Every year, Visit Britain release the visitor numbers of the top attractions in the UK, and other than in 2020/21 (for obvious reasons), the numbers have shown a steady increase. The UK is the tenth most visited country in the world with over 36 million visitors (2018) which may be only a third that of the top country, France, but France is 126% bigger than the whole of the UK.
This constant increase in visitors means that our top tourist sites are becoming more and more crowded, with an increase in queues, noise, litter and people getting in the way of the site itself. Visiting these sites can become stressful and not the enjoyable experience it is meant to be, so how can you visit the sites without the crowds and get the most from your time spent there?
The Natural History Museum in London Photograph © Paul Albertella
England's Top Tourist Sites in order of Visitor Numbers 2019
*All costs given can vary depending on adult/child/peak/off-peak etc
1. The British Museum, London
Annual Visitors: 6,239,983
How to see the British Museum without the crowds:
Take an Out-of-Hours Tour before the museum opens.
Take a free Eye-Openers Tour
Visit on a weekday as soon as it opens or the hour before it closes. Avoid school holidays.
Visit on a sunny day - most people will be outside.
Visit on one of the Late Night Openings (usually a Friday).
The crowds all tend to be around the most popular artefacts while other galleries can be empty even at peak times. Go against the flow and visit those instead.
Want some fresh air and calm after a visit to the museum? Try Russell Square for trees, shady benches and places to eat - its just a couple of minutes walk away.
2. The Tate Modern, London
Annual Visitors: 6,098,340
Read about a visit to the Tate Modern >>
How to see the Tate Modern without the crowds:
Visit as soon as it opens as the crowds arrive around lunchtime.
Avoid school holidays and weekends.
Late night openings tend to be Fridays and Saturdays and have fewer visitors.
Visit on sunny days when everyone else is outside.
Take a private tour when the museum is closed to others.
Want some fresh air and calm after a visit to the museum? Try Bankside Beach (tides permitting) for a river view and a sandy seat - it is just a couple of minutes walk away.
3. The National Gallery, London
Annual Visitors: 6,011,007
How to see the National Gallery without the crowds:
The National Gallery is usually very busy but if you get there as soon as it opens and head straight to the most popular artworks you should be able to see them without too many people around (Rooms 45 and 46 have Van Gogh and the Impressionists which are the most popular).
Visit on a sunny day.
Late night openings are usually on a Friday and are quieter than normal times.
August has twice as many visitors as September so avoid the school holidays, especially the summer ones.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the quietest days of the week.
The nearest green space is Leicester Square, which is anything but peaceful. Instead try Victoria Embankment Gardens which are a 6 minute walk away and have shade, a play park, outside gym and countless statues to admire.
4. Natural History Museum, London
Annual Visitors: 5,423,932
How to see the Natural History Museum without the crowds:
Arrive at opening time or towards the end of the day to avoid the worst of the crowds - between 12-3 is the busiest time.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 10am are the quietest.
There is always a queue so arriving at 9.30am will get you to the front of it
Avoid school holidays, particularly from April - August.
The dinosaurs section is the busiest and often has its own queue within the museum - get there first thing to minimise this.
The Museum has its own twitter account which will update you on queue times.
There are regular late night openings - usually every last Friday of the month except December.
Do an out-of-hours Dino Tour before the museum opens.
Explore the museum at night with Dino Snores Sleepovers - they do them for both kids and adults.
The nearest green space is the wildlife garden of the Natural History Museum, or Hyde Park which is a 8 minute walk away and has plenty of gardens, lakes, wildlife and places to relax after your hectic visit to the museum.
5. Brighton Pier, Sussex
Annual Visitors: 4,901,221
Cost: Free entrance but all rides and activities have a cost
How to see Brighton Pier without the crowds:
There is only one way to see the Pier without the crowds - visit in winter, when its raining and get there early.
It is not a place I recommend for the Slow Traveller - it is loud, packed and will leave you wondering where all your money has gone.
6. Victoria & Albert, London
Annual Visitors: 3,992,198
How to visit the Victoria & Albert without the crowds:
Afternoons are by far the quietest time of day, particularly after 3pm.
