Good question. In each of those locations I have engaged an English speaking guide, either as part of an organized tour or in a private car. In my opinion, there is nothing like hearing a heavily accented English with a local as a tour guide. You and I cannot possibly understand the history or culture of a place by reading a guide book or trying to interpret a foreign culture through an independent American filter.
If it is possible, book a private car or taxi for a half day tour. This one-on-one or two-on-one setting enables you to ask engaging questions, listen to the "flavor" of the place and go where you want plus guide the progress of the itinerary. Second best is a half day tour bus. Yes, you get a canned presentation, but, again, it is from a local, cultural and historic point of view. There is a distinctive reason "tourist" places are on every tour...they are THE highlights of any place and should not be missed.
As any traveler likes, independence is part of the adventure. My recommendation is to gain a perspective first from a local tour, then launch out on your own to fill in the blank spots that are a fit for you.
Lastly, if you are staying in a hotel, enlist the help of the Concierge. He/she can help you gain entrance to museums and other crowded venues, often knowing how to bypass lines, plus let you know when the "best" times, i.e., the shortest line times will be to visit a place.
Very Happy Travels,
Posted Jan 05, 2011