Nighttime's the right time -- and reservations are smart any time -- when it comes to seeing the great sights in Northern Italy. With all the crowds heading for the same few attractions, popular sights and destinations are packed, and ticket lines are long. For 2020, officials thankfully have promised longer hours and easier opportunities to book entries in advance. Here's the latest:
At Venice's St. Mark's Basilica, it is now easy to reserve an entry time online, even for same-day tickets. While you'll pay a small reservation fee, you'll save valuable time with a guaranteed entry.
To accommodate more visitors, the Doge's Palace -- where the government met for four centuries to administer the Venetian Republic -- has extended its hours into the evening. In peak season, it's open until 9 p.m., and even later on weekends. The evening hours are a good time to visit this popular sight thanks to fewer tourists.
For grand views over Venice, travelers can visit the rooftop terrace of the recently opened T Fondaco dei Tedeschi luxury mall, housed in the historic German Exchange building. Four times an hour, 70 people are allowed onto the roof for 15 minutes to take in the sweeping views of Venice's canals and rooftops. Entry is free, but you must reserve a timeslot either online or at the mall itself.
About 30 minutes from Venice, the city of Padua is home to several famous sights, including the Scrovegni Chapel, where art lovers flock to experience Giotto's beautifully preserved frescoes depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary. Because only 25 people are allowed in at a time, visits are by reservation only. But now, travelers visiting in peak season have the option of booking a nighttime visit to the chapel (between 7 and 10 p.m.).
At Padua's other major sight, the Basilica of St. Anthony, a new combo-ticket includes entry to the basilica's museum, Oratory of St. George, and Scuola del Santo, and also includes an excellent audio guide that covers the basilica and related sights.
At Milan's Duomo, the third-largest church in Europe, both ticket and security lines can be long. When visiting, you can save time by buying tickets in advance online, visiting late in the day after the crowds die down, or touring the rooftop first then descending directly into the church (thereby avoiding the main church security line).
For a completely different side of Milan, travelers can head north of the center to the redeveloped Porta Nuova neighborhood, featuring a sparkling forest of skyscrapers surrounding a park. An hour spent wandering this happy land of sleek-and-successful urban Italy does more to expand your understanding of Milan (and Italy) than any other hour you could spend in the city.
In Florence, two tram lines are a boon for travelers. The new T2 tram connects the airport and the city's main train station. It runs frequently, is much cheaper than a taxi ride, and takes 20 minutes, making it the best option for getting to and from the airport. The T1 tram is helpful for drivers, who can leave their cars at the Villa Costanza park-and-ride outside town and zip downtown on the tram.
Florence's sightseeing ticket options continue to keep visitors on their toes. At the Accademia (home of Michelangelo's David) and the Uffizi Gallery (Boticellis and other Italian masterpieces), it's essential to buy tickets in advance to avoid the long ticket lines. But for most travelers, it no longer makes sense to buy a Firenze Card. While this sightseeing pass once justified its expense by allowing you to automatically skip the lines at both of these sights, it now requires you to book an entry time in advance.
About an hour south of Florence, in the Tuscan hill town of Siena, ticketing options for its monumental cathedral complex have changed. A new, unified combo-ticket covers admission to the Duomo, as well as the Duomo Museum, Baptistery, and Crypt.
In Pisa, a fine way to get away from the day-tripping crowds that descend upon the Leaning Tower and the Field of Miracles is by walking the two-mile stretch of the 12th-century city wall that connects the river and the Field of Miracles. For a small fee, you can stroll upon a recently opened section of the wall, offering views of the Field from above, as well as residential areas that show off a quieter, greener part of the city.
For any vacationer, time is money -- and you'll get more value from your sightseeing time by planning thoughtfully and knowing your options. And, especially in Northern Italy -- so rich in history and art -- the rewards are well worth the trouble.
(c)2019 Rick Steves
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