Six Lesser-Known City Destinations To Swap For Tourist Traps
The Battery, St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador Province, Canada. Photograph by Mr Robert Chiasson, courtesy of Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
When we travel, we tend to stay on the beaten path. There is a good reason for that: familiarity breeds a sense of security, which some people need while away from home. But heavily beaten paths come with their own setbacks. Why spend your hard-earned money to go somewhere you have been before when you could try somewhere new? Why travel thousands of miles to a place whose landmarks – the Eiffel Tower, say, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa – you could draw from memory? Can you really have an adventure in such a place? Do you really want to tangle with the rest of the tourists? These are all valid questions.
Sometimes, smaller and less familiar is the better choice. The world is vast, however, so how do you choose your next out-of-the-way locale? To help you find the gems amid the zirconia, here’s our guide to some of the world’s best lesser-known marvels.
01. Instead of Paris
Go to Rennes
Street in Rennes, Brittany, France. Photograph by Ms Brigita Soldo
Paris is the grand fromage of France, there is no doubting that. It’s beautiful, it has lots of fabulous museums and it is the place of the Paris-Brest, the king of cakes, was invented. But the queues, the clueless American and British tourists (guilty), the ability to get done over in cheap brasseries! These are all arguments for the prosecution. Much finer and nicer is Rennes in Brittany.
If you asked someone to draw a chocolate-box town, they would prob draw Rennes. It is a riot of brightly coloured half-timbered houses around a crystal-clear canal. There is an opera house to take in the culture, the beautiful Marché des Lices, where you can eat oysters till you pop, and the French-formal Parc du Thabor, where you can work them off. The nightclubs cut the mustard, too. And what’s best: few queues.
What to pack
02. Instead of Florence
Go to Lucca
The Guinigi Tower in the old city centre of Lucca, Italy. Photograph by Mr Sebastiaan Kroes/Getty Images
I lived in Florence for a while, so I know its many and varied charms – Camillo Tratorria’s fried courgette flowers especially – but it is also like living in Disneyland. There is a SLR-toting tourist on every corner, it is hotter than the sun in summer and it rains incessantly from October onwards. Lucca is a much more sedate place, but just as beautiful.
Lucca sits prettily at the base of the Apuan Alps in Tuscany and is excellent for those with mobility issues, being largely on the flat. A good thing, too, because there is much to visit: the Guinigi Tower, the clock tower, the Basilica of San Frediano, the church of San Michele in Foro. Tt is a sightseers dream. Plus, after a day pounding the pavement, you can then retreat to the beaches of Versilia, which is just 30 minutes away. Benissimo.
What to pack
03. Instead of Oslo
Go to Tromsø
Northern lights over Ersfjordbotn, Tromsø Municipality, Norway. Photograph by Mr Bjørn Jørgensen, courtesy of VisitNorway.com
Oslo is certainly a pretty city, but it has one major drawback. It is too far south to see the aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights. Tromsø, 1,056 miles north of the capital and accessible by plane, has the lights throughout its long polar-dark winter months.
Not only can you take sledge rides with huskies and see the Sami walk their reindeer through the city, the imposing Arctic Cathedral stands like Norway’s equivalent of the Eiffel Tower. Make sure you visit the nearby planetarium and take a trip to say hello to the sperm whales.
During the winter it can get as cold as -25ºC, but the average temperature hovers around -4ºC, which is quite comfortable, given that it is 217 miles inside the Arctic Circle. Although it is almost always dark during winter, in the summer it enjoys the midnight sun and almost total daylight at all hours, so make sure you pack a sleeping mask.
What to pack
04. Instead of Mexico City
Go to Guadalajara
Degollado Theater, Guadalajara, Mexico. Photograph by Mr Javier Sánchez
The last time I was in Mexico City, the streets were choked with traffic. I thought I was going to expire from all the smog. It is definitely worth visiting, but sometimes you want a more manageable environment.
Every morning at 10.00am in Guadalajara, you can take a free walking tour around the city centre, which has the look of a traditional Spanish town. After that, try a torta ahogada (drowned sandwich), which consists of bread and fried pork swimming in a salsa-like sauce. You can take in a mariachi festival, watch a wrestling match or, if you’re feeling a bit more cultural, there’s an annual world-famous book festival in December.
Despite having a population of 1.4 million, the city still feels intimate and friendly – people actually smile at you. It’s also within striking distance of Patrón Tequila’s hacienda and factory, which is very convenient indeed.
What to pack
05. Instead of Tokyo
Go to Yokohama
Yokohama skyline, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Photo by Mr Tsukada Kazuhiro/Unsplash
I’m second to no one in my admiration for Tokyo, but sometimes it is too frantic – it is home to 37 million people, after all. Yokohama, meanwhile, sits an hour away from the base of Mount Fuji and at night it glitters like a jewel box.
Some of the attractions are a little on the eccentric side, which we like. The Cupnoodles Museum, for example, can easily take up two to three hours of your time. It is devoted to Mr Momofuku Ando, who invented instant noodles in 1958.
After learning all about noodles, you might take a walk through the Sankeien Garden, which is full of historic wood buildings. Then actually eat some noodles at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (less of a museum and more of an in-door market with stalls representing many regions of the country). Oh, and if you plan ahead and go next February, you can go to the strawberry festival.
What to pack
06. Instead of Vancouver
Go to St John’s
Fishing sheds at Quidi Vidi Gut, St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador Province, Canada. Photograph by Mr Robert Chiasson, courtesy of Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
Vancouver looks like something out of a sci-fi novel, all tall gleaming towers in one of the densest of Canadian cities. Despite its plus points, of which there are many, it lacks a certain quaintness. St John’s, on the other hand, has it by the bucketload. The fishing city is among the oldest in North America and the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador.
This waterside city on Canada’s Atlantic coast is all heritage, fine views of glistening waters and walking trails to get lost in. The houses downtown are painted in bright colours, and all differently at that, and remind you of Penzance in Cornwall. Take a guided tour with a local, then head to Signal Hill, where in 1901 the first transatlantic wireless transmission was received by Mr Guglielmo Marconi.