Arranging a trip takes a lot of planning—you have to coordinate work schedules, plane or train reservations, visits with families and friends, and so much more. But one of the things that often falls through the cracks, especially if you’re not a professional travel planner, is checking out the timing of things when you arrive at your destination.
There’s nothing more disappointing than going to a museum that you’ve been dying to see, only to find it closed, or waiting to take that once-in-a-lifetime shot of an iconic building, only to see that it’s covered in scaffolding and won’t be restored to its former glory for at least a year.
I speak from experience, having visited the Hercules monument in Kassel, Germany, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at a time when the statue was under construction, and the water wasn’t running down the Cascades—something that only happens two days a week from May through October. I’ve also visited the amazing Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, not realizing until it was too late that its magnificent Main Fountain Garden was closed for renovations...for two years. Many times I’ve stared longingly at the closed doors of numerous local attractions because I didn’t take a moment to check seasonal hours on their websites.
While we can’t control time, there are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t miss out on those must-see attractions:
- Plan your trip around the most “perishable” events first. While a statue isn’t going anywhere, a first-run play is. If there’s something you really want to see but it’s only in town for a limited time, make this your priority, and build the rest of your vacation around it. There’s a reason why there was such a waiting list to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton—while the play is still there, that particular actor has moved on, creating a different experience than what the original audiences saw.
- Get tickets and reservations early. I’m one of those people that likes to just show up and do things, but that type of spontaneity doesn’t work when you’re trying to get into certain Disney attractions or Cirque de Soleil performances. Doing research long before you go can also often save you money because you have time to look for coupons or discount offers—instead of paying much more to get in (if you can) at the door.
- Pay attention to construction schedules. Just because a landmark is still open during construction doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to see it looking that way. I have many photos that are useless because of the bright yellow scaffolding and “area closed” signs. If you love architecture like I do, make sure that you can see all of the building before planning a visit.
- Don’t go when everyone else does. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if you go to Italy during the summer months, you’re going to see more tourists than attractions. Plan to travel in shoulder seasons when there are fewer people, less traffic, and more opportunities to revel in the experience.
- Check in with local visitors’ centers to find out the best time to see popular sites—you may be the only one there at 6 a.m., but think about how perfect those selfies will be!
- Check websites right up until the last minute. Make a note of the times that things are open, especially when places may be changing from summer to winter hours, and also check that the exhibits you may want to see are open the same hours as the facilities in which they are housed. Many people don’t realize that quite a few museums are closed on Mondays because they are open all weekend, or that a special event like a wedding may mean that certain rooms of a facility will be closed to the public.
- Have a back-up plan. Even if the place you want to visit is closed, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve found many incredible, lesser-known museums and galleries by not being able to visit the ones that I originally planned to see. Sometimes by missing out on a traditional experience, you get the opportunity to seek out something truly special. And isn’t that what travel is all about?
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