INSPIRATION • March 2020
Put off by crowds, but still want to see what all the fuss is about? From the Tower of London to the Taj Mahal, our insiders share their top tips on how to get these sensational sights done right
Says who: New York-based writer Zach Udko
Thanks to a $165m renovation, this Art Deco landmark is less congested and more welcoming. You can either ride up to the outdoor 86th-floor deck ($42) or climb 200 feet higher to the smaller, enclosed and newly reopened 102nd floor (an additional $25) – I’d say skip the upgrade, the city’s pulse is best experienced on the open-air terrace. Ignore any ticket sellers and tour guides outside – the lobby has self-service kiosks, and you can buy passes in advance from the website. Sunsets can be stunning, but you’ll fight crowds to get the shot, so for a more civilised experience, arrive later. On a clear night, nothing can be more humbling and exhilarating than hovering over what Truman Capote called ‘a diamond iceberg floating in river water’. Afterwards, stroll to The Vine (851 Avenue of the Americas), within the Kimpton Hotel Eventi, for a flawless nightcap.
Says who: Peru enthusiast and The Sunday Times Travel Magazine’s associate editor, Alicia Miller
You’ll never get the famous Incan citadel totally to yourself, but you’ll escape the worst crowds by visiting in April, May, October or March – people avoid the latter because it’s rainy season, but showers are rarely heavy (plus the orchids are in bloom). And don’t do it on a day trip from Cuzco: it’s a tiring four to five-hour journey each way. Stay at least one night in Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu’s gateway town; most hotels are backpackery, but for glamour try Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo. Arrive at the citadel around 8.30am – any later and you’ll encounter long queues – and always hire a guide at the gates; without their expert commentary, you’re just wandering around a pile of old rocks. Expect to pay about £5-£10pp for a three-hour group tour.
Says who: India expert and Around India in 80 Trains author, Monisha Rajesh
Built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a monument to his late wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal in Agra is one of the few wonders of the world that lives up to the hype. Teeming with tourists throughout the year, it is best viewed in the calmness of dawn, or better still, at night. For five days a month, visitors can enter on the night of a full moon, two days before, and two days after. From 8.30pm-12.30am you will be allotted a half-hour slot to stroll around the stillness of the grounds as the marble mausoleum glows blue in the coolness of the moon.
Says who: Chris Skaife, raven master at the Tower of London
Summer is the busiest time to visit the Tower of London, but there’s a lot of space here, and it’s managed really well, so it’s also the loveliest time to visit. There are many pockets of green space that are perfect for a picnic, and you’re allowed to bring food in. As one of the 37 yeoman warders who work and live at the Tower of London, I’m biased, but if you do one thing here, make it a yeoman warder tour – it’s included in the ticket price. To catch the tower at its most stirring, book onto one of the Twilight Tours that run in the quieter months (November to April), where you’ll be treated to grizzly stories after dark. My final tip? Book online, it’s cheaper than booking at the entrance.
Says who: Vatican art expert Skye Sherwin
To appreciate the culture on offer at the Vatican – a 108-acre independent city state with its own postal service – you’ll need to cover up bare flesh and arrive early to avoid the crush, always with at least a half-day to spare. The essential pilgrimage is to site-specific Renaissance masterpieces: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, The Raphael Rooms’ School of Athens, Michelangelo’s peerless bereavement sculpture The Pieta, and, in the Basilica of St Peter, Bernini’s wildly Baroque barley sugar columns. You can either choose a tour via the official website, or take a look at the slew of private operators, including Tiqets and GetYourGuide. If you really want the place to yourself (or at least with fewer elbows) you could splash on an after-hours tour, but whichever you go for, try to book at least a few months in advance to gurantee your spot.