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Bypass the Lines in Europe: Get Advance Tickets

If you’re headed for Europe this fall or winter—and those are great times to go—you’ll be looking mainly for indoor rather than outdoor activities. The upside is that Europe’s museums, theaters, and concert halls are among the world’s best. The downside is that everybody knows it, and the blockbuster attractions are usually crowded, with tough tickets and/or long waiting lines, regardless of season. One concerned reader asked, simply:

“Can I arrange advance tickets to European museums without waiting in long lines or to plays and concerts that may sell out before I arrive there?”

The short answer is, “Yes, at least to many.” Quite a few of the most important museums offer advance tickets that bypass lines, and you can buy theater and concert tickets early enough to avoid most problems with sold out performances. Here are some guidelines about finding and buying tickets (unless otherwise noted, all listed websites provide English-language options).

What’s Going On?

Before you start buying tickets, you first have to decide which tickets you want. In some cases, that decision is a no-brainer. Among museums, the Louvre and d’Orsay in Paris, the Uffizi in Florence, and the Prado in Madrid. Among events, London theater, opera at Covent Garden or La Scala, and a major pop blowout.

The place to start is with the official tourist site of any city or region you plan to visit. Almost all of them include lists of—and links to—the main local cultural and entertainment venues. Many of the local and multinational ticket agencies also provide extensive—although not always comprehensive—lists of attractions and events.

Time Out publishes printed activity guide magazines for 24 major cities around the world, including London, Barcelona, Bucharest, Lisbon, Kiev, Moscow, and St Petersburg in local languages; its website posts less extensive English-language guides to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Madrid, Milan, Nice, Paris, Prague, Rome, and Stockholm.

Time Out‘s London magazine is available at many “out of town” newspaper and magazine stands in the U.S. And while you’re there, you might find copies of the weekend newspaper editions from a few of the major cities.

Start With the Venue

It seems pretty obvious: The best place to start looking for advance tickets to major museums, concerts, and shows is directly with the venue. Most big venues have such websites, including full schedules. Some sell their own tickets (pay be credit card). Here are a few of the more interesting examples I found:

  • Rijksmujseum Amsterdam not only sells tickets online but also allows you to download and print e-tickets—the only such service I found, but a great idea.
  • Wagner Festival in Bayeruth sells tickets online—but you couldn’t call the tickets a way to avoid lines. According to the website, “You must expect to wait 7-10 years before you get tickets.” Yikes!
  • The Borghese Gallery and Museum in Rome is available only by advance reservation.

Many other venues, however, have turned the online ordering and fulfillment business over to specialized ticket agencies. In many cases, including most London theaters, the venue’s own website includes links to one or more online ticket agencies that handle the online transactions.

In any event, start looking by Googling the museums, theaters, events, or venues of interest. The search will return lots of results—mainly commercial ticket agencies, but if you’re lucky you’ll also spot the venue’s official site—and start there.

Theater and Event Tickets

More than a dozen online ticket agencies handle London and other British theater tickets. The Time Out website, mentioned above, links each theater’s information page to what appears to be its own booking agency. Other agencies include Alltickets Europe, Intime Tickets, London Theatre Box Office.Net, London Theatre Guide Online, Official London Theatre Guide , 1st 4 London, and What’s On Stage, as well as such international ticket agencies as Ticketmaster. Most of these agencies also handle tickets in other British cities; some handle worldwide theater and event tickets.

For bargain hunters, the famous Leicester Square Box Office sells its discounted tickets online. Other agencies offer discounts, as well.

Concerts and Opera

London Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin Philharmoniker are among the several top-flight orchestras that sell tickets online. Among the opera houses, Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) and La Scala sell their own tickets (The LaScala information is presented through an automatic Google translation of an Italitan website—a bit quirky but navigable).

Other major European concert and opera venues have arranged with independent ticket sellers to handle online orders. I found several that appear to be among the leaders in this field:

  • handles classical music concert tickets in 12 European countries as well as the U.S.
  • HMV Tickets sells tickets to classical, rock, pop, and jazz concerts in London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Manchester.
  • Vienna Ticket Office handles a wide range of events in Vienna and popular events in Berlin, Budapest, Munich, Paris, and Prague.
  • Jegymester handles a wide variety of concerts in Hungary and Salzburg Ticket Service does the same for Salzburg.

Museums and Exhibitions

The real blockbusters—the ones where ticketless entry lines can be very long—are mainly the big-name museums in France and Italy, plus the Prado in Madrid. You can get advance tickets to almost all of the top venues. In general, whatever the base entry prices, you pay extra for admittance to special touring exhibitions—also generally buyable online in advance.

The Prado maintains its own ticket-purchase website option. through which you can buy tickets.

The top venues in Paris—the d’Orsay and the Louvre—both maintain detailed websites, but for advance ticket sales, both link to several independent ticket agencies for purchase. These agencies—Ticketweb, Ticketnet, and FNAC—also handle lots of other attractions in France.

Similarly, the main venues in Italy, including the Borghese and Uffizi, maintain websites, but link to independent agents for ticket purchase. Among the many Italian ticket agencies: Ticketeria, Tickitaly, and the several regional “weekend” sites (start with Florence, link to others) arrange tickets to most of the nation’s top attractions, including the Last Supper and the Vatican.

Real museum enthusiasts may want to consider one of several European museum passes that provide priority entry at participating museums for one fixed price. In general, however, passes cover only permanent collections; special exhibits require separate admission. Among the more popular:

  • Paris Museum Pass includes most of the blockbusters, including the d’Orsay, Louvre, Rodin, and the Versailles and Trianon palaces. Prices start at $52 for two days.
  • London Pass provides entry to most of London’s “B list” museums (the British Museum and National Gallery are free) plus lots of other attractions such as St Paul’s, the Tower, and Windsor Castle.

Several online agencies sell these passes. Museumpass arranges these plus comparable passes for Dublin, the Vatican/Sistine Chapel/St Peters Basillica, and other European cities, as well as a wide range of transit passes and regional excursions.

If you’re heading for the English countryside, consider an English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass (currently$32), offering access to hundreds of historic houses and castles around the country.

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