Touristy things get a bum rap. Experienced travelers and locals alike look down their noses at anything remotely resembling a tourist attraction. Let them!
Ever heard someone proclaim they wouldn’t be caught dead doing touristy things like such and such (usually something you’re planning to do or have just done)? They’ll pooh pooh your plan or experience, citing tourists have ruined it. This can totally be true. Ever try to see the Mona Lisa? Yeah.
Folks who live in tourist destinations (like us) can quickly become irritated with the people who are doing touristy things, too. But we’ve all been there, haven’t we? So excited to be in a brand new place on vacation that we completely forget our manners or how to drive. Or perhaps we feel a wee bit entitled somehow because we’re helping the local economy. Or we might get upset because a business or an individual in the service industry doesn’t meet our expectations.
People planning their next vacation say they want to go “off the beaten path.” They’re looking to avoid touristy things and even entire destinations that are too touristy. They can’t abide tourists who swarm in large groups or whose behavior is rude or embarrassing. These kinds of tourists can really spoil things for the rest of us, true. But, feeling as though being a tourist is something lowly that you want to avoid at all costs? You could lose out big time, particularly at a new destination.
Experienced travelers like Nomadic Matt are calling these people out: “…this idea that simply because a place is popular it has become ‘too touristy’ and thus ruined is crap.” Every traveler has had a first time experience at a destination, popular ones included. Let’s get positive about the fact that people are traveling more than ever, instead of complaining about their numbers!
Earth to travel snobs, there are reasons most touristy things and destinations are popular with visitors. First of all, they’re usually fun! Next, they’ll give you a good idea of what your destination is known for. And third, they’ll help you evaluate the rest of your itinerary, choosing things you’ll enjoy and learn about. Isn’t that the essence of travel?
We’ve found the following touristy things are good bets in just about any new destination. See if you agree:
1. Take a hop-on hop-off bus tour. Yes, really, they seem so cheesy. Until you take one in an unfamiliar city. Sure, the information and sightseeing you get is the Cliff Notes version, but if you haven’t had time to read up on your destination’s history and claims to fame, this of all the touristy things will be just the orientation you need. Bonus: headsets which translate the dialogue in your own language. We took these bus tours in Vienna and Budapest.
If there isn’t a formal tour bus with guided commentary, consider just hopping a city bus and riding it to the end of its route and back. We did this in Sochi, and wound up in a charming little shopping area for a lovely day among the locals. Or, take a horse drawn carriage ride through town; if it’s winter they’ll have fluffy blankets.
2. Visit iconic landmarks. Really? You’re beyond checking out the Eiffel Tower? You’re not going to walk across the Charles Bridge in Prague? No need to hike up to the Kalalau Lookout on Kauai? Passing up the Empire State Building or the Hancock Tower? You’re probably way too jaded for the Hollywood Walk of Fame, too. Sheesh, people!
When we wound up spending some less-structured time in Maui, we drove the Road to Hana, which is one of Our Top 5 Road Trips. We definitely don’t regret it, but I’m sure there’s somebody somewhere waiting to pooh-pooh this, only to try and prove they know something better. Don’t buy into this kind of faux superiority. There’s a reason these famous places are famous!
3. Seek out local food from street vendors to popular restaurants. You don’t have to be taken in by overpriced food and cocktails in popular areas. Ask a local where to eat and drink; they’ll proudly recommend.
Our first morning in Prague we were approached by a lovely older couple who’d seen us looking at a menu in the window. “Oh, don’t go there,” they said, “too touristy. We like this restaurant around the corner, and we’re going there now for an early lunch. Join us!” Regrettably, we’d just finished a late breakfast so we declined. We shouldn’t have. Later their recommendation was confirmed by a taxi driver: “One of the best, oh yes!”
Our favorite meal in Budapest came about through a recommendation from a friend here in Hanalei, all the way across the world. His fond recollections were confirmed; it was arguably our favorite meal during the 5 weeks we spent in Europe. Would we have ever even found this restaurant on our own? Nope.
4. Hire a guide or visit with an organized tour. Another friend in Hanalei recently lived for a year in Prague. Full of recommendations for trendy bars and restaurants, he advised us to take the Sandeman’s free city tour, then hire a guide for the specialty tours we were interested in. This was another “best piece of advice” we received prior to our trip, even though it was a very touristy thing to do. We had outstanding guides for a day trip to Kutna Hora, and a tour of WWII related sites in the city.
Sometimes a new destination can seem intimidating or even too overwhelming for a new visitor, particularly if it represents a big change in culture, a remote location, or logistical challenges. For instance: While visiting India, we’d definitely suggest considering reliable tour packages for select places, especially when traveling to Rajasthan, wherein you can enjoy a guided tour without any hassle. Consider taking a Rajasthan holiday package to experience the amazing destination with fewer worries.
Friends in Germany arranged for a private tour of Ludwigsburg Castle for us because of an insider connection. We had a fascinating look at the palace interiors from reception rooms to servants quarters. Our time was filled with amusing anecdotes that made history come alive. These same friends had treated us to a guided tour of Rothenburg ob der Tauber years ago, and I still remember certain details from our very entertaining guide back then.
5. Book an evening’s entertainment reflective of the region. If you’re in Vienna, buy a concert ticket from the guys dressed up in Hapsburg greatcoats outside Orchestra Hall. In Prague, spend an evening at a medieval dinner in an underground cavern. In Paris, check out the Moulin Rouge (you know you want to). In New York, get last minute tickets (big savings!) to a Broadway or Off-Broadway show. See a famous entertainer in Vegas. Visit the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis for world-class acting.
Let your hair down a little bit, even if you are an experienced traveler. Touristy things can be lots of fun, particularly when it’s not peak season and there are not so many…tourists! 🙂
For more excellent ideas about where you might be traveling check out Nomadic Notes: Travel Guides.
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Amy @ Nomadtopia says
These are great tips, Betsy! Numbers 3 and 5 are the ones I’m most likely to do. I haven’t taken one of those hop-on, hop-off buses in years, but whenever one passes me it does occur to me that it would be an easy way to get the lay of the land. And you’re right: the famous places are famous for a reason!
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Amy! Welcome to PassingThru! You’re right, the bus tour is a quick way to acclimate. Most complete the loop within a short period of time so if it’s really not your thing, you’re not stuck. With only one day in Normandy, we would have had a very different experience without the guide we hired. Everybody’s a newbie at some point and we can only do so much research ahead of time. 🙂
Kristen Sarra says
I agree with this completely! I’ve lived in Manhattan for the past 4 years and I still do touristy things. The hop on hop off bus is amazing here and I’ve done it like 6 times as a local. We even rented on out to go an epic bar crawl for my boss’s 40th birthday. I also eat and shop at Chelsea Market and commute through Grand Central everyday and it never ceases to amaze me!
Betsy Wuebker says
Happy New Year, Kristen – There’s a reason touristy things are popular, isn’t there? Because they’re fun, informative and interesting! I love to do the same things you mentioned when in NYC. 🙂