Every major tourist city has developed a tried-and-true itinerary for seeing the major sights. Red hop-on-hop-off buses run past the grandest landmarks, the busiest shopping streets, and the largest plazas. Official tour groups with flags raised high plough through promenades and museum hallways. Lately, however, there has been a growing appetite for alternative ways to see a travel destination. Young travellers hungering for cheaper options, or regular visitors who would like to see a new side of their favourite home away from home seek out new ways to find hidden gems and local insider knowledge. Here are a few tips on how to see your next destination in a new light:
- Themed walking tours
In hostels and bars throughout all of Europe, brochures advertising free walking tours are popping up like daisies. Many travellers are now eschewing sightseeing buses and expensive traditional tours in favour of these more informal alternatives, often led by locals. The system of axing upfront fees and replacing them with a donation at the end of the tour, in combination with getting to know a place by foot together with a friendly face, has proven to be a winning formula. What's more, the walking tour has given rise to endless variations on the theme: in big cities like London or Paris, there are now specialised tours for almost every interest imaginable. Street art in Berlin? Game of Thrones filming locations in Dubrovnik? Cemeteries in London? There's a tour for it.
If a walking tour is too slow-paced for you, then running through your destination of choice might be for you. Don't separate your holiday time between sightseeing and the hotel gym - do both at the same time! Through the Topdeck app, you can find the Bucket List Run itineraries for cities like Rome, Barcelona, or Amsterdam, giving you running routes through the city's hidden gems. Enjoy the view from Rome's Pincian Hill or the charm of the Old Town Square of Krakow, while keeping your running shoes on. It's a way for the fitness nut to take in some history and beauty with their oxygen as well as for the culture vulture who needs a reason to stay active while on holiday. These itineraries also often include more off-the-tracks landmarks that Topdeck travellers may otherwise be missing out on in many famous European destinations. Plus, they say some exercise-induced endorphins have a way of making the memories of your trip sparkle even more!
With the rise of Airbnb, this has become easier than ever. Hotels and hostels have a way of making you feel like a stranger, but taking over someone's flat in a neighbourhood not frequented by tourists is a whole other experience that becomes unique to you and your trip. Staying off the busy tourist districts gives you a sense of calm, and you will start to feel like you're a part of the local community (especially since neighbours tend to be friendlier, too!). Airbnb is not the only way to get the local experience, however - couchsurfing is an excellent way to cut costs and make new friends. Staying with a host family is also probably the most immersive way to travel - and this often really puts your language skills to good use, if you're looking to brush off your high school Spanish. Of course, remember to stay safe when staying with strangers!
If you want to find hidden gems that are difficult for a tourist to spot, but prefer to go exploring on your own, there are thousands of specialised maps and itineraries made by locals that will show you unique shops, restaurants, cafes, and landmarks that would otherwise go unseen. A search on Tripadvisor will direct you to an endless supply of maps and routes (and sometimes entire apps) that can be downloaded to your phone. Are you in need of veggie-friendly eateries in Spain? Do you want to find lesser-known historical sites? Or do you just want to experience something weird? These maps will find you places such as the La Petit Syrah cafe in Nice, where the price of your coffee depends on how politely you ask for it. Guidebooks are slow to update, so search the web to find quirky pop-up shops and one-off events that you don't want to miss.
Every destination in the world is a living, breathing place that has so much more to offer than the tourist trails, so make the most of your trip by seeking out alternative ways to be guided through it!