The sun is out and people are flocking to the UK’s top tourist sites this summer. But with a bit of forward planning you can still enjoy a hassle-free experience away from the crowds.
From dodging the coach tours at Stonehenge to skipping the queues at the Tower of London, we can help you make the most of your visit to some of the UK’s most popular attractions.
As one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, it’s no wonder that visitors flock to the Stone Circles in their thousands.
The site is famously crowded but spring and autumn are far quieter than the summer months.
Coach tours typically arrive between 9.30am and 4pm in summer (2pm in winter), so you should time your visit to arrive before or after.
You will need to secure your 30-minute time slot in advance. English Heritage and National Trust England members can enter free of charge, but must still have a pre-booked slot.
Tower of London
At its busiest, more than 15,000 people can visit the Tower of London in a single day. You voted it your fourth favourite historic attraction in our latest survey, giving it the full five stars for entertainment. Your only grumble was the crowds.
But book your ticket in advance online and you can enter through the Middle Drawbridge entrance where queues are much shorter than the main entrance.
Visit early and head straight for the Crown Jewels, or wait until the crowds thin out at around 3pm. If you arrive late, make sure to prioritise the indoor parts of the Tower as these close earliest.
An Early Access Tour (£74) will also allow entry before anyone else in a small group of 20 or less. As well as skipping the line, you can also watch the official opening ceremony.
Kew Gardens, London
The Royal Botanic Gardens – a Unesco World Heritage site – was the most visited paid attraction in 2020, according to VisitBritain.
But with more than 320 acres, it’s still possible to find a quiet corner away from the crowds.
Members can enjoy the gardens from 8am from May to September, which gives two hours access before general admission at 10am.
There’s also late opening until 7pm (8pm at weekend) in summer with cheaper entry from 4pm.
Entering Kew via the quieter Lion or Brentford Gate will allow you to immediately explore some of the more hidden corners of the gardens. These include the rosemary and lavender fragrant Mediterranean garden and the tranquil Japanese Landscape, a vision of pink cherry blossom in spring.
The Natural Area, the wild border where Kew meets the River Thames, is also perfect for a tranquil wander.
Eden Project, Cornwall
The former clay mine has been transformed into a beautiful global garden and a major visitor attraction.
Surprisingly, it is quieter on sunny days and at weekends, as these are changeover days at campsites and holiday parks when people are coming and going from their holidays.
Head for lesser-known gardens such as Wild Chile in the Eden Outer Estate, with sweeping views across to St Austell Bay.
Biomes manager Catherine Cutler also advises heading to the Rainforest Biome first thing to experience wonderful humidity and the rich, earthy scent of the rainforest.
Consider visiting Eden’s cafés before or after the busy lunchtime period – or bring your own picnic to enjoy in the indoor seating area (in the big white Stage at the centre of the gardens).
Windermere Lake Cruises, Lake District
A whopping 15.8million visitors flock to the Lake District each year, with many making a beeline for Windermere.
Avoid weekends and peak times from midday to 4pm; Friday is the quietest day.
Drive to one of the quieter piers – like Lakeside, at the southern end of Windermere, or Waterhead in Ambleside. You can travel to the many shops, cafes, pubs and attractions by water then get another boat back to pick up the car.
Alternatively, the Walker’s Ticket allows you to cruise across Windermere and access a scenic four-mile walk on the quieter western shore.
You are treated to breathtaking views of the lake and lush woodland before returning on the Windermere Car Ferry.
British Museum, London
The British Museum, exhibiting two million years of human history and culture, is the third most visited free attraction in the UK.
But if you’re feeling flush, an out-of-hours tour (£33 per person) before doors open to the public at 10am will allow you to explore the galleries at their quietest.
For general admission, early in the morning on weekdays or the hour before closing are typically least crowded.
Late-night openings (most Fridays) are also a good opportunity to escape the masses. The last time slot is 7pm.
After Kew Gardens, Chester Zoo is the second most popular paid attraction in the UK – with more than a million visitors in 2020.
There are over 20,000 animals and 128 acres to explore, so it’s still possible to find some relative peace and quiet.
Avoid school holidays and weekends, if you can, and arrive early in the morning.
For the VIP treatment, book one of the animal experiences – like Keeper for a Day (from £250pp).
Not only will you get a unique experience, but it includes an early morning tour of the zoo before doors open to the public.
Roman Baths, Bath
One of the great religious spas of the world in Roman times, the Baths were the place to come to worship the goddess Sulis Minerva.
It is one of the top 20 most popular paid attractions in the UK with almost 240,000 visitors in 2020.
Evenings are quietest at this historic site. There is also late-night opening until 10pm (last admission at 9pm) during the school holidays in July and August.
The Great Bath is torchlit after hours and a pop-up bar serves wine and soft drinks.