How to legitimately dodge queues at gyms, attractions, restaurants, etc

There’s a sneaky way to bypass queues at restaurants, clubs, gyms, attractions, Ikea and more – and you don’t need to be a VIP.

Update 1 August 2017: While this blog was written last year, the information in it still stands. We’ve tweaked it here and there to reflect new features Google has added.

It’s all about Google’s free Popular Times feature, which predicts when places will be rammed (or not). It uses anonymous data from people who opted to share their mobile location to find busy times.

As a result, you can see that on Fridays the London Eye is most popular around 2pm to 3pm, and arriving at 10am should slash your waiting time.

People going to Ikea in Leeds on a Saturday would do well to avoid 1pm to 3pm and instead arrive at 9am or 6pm – or, better still, try a Tuesday.

How to use the Popular Times feature

It’s easy to use. First do a Google search for a restaurant, attraction, etc. On the right-hand side, you’ll see a block with Google’s listing (ie, where the pink circle is in the image below).

Ikea Google Listing

Scroll down within this block and you’ll see a Popular Times graph – if there is one for that attraction. If you can’t see the chart, try clicking the ‘More about’ button (if shown). You can flick between days to find the quietest times.

Not all places will have a popular times graph – it only appears when Google has sufficient data and has been given an establishment’s opening times, so smaller places may not feature it. It works across the UK, as well as many countries worldwide.

Popular Times was also added to Google Maps on Apple’s iOS operating system in January, another way to check how to beat the crowds at shops and attractions.

You can now use it in real time

Where Google has enough data, you’ll now also see a red block showing in real time what you’ll be up against, with a status such as “a little busy”.

This doesn’t work everywhere (for example, in smaller shops) but can be handy on ‘unusual’ days, such as bank holidays or around Christmas.Popular Times Graph

‘It’s great for planning a trip’

A few MoneySavers have used Google Popular Times with great success…

  • Kath says:I used Popular Times in the last few weeks to look at busy days at attractions while on holiday in Germany/Austria. Love it.
  • Anna says:I’ve recently gone part-time at work and used it the other day to find out when it is quiet on one of my days off, to go and do my food shop. Most relaxing supermarket shop ever!
  • Jennifer says: “It’s great for planning a trip to the local Swedish home decor shop.”
  • MSE Jermaine turned the idea on its head to pinpoint lively nightspots: “When my friend and I went to Prague, we had no clue which club was the most popular to visit on which night. So we went through every club looking for the busiest times and followed what it told us. Every time we went out it was accurate.”

Where does the data come from?

Google uses aggregated and anonymised data from users who have opted in to Google Location History. Popular times are based on average popularity over the last several weeks, while live updates are in real time where it has sufficient data.

To turn your Google Location History off, just follow Google’s instructions. When you turn it off for your Google Account, it’s turned off for all devices associated with that account.

This is just one of the ‘life hacks’ we feature on the site. See our 80+ MoneySaving Life Hacks guide for lots more – including an app which lets you eat neighbours’ food for free, how to turn your phone into a free sat nav and a tool to check if hackers have stolen your info.