- Flickr/Mark Fischer
We’ve all been there.
You’ve gone to the Eiffel Tower on your first day in Paris. Now you’re three hours deep in queues and your schedule for the rest of the weekend has been thrown off.
Then you reach the top of the iconic tower, take in your surroundings, and realise that the very best thing about Paris’s skyline is missing from your view.
There are many tourist traps which sound great in theory but will eat into your holiday in a big way. Once you go, you realise that – although they look great on a postcard – they aren’t entirely worth the visit.
But there are plenty of landmarks that are worth the wait. Business Insider asked travel experts from the likes of Lonely Planet, Rare Escapes, and KAYAK for their favourite European landmarks that are actually worth visiting.
Scroll on to discover their top 26, ranging from London’s Big Ben to the ornate gardens of Manoir d’Eyrignac in France.
The Shard in London, UK.
- Flickr/Sam Valadi
“When done properly, London’s Shard is a great way to view the London skyline,” according to Neil James Cartwright, vacation search engine KAYAK‘s travel expert.
“Most people pay to go to the viewing deck – where they are herded in with dozens of other tourists all vying for free space by the windows. A better alternative is to visit Gong Bar on the floor below the viewing deck.
“You may have to reserve a table ahead of time, and there is a minimum spend of £30 for a table, but you get to sit in a beautiful bar, with some of the best barmen in London creating amazing cocktails for you.”
“The view is 99% the same as the viewing deck, and may even work out cheaper than paying for individual tickets if you are a small group. I’d highly recommend going at dusk, so you can see the views of London slowly fade away and be replaced by the twinkling lights of the city.”
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Istanbul is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated destinations in Europe,” Cartwright said.
“The only city in the world to span two continents, you can really feel the blend of culture as you walk around, but one attraction which really made me stand and stare in awe was the interior of The Blue Mosque.
“The intricate details of the mosaic covers every high wall and domed ceiling. The level of attention to the artwork and the sheer volume of the place really makes this a tourist attraction that is worth taking the time to visit.”
Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark.
- Flickr/Heidi De Vries
“Tivoli, depending on the time of year, is one of the most beautiful amusement parks I’ve ever visited,” Cartwright said.
“If you visit during the Christmas period, the whole park is themed with no expense spared on the lights and decorations. There are lakes with small boats, Chinese-themed buildings, and no shortage of small cafés and restaurants to have a glass of Gløgg and take a break from the cold.”
Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain.
- Shutterstock/Georgios Tsichlis
“There is nowhere in the world quite like Park Güell in Barcelona,” said Tom Hall, editorial director of Lonely Planet.
Designed by Antoni Gaudí, these public parks and gardens situated in Barcelona’s Gràcia district feature elaborate flowerbeds, organic-looking architecture, and every colour under the sun.
“Although it can get busy, it’s a colourful and fun outing to a part of the city you may not otherwise go to,” Hall added.
Aya Sofya in Istanbul, Turkey.
- Flickr/Justin Schier
Aya Sofya has been a church, a mosque, and now a museum in the three millennia its existence has spanned. The grand, ornate structure fuses history and beauty into a truly breathtaking site that has to be experienced to be understood.
“Aya Sofya in Istanbul can absorb the big crowds that travel here, and remains one of the world’s great buildings,” Hall said.
The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
“Forget lengthy queues and wildly expensive tickets, The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is enjoying a surge in popularity since providing the backdrop for some of the ‘Game of Thrones’ series,” said Dmitrijus Konovalovas, co-founder of travel inspiration and itinerary building website IQPlanner.
“While a trip to the visitor’s centre is well worth the £8.50 entrance fee to learn about the science and legends of the area, frugal visitors can access the UNESCO World Heritage Site by an archway at the side of the visitor’s centre.”
Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.
“I’d highly recommend purchasing a ‘skip-the-line’ ticket when visiting the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where unprepared visitors can waste up to half a day of their holiday in a queue,” Konovalovas said.
“One of the most frequented museums in the world, the Uffizi welcomes over 10,000 visitors a day during peak season. Serious art lovers are recommended to visit at least twice to fully experience the sheer magnitude of the collection.”
- Flickr/Rafaela Ely
Konovalovas said: “Pamukkale, Turkey, is the country’s most visited attraction – with the crowds to prove it. But with a bit of careful planning, experiencing this spectacular geological phenomenon and UNESCO World Heritage Site need not be an ordeal.
“The best way to enjoy an uncrowded visit is to spend the night in Pamukkale village as most day-trippers don’t arrive until the afternoon.”
- Flickr/Andrea Schaffer
“I’m a lover of history and Rome is one of my favourite cities in the world. However, if you’re also a history buff, you must venture beyond Rome and work in a visit to Pompeii,” said Chris Austin, senior vice president of luxury cruise company Seabourn.
The silence is mesmerizing. It’s worth all the queues – but my suggestion is to wander off, take a seat, and make the time there your own.”
Camden Lock and Market in London, UK.
“I’m British and love London – and London has many famous shopping areas, but its markets are the most worthwhile and awe-inspiring,” said Austin.
“Camden is world famous and a great place to buy funky clothes and original gifts. Portobello Road market in Notting Hill has an incredible array of antiques on Saturdays. Finish your time at any of the London markets with pie, mash, and a pint in a typical London pub.”
Edinburgh Castle, UK
Paul Hughes, CEO and founder of micro-adventure and excursion website Rare Escapes said: “Edinburgh Castle gives such an amazing perspective on the history of Scotland and the surrounding area. The views alone are worth the visit.”
Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain.
- Flickr/Katherine Price
“For me, it has to be [Antoni] Gaudí’s cathedral Sagrada Família in Barcelona,” said Niamh Walsh, chief editor of holiday and travel search engine HolidayPirates.
The world’s largest unfinished Roman Catholic church, the construction of Sagrada Família began back in 1882.
“The pictures never do it justice,” Walsh said.
Cattedrale Di Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence, Italy.
- Flickr/Alex Ansley
Thanks to their lavish interiors and awe-inspiring magnitude, Walsh believes that cathedrals are always worth the queues – and almost always cheaper than a museum.
“You must take a trip to Florence to see the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore because, like La Sagrada Familia, it’s also far more vivid up close and personal.”
Oia on the island of Santorini, Greece.
- Flickr/Alma Ayon
“The Cycladic island of Santorini – specifically the iconic blue and white towns of Fira and Oia – should be something everyone sees at least once in their lifetime,” Walsh said.
“This picture-perfect island has it all: Incredible culture, blazing sunshine, and the most relaxed and peaceful atmosphere wherever you go.”
Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal.
- Flickr/Mark Fischer
She added: “The huge palace is perched atop the hills above Sintra, and the tour through the grandiose interior helps you visualise Portuguese kings and queens living within its walls. Photographing the pastel colours and extravagant architecture was pure joy.”
Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac in Dordogne, France.
- Shutterstock/Pack Shot
For Pablo Carrington, managing director of the Marugal Hotel Group, “the extraordinary gardens of Manoir d’Eyrignac in France aren’t to be missed.”
These ornate gardens have reportedly been maintained by the same family for 22 generations. Sculpted hedges and expansive ponds make up this serene landscape.
The Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain.
“The Royal Palace in Madrid is the largest in Europe and probably the least known,” said Carrington. “Make it your first stop of the day – early in the morning – to skip the queues.”
Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France.
- Flickr/mat’s eye
“While it’s near impossible to avoid winding queues of tourists across the city, particularly during the summer, Sainte-Chapelle is one of Paris’ most stunning sites,” said James Asquith, founder of the app HolidaySwap.
“For some unbeknownst reason, it has half the queues of many of the other big landmarks in France’s capital. Prepare to be dazzled by the beautiful stained glass windows.”
The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy.
- Flickr/Pedro Szekely
“Be prepared for large crowds and literally hundreds of boats in the water in summer – but that in itself is a sight that has to be seen to be believed,” said Asquith.
“This unique destination can be experienced with little queueing or expense – just be prepared for swathes of people.”
The Scream in Oslo, Norway.
- Flickr/Jorge Lascar
“For some works of art, you’ll queue for hours just to catch a glimpse of a murky portrait, framed by a stranger’s hair. But Edvard Much’s blood-red sunset work ‘The Scream’ deserves its spot on any must-see list,” said Abi King, founder of travel website InsideTheTravelLab.
“The queues are short and the art’s arresting. What’s more, the National Gallery in Oslo is packed with so many masterpieces you could easily spend a week here.”
The Louvre in Paris, France.
- Flickr/Kevin Gessner
When it comes to tackling the crowds at one of the world’s most famous art galleries, King has her own top-tips for visiting the Louvre without eating into the rest of your holiday.
“Buy tickets in advance to avoid the worst of the crowds then spend a day searching for ‘Venus de Milo’ amid wing after wing of world-class art.”
Big Ben in London, UK.
- Unsplash/Jurica Koletic
Big Ben can be spied and snapped easily without the need to wrestle elbow-to-elbow with streams of other camera-wielding tourists.
“Take the tube (London’s underground train) to Westminster then walk along the Thames river in the shadow of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament,” said King. “Sure, there are crowds, but this is London so everyone keeps moving.”
A word of warning, however, Big Ben is currently clad in scaffolding as essential maintenance is being carried out over the next four years.
The Cinque Terre region of Italy.
- Flickr/Jason OX4
“It’s not so much a single landmark, but the Cinque Terre in Italy – made up of five fishing villages – are worth pushing any tourists out of the way for,” said Gilbert Ott, the mastermind behind airmiles advice website God Save The Points.
“The pictures do these places no justice. The towns are postcard-perfect from every angle.”
Seljalandsfoss in Iceland.
- Flickr/Laszlo Ilyes
“There is no free attraction that is more impressive than Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland,” said travel photographer Lachlan Menzies.
“It’s size and beauty are both indescribable. If you can, see it in the summer midnight sun (when the sun sets between midnight and 1 a.m. around the time of the summer solstice) and prepare to be blown away by the radiant light shining through the falls.”
Musée Rodin in Paris, France.
“When I travel, it’s often for no longer than a weekend or a few days and so I’m fully aware of how important it is to spend your time wisely,” said Nataly Osmann, who runs travel Instagram account FollowMeTo with her husband Murad.
“I love France for its number of places that you want to come back to again and again. Everyone should visit Musée Rodin in Paris – it’s one of the city’s more relaxed galleries with gorgeous buildings and gardens. You can buy the ticket online to save time, too.”
- Flickr/Aurelien Guichard
While his wife prefers the sights of Paris, travel photographer Murad Osmann believes that everyone should get to experience Vatican City at least once in their lifetime.
“With its museums and churches, Vatican City is an awe-inspiring place – and technically its own country, although you don’t need your passport to enter the area.
“Make sure to visit St Peter’s Basilica – the largest church in the world and often regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines in the world, too,” Murad said.