Get Your Head Out of the Crowds

We would all ideally like to visit the Trevi Fountain in Rome when no one else is around. Or ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building – just us and our loved one. Or maybe be the only family riding Space Mountain – no waiting, no fuss.

But as kvom points out in reply to cocoa who is seeking tips as to how to avoid crowds during her upcoming European travels:

Tourists spots are that just because they’re worth visiting.  So unless you’re an insider and get special tours outside of opening hours, you’ll have to go with the rest of us hoi polloi.

Truer words might never have been spoken. Still, other posters offer some good tips that will not only guide cocoa as she quits her job and plans her travels, but can also be put to good use by all of us. sarahelaine in particular offers this list of techniques for enjoying off-the-beaten path experiences:

  • university districts are often good sources of quirky bars and chatty locals who want to practice English and they’re usually safe.
  • ask locals and recent visitors from the city on this site for tips. I’vefound some great places that way.
  • lots of cities have free papers or things to do websites in English and they can be great on off the wall recommendations, especially if they’re aimed at expats or locals who have tried a lot of the obvious things
  • quality varies city to city, but the lonely planet can be quite good on up and going areas. There are sometimes interesting leaflets in hotels and hostels, too, called things like “city guide autumn winter 2014!” And as they come out frequently they’ll have things like interviews with local designers about what they did at the weekend. Believe it or not, budget airline inflight magazines can have tips sometimes too.
  • check advice for each city, but in most of Europe, you’d have to walk quite a way to get from a tourist area to a dangerous one. Obviously, you need a bit of situational awareness, but you’ll rarely get in trouble just letting yourself get mildly lost two or three streets from the middle
  • look up. Many European city centres look familiar at ground level- h&m, Douglas pharmacy, esprit, McDonald’s. But above the first floor will be cool carvings, original architecture, clues what the building used to be, and public art. There are features even on the main trails most people simply won’t see.

And trippin_jen (no relation) takes the experience-a-place-like-a-local concept to an entirely different level:

For me, I always try to meet up with a local and tell them to “show me a day in your life”.  That always work for me. That is if you’re really interested to see around neighbourhood and eat if small coffee shops as such.

What advice would you give cocoa? And what touristy locations have you enjoyed the rare pleasure of visiting when practically no one else was there?

For me, it was the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, less than one month following the 9/11 disaster. My wife and I had planned the vacation months in advance and had the entire park – including the adjacent Islands of Adventure park – practically all to ourselves. It was a surreal and paradoxically somber and amazing experience.

Read the entire thread: How to get away from tourist spots?

Image: “Trevi Fountain” by me.


  1. Travel in winter… We love February when it’s chilly– good for walking and when weather gets stormy we go to a museum or other indoor attraction.

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