Best days of the week to visit the world's most famous attractions

It was long ago but I can still not forget my disappointment at seeing nothing of Istanbul's 16th-century Suleymaniye Mosque but the entrance to its courtyard. It was an impressive entrance of big grey walls surmounted by popping domes and minarets like missiles, but nothing like the interior eruption of stained glass, tile work and mother-of-pearl inlay that I finally saw many years later.

It was a Friday. The mosque was closed for prayers and I had a coach ticket to Bursa, so I missed the city's most beautiful monument. I never made that mistake again. Now I smile wryly when I hear of travellers arriving at the Louvre or Taj Mahal to find them locked up. I know that sinking feeling. Geschlossen, fermé, tutup: words travellers never want to see on ticket-office doors.

Days of the week matter when you have tight travel plans. Sights can be closed, neighbourhoods quiet, bar streets abandoned. You can go hungry. It isn't all bad news, though. There are good days for late-night openings, tranquil sightseeing, sports events and religious festivals. Transport and hotels can be cheaper depending on the day you book or travel. Here's what to consider before you go.

SUNDAYS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW A popular cult day in ancient Rome, named after the sun. The Lord's Day in many Romance languages, Resurrection Day in Russian. The day of prayer and rest in Christian-influenced societies.

WATCH OUT Most major tourist venues are open on Sundays, though not the Vatican Museums or Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Transport services are reduced. Shops are closed on Sunday mornings in the US, and all day in parts of Europe (especially Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and South America. Entry to cathedrals and churches is restricted during services. See museivaticani.va; goturkey.com

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A SUNDAY If you don't want to slow down, best stick to Asia, where shopping and dining continues unabated. In the US, this is the best day to take in the razzmatazz of a sporting event such as American gridiron, which culminates with the Super Bowl on the first Sunday in February.

DON'T MISS Cities of Latin America such as Mexico City, Santiago, São Paulo and Quito, which have declared major avenues, old towns or other districts free of cars on Sundays, making walking and cycling among the locals a pleasure. Bogota in Colombia was the trailblazer in 1974, and now shuts down 120 kilometres of urban roads, which entices 1.5 million residents onto the streets. See visitmexico.com; chile.travel; visitbrasil.com; ecaudor.travel; colombia.travel

MONDAYS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW Named after the moon, though in Slavic languages simply called After-Sunday. Greco-Romans considered it the second day, an idea that lingers in ecclesiastical tradition. A recommended fasting day for Muslims and Jews.

WATCH OUT Mondays can bring bitter disappointment to those hoping to see great sights such as The Last Supper in Milan or Versailles outside Paris. Many museums and monuments (especially small and provincial ones) are closed across Europe and North America, although big drawcards such as the Rijksmuseum, Louvre and Statue of Liberty remain open. Many shops and restaurants are also closed. See italia.it; en.chateauversailles.fr; louvre.fr; nps.gov; rijksmuseum.nl

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HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A MONDAY There's no rigid rule, so check in advance. For example, while the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is closed, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens remain open. But don't expect open museums or lively neighbourhoods; plan instead for parks, beaches, mountains or countryside. See uffizi.it/en

DON'T MISS Picnicking. With locals back at work and restaurants closed but bakeries open, re-enact the Impressionist picnics you can't see in the galleries at top spots in European cities. In Paris, the Tuileries Gardens, Place des Vosges and Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower are great picnicking places. Parisians even picnic on the Ponts des Arts pedestrian bridge, which has terrific views of Paris' elegant skyline. See en.parisinfo.com

TUESDAYS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW Named for the obscure Norse god Tyr, associated with law, justice and combat. A lucky day for Jews, unlucky according to Greeks and Spaniards. A popular day for visits to Hindu temples, especially those dedicated to Ganesh and Kali.

WATCH OUT Just as you thought it was time to return to cultural duties, you discover Tuesday is another common closing day in Europe – doors are slammed shut at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, Louvre in Paris and many other leading museums. For those open, numbers are swollen by visitors who missed out on Monday. See museoreinasofia.es/en

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A TUESDAY Do your research to avoid heart-plummeting moments such as being caught out in front of the closed-up Catherine Palace in St Petersburg. Relocate on Tuesdays if you can; it's generally the cheapest day to fly in Europe and Asia. An advance Easyjet flight from London to Paris on Tuesday can be half the price of any other day. See visit-petersburg.ru/en/; easyjet.com

DON'T MISS Shrove Tuesday, a showcase of eccentric tradition and pancake eating across England. The moveable date (determined by Easter) falls in February or March and is marked by skipping competitions in Scarborough, mob football in Cornwall and Derbyshire, and street pancake races in London.

