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3 Travel Secrets for Italy: How to Avoid the Lines

secretsWhen I got “tagged” recently (twice, as it happens) to participate in the “Best Kept Travel Secrets” series that’s going around, my first thoughts were (a) I can’t think of anything, and (b) if I had any great travel secrets I might not want to share them!
But the truth is that since I’ve been writing on WhyGo Italy for a few years now, I think I’ve divulged many of the things that I used to think of as my best secrets. Still, just because I no longer think of it as a secret doesn’t mean it’s common knowledge. And because some of the secrets I wrote about when the site was new have gotten a little lost over the years, this was a great excuse to write about three of my favorite Italy travel tips.
I was having trouble narrowing it down to just three for this post, but in the end I decided on a theme – secret (or at least lesser-known) ways to avoid waiting in line for some of the most popular things to do in Italy. Because unless you’ve truly got unlimited time to spend in Italy, your vacation time is precious to you. And really, even if you’ve got all the time in the world, who wants to spend a couple hours waiting in line when there are easy ways to skip that part?
So without further ado, here are 3 of my “Best Kept Travel Secrets” for avoiding the lines in Italy.

Bypass the Long Lines at the Colosseum in Rome

colosseum_lineThe Colosseum in Rome isn’t just one of the capital city’s biggest sights, it’s one of the main attractions in the entire country. So it’s not surprising that there are often lines out front, winding their way from the ticket window around the outer walls. Long waits are common in the high season, which is annoying for several reasons – among the biggest are that in the summer you’re exposed to the hot Roman sun, and you also spend longer as a prime target for the guys playing gladiator dress-up and pressing for high fees for photographs.
Avoiding those ticket lines at the Roman Colosseum, however, is a piece of cake. You even have a few options for how to do it.
Perhaps the easiest (and cheapest) is to just buy your Colosseum ticket somewhere other than at the Colosseum. The ticket you would buy at the Colosseum ticket window is a combo ticket that also includes the Palatine Hill. So, since the Palatine Hill is a far less popular sight than the Colosseum, then go up there first and buy your ticket at that ticket window. The line will be short or non-existent, and the ticket you’ll get is good for 24 hours – so you’ll just need to visit the Colosseum within 24 hours of visiting Palatine Hill. There are other attractions in Rome that are included – along with the Colosseum and Palatine Hill – on more expensive combo tickets, so if you’re interested in seeing those sights as well then you can employ this same tactic at any of those places.
Another option, particularly nice if you’re the plan-ahead type, is booking your visit to the Colosseum in advance. There’s a phone number for an office in Rome (the service is in English) which will let you reserve your tickets that way for a small fee, and now there’s even a relatively new way to book your Colosseum tickets online.
You can learn more about all of these ways to skip the line (as well as get all the necessary visitor information) in this article on the Colosseum.

Reserve a Time (for Free!) to Visit St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice

venice_lineVenice, as I’ve said a quadrillion times on this site, is one of my favorite places on earth. Within Venice, St. Mark’s Basilica is one of my favorite places in the city. Unfortunately, in a city with very few “sights,” long lines to get into this ethereally beautiful cathedral are fairly standard in the high season. The situation is made worse by the fact that the famous church is right next to where most cruise ship day-trippers arrive on the islands.
So if I told you that not only could you book a time to get in – thereby bypassing the line completely – but also that this service would only cost you €1, would that make you happy?
I thought so.
Using an online system, you can reserve an entry time to visit the Basilica di San Marco. You’ll get a confirmation number that you just need to present to the people standing guard at the entrance, and just like that you’re in the cathedral and not waiting in line. It’s that easy. You get about a 15-minute window in which to enter the church, so you don’t have to be there at the right nanosecond in order to get in. And the best part of all of this is that it’s completely free of charge it’s only €1 per person to reserve an entry time (thanks to Pia in the comments section for telling me they’d started charging €1 for reservations – it’s still one of the best bargains in Venice!).
There’s no entry fee for the Basilica anyway, although you’ll pay to visit things like the treasury or the roof (both of those are only accessible once you’re past the first entry point), so keeping the reservation cheap means it’s no less accessible for budget travelers. It is, however, something that needs to be done in advance – you can book a visit up to two days beforehand. If you’re a serious non-planner, you can always pop into an internet cafe a few days before you’ll be in Venice to see what options are left for reserved visits to the Basilica.
It’s important to note that this service is not available year-round – but it is available during the busiest times of the year, starting around the beginning of April. You can learn more about the church and how to skip the lines in this article about St. Mark’s Basilica.

