’re more likely to encounter locals doing their shopping than throngs of cruisers and tour groups.
10. Forbidden City – Beijing, China
Annual Visitors: 15.3 million
Beijing’s Ming Dynasty palace — the largest ancient palace in the world — has been standing since 1420.
Once the home of Chinese emperors, the 180-acre complex of 980 buildings is now home to the Palace Museum. Visitor numbers are limited to 80,000 per day, and during peak periods like July, August, Chinese national holidays, Spring Festival and Golden Week (held twice per year around Chinese New Year and in October), it can sell out before midday.
Forbidden City Tip:
Your best bet: Go early, aim for a weekday, and visit during the low season from November through March (holidays excluded).
9. Disneyland Park – Anaheim, California. USA
Annual visitors: 15.9 million
Opened in 1966, the original 85-acre Disneyland Park consists of eight themed “lands” including favorites like Main Street, U.S.A.; Frontierland; Fantasyland; and Tomorrowland. Attracting both visitors and season-pass-holding locals, it’s consistently busy, especially on weekends, during the summer, and over school holidays, when crowds surge and the “happiest place on earth” can be anything but.
Off-season months include January through March and September through December, when kids are in school and fewer people are traveling to Southern California. Of course, within that window, Christmas, New Years, and Spring Break are busier times, while weekdays, especially those that fall a few days after a major holiday, tend to be quieter.
During peak times, head to the most popular attractions early or during times when the bulk of the crowds are focused on other events or dining.
8. Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom – Orlando, Florida, USA
Annual visitors: 17.5 million
Opened in 1971, Disney’s second theme park surpasses the Anaheim original by nearly 2 million annual visitors. Part of the larger Walt Disney World Resort (which encompasses three other parks, four golf courses, and two dozen hotels), it’s the most popular theme park in the world.
As such, it’s pretty much always busy, but particularly so in summer and on holidays. Because it’s most popular with families, when kids are out of school, crowds surge, lines for attractions can be hours long, and it’s nearly impossible to score a seat at a table-service restaurant.
To avoid the bulk of the chaos go January through early March or September through December, but avoid weekends, holidays, and dates of special events like the Disney World Marathon. While temperatures may be cooler during these months, lines are also significantly shorter.
Magic Kingdom Tip:
If you must go during peaks times, line up for the most popular rides during the nightly parade, during meal times, or during Extra Magic Hours, which are available to guests staying in Disney hotels. The perk allows these guests to enter the park one hour prior to the official opening, or stay up to two hours after the park closes to the general public.
7. Faneuil Hall – Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Annual Visitors: 18 million
Once the scene of speeches from the likes of Samuel Adams and George Washington, Faneuil Hall is known as “the Cradle of Liberty” for its role in pre-Revolution America. Today, it’s a bustling marketplace with more than 100 specialty shops, restaurants and food vendors — as well as Boston’s tallest Christmas tree each holiday.
Faneuil Hall Tip:
The pedestrian-only streets around Faneuil Hall are always bustling, and even more so during lunchtime and during the Boston Marathon weekend. To see it in all its historical glory without the crowds, come during off hours (early morning or late afternoon) or brave the Boston winter, when the city is relatively quiet.
6. Grand Central Station – New York, New York, USA
Annual Visitors: 21.6 million
A U.S. National Historic Landmark, Grand Central Station covers 48 acres and has 44 platforms that bring more than 750 trains in and out of the city each day. For commuters, it’s a vital transit hub, while for visitors, it’s a beautiful, historic Beaux-Arts building with a painted ceiling featuring a map of the constellations.
It’s also home to some of the city’s most iconic bars and restaurants, like the Campbell Apartment, which you might recognize from “Gossip Girl,” and the Oyster Bar, which was featured on AMC’s “Mad Men,” and which serves a whopping two million oysters per year.
Grand Central Tip:
In general, New York is a bit less crowded during the cold months; to see Grand Central with fewer fellow travelers, avoid rush hour and go late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.
5. Niagara Falls – USA and Canada
Annual Visitors: 22.5 million
Niagara Falls (which is actually three waterfalls) sits on the border of the U.S. and Canada, and its dual citizenship seems to attract double the visitors. At “only” 165 feet, it’s not the tallest waterfall in the world, but it is one of the most powerful, pumping 6 million cubic feet of water over its edge every minute.
Niagara Falls Tip:
Niagara is at its most crowded during the warmer months (late spring to early fall) when the Maid of Mist boat sails close to the thundering falls; come in early spring or late fall instead to see slightly fewer tourists, or pack your parka and visit in winter to have the place nearly to yourself. Avoid long weekends and holidays (both Fourth of July and Canada Day) and book your tickets in advance to cut down on your time spent in lines.
4. Union Station – Washington, DC, USA
Annual Visitors: 32.8 million
DC’s main transit station sees more than 100,000 commuters every day — plus thousands of tourists who come to see its incredible Classical, Beaux-Arts and Baroque architecture and shop at its more than 70 stores.
Union Station Tip:
Designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham and completed in 1908, the station is a stop on just about every DC tour, including the many school group tours that swarm DC in the warmer months, which means spring and early summer are particularly popular times to visit. Come in fall or winter instead, avoid rush hour, and you might just get a glimpse of what it was like back in the 1940s — when the station served just 45,000 travelers each day.
3. Central Park – New York, New York, USA
Annual Visitors: 37.5 million
New York’s most famous green space covers nearly 850 acres in the middle of Manhattan, and though it’s the most visited park in the world, it still offers a lot of space to spread out.
Central Park Tip:
One easy way to avoid the crowds is to seek out the less-visited areas of the park, like the Northern Woodlands north of 86th street or The Great Hill, a grassy hilltop that’s the highest point in the park (just avoid it when there’s an event like August’s annual Great Jazz on the Great Hill concert). Early weekday mornings can also be quieter, and if you can brave the cold, a winter trip ensures you can see one of the world’s most iconic parks without feeling like you’re elbow to elbow with all of Manhattan.
2. Times Square – New York, New York, USA
Annual Visitors: 39.2 million
Once one of the seediest spots in Manhattan, Times Square is now more like a cleaned-up theme park version of New York. Though New Yorkers might turn up their noses at it for not being part of the “real” NYC, tourists and theatergoers still flock to Times Square to check out its crowded chaos, marvel at its massive billboards, and see famous Broadway shows.
Unfortunately, traffic swells right before said shows start and after they end, so your best bet for seeing Times Square with slightly more breathing room is in the early morning before rush hour, mid-afternoon, or late evening after the theater crowd has gone home.
Times Square Tip:
Chilly February is the least busy month, with “only” about 250,000 visitors per day.
1. The Strip – Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Annual Visitors: 39.6 million
The 4-mile-long Las Vegas Strip, Sin City’s main thoroughfare, is home to more than 30 casinos as well as the famous Bellagio fountains and the High Roller, a 550-foot-tall Ferris wheel that slowly rotates over the city lights. More than 75% of all visitors to Vegas stay at hotels located on The Strip and during peak times — like during the Super Bowl, March Madness, Halloween and the Consumer Electronics Show — it can feel like they’re all there at once.
Sin City Tip:
Better times to go: midweek during winter (so long as there are no big conventions happening) and during the peak of summer when the desert’s sweltering temps keep the crowds inside or at the pool.