The Eiffel Tower. Big Ben. Angkor Wat. The Sydney Opera House. Sometimes the top attractions in a destination are so iconic that it would be a pity to miss them. A trip to Paris really should involve at least a glance at its most famous tower, in my opinion.
But what do you do when the “best” attractions just aren’t of interest? Or you’re based somewhere for a while and have run out of the “top ten things to do”? It’s time to start looking for lesser-known attractions.
Although a quick Google search will probably land you with multiple pages telling you to do the same ten things, it’s possible to find alternative things to do, wherever you may be!
1. Talk to locals
Talking to locals can be a great way to find hidden gems. Ask your hotel or hostel concierge what they recommend, or what they like to do on the weekend. Chat with shop assistants. Or better yet, stay with a couchsurfing or AirBnB host that wants to spend time with you, and join them on their excursions.
A few years ago, we spent six weeks travelling in Germany, spending the weekends couchsurfing and the weekdays in hotels. It was a great way to see the country, and to discover a bunch of activities we wouldn’t have known about if we’d been doing our own research. We went rafting with one couple, hiking with another, geocaching with a third. They introduced us to their favourite bars and restaurants, and we had an awesome time.
2. Talk with other travellers
While talking to locals can reveal a lot about a destination, sometimes other travellers have more information about what to do and see. Chatting to other travellers in hostel common rooms has given us heaps of ideas about what we can do and see — a visit to a cool semi-abandoned train station in Albania springs to mind.
You can also get information from other travellers by reading blogs, joining Facebook groups, or scrolling through Instagram photos of your destination.
3. Just go for a walk
If your destination is small enough, just head out your front door and go for a wander. We found this technique particularly successful in Spain, where there seem to be hundreds of small art galleries and interpretation centres. In Alcala de Henares, we stumbled upon a small art gallery that had a temporary exhibition of “day of the dead” artwork, which we didn’t see advertised anywhere.
4. Check out the official website
Many towns and cities have an official website that aims to inform travellers of all there is to do and see in that location. As well as pages focusing on accommodation, transport, food, and top activities, these sites also often include information about events and off-the-beaten-path attractions.
5. Look at notice boards
We’ve been doing a lot of housesitting recently, which often takes us to small towns and cities. Many of these places have never thought of making their own website; others have one which is wildly out of date. In this situation, we’ve found that local noticeboards are often a great source of information, particularly for local events. In Great Finborough, we attended a strawberry cream tea in a local barn, wandered through gardens on the open garden day, and went to a fete in the next-door village, all of which we found out about through notices!
Good places to look for noticeboards are near the town hall, outside churches, in libraries, or near parks. Supermarket noticeboards can also host a wealth of information.
6. Do a tour
We often start our stay in a city with a tour — usually a walking tour, sometimes a food tour, occasionally a hop-on-hop-off bus tour if nothing better is available. Not only does this give us a good overview of the destination, it can also prompt ideas to explore later in our trip, and sometimes gives us access to places we just wouldn’t have known about without the guide’s knowledge.
In Athens recently, a food tour took us to a cellar-like restaurant for an authentic Greek lunch. The lack of signage and dilapidated exterior would have turned us away if we’d even been able to find it ourselves, but we had a wonderful time. In Alcala, a walking tour guide managed to talk us all into the Corral de Comedias, a 16th-century playhouse that’s otherwise only open to visitors a few times a year. In Battambang, our excellent tuktuk tour guide took us to four disparate locations that would have been hard to get to without his expert knowledge.
7. Follow your heart (or choose a theme)
Why not take your own enthusiasms with you on your trip? If you love hiking, find a day hike. If you enjoy cooking, do a cooking class. If you are a beer- or wine-drinker, visit a brewery or vineyard for a tasting. Just think about what you’d like to do, and do a Google search for “theme + location”. You might be surprised about what comes up!
We’ve found this technique to be particularly valuable, as it has allowed us to have experiences that are meaningful to us — even if they might not be of interest to other travellers. One of our favourite memories of our time in the Czech Republic, for example, is of going to a meetup to play board games. We got to play some of our favourite games, spend time with some great people, and even meet a board game author!
However you choose to look for them, every destination has a bunch of lesser-known attractions just waiting to be found. Good luck on your search!
[box] This episode of the Indie Travel Podcast is sponsored by Visit Milwaukee.
Vogue Magazine says Milwaukee, Wisconsin is “the Midwest’s Coolest and Most Underrated City.” Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is the original Brew City, the home-base of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and so much more. It’s home to Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, and the city that roots for Bucks basketball and Brewers baseball. If you’re an urban kayaker, a cheese fiend, an art lover, a beer geek – it’s time to get to know Milwaukee. It’s totally random and totally wonderful.
See what you’ll find in Milwaukee. Start at visitmilwaukee.org.[/box]