Score a Last-Minute Ticket to the Uffizi or Accademia in Florence

uffizi_lineSome of the worst lines I’ve ever seen (or heard reports of) are outside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence – and the lines are bad year-round. There are plenty of art-tastic sights in Florence, but the Uffizi is easily the most popular. Complicating matters is the fact that the number of people who can be inside the museum at a given time is limited – it’s not the biggest museum in the world, and it’s in an historic building, so officials are careful about keeping it from getting too crowded inside. The result, however, is that there are routinely extremely long lines outside the door.
My first suggestion to avoid the lines is to book your tickets in advance of your trip. You can do this easily online for a small fee, and you’ll have more choices for visit times. But if you’re allergic to planning that far ahead, there is another option.
On the Via dei Calzaiuoli not far from the Duomo, there’s an almost-unmarked ticket window next to the Orsanmichele church. The person behind this window sells last-minute reserved tickets to the Uffizi (and other Florence attractions, including the Accademia Gallery with Michelangelo’s David) even if the official museum websites say those days are sold out. How do they do it? And is it a scam?
It’s not a scam – and as for how they’re able to do this, it’s simple. They’re selling reservations that have been canceled at the last minute. This means that you won’t have the pick of the litter when it comes to ticket times, and I have yet to talk to someone who was able to buy tickets for the same day (most are for, at the earliest, the following day), but this is an excellent option for people who can’t book in advance and still want to avoid the lines.
As with the advance-booking online, there’s a small fee for this last-minute ticket service. And, at least according to one report I’ve heard, the last-minute ticket window only accepts cash. I’d suggest you make a beeline for this window soon after you get to Florence so you’ll have more options for visits during your time in the city.
I’ve got a few articles that will help make the most of your visit to Florence, including visitor information for the Uffizi, visitor information for the Accademia, and how to find the last-minute ticket window in Florence (complete with photos of what you’re looking for).

Oh, there are so many more travel secrets where those came from…

As I said above, it was tough narrowing down to three tips for this article. I left out one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in Italy (have dinner in a private Italian home with Home Food). I didn’t talk about the fantastic tradition of aperitivo in Italy, sort of like happy hour but sometimes even better. And I neglected to tell you about my favorite gelateria (thus far) in Milan. Obviously, I could do an entirely different article in this series, focusing solely on Italian food
Still, I hope you’ll find the three tips I’ve mentioned in this article useful in getting around the long lines at some of Italy’s most popular attractions. And I also hope that if you find these tips handy you’ll poke around the site and find all my other great travel tips for Italy!

People I’m Tagging

tagI took long enough to get into this game that many of the people I’d have suggested to participate in this meme to give you more Italy travel secrets have already been tagged (and already provided some great tips). So I’m going to tag some seasoned travelers who I think could each write a book on travel secrets.

  • Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy – My friend Sara lives in Milan, and she’s well-traveled since becoming an expat. She’s a serious foodie, so I’m particularly interested to see if she’s got some food-related secrets to share.
  • Robert of Reid on Travel – Robert is the US editor for Lonely Planet, and to say he’s well-traveled is an understatement of epic proportions. He’s the man behind the always-entertaining and often quite amusing “76-Second Travel Show” videos, and I’m not-so-secretly hoping he’ll participate in this meme in video format.
  • Jen of – Jen is a longtime friend of BootsnAll and a very experienced travel writer. She’s a big fan of Las Vegas, but I’ll be curious to know whether she focuses on Vegas for her post.
  • Eva of World Hum – Eva is a senior editor at World Hum and a freelance travel writer, and she just moved to Canada’s Yukon. Yes, in the dead of winter. I think that chutzpah alone means she’s someone I want to get travel secrets from.
  • Laura of Ciao Amalfi – Laura is another expat living in Italy who I was fortunate enough to meet in 2009; she lives on the Amalfi Coast, and has therefore become my go-to girl for all Amalfi-related questions. I’m looking forward to seeing if she’s got any great Amalfi travel secrets she hasn’t yet shared!

The rules for how to participate are here, folks. I look forward to your travel secrets posts!
photos, top to bottom, by: Katie Tegtmeyer, permanently scatterbrained, Asmund Heimark, Koramchad, Hryck.