From the Vatican to the Tower of London, there is always one thing travellers are certain to see at tourist hot spots – lots of other tourists.
Often quiet time for contemplation and uninterrupted gazing in a world famous museum or at an ancient site is almost out of the question.
But – and whisper it – there are exclusive tours that visitors can book at some of the world’s most famous places that guarantee an absence of throngs of people. And there are even some that grant access to areas normally closed off to the public…
Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro
The peak of Corcovado Mountain, home to the Christ the Redeemer statue, can be an extremely busy place but one tour allows travellers to go to the top before it opens to the general public
If tourists want to extend the experience from the Christ the Redeemer statue, they can hop on a cable car, pictured, to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain
The peak of Corcovado Mountain, home to the Christ the Redeemer statue, can be an extremely busy place.
But one TripAdvisor tour allows tourists to access the peak – via 220 steps – to view the statue early in the morning before the crowds gather, with commentary from a local guide.
The tour costs from £48 but can also be upgraded so visitors hop on a cable car afterwards and go to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain to see panoramic views of Rio.
One review of the trip read: ‘We were among the first people up at Christ the Redeemer so we had plenty of time to take amazing pictures and enjoy the moment and space just for us!’
Each day, a small number of tourists can join the ‘Clavigero’ (the Vatican key holder) as he unlocks the doors to the Sistine Chapel, pictured, Raphael’s rooms, the Galleries, and more – hours before these iconic sites open to the public
Early entry on the ‘Wake up in the Vatican’ experience means visitors can enjoy the art in the museums without the crowds
The Vatican attracts more than five million visitors each year but one exclusive tour allows tourists to beat the queues and elbow jostling to wander the corridors of St Peter’s Basilica in solitude.
TripAdvisor offers the unique excursion, which sees a small number of travellers joining the ‘Clavigero’ (the Vatican key holder) as he unlocks the doors to the Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s rooms, the Galleries, and more, hours before these iconic sites open to the public.
Due to its exclusive nature, the tour – which departs at 6am Monday through to Saturday – comes with a hefty price tag, with tickets costing from £281 per person.
On reviewer wrote on TripAdvisor: ‘Being in such a sacred and well known place early in the morning was so cool.’
Accademia Gallery in Florence
The David statue inside the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Those wanting to beat the crowds can book an early morning tour for entry an hour and a half before the crowds
The Accademia Gallery in Florence is home to some of Michelangelo’s most famous works of art including Prigioni, San Matteo and David.
So it always attracts the crowds.
But an exclusive TripAdvisor tour, costing from £58, allows a group of up to 15 travellers be the first of the day to enter the gallery – an hour and a half before the crowds are allowed to enter.
The tour is led by an art historian, who can talk visitors through the Renaissance art housed at the world-famous gallery. However, it is only available from April to October.
One tourist wrote on TripAdvisor: ‘We were first in to see David and literally had no one else in the corridor with us leading up to this magnificent work of art.’
The Hermitage, St Petersburg
On a trip organised by UK-based tour company Exeter International, visitors to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, pictured, can enjoy behind-the-scenes experiences such as a tour of the treasure-stuffed storage rooms
The Hermitage in St Petersburg is one of the largest museums in the world with a jaw-dropping collection of art on display from the likes of Picasso, Leonardo and Michelangelo.
But as the attraction is based in 400 rooms spread over three floors of five interlinked buildings getting around can be difficult.
However, one UK-based tour company, Exeter International, offers tours of the museum that include a number of ‘behind the scenes’ experiences.
These include a tour of the treasure-stuffed storage rooms of the Hermitage and a private visit to the Amber Room workshops of Catherine Palace to see craftsmen recreating the exquisite amber panels.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
TripAdvisor offers a tour around New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, pictured, which starts an hour and a half before its doors open to the public in a group of no more than 25 people
One review of the early access tour of the Met said: ‘From being able to clearly hear your guide and close up views of the exhibits, to being able to take photos of completely empty rooms – it was an amazing experience’
The Metropolitan Museum of Art sees millions of visitors pass through its doors each year making it one of New York’s busiest tourist attractions.
But art lovers can get up close and personal to works by Canova and Vincent Van Gogh with a TripAdvisor tour before the museum opens, for £136 ($177).
The tour, led by one of the museum’s own guides, starts an hour and a half before its doors open to the public in a group of no more than 25 people.
One review of the tour said: ‘From being able to clearly hear your guide and close up views of the exhibits, to being able to take photos of completely empty rooms – it was an amazing experience.’
Alcatraz, San Francisco
Crowds flock to Alcatraz to visit the famous island prison, but a TripAdvisor tour that is available sees tourists gain early entry to the jail cells
Crowds flock to Alcatraz island in San Francisco to see what life was like inside the jail cells of notorious criminals such as Al Capone.
But an exclusive TripAdvisor tour, which costs from £149, allows tourists to get admission to the island prison before large groups turn up.
The tour, which has no more than 25 people, starts at Fisherman’s Wharf where travellers board an 8am ferry to Alcatraz, then explore the city by cable car.
One review on TripAdvisor reads: ‘No queue access to Alcatraz followed by a superbly guided tour of the city aboard an antique adapted cable car, this is a must do for San Francisco visitors.’
Tower of London
The Tower of London, pictured, offers private showings of the nightly ritual known as the Ceremony of the Keys and exclusive tours of the building for groups of up to 20
The Ceremony of the Keys has been performed every night without fail for more than 700 years at the Tower of London.
And visitors to the tower can arrange their own private showing of the ritual, which dates back to Edward III, and see the main gates secured for the evening.
The private showing can be for up to 20 guests, who watch the ceremony from the battlements. It costs from £700 for the whole group.
It also includes an exclusive tour of the Tower of London before the ceremony.
Chichen Itza, Cancun, Mexico
Tourists visiting the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico, pictured, often complain about the long lines and scorching midday heat. But a small early morning tour is available on TripAdvisor
The exclusive early morning tour means groups can admire the ruins when the temperatures are more comfortable and look at ancient sites not usually open to tourists
Tourists visiting the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico often complain about the long lines and scorching midday heat.
But TripAdvisor offers an early access tour to the ancient ruins, which includes seeing sites that most groups don’t visit with an archaeologist providing nuggets of information them.
The tour costs from £42, and includes priority access to Chichen Itza early in the morning, when temperatures are more comfortable.
One traveller said in a Tripdvisor review: ‘While getting up early was a pain, being some of the first to see the gorgeous structures that day made it well worth it.’
Capuchin Crypt and Catacombs, Rome
The Capuching Crypt, also known as the Bone Chapel, tucked beneath the streets of Rome. One late night tour allows visitors into the chapel and Rome’s Catacombs after the doors close to the general public
The Capuchin Crypt, also known as Rome’s Bone Chapel, is tucked away beneath the city’s streets.
And a TripAdvisor tour allows travellers to walk around the church as well as the centuries-old Catacombs of Priscilla after the doors close to the general public.
This means they can get a clear view of where Rome’s early Christians gathered to pray and bury their dead.
The tour costs from £56 and one person who experienced the tour wrote on the review website: ‘Would definitely recommend this tour, especially for those who enjoy experiences a little outside the typical tourist attraction.’
Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
The Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City houses 12 halls filled with royal artefacts, and can be visited before general admission starts
The Chapultepec Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Mexico City with its 12 halls filled with royal artefacts – and tourists.
But travellers can book a TripAdvisor tour that allows early access before the crowds set in, from £29 per person.
The tour includes the insight of a guide, who leads tourists around the National Museum of Anthropology, which houses the largest collection of traditional Mexican art in the world.
One review on TripAdvisor states: ‘Early access to Chapultepec Castle meant that we had the place to ourselves to enjoy before the gates were opened to the public.’
Piscina Mirabilis, Bay of Naples
On an eight-day guided tour of southern Italy, Andante Travels offers a trip to the cavernous Piscina Mirabilis at Misenum, which is usually closed to the public
Ancient history and archaeology tours specialist Andante Travels organises lecturer-led tours of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Campania.
And on one of its eight-day guided trips to southern Italy, guests gain access to the cavernous Piscina Mirabilis at Misenum, which is usually closed to the public.
The gigantic cistern stored water for the Roman fleet and fed the towns of the Bay of Naples.
Meanwhile the full tour, which starts from £1,695, also includes access to new, rarely-visited villas in Pompeii.