WEDNESDAYS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW Named after the Saxon god Woden, a variant of the Norse god of battle, death and wisdom Odin. Simply called "Mid-week" in many European languages, "Water Day" in Japanese and Korean. "Red Wednesday", which falls in April, is New Year for Yazidis, an Iraqi ethnic group.

WATCH OUT "Hump day" is often cited as the week's worst day, though that applies to workers, not travellers. Still, it's the second-most dangerous day for commuters, so watch out when crossing the road. Other than that, Wednesday might be the perfect travel day: just everything is open, and it's one of the cheapest days to fly.

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A WEDNESDAY If you want to grab the limelight with your social-media posts then Wednesday is the best time of the week to post if you want to grab attention on Facebook and Instagram – especially around lunchtime (for your followers).

DON'T MISS A papal audience in St Peter's Square in Rome. Pope Francis appears every Wednesday morning (when he isn't on holiday or overseas) to greet well-wishers and give a short reading in multiple languages, before prayers and a blessing. Even if you aren't Catholic, it adds living culture to a tour of the basilica and museums. See vatican.va

THURSDAYS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW Named after the Norse god of thunder (and Hollywood heartthrob) Thor. An auspicious day to start your education in Thailand, where Thursday is Teacher's Day. Traditionally movie premiere night in Australia.

WATCH OUT Beware as always of random closing days, or you'll miss out on the likes of the fabulous Fabergé Easter eggs at the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow. The good news is that Thursday is late-opening hours for many museums in cities such as Berlin, Vienna, London and Washington DC, though sometimes just on one Thursday each month, or only in summer. See kreml.ru; visitberlin.de; austria.info; visitlondon.com; washington.org

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A THURSDAY Unless you're an avid night-clubber, theatre-goer or devourer of 10-course degustation menus, evenings can be rather dull in travel land. Late-night openings don't just provide something to do; some museums also feature dining experiences, live music and reduced entrance fees.

DON'T MISS Two lesser-known but excellent New York museums have extended opening hours and pay-what-you-like entry on Thursday evenings. Exhibits at the Museum of Arts and Design range from jewellery, porcelain and stained glass to African handicrafts. The mind-challenging New Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in startling, latticed stacked cubes that look best after dark. See madmuseum.org; newmuseum.org

FRIDAYS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW Named after Odin's wise wife Frigg, but in Romance languages after Roman goddess of love and beauty Venus. It's considered unlucky to set sail on Friday. Traditionally a day to avoid meat among Christians.

WATCH OUT Friday is Islam's holy day for resting and congregating for prayer. Mosques are closed to tourists, as are some sights, as many horrified visitors to the Taj Mahal discover when they arrive in Agra. Friday and Saturday is the weekend in many Muslim countries (though not in Turkey, Morocco, Malaysia or Indonesia), so attractions such as theme parks get big crowds, as do shopping malls, especially from late afternoon.

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A FRIDAY Unlike Sundays, you won't find Fridays particularly disruptive of travel plans in busy tourist cities such as Dubai (though Jumeirah Mosque is closed) or Istanbul. In much of the world, early Friday evening is a great time to stickybeak on locals as they kick back after work in eateries and bars. See jumeirahmosque.ae/; visitdubai.com

DON'T MISS Friday brunch, the Muslim world's equivalent of our Sunday brunch, only quite the social institution and far more extravagant. Dubai is the gourmet go-to for the all-you-can-eat extravaganzas offered by luxury hotels and upmarket restaurants, some with the option of bottomless champagne or wine.

SATURDAYS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW Named by the Romans after Saturn, god of wealth and agriculture. Called Bath Day in Scandinavian languages after the preferred day for Viking scrubbing. Shabbat is the holy rest day for Jews, during which many activities are prohibited.

WATCH OUT The freedoms of Saturday evenings don't apply to those on holiday, who can go wild every day, but locals let loose, so inform yourself of nightlife no-go zones in major cities. Tickets for shows, concerts and transportation can be more expensive.

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A SATURDAY On weekends, you'll face even more crowds in recreational venues such as museums, parks, theme parks and shopping malls. Big-name tourist sites see less fluctuation except in China or India, where millions of locals have yet to see the Forbidden City or Amber Palace. Head out early, expect delays, and book tickets for tours, sporting activities and shows in advance. See travelchina.gov.cn/en; tourism.rajasthan.gov.in/

DON'T MISS Shops, restaurants and public transport shut down in Jerusalem for Shabbat (head to the Muslim Quarter to eat) but you'll be able to enjoy the city at its quietest and most atmospheric, with almost no traffic. Friday evening – Shabbat actually runs from sunset to sunset – is the moment to take in the Western Wall. Some organisations offer Shabbat meals with local families. See itraveljerusalem.com, visitpalestine.ps

THE ONE DAY OF THE WEEK

FOR HOTELS Weekend holidaymakers check out on Sunday, business types arrive on Monday, and that makes Sunday the unloved orphan of hotel nights. Rates can be up to 30 per cent lower than any other day – plus you won't be competing for that lounger by the swimming pool.

