Seasoned travelers often avoid the world’s most-visited tourist attractions, fearing high prices and crowds. But many of these destinations offer unique, awe-inspiring experiences—and they’re popular for a reason! Here’s how to get the most out of your trip to 6 iconic spots.
1. Statue of Liberty, New York City
Sure, a tourist site that draws 3.14 million visitors a year is going to be crowded. But the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom to millions around the world, is worth a visit for its historical significance alone. The 305-foot-tall statue has stood watch over New York Harbor from Liberty Island since 1886. The national monument also includes Ellis Island, where more than 12 million immigrants entered the United States between 1892 and 1954.
Access Liberty Island via passenger ferry from New Jersey’s Liberty State Park or New York’s Battery Park. Get to the ferry early in the morning to avoid long lines for tickets and to get through tight security screening.
If you want to enter the statue’s museum, pedestal or crown, you’ll need to make a reservation up to six months before your trip. Space inside the statue is limited, and crown tickets often sell out months in advance.
NEA member travel benefits: New York City has three area airports:, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia International Airport (LGA), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)., and you’ll find deals on flights through the NEA Travel Program. Search for hotels at great prices like an average of $257 per night at the Hampton Inn Brooklyn Downtown, just over the Brooklyn Bridge, or an average of $272 per night at the Wall Street Inn. Hotel 57 in Midtown averages $304 per night.
2. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
If visiting the Smithsonian’s 20 museums (and zoo) in Washington, D.C., sounds like too much for one vacation, you’re probably right. But you don’t have to try to see everything. Instead, focus on what interests you the most.
With sites as spectacular and varied as the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of the American Indian and National Zoo, there truly is something for everyone. Another plus: Admission to most of the museums is free.
Weekdays are generally less crowded than weekends, especially Mondays through Wednesdays. Whichever sites you choose to visit, pack light: Security measures include metal detectors and bag searches.
Washington, D.C., weather is at its best from September to November and March to May.
NEA member travel benefits: Through the NEA Travel Program, you can search for deals on flights to Ronald Regan National Airport (DCA), Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI). Look for affordable lodging options such as the Glover Park Hotel Georgetown, which averages $156/night or the Hotel Hive for an average of $261/night. Just outside the district is the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Washington DC - Silver Spring for $127/night on average.
Plan your itinerary: Washington D.C. Tourism
3. Niagara Falls, Border of New York and Ontario, Canada
Think Niagara Falls is no big deal? You may be looking at it from the wrong side—of the border, that is. The majestic falls, which sees 3,160 tons of water flow over Niagara Falls every second, can be viewed from either Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, or Niagara Falls, New York—but you’re sure to be impressed if you opt for the Canadian side.
In Ontario, the restaurants and hotels are nicer, and you’ll get better views of all three of the falls that collectively are known as Niagara Falls. There are also museums, family activities, casinos and more to enhance the experience.
Admiring the falls is free, as is viewing the illumination of the falls (nightly, year-round) and fireworks (during summer and for certain holidays). Tours that let you get closer to the falls include the elevator-accessed caves of Journey Behind the Falls and Hornblower Niagara Cruises.
If you visit during peak season (June through August), you’ll find peak prices and crowds. Room rates and temperatures drop in the fall, but most attractions remain open.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) or Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), about 90-minute drive away, by buying airline tickets through NEA Travel: Airfare. Next, look for hotel deals on rooms at the charming Old Stone Inn Boutique Hotel, one of the few independent hotels close to the falls. You’ll see an average nightly rate of $137. Or save money by staying at the Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham Niagara Falls Centre, which averages $54 per night. The Crowne Plaza Niagara Falls Fallsview, an IHG Hotel, averages $105 per night and is directly across from the falls. Many rooms have spectacular views of the water.
4. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, inside Rome, Italy
Is seeing a Renaissance masterpiece in person on your bucket list? If so, visiting the Sistine Chapel is a must. As part of the extensive Vatican Museums, the chapel is most notable for its exquisite ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512.
The ceiling is the high point of a long walk through the museums. There are no shortcuts that let you bypass other exhibits along the way, so if you’re mostly interested in seeing the chapel itself, move quickly to ensure you have plenty of time to admire it.
Buying tickets online and reserving a time and day for your visit lets you skip the ticket line. Admission is free on the last Sunday of every month, but you can expect more crowds on those days. If you’re willing to pay extra for a tour before the museums open or after they close, you can see the chapel with fewer people.
NEA member travel benefits: Flights to Rome can be booked via NEA Travel: Airfare by searching for Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (FCO).
For good prices on accommodations, the NEA Travel: Hotels page has rates like an average of $176 a night at the recently renovated B&B Domus Domas, which is right by the Termini Central Station, or an average of $213 a night at Navona Central Suites, which has spacious suites in a 19th-century building near the Pantheon.
Plan your itinerary: Turismo Roma | Italia.it
5. Machu Picchu, Cusco Region, Peru
Traveling in the high-altitude Peruvian Andes may sound like more work than it’s worth—until you catch your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Built by the Incas in the 15th century, Machu Picchu was abandoned a century later and remained unknown to the outside world until 1911.
Now the largest tourist attraction in South America, this archaeological treasure encompasses about 200 mostly restored structures in a dramatic setting above the Sacred Valley. Machu Picchu is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the organization has considered adding it to its list of sites in danger—which might force greater restrictions on tourism.
If you have the time—and endurance—hiking to the site on the Inca Trail can be an unforgettable experience. You’ll need two to four days for the high-altitude trek, and you’ll have to make reservations months in advance.
July and August are peak tourist months, and the wet season is November through April. If you’re willing to cope with a little rain, you may find lighter crowds then. The Inca Trail is closed in February.
If you want to hike in, you’ll need a guide. Otherwise you can visit Machu Picchu independently; purchase tickets through the government site (click the British flag icon for English). If you don’t want to plan the trip yourself, book a guided tour.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez de Lima (LAP) and then Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ) in Cusco by buying airline tickets through NEA Travel: Airfare. Next, look for great prices on hotel rooms, like an average of just $58/night at the Hotel Monasterio San Pedro, inside an old monastery from 1650 just off Cusco’s main square. Or for an average of $102/night you can stay at the Ramada Costa del Sol Cusco, which includes breakfast and WiFi.
6. Great Barrier Reef, Off the east coast of Australia
One good reason to visit the Great Barrier Reef soon: It may not be around much longer. The world’s largest coral reef is a 1,500-mile-long UNESCO World Heritage site, and it boasts 600 types of coral and more than 1,600 fish species. But it’s also quite fragile; it’s disappearing due to pollution, illegal fishing and coral bleaching due to climate change.
The weather is best from June through October, but you’ll find fewer crowds and better hotel rates in April and May. Avoid November through March, as abundant rainfall reduces visibility in the water.
Options for viewing the reef include glass-bottomed boat tours, a floatplane or a sailboat, but arguably the best way to appreciate this natural wonder is via snorkeling or diving.
NEA member travel benefits: You’ll need to first fly into Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport (SYD) and then into Proserpine Airport (PPP) in Airlie Beach, a great homebase for exploring the reef. Buy your airline tickets through NEA Travel: Airfare for the best prices. Next, look for great prices on accommodations, like an average of $120 per night at Airlie Beach Hotel, which has an outdoor pool and water views. Or for more of a resort, stay at the Coral Sea Marina Resort, for an average of $202 per night, and have access to land and sea activities galore, plus amenities like pools, a spa, and restaurants.