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Travel Hack: How I saw Rome’s major tourist attractions with ZERO crowds

By Eric Koelma | Dare List Dad

Have you ever wished to get a major tourist attraction all to yourself? Yeah, me too... So I worked it out and documented the journey. I managed to see all of Rome without crowds and this article covers how I did it (and the photos to prove it). Enjoy!

If you’ve travelled in the past 5 years, you’ll know that the biggest cities are over-crowded with tourists. It’s a well known and well-documented phenomenon.

It’s the reason for the rise in more alternative locations popping up - and people are swapping the majors (Paris, Rome, New York) for intimate retreats, off-the-beaten-path getaways and following Walter Mitty to Iceland instead.

Let's be honest, this is way cooler than paying €2 to stand in line for a public toilet in Rome...

I mean for some people, the crowds are exciting and give a ‘buzz’ (extroverts rejoice!), so I see the appeal if that’s you…

But if you want to take a decent photo, tick off a bucket list item without losing a family member or just sit and silently enjoy the moment without a tour guide and thirty five grey nomads struggling with selfie sticks getting in your way, these over-crowded areas, packed tourist buses and over-priced cafes are simply ZERO fun.

It kind of makes me wonder; on an average day, how many poor quality photos are taken of the coliseum for example, just so people can tick off the ‘I was here’ moment? And how many people actually appreciate the grandeur of what was essentially a stadium set up for the purpose of barbaric, blood-thirsty torture as a form of entertainment? It should have an eery, off-putting feeling to it. But sharing that moment with 47,000 other people will probably distract you from truly feeling the magnitude.

Seeing the Coliseum instead with absolutely NO ONE else there really gave me the opportunity to consider and contemplate this site in it's hey day. I had a moment to feel for all the people who considered this place hell on earth.

It also helped me reflect on the modern day versions of the same barbaric fascination with death - the popularity of horror movies, shows like Black Mirror and the evening news (which is essentially “this person died, that person died, something about politics, someone else died, here’s some sport, weather tomorrow and here’s a cute puppy to make you forget that this all started morbidly”).

And just look at news sites… The biggest stories are the ones where people died. It’s unfortunate, but in this day and age of being able to track clicks and time on page, the news sites know that these stories get the most eyeballs. And Grace also knows that from the inside, having worked in digital newsrooms as a journalist.

But I digress and this is about my travel hack, so back to the Coliseum.

How did I see Rome with absolutely NO ONE around?


RUN

It’s pretty simple. You get up 30 minutes before sunrise and just run around the city. There are no tourist buses in operation, there are no crowds, no selfie sticks and no hawkers trying to sell you useless trinkets to take home for your mother.

The Coliseum at 10:30 AM on a normal weekday

The Coliseum that same day at 6:45 AM

This works for almost every ‘monument-type’ attraction. It doesn’t work if you want a photo on the inside of the coliseum for example, or an art gallery. But if you don’t need to go ‘into’ something or buy tickets, this works a treat!

Of course, it also wouldn’t work if it’s something like watching sunrise over the Taj Mahal (which everyone does). So, okay, it’s a hack for any 'non-entry dependent, non-sunrise-based' attractions!

In Rome, I saw 5 popular spots - The Coliseum, The Forum, Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps and The Vatican - (with no more than 10 people at any of them) across a 10km run before breakfast. 

A comparison on the Spanish Steps. It's like a Roman version of Where's Wally in the afternoon.

I've been doing this for years

In Paris back in 2011, I had the pleasure of enjoying the Eiffel Tower with no one around too.

I sat in the park and soaked up the scenery and history, grabbed a croissant on the way back to my hotel and enjoyed the day. I really appreciated the space to think. I don't get that in the middle of the day or in the evenings with fifty thousand other people there.

You can tell it was taken in 2011 because I still thought vignettes were a cool editing effect.

A shot usually swimming with people.

The Notre Dame - enjoyed by me, 2 cleaners and 17 pigeons.

I hope you enjoyed this and get to use this hack for yourself. Remember to share this post with your friends. Actually no, don’t. I want the tourist attractions to remain quiet! haha

But seriously... share this hack.

Also, check out where we are on Instagram at the moment. If we’re travelling in the same city as you, reach out to me. We could run together!

What hacks do you have for avoiding the crowds? Fancy sharing with us?

Eric Koelma

Eric is husband to Grace and Dad to Leo, exploring the world and doing everything he can to align the travel itinerary with world sporting events (hello Tour de France!). He's all logical precision and epic decision-making. Eric's also a rare kind of super-human who works best between 9pm and 2am, and still manages to get up early and chase that wilful toddler, WITHOUT coffee (he hates the stuff!)