FOR FLIGHTS It's complicated, because there are many varying factors but according to the number-crunching annual report by Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation, you'll get the lowest average price by buying economy or premium tickets on a Sunday. Flights are often cheaper if you stay over a Saturday.

FOR AIRPORTS Feedback from 31 million international travellers by HappyOrNot, a customer satisfaction reporting business, shows passengers are happiest at airports on Wednesdays. Monday is the worst day to fly in the US, according to FlightStats, with 40 per cent more cancellations than any other day.

FOR CRUISING Price-monitoring site CruiseWatch.com says you'll get the best bargain by booking on a Thursday, with more price drops and special offers (with up to 17 per cent savings) from cruise lines on that day than any other. Most price hikes happen on a Wednesday, and Sunday isn't great either.

FOR CAR HIRE Corporate clients are busy renting on Sunday evenings, Mondays and Tuesdays, so casual travel customers get the worst deals on those days. Thursdays often have the best rates, as do weekends except in summer – or except in winter from cities near ski resorts such as Geneva or Denver.

A WEEK OF FUN DAYS

WET MONDAY, POLAND

Beware Easter Monday in Poland and neighbouring Slavic countries, when you'll find yourself drenched in water. Traditionally, Smigus-Dyngus celebrations saw girls soaked and beaten with willow branches, but a spirit of equality and hilarity has now resulted in a free-for-all water fight. Game on as water guns, water balloons and buckets (and even, alarmingly, fire trucks) come out to play. Wear your old clothes and leave your mobile in the hotel. See poland.travel

FAT TUESDAY, NEW ORLEANS

Mardi Gras, as it's better known, is famously celebrated in Venice and Rio too but, for uninhibited party-going, pack your sequinned costume and mask for the two-week festivities in New Orleans. Some 50 different parades of garish floats are usually concentrated in the last five days: watch out for flying beads and other trinkets. Bourbon Street is a never-ending parade of youthful boozers who cavort long into the night. See mardigrasneworleans.com

LA TOMATINA, BUNOL

This infamous Spanish festival is held on the last Wednesday of August near Valencia. La Tomatina opens with participants attempting to climb a greased pole for a prize ham. Then the tomato fight begins. Truckloads of tomatoes are flung for an hour, leaving participants, bruised, happy and ultimately washed down by fire hoses. It's mad, pointless but exhilarating. The town celebrates for a week with singing and dancing, parades and fireworks. See latomatina.es

THANKSGIVING, NEW YORK

Avoid the horrors of travel over Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday of November) by getting to New York early, then linger to enjoy fewer crowds and the early Christmas season. Take in America's best and biggest Thanksgiving Parade, organised by department store Macy's and featuring giant balloon floats in the shapes of animals and cartoon characters, plus marching bands, cheerleaders, and celebrity guests and singers. Kids will enjoy the pre-parade balloon inflation. See nycgo.com

GOOD FRIDAY, SEVILLE

Friday is the best day to enjoy Seville's weeklong Easter festivities which, though not exactly fun – they often descend into religious fervour – are spectacular, and do occasionally involve outbreaks of joy, flamenco singing, partying and fluttering confetti. At midnight, a cavalcade of religious floats supported by hooded figures winds through the old town's candle-illuminated streets. Stay on for the very merry eating-and-dancing April Fair, which begins on Easter Sunday. See visitasevilla.es

FIELD DAY, LONDON

This one-day music festival (which is slowly oozing into two days) is held on a Saturday in summer and, despite its ephemerality, features top-notch lighting, state-of-the-art sound systems and big names in the cutting-edge music scene. Last year headline names included rap MC Skepta, dance-music DJ Denis Sulta, smoky jazz singer Celeste and singer-songwriter Jorja Smith. The festival is held in a hanger-like venue, giving it a Berlin vibe. See fielddayfestivals.com

EASTER SUNDAY, GREECE

A half-hour before midnight on Saturday, the lights go out, candles are lit, traditional hymns sung and fireworks set off – most spectacularly from the top of Mt Lycabettus in Athens. The Greek Orthodox fasting period has ended, and Sunday is spent celebrating at tavernas or in village squares, where roast lambs turn on spits and folk music plays. In some towns such as Rhodes, an effigy of Judas is burned. See visitgreece.gr

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