Elude the Crowds

How to find private moments at top travel spots

Posted on January 1, 2019

Monet’s Garden at Giverny isn’t on every traveler’s bucket list, but it was at the top of mine. I’d admired the artist’s water lilies at art museums around the world, and I desperately wanted to see them in the pond at his former home about an hour outside of Paris.

“We can take the train to Vernon and then catch a bus to Giverny,” I informed my husband, Richard, over café au lait and croissants. “That will give us a couple of hours in the garden before we have to catch the last train back.”

“That won’t be long enough. I know you,” he replied as he looked up the number of a nearby car rental office.

The drive to Giverny was easy, and I was excited to see the colorful garden, but I was soon overwhelmed by the large crowd of equally-enthusiastic visitors. I tried for half an hour to take a picture of the famous Japanese bridge over the lily pond sans tourists. Finally, I gave up and took refuge in the gift shop, where I loaded up on presents for fellow gardeners. When I emerged, the garden was nearly empty. Where did everyone go? Turns out, almost all of Monet’s fans were on their way to catch the train. This gave Richard and me about an hour to wander through the garden at will and to sit in peace on a bench at the edge of the pond.

Elude the Crowds

The French Impressionist artist Claude Monet is famous for his paintings of this lily pond

Rise and Shine

At Giverny, staying late resulted in a precious private moment, but it’s more common that early risers have the best experiences. At Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I resisted when our expert guide (pre-booked in advance by our hotel concierge) said he’d pick us up before dawn. However, before the day was over, I’d thanked him more than once.

We arrived at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the dark, and he led us to a primo spot for watching the sun rise behind a huge temple. More than 2.1 million overseas visitors come here every year, so I was surprised that the crowd was relatively small.

After sunrise, he escorted us around quite a few other temples. We had each place to ourselves and could sit on an ancient stone block and listen while he filled us in on the history. By mid-morning it was really warm, and the steady stream of tour buses pouring onto the site were our signal that it was time to retreat to the beautiful pool back at our hotel.

We enjoyed another memorable early-bird experience in India, when we stayed at the Oberoi Amarvilas, located just 600 yards from the Taj Mahal. Our room — in fact, every room in the hotel — offered an unobstructed view of the “monument to love.” However, the highlight was catching a ride in a hotel golf cart at dawn the next morning and being the first visitors to enter the site. Having the Taj to ourselves was pure bliss.

Elude the Crowds

The Taj Mahal is an exquisite mausoleum made of pure white marble

Staying in the right place also enabled early access to Machu Picchu in Peru. Only one hotel is actually located adjacent to the site and that one, Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, has just 29 rooms and two suites. Most visitors stay in the town of Aguas Calientes and take the bus back and forth, but Richard and I were able to enter the site in the morning before the first bus arrived and watch as the clouds lifted to reveal the stunningly beautiful Inca masterpiece.

Elude the Crowds

Early risers can enjoy Machu Picchu without crowds

Closer to Home

It isn’t just World Heritage Sites that get crazy busy. In Seattle, most visitors want to go to Pike Place Market — and they do. By midday, only kids sitting on their dads’ shoulders have a good view of the famous fish throwing, and long lines for almost everything try everyone’s patience.

My tip for coping with the crowd? Book a room at Inn at the Market, which is just steps from the action. When we stayed here, my husband made early-morning sorties to buy fresh fruit, raspberry muffins, and other amazing pastries, which we enjoyed on the roof deck of the hotel along with a panoramic water view. We loved our picnic breakfasts and these memorable private moments.   Elizabeth Hansen

Elude the Crowds

Guests at Inn at the Market overlook Pike Place Market and Puget Sound

Photography courtesy of ADAMS/HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS