How to beat the queues in Europe

Seeing the sights without the queues is the way to go, writes Belinda Jackson.

From the Eiffel Tower to the Berlin Wall, there are key destinations on every traveller's list when visiting Europe. Many people opt for a guided tour as it means scoring priority access, no queuing for tickets and a guide who doesn't get a commission from the souvenir shops. Here are 10 luxe and mid-range options for a tour of duty.

Paris, France

LUXE Did you know the Eiffel Tower has more than 2.5 million rivets, 40 tonnes of paint and 1652 steps? Designed for seasoned travellers or those looking for depth, Tauck's tour groups rarely exceed 26 people. This week-long tour spends three nights in Paris, then travels the small and winding roads to the Cote d'Azur and Provence. Stops en route include Monaco, Avignon and towns that inspired Van Gogh and Cezanne. The price includes a guided tour of the Musee du Louvre, a guided walk along Paris' 2000-year-old Pont du Gard, olive-oil tastings, a cruise on the River Seine, accommodation and airport transfers, admission fees and tips. Tours depart between April and October next year, priced from $3723. Phone 1300 766 566, see traveltheworld.com.au.

LESS This three-day affair in Paris will put you in the picture. Touring includes a cruise on the Seine, a drive down the Champs Elysees and visiting Notre Dame. Of course, you're staying on the Left Bank with hotel options for a range of budgets. Great for those wanting to squeeze in a quick Parisian hit, there are also options that build in travel via the Eurostar train from London. Includes accommodation, breakfast daily, airport transfers, a half-day sightseeing tour and river cruise. Priced from $1175. Phone 1300 558 987, see tempoholidays.com.

London, England

LUXE Skip the crowds, sail past the Tower of London and end up in a traditional old London pub on this 21-day Majestic Britain and Emerald Isles tour. Scenic's FreeChoice Activities let you personalise with one additional tour, such as a "flight" on the London Eye or a visit to Churchill's underground Cabinet War Rooms. Tours are capped at 35 guests. Prices include transfers, high-end accommodation, tipping and wine with meals. Deals such as free air fares or upgrades are available. Tours can also incorporate a luxury river cruise on board Scenic Tours' "space-ships". Early-bird offers for next year's tours are available until December 19 and are priced from $9695 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 136 001, see scenictours.com.au.

LESS Older children like a bit of gore and the 900-year-old tower's history of beheadings should sate your offsprings' appetite for bloodlust. This four-day trip with Globus has a maximum of 44 guests, starts and ends in London and visits Brighton, Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon. Seeing the tower and Crown jewels is an optional extra to the tour, conducted every afternoon. You can also add dinner and a cruise on the Thames. Other options include hanging out at Windsor Castle and mooching around Buckingham Palace. Priced from $969 a person, twin share, with early-bird discounts for trips booked before December 15. See globus.com.au or a travel agent.

Berlin, Germany

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LUXE The remains of the Berlin Wall are a major drawcard 20 years after it was pulled down and the city reunified. Taking a 21-day private train tour from Russia to Germany via Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic will see you tossing back vodka and caviar at Moscow'sSt Basil's, revelling in a Chopin recital in Warsaw and dining in the Wieliczka salt mines. The tour takes up to 130 guests, split into smaller groups for sightseeing, with accommodation in luxury hotels. Includes all meals, wine, tips, travel insurance and flights from Australia (a land-only option is available), as well as most personalised activities. There are two departures annually – on July 2 next year. Priced from $20,990 a person. Phone 1800 622 628, see captainschoice.com.au.

LESS Make friends on your coach by playing "where were you when ..." as you head to the Berlin Wall on this 10-day Bohemia Highlights tour, which traverses the Czech and German countrysides and on into Poland. The tour spends two nights in Berlin, also visiting the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin State Opera House and Alexanderplatz. You'll also spend three nights in Prague and two days in both Warsaw and gorgeous Krakow, southern Poland. Also on the itinerary is the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Czestochowa's Black Madonna. Four Bohemia Highlights departures take place next year and they are priced from $5995 a person, twin share.Phone 1300 656 985, see aptouring.com.au.

Rome, Italy

LUXE One of the most popular tours run by Vita Italian Tours, this 16-night Grand Tour of Italy spends three days wandering through Rome's piazzas, with a day at the Vatican and, of course, the Colosseum. Starting in Rome and ending in Florence, the tour caters for between eight and 15 people. The group heads south from Rome to the Amalfi coast, then up to San Marino – with plenty of local eating – before heading to Venice and Florence via Siena, with a wine-tasting in Chianti en route. Price includes transport, hotel accommodation, all meals and admission to sights on the itinerary. Seats are selling fast for tours departing May 10 and August 30 next year, priced from $6450 a person. Phone (03) 9682 8098, see vitaitaliantours.com.au.

LESS Think Colosseum and Russell Crowe in a metal skirt. OK, maybe not, but Rome's largest arena is famed for its gladiatorial battles. On your first full day in Rome, this Italian Escapade, conducted by Phil Hoffmann Travel, finishes at the Colosseum so you can wander at will and perhaps snap the blokes decked out in all their fighting gear. Other Roman hot spots include the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica. The 13-day tour also has two nights apiece in Florence, the Italian Lakes, Venice and Sorrento and one night in Assisi. Accommodating both first-timers and seasoned travellers, there are plenty of built-in stops for photographers who have a bent towards history, art and architecture. The tour is priced from $3699 a person. Phone 1300 889 953, see pht.com.au.

Barcelona, Spain

LUXE Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi's wild fantasy, La Sagrada Familia Basilica, has been a show-stopper since construction began in 1882. Abercrombie & Kent's eight-day Spanish Serenade itinerary shimmies between Barcelona, Madrid, Cordoba and Seville. Accommodation includes Barcelona's hip Arts Hotel and the chic Madrid bolthole Urban Hotel. Price includes all transfers in chauffeur-driven cars, entry fees to sights on the itinerary, club-class rail tickets between cities, tapas tasting and a dressage performance at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. Spanish Serenade is priced from $9590 a person, twin share, with more luxurious accommodation packages available. Phone 1300 851 800, see abercrombiekent.com.au.

LESS Grab a local and a set of headphones and you're ready for Trafalgar's tour of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, the basilica and other Gaudi fantasies. Word is that part of the basilica will open for worship next year. This nine-day Spanish Wonder tour then heads to Madrid for the Prado Museum, Granada for the Alhambra palace and Christopher Columbus's tomb in Seville. Prices include land-only transport, accommodation, some meals and sightseeing on the itinerary. Trafalgar's new optional Be My Guest feature invites you into a local's home for dinner – on this trip, it's a tapas dinner in a bodega in Seville. Spanish Wonder is priced from $1899 a person, twin share. See trafalgar.com.

COST-SAVING TIPS

Check tour price inclusions; tips and porterage charges can spiral crazily. When dinners aren't included, you have more free time but it may bump up your budget.

Make sure a tour suits your fitness levels — European cities often have steep climbs up stone steps.

Check the currency a tour is priced in. Many companies charge in US dollars and prices vary with currency fluctuations.

Avoid hefty singles supplements by teaming up with another solo traveller. Some companies will help pair you up.

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