Friday, Saturday and Sundays are the busiest, Thursday is the quietest day.
It is a very big place and can't be done in a day, so choose your preferred areas before visiting and head straight for those.
School mornings are Tuesday - Thursdays, 10 - 12, so you may want to avoid those.
There are two cafes on site - the V&A Café is very popular as it was the first museum restaurant in the world.
There are lates on some Friday evenings when the museum has far fewer visitors.
Your nearest green space is Hyde Park which is a 8 minute walk away and has plenty of gardens, lakes, wildlife and places to relax after your hectic visit to the museum.
7. Science Museum, London
Annual Visitors: 3,301,975
How to see the Science Museum without the crowds:
Go on a weekday - Tuesday and Thursdays are the quietest.
Visit on a sunny day when most other people will be outside.
Avoid school holidays if you can.
Go in as soon as it opens or at the end of the day.
It is a vast place and you will waste time leaving to eat and then re-enter, so either don't go in there hungry or eat at one of their cafes.
There are often special events such as late nights which are the last Wednesday of each month. These are adult only and include talks, workshops and a silent disco.
The nearest green space is the wildlife garden of the Natural History Museum which is next door, or Hyde Park which is a 8 minute walk away and has plenty of gardens, lakes, wildlife and places to relax after your hectic visit to the museum.
8. Tower of London, London
Annual Visitors: 2,984,499
The Tower of London is the most popular paid ticket attraction in the UK, and the square outside it is often packed with people queuing for tickets.
How to see the Tower of London without the crowds:
Buy your tickets online in advance to avoid the queues outside.
Book for the end of the day - around 3pm - to miss the worst of the crowds. Do the indoor parts of the Tower first (they close around 4.30 - 5) before wandering around the battlements.
Alternatively book for the earliest time slot and make sure that the Crown Jewels are your first port of call.
Book an early access tour which means you also get to see the Opening Ceremony - its at 8.45 and is offered by lots of tour companies.
Avoid the school holidays and weekends if you can.
Your nearest green space is the Tower Hill Memorial, just over the road from The Tower, which has plenty of places to sit in the sunshine, as well as a kids playpark right next to it.
9. Somerset House, London
Annual Visitors: 2,841,772
How to visit Somerset House without the crowds:
Arrive first thing or at the end of the day for fewer crowds.
It is a big place and doesn't get too busy unless it is for one of their special events, such as ice skating at Christmas, outdoor film showings and other big events. There is no way to avoid the crowds for these.
The nearest green space is Victoria Embankment Gardens, a large park filled with monuments, riverside views and places to sit in the shade.
10. Kew Gardens, London
Annual Visitors: 2,316,699
How to see Kew Gardens without the crowds:
Its an obvious one, but you will get far fewer people on rainy days.
Weekdays are best, particularly during term time.
Get there as it opens and make a beeline for the most popular areas - the glasshouses, treetop walk and beehive, so that you have seen them by the time the masses arrive.
Explore the far reaches of the gardens where fewer people bother to go..
Attend one of the lectures or talks, many of which take place in the evenings
Kew has an article on their website of their Secret Gardens, which will help you to find the more peaceful spots.
11. Chester Zoo, Chester
Annual Visitors: 2,086,785
How to see Chester Zoo without the crowds:
Avoid school holidays and weekends, particularly in the warmer months.
Get there as soon as it opens. There may be school groups but they are easily avoided.
Try one of the animal experiences - there are a huge amount on offer, such as Breakfast with the Lions, Keeper for a Day or an Early Birds Tour.
12. Tate Britain, London
Annual Visitors: 1,808,637
How to see Tate Britain without the crowds:
A sunny day when everyone else is outside means fewer crowds inside.
Get there as it opens or towards the end of the day.
Decide in advance what you want to see the most and focus on that first.
Join a talk or guided tour (daily at 12 and 1pm).
Tate Britain has occasional lates when the museum is quieter.
There are regular Private Viewings, mostly for members, but not all.
The nearest green space, other than the grounds of the Tate itself, is the very uninteresting Bessborough Gardens, which are 4 minutes away. Instead the Victoria Tower Gardens South, a 7 minute walk away, have more facilities, better views and help you get further away from busy roads and their associated noise.
