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Top tips for sightseeing like a pro

When you travel abroad, you can visit the best museums in the world, explore ancient ruins, discover spectacular houses of worship, and enjoy diverse collections of historical artifacts. It may be tempting to just wing it and figure things out as you go, but one of the biggest mistakes travelers make is arriving at the destination without a plan. Here are some tips to help you avoid common mistakes and get the most out of your trip.

Make a plan

Smart sightseers plan ahead. Before your trip, set up an itinerary that covers the key things you want to see. Be realistic about how much you can do in a day. You don’t have to plan every single detail, but it’s helpful to have a general idea of your daily (and nighttime) activities. Even if you end up abandoning your itinerary for the day, at least you’ll have some backup ideas in case something goes wrong.

Get the most from your museum visits

Visiting a large museum in a foreign country can be overwhelming. Some cities have so many museums that it can be hard to decide which ones to visit (and which ones to save for a future trip). You can't do everything, so don't even try. For most people, two to three hours is the maximum length of a museum visit. If you insist on covering every inch of a large museum, plan on making a number of visits over several days.

Consider buying a museum pass. For cities that offer museum passes, make sure it’s worth the price. A pass may or may not make sense for you, depending on the length of your stay.

Buy tickets online. Many museums sell tickets online. With advance tickets, you can skip the line and save time. Plus, you’ll know you won’t be turned away from a popular site that requires visitors to buy tickets in advance during the height of the tourist season.

Focus first on the main attractions. You’ll enjoy everything more when you're still fresh. If you have any energy left, you can explore other galleries later. Tip: Visit the museum’s website before your trip to learn more about its top attractions (and any special exhibitions). The more you learn beforehand, the more you’ll be able to appreciate the works of art during your visit.

Take a tour. Artwork and artifacts are more interesting when you understand the time and context in which they were created. Even just eavesdropping on a passing tour can be illuminating. Audio guides can enhance your experience, too.

Check the hours. Some museums may be closed on certain days. Others may have evening hours once or twice a week. Even if you’ve double-checked hours, places can close unexpectedly.

Wear good shoes. Strolling through museum galleries filled with amazing works of art can be a transformative experience, but sooner or later your feet will bring you back to earth. Also, bring along a sweater or light jacket. Most museums use air conditioning to preserve their collections. It might be a sticky 90 degrees outside, but inside it can be downright chilly.

Take a break. After your visit, take a few minutes to appreciate what you’ve just experienced. Have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine—and grab a bite to eat. Spend some time with your traveling companion to compare notes. If you’re traveling alone, write in your journal or send a few postcards. Peruse the books or materials you picked up at the museum.

How to tour ancient ruins

Exploring ancient ruins can be an awe-inspiring experience that makes history come alive. From Greece and Egypt to Mexico and China, ruins give us a chance to witness the achievements of ancient civilizations and contemplate the passing of time. Following a few tips can help you get more out of your visit to an archaeological site.

Visit early. Popular sites often become overrun with tourists in the afternoon. Avoid the crowd by visiting in the morning when your energy is best.

Take a guided tour. It’s a great way to learn interesting facts and stories that will spark your imagination and create memories that will last for years to come.

Buy a guidebook. Along with helpful tips about visiting particular sites, some books include overlays that show you how the site looked in the past. Tip: Before your trip, watch a movie or read a book set in the region you’re planning to visit.

Visit the museum, too. Many major archaeological sites also have a museum filled with artifacts. Touring the air-conditioned museum first may make sense on a hot afternoon. Just make sure the ruins stay open in the early evening. On the other hand, if it looks like it’s going to rain, visit the archaeological site before the museum.

Wear appropriate shoes. Archaeological sites can be large and rugged, so you may need to hike. Wear comfortable clothes and a pair of walking, running, or hiking shoes. Pace yourself and take plenty of breaks. Never pass up a chance to pause and take in the view.

Don’t forget the sunscreen. Open-air sites often don’t have much shade, so bring a hat and wear sunscreen. And carry a bottle of water, especially if you’re visiting during the summer.

Visiting cathedrals and other houses of worship

When you visit a cathedral, church, synagogue, mosque, shrine, temple, or other house of worship, be respectful. Remember, these are sacred places. Also, follow the dress code and lower your voice. Be sure to check your guidebook to avoid showing up at a house of worship when it’s closed for a service that isn’t open to the public.

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