It’s 8 a.m., and while the rest of London is rushing to caffeinate and get on the tube, a stately guard at the Tower of London is letting you in for an exclusive tour before the general public arrives. Your guide on this adventure—a fascinating storyteller and an expert in English history—is walking beside you as you enter a glittering room filled with the Crown Jewels.
Good things might come to those who wait—and there is an entire culture that has grown up around waiting in line for everything from addictive ice cream to delicious pizza. Yes, anticipation can be part of the excitement, but when you’re traveling, your time is especially precious.
It’s a great reason to take a private, small group, or custom tour with Context Travel, an AFAR partner. Their tours range from several hours to multi-days in some of the world’s most-visited cultural institutions that come with a built-in carte blanche to skip the line—as well as a scholarly local expert in art, architecture, or history to guide you through. With the time you save, you can check off your cultural bucket list—and still have time to wait in line for ice cream. Here’s where to go.
With millions of museum-goers walking through its doors each year, the Louvre is the most visited museum in the world—hosting 10,200,000 visitors in 2018 alone. For anyone who loves art, it’s well worth the wait, but why stand in line if you don’t have to? The Louvre Museum Tour: Crash Course takes care of all the planning, with dated and timed tickets that someone else purchases for you. All you have to do is show up and enjoy an insightful tour led by an art historian from a local university or a curator.
In the heart of Florence’s bustling historic center, the Uffizi Galleries were originally built as government offices, or uffizi. However, they soon became a repository for fine art and later opened to the public in 1769 after acquiring the Medicis’ artistic treasures, which were gifted to the city. Head to the front of the line on the art historian-led Uffizi Gallery Tour: Crash Course, which covers Renaissance masterpieces, including Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera” (or “Spring”).
Along with its serious Gothic structures, Barcelona is known for its distinctive—sometimes whimsical—Catalan Art Nouveau or Modernisme buildings, which capture the city’s playful spirit. Take an in-depth look at the trademark architecture with a local expert—and skip the line—on the Sagrada Familia Tour. It begins at the nearby Hospital de Sant Pau, the largest Art Nouveau site in the world, and then heads Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Enjoy the royal treatment and see the Crown Jewels with an Exclusive Early Morning Tower of London tour. On arrival, one of the Yeomen Warders or ceremonial guards (or what you know as a Beefeater from pop culture) will open the gates for you 90 minutes before the published opening time. Along with avoiding the crowds, you’ll have the full attention of a historian specializing in English history, who will share stories of kings and queens, political intrigue, and the history of the building.
At the start of New York City’s Museum Mile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or The Met, is one of the most prestigious and beautiful art institutions in the world. Experience it at a time when most people don’t, with the special Met Museum After Dark tour led by an art historian or museum curator. Sidestep the queue and begin with a sunset viewing of The Temple of Dendur. Then pay close attention as the museum’s original copper lights illuminate the American Wing’s golden Diana sculpture.
The world’s smallest country, Vatican City is only 526,235 square yards large, but attracts big crowds during high season—which is pretty much all the time. On busy days, the wait can be more than three hours. Take advantage of line-skipping privileges on the Arte Vaticana: Vatican Museums Tour, though, and you’ll cruise past the crowds with an art or church historian leading the way. See ancient and Renaissance art, peer up at St. Peter’s Basilica, and explore the Sistine Chapel.
Trust a local for knowing the tricks to seeing the best of their city. On the Rijksmuseum & Van Gogh Museum Combination Tour, go with the suggested 9 a.m. start time and you’ll see two of the city’s most impressive museums in one ultra-efficient day on the Amsterdam’s Museumplein. At the Rijksmuseum, check out Dutch art of the Golden Age, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and their contemporaries. After a short break to recharge, continue on to the Van Gogh Museum.
Learn more about Context Travel and book your tour today!