13. St. Paul's Cathedral, London
Annual Visitors: 1,716,417
How to see St Paul's without the crowds:
Book one of their tours, many of which are free.
Visit on a weekday in term time, although be prepared for school groups.
Get there first thing in the morning (8.30am) or at the end of the day (4pm) for fewer crowds.
Attend a service or a concert.
The nearest green space is St.Paul's Churchyard and nearby Festival Gardens, the only oasis of green in the sea of concrete and bricks which is the City of London.
14. National Portrait Gallery, London
Annual Visitors: 1,619,694
Currently closed until 2023
15. Windermere Lake Cruises, Lake District
Annual Visitors: 1,613,785
Location: Lake District
How to go on a Windermere Lake Cruise without the crowds:
Winter is the best time to visit the Lake District if you don't want crowds. Pandemics aside, it is always swarming with coach tours.
The longer cruises will have fewer groups of coach parties.
Go for the first one in the day before the coach parties have arrived.
You can buy cruises which include meals and music which will have fewer daytrippers.
There are 16 lakes in the Lake District - consider a cruise on one of these instead.
16. Stonehenge, Wiltshire
Annual Visitors: 1,604,248
Location: Salisbury, Wiltshire
Cost: £20+ per adult (but can be done for free)
How to see Stonehenge without the crowds:
If buying a ticket, either visit towards the end of the day and do the museum before you see the stones, or visit as soon as it opens and see the stones before the museum.
Weekdays and outside school holidays are best.
Rainy and cloudy days have fewer visitors.
You can do VIP tours outside the normal opening hours - these are in small groups and take you inside the stones.
You can see the stones for free outside opening hours by walking on the free footpath. You don't get as close but it means you can see them without the crowds.
You can see them virtually on a 360 degree camera from right inside the stones.
Read more about how to see the stones for free >>
17. Westminster Abbey, London
Annual Visitors: 1,574,401
How to see Westminster Abbey without the crowds:
Choose a sunny day when everyone else is outside.
Get there for when it opens (9.30am) or for the last slot of the day (3.30pm).
Do a Verger Guided Tour, which lasts 90 minutes and will take you to places that are not normally accessible to the general public.
Avoid the school holidays, particularly Easter and Summer, when the most tourists are in London.
The nearest green space is Victoria Tower Gardens South, a 4 minute walk away and next to the House of Lords. There are plenty of places to sit in the sunshine, as well as riverside views and monuments to admire.
18. British Library, London
Annual Visitors: 1,534,860
Cost: Free (charges for some exhibitions and events)
How to see the British Library without the crowds:
Choose a sunny day when everyone else is outside.
School groups are regular visitors so term times could be just as bad as holidays - try the start or end of the day to avoid them.
Take a Treasures Tour.
There are regular exhibitions and events - the ones with a charge will have fewer crowds than the ones without.
This is a particularly built up area of London as the library is squashed in between Euston Station and St. Pancras Station, but your nearest green space is Tavistock Square, a 10 minute walk away.
19. Roman Baths, Somerset
Annual Visitors: 1,325,085
Location: Bath, Somerset
How to see the Roman Baths without the crowds:
Visit on a weekday, outside the school holidays and in winter (although you may still get school groups).
The coach tours from London tend to arrive around lunchtime, so visit as soon as the Baths open to avoid them.
In the summer months they stay open late for the Baths by Torchlight, which means there are far fewer day trippers and no coach tours, making it very peaceful - its a delightful experience and one I have done 3 times! Read about visiting the Roman Baths by Torchlight >>
20. Old Royal Naval College, London
Annual Visitors: 1,264,683
How to see the Royal Naval College without the crowds:
Avoid weekends and school holidays.
It is a large open space with expansive grounds, but it can get crowded in the Painted Hall, which is the chief attraction.
Book on one of the tours - there are several on offer.
Attend a service in the chapel or one of the events in the Painted Hall.
Book a Sunday afternoon tea in the Admiral's House - it is rarely open to the public and this is currently the only way to see it.