Summer vacation is just around the corner. Here’s what you need to know if you plan to visit France, Italy, England or Ireland this summer — the latest word on what’s open, what’s closed, where the crowds will be and how you can avoid them.
Eiffel Tower, Paris
In Paris, the Eiffel Tower’s first level — after a $38 million renovation — is decked out with new shops, eateries and a multimedia presentation. The highlight is the vertigo-inducing glass floor that lets you experience what it’s like to stand atop an 18-story building and look straight down.
Rodin Museum, Paris
Just a few blocks away, the Rodin Museum is now fully open after a three-year renovation.
Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
In Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is a true island once again at high tide. It’s reachable by a new super-sleek bridge rather than the old causeway that blocked the flow of water around the island.
In Stratford-upon-Avon, the town is marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre has opened after a total renovation. New Place and Nash’s House, showcasing what’s left of one of the houses in which Shakespeare lived, is set to open July 1.
The Gherkin, London
London seems intent on building itself out of any economic recession in its ever-changing landscape of sights. Be sure to have locals point out the many distinct skyscrapers decorating the skyline; Londoners have given them clever descriptive nicknames, such as the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater and the Walkie-Talkie. New buildings generally come with a dramatic viewpoint open to the public. The One New Change shopping center, just east of St. Paul’s Cathedral, has a public parklike space on the roof terrace, with great views of the church. And the towering London Hilton on Park Lane skyscraper has an unforgettable viewpoint lounge on the 28th floor.
Trevi Fountain, Rome
One of the biggest disappointments for visitors to Rome in recent years has been finding the Trevi Fountain under renovation. Emptied of water and laddered with scaffolding, it could be viewed only by shuffling through a quick-moving queue on a narrow platform. But the renovation has been completed, Neptune is surfing through his wet kingdom again, and tourists are tossing coins into the fountain to ensure they’ll return to Rome.
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is still undergoing its massive, yearslong renovation to improve security, lighting and climate controls. Most recently, the Early Renaissance rooms — the first rooms that visitors enter — have reopened. You can expect that some works will have shifted to new locations or have been temporarily removed from view. .
Duomo Museum, Florence, Italy
At Florence’s Duomo, the big news is the reopening of the completely revamped Duomo Museum, whose masterpieces (such as Ghiberti’s bronze doors) once adorned the adjoining cathedral, baptistery and bell tower. New themed tours at the Duomo (about $40) include a visit to the north terrace of the cathedral (otherwise not accessible to the public), an opportunity to watch contemporary stonemasons chiseling away in the Duomo workshop and an up-close look at the baptistery’s glittering mosaics.
Unterlinden Museum in Colmar
In Alsace, the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar has reopened after a multiyear restoration, and its masterpiece, Matthias Grünewald’s gripping “Isenheim Altarpiece,” is back on view.
In 2016 it will be easier to see ancient Roman sights in Provence. In Avignon, a direct express bus now goes to Vaison-la-Romaine, a picturesque town chock-full of ancient ruins. And at Pont du Gard, there are two new options for seeing the Roman aqueduct in the summer. There’s an after-hours program that lets visitors enjoy the sight until midnight, and in July and August, half-hour tours through the water channel at the top of the aqueduct are offered six times a day in both French and English.
Carnavalet Museum, Paris
Elsewhere in Paris, the Carnavalet Museum — which covers the history of Paris and has a great exhibit on the French Revolution — is undergoing renovations in 2016. While it will remain open, some of its rooms may be closed. The Louis Vuitton Foundation is the latest entrant to the Paris art scene. Its cool glass, sailboat-like building, set in the Bois de Boulogne park, features modern and contemporary art.
St. Peter's Square, Rome
With the ever-present crowds at the Vatican Museums these days, advance reservations are a must. But if you haven’t planned ahead, you can often get priority-entry tickets at the tourist office in St. Peter’s Square or in the basilica’s foyer.
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
Always crowded Rome will be particularly jammed this year. Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be a special Jubilee Holy Year, and the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica will be open. Expect plenty of pilgrims and some extra security precautions at St. Peter’s.
Firenze sightseeing pass, Florence
Wherever you go in Florence, the Firenze sightseeing pass (about $82, firenzecard.it) will allow you to skip the ticket buying line — but you’ll still have to get through security check bottlenecks.
Cinque Terre, Italy
In the Cinque Terre, the hiking trails linking Italy’s five cutest towns are finally beginning to reopen (five years after a flash rainstorm caused devastating flooding). The trail from Monterosso to Vernazza is officially open; the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia is passable but officially closed, and the trail from Corniglia to Manarola and Riomaggiore (the famed Via dell’Amore) is closed and impassable for now — but expected to reopen by summer.
Durham Cathedral, England
At Durham Cathedral — England’s greatest Norman church — the new “Open Treasure” exhibit will display a number of treasures, including a copy of the Magna Carta from 1216 and items from the Norman/medieval period (when the monks of Durham busily copied manuscripts), the Reformation and the 17th century.
Tate Modern art museum, London
London’s Tate Modern art museum is expanding with a new wing that will double the exhibition space. It has been opening gradually in advance of its official debut in June.
Titanic Museum, Belfast
In Belfast, Northern Ireland, a new Discovery Tour, part of the Titanic Belfast museum, explains the striking design and architecture of the new building and the adjacent slipways where the ship was built.