Having been born in Europe, I naturally have a personal attraction to this great continent. I have also had the good fortune of having travelled there dozens of times. Lately however, I have noticed changes taking place, mainly in the name of safety, because the threat of insecurity is very high in the major cities on the European continent.
I am a huge believer in making travel as safe as possible, and European cities are certainly winning the battle. Unfortunately this comes at a hefty price, which delves into the economy of nations, and sacrifices in infrastructure.
I have taken a look at some of my recent trips, and compared them to those of several years ago. There are several changes, which you should be aware of when travelling to Europe. This will ensure you have a pleasant visit, seeing as much as possible.
Paris, the city of love, is still an amazing place to visit; however, the Eiffel Tower is now surrounded by a massive, bulletproof glass wall. This is for security, and the only way you can enter is with a prepaid ticket, which I would suggest you get in advance. I would also recommend you give yourself an extra 30 minutes to go through the screening process. Tickets to visit the summit (upper observation deck), are no longer available at the tower. Buy them in advance, on line.
Still in France, the famous Dordogne caves, which feature cave paintings dating back 15,000 years ago. They are no longer accepting reservations, making it next to impossible to visit. If you want to see these prehistoric wonders, you will need to find tour guides who have tickets, and book at least 6 months in advance.
Lisbon, Portugal has fantastic, classic trolley cars, which are a must for tourists. Unfortunately they have become a haven for pick-pockets, due to their overcrowding. A good alternative is the newly restored line 24E. The sights along this route are not as great, but the crowds are much less, and consequently much safer, and it still gives you the trolley experience.
You may have heard construction on Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Familia Church, by Antoni Gaudi is going to resume after a ten year hiatus. Construction began in 1882 and was halted in 2010. Completion is expected in 2026; however, when you arrive at the ticket office you will see a sign that reads “No more tickets today. Buy your tickets for another day online”. This is becoming the norm in Spain, and I would recommend you purchase entrance tickets to most sights well in advance.
Berlin is a city with much history, especially surrounding the Cold War. The DDR Museum, which showcases life in East Germany prior to the fall of the wall, is one of Germany’s most visited exhibition halls. Advance tickets are a must, or you will find yourself on the outside looking in. Also, while in Berlin, remember, you will need to show your passport if you want to enter the Reichstag (German parliament).
Two of my favourite castles in Germany are King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. I fortunately found out in time that reserved tickets must be picked up 90 minutes before entry. This causes a lengthy (and boring) delay, but there is nothing you can do about it. You can visit Maria Bridge, for the famous ‘photo op’ of the castle (crowds permitting), but do not miss your entry time. Once reservations sell out for the day, that’s it. If you get there early enough you may be able to buy tickets, but remember 2020 is the year of the Passion Play, and crowds are expected to be huge.
Renovations on Amsterdam’s Anne Frank house are now complete. Tickets go on sale two months in advance, so plan early. You can try the Dutch Renaissance Museum. It is very interesting and never crowded. The Van Gogh Museum, directly behind the Rijksmuseum, has a new ticketing system, whereby every visitor must book a specific entry time slot.
If you are visiting Prague, you will be happy to know that the seven year renovation of the National Museum is finally complete. Admission also includes access to the cupola at the top, overlooking the magnificent city from Wenceslas Square. While in Prague, I would suggest a ride on the recently launched tram 23. Along with tram 22, the cars are from the nostalgic 1960s era, and run from the centre of town, across the river to Prague Castle.
Due to a huge increase in river cruise traffic, tickets to the Hungarian Parliament buildings sell out early. If you plan to visit, and are not on a cruise, go to www.parlament.hu (please note the spelling) and reserve your entry.
New changes in reservations include the Auschwitz Museum in Krakow, where reservations must be made in advance. Schindler’s Factory Museum (also in Poland) has lengthy ticket lines, but if you visit the information office in the old town square, you can book entry times in advance. Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace is also experiencing lengthy lineups and specific entry times, but if you visit www.schoenbrunn.at, you can buy a Sisi combo ticket, which allows you to enter the palace without reserved entry times (again, please note the website spelling).
I have found that research is essential these days, if you are travelling, especially to Europe. Rules change daily, and being prepared will make for a much more enjoyable trip.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com