With iconic sculptures and world famous paintings, these European museums are worth the wait.
Queuing may be about as much fun as a jog on a January morning, but unfortunately it often goes hand-in-hand with visiting famous sights. Considering it has six of the world's top ten most visited museums, it's hardly surprising that Europe has plenty of must-see collections and galleries – inevitably, with queues to match.
Despite the crowds, these bucket list museums are worth the wait, even if that wait can be up to a staggering five hours (Uffizi Gallery, we’re looking at you). Luckily, there are plenty of tips and tricks to help you skip the line and sprint past the queues.
1. Vatican Museums, Vatican City
Despite its dinky size, the Vatican City is home to one of Europe's most famous art and artefact collections which attracts millions of visitors each year. Tourists queue for hours to see its highlight, the indomitable Sistine Chapel. Framed by Michelangelo's frescoed ceiling masterpiece, the chapel is considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance art and architecture on the planet.
Beat the Queue: Although not widely advertised, you can pre-book Vatican tickets online (on your chosen date and time) for no additional cost. As great as this sounds, you may still have to queue to get into the Sistine Chapel as visitor numbers are limited at any one time. Still, once you’re in, you’re in - we think it's worth the wait!
2. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The grande dame of Amsterdam's museums, the Rijksmuseum, attracts around two and a half million visitors each year. Boasting one of the world's best art and history collections (it's home to around one million artefacts and objects) it attracts tourists, students and locals alike. Art fans are treated to paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer - but often have to put up with queuing for around half an hour to get in.
Beat the Queue: If you can, visit the museum before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. when it's quieter and avoid visiting during the busiest months (April, May and August). You can pre-book e-tickets in advance, which will eliminate the ticket office section of the queue.
3. The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Another Amsterdam favourite - the Van Gogh Museum - makes the list, thanks to its extensive collected works of one of the 20th century’s best-known artists. You’ll see plenty of recognisable watercolours, including 'Sunflowers'. Hardly surprisingly, the museum contains the largest collection of Van Gogh's work in the world.
Beat the Queue: Like the Rijksmuseum, it’s best to get to the museum near opening or closing time (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to avoid the crowds. It’s also open until 10 p.m. on Fridays which can be good for a quieter evening visit. There is talk of an app being launched in the future that charts the museum queues – in the meantime, pre-book on the website to skip the line.
4. The Louvre, Paris
The Louvre is one of the world's most visited museums, attracting around ten million visitors each year. It is also one of the largest and was originally built as a 12th century palace. The permanent collections feature several artistic wonders - including Da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' - plus over 380,000 objects, sculptures and paintings.
Beat the Queue: The Louvre can get extremely busy during Paris’ peak tourist season. To avoid the melee, consider visiting in the evening - it's open until 9.45 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. There are three entrances - the main (and busiest) is the Pyramid entrance. Instead, try the Porte des Lions or Carrousel de Louvre, which tend to have smaller waiting times. If you're planning to visit multiple art galleries, consider getting the Paris Museum Pass, which gives you fast track entry to the Louvre and another 60 museums across the city.
5. Museo del Prado, Madrid
Madrid's iconic Museo del Prado is Spain's national museum and home to around 7000 paintings. Boasting one of the world's best collections of European art (including Goya, Velázquez and Rubens), the gallery attracts around three million visitors each year. The early summer months are the busiest, when tourists and school parties visiting en masse.
Beat the Queue: If possible, avoid the museum on weekends and between 11 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. when it's at its busiest. The museum offers free evening entrance slots but these can also get extremely busy - hour long queues are not uncommon. A better option is to pre-book tickets online (for a €1 fee), which allows you to choose a date and time plus skip the queue when you arrive.
6. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence
One of Italy's most loved museums, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence one of Europe's most popular - with queues to match. In high season, the waiting time can be a staggering five hours, made worse by the fact that only 900 visitors are allowed in at any one time. Inside, visitors are in for a treat however, as works of art by Titian, Botticelli (including the Birth of Venus) and Da Vinci grace the walls.
Beat the Queue: Given the capacity limits and popularity of the Uffizi, queues here can be among the worst in Europe. If possible, visit between November and February when the queues are shorter (the busiest month is July). The quietest time to visit is first thing in the morning (the gallery opens at 8.15 a.m.). The best solution is to pay the additional €4 fee and pre-book online. This is a particularly good option if you’re visiting in summer, as the midday sun is pretty savage if you're stuck waiting outside.
7. The British Museum, London
Although you don't usually have to queue to get into London's British Museum (it's free so tickets aren't required) it can get very busy inside. Visitors congregate around the museum’s most popular artefacts (such as the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Sculptures) causing crowds and slow moving groups. Still, with some of the world's most incredible ancient objects available to view for free, the museum is worth the hype.
Beat the Queue: To visit the collection rooms with minimal fuss, plan your visit to avoid school holidays and Saturdays (which are notoriously crowded). Friday evenings have a late opening, making it a good time to pop in for a look.
8. The Guggenheim, Bilbao
New kid on the block, the Guggenheim Bilbao, has fast become one of Europe's top visited art museums since it opened in 1997. Alongside its extensive collection of large modern installations and Avant-garde art, it has also showcased the work of Jeff Koons and David Hockney. The biggest museum in northern Spain, the contemporary-designed museum attracts hordes of tourists and visitors each year.
Beat the Queue: To avoid the queues that snake around the outside of Guggenheim Bilbao, time your visit in advance. The best time to visit is early evening, around 6-7 p.m. If you're feeling organized, you can pre-book your ticket in advance online; we recommend reserving a slot on a Wednesday or Thursday.