Traveling is fun. Vacationing in different parts of the world is inspiring, educational and just pure joy.
As I prepared to embark on my next adventure to Madrid and Brussels, I took a little time to research a few activities that don’t normally pop up on the numerous “Top 10 (or 15 or 20 or 25) Popular Things to Do” lists.
Yes, it can be quite a challenge to do something not on the popular lists. Heck, even Hotels.com mascot “Captain Obvious” even tries to make you a typical tourist with the “If you don’t get a photo of (fill in the popular thing to do/see), did you even visit (fill in the location)?”
But what to do after you’ve taken the mandatory “I was here” photo?
Here are a few considerations I’ve experienced on my adventures that have helped make my travels more memorable and inspiring.
A cooking class is a great and fun-filled vacation activity. Of course, learning from a local chef won’t make you a master of the local cuisine, but it will no doubt give your show & tell slideshow more of a punch.
The first time I thought about a cooking class was during my travels to Italy.
Luckily, my hotel’s on-site restaurant offered a cooking class with the head chef. I had so much fun during the class. I also learned why my pasta never turned out right when I cooked it. Funny tidbit – I still can’t get my pasta right. 😂
The only bad part afterwards – pizza from my neighborhood pizzerias don’t taste as good as the pizza I made during the cooking class.
If you don’t like cooking, do a food tour. Many countries offer food tours designed to give you a taste of the local cuisine. And in multicultural countries like England, you can taste food from different regions around the world.
For instance, I recently did a London Food Tour Tasting with a local guide. Expecting nothing more than a few samples of fish & chips, and bangers and mash, we instead sampled various teas paired with Indian Samosa, artisanal cheese, and much more.
One of the most important things I’ve found with food tours is to find the tour that fits you and your taste buds.
For example, being a teetotaler, I tend to avoid tours that focus on Beer and Wine Tastings. However, I do enjoy touring distilleries and breweries because I love the passion, science and chemistry that goes into the making of the spirits.
If you’re still looking for something, try having Afternoon Tea as you tour the city on a Double-Decker bus. Talk about a great Show & Tell.
Checkout Secret Food Tours website for some great information on a variety of food tours around the globe.
I admit – I’m a history buff. Mostly I stick with British and USA history, but I’m slowing learning more about European history as a whole. Granted, binge-watching Mysteries at the Museum doesn’t help, but it did lead me to list various museums I would like to visit.
Of course, well-known museums like the Louvre, The Vatican Museums, England’s National Gallery, and “The Met” are must-sees, but thanks in part to my binge-watching, I found myself researching and visiting museums not normally listed on the “Top Ten” lists.
For example, on my next trip to London, I’m planning to visit the London Transport Museum. I asked myself, “Why?” The answer, “Why not? How many of your friends or travel buddies have even heard of the London Transport Museum?”
Also, how cool is it to tour “Hidden London?” It’ll be so awesome to hang out in the same secret tunnels where Winston Churchill took refuge at the height of the Blitz.
The LT museum is just one of the little-known museums that never make the “popular” lists. Another museum I plan to visit that’s probably not on your list is the Musée des Égouts Bruxelles. Of course, not many people want to spend any part of their vacation in the bowels of Brussels.
Another recent example was my visit to the Fragonard Perfumery in Grasse, France. First off, Grasse, though part of the French Riviera, is not a town high on the popular list.
Most vacationers tend to stay in Cannes or Nice when visiting Côte d’Azur.
I find it funny how many people love French perfumes, yet don’t make time to visit the town considered the world’s capital of perfume.
I’ve found that the little-known museums are often more enjoyable than the popular ones, and far less crowded. Even better, they are occasionally free to enter.
Walking History Tours
Many cities offer Walking Tours. Most tours hit the popular tourist sites, but if you do a little research, you’ll find there are walking tours focusing on a variety of topics, ranging from architecture to historical to food.
Love the Beatles? Why not consider the Beatles London walking tour and see the famous Abbey Road Crossing and the site of the Beatles last public performance. Visiting Liverpool? Have no fear, there are plenty of Beatles walking tours there too.
Oh, can’t forget to mention my FAVORITE type of walking tour – Haunted Histories Tours. The Edinburgh Real Fear Ghost Tour was a hoot. I mean, if you’re visiting Edinburgh, why not skip the night at the pub, and take a tour and explore the city’s shadowy world, dark cobbled lanes, haunted cemeteries, and underground vaults?
With guided tours, I’ve found the experience depends mostly on the guide’s knowledge and enthusiasm. It’s hit-or-miss sometimes.
For example, during a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, our tour guide, Laura, brought the history of the theatre to life with lively stories, interesting facts, and hilarious tidbits. It was obvious she enjoyed her job.
But when you get a bad tour guide, it won’t matter how interesting the subject is, the tour usually turns out to be terrible.
This happened when I did a Parisian Architectural walking tour. The guide didn’t seem to know much about the buildings he was showing us, nor could he answer any of the questions posed to him. He seemed uninterested. Maybe he was having a bad day, but it truly showed and it ruined a tour I’d looked forward too.
I came across the Atlas Obscura website when searching for things to do during my sixth visit to England. The site’s mission is to “inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world.”
I must say this site has become a favorite research tool. Without it, I would’ve have taken the beautiful photos I did while exploring Petite Ceinture, an abandoned railway line circling the city of Paris.
On every one of my adventures I always take a photo safari. A photo safari is a great way to explore. Simply walking around the city and photographing the city is an awesome way to truly “see” the city.
Many times when we travel, we are either on tours or some other organized activity, and we don’t really get to see the city as it truly is – without the tourists, tour guides, souvenir traps and so on.
A photo safari is a splendent way to truly see the city. It’s also a great way to get photos of sites without the distraction of “photo bombers.” And who knows? You might discover a new hangout.
Explore Other Cities
For most vacationers, visiting London, Paris, Rome or Beijing is the highlight of their dream vacations. As amazing as these locations are, I feel major cities are now – for the most part – geared toward tourism. I’ve found that getting away from the major tourism locations allows me to explore and learn more about the country and its culture.
I love Bath not just because the Roman Baths are exceptional, but the entire city gives me a glimpse into Regency Era – an era during which Jane Austen lived. Austen is one of my favorite novelists and it was so cool visiting the Jane Austen Centre.
Additionally, Bath is about an hour from Stonehenge, a very popular historic attraction. While I personally prefer to travel to Bath on my own, there are plenty of tour companies offering day trips to both Stonehenge and Bath.
If Bath is to “touristy,” and you want a bit more peace and tranquility – travel farther north to the Lake District and visit Dove Cottage & William Wordsworth Trust – William Wordsworth’s first family home in the Lake District’s Grasmere.
During Birthday Extravaganza 2019, I visited the village of Mougins, France. Did you know this town, part of the French Riviera and located 15 minutes from Cannes, is the capital of Gastronomy and Arts of Living, and a prestigious golf destination?
Mougins is surrounded by forests and treats visitors to a panoramic view of the “Baie de Cannes,” Grasse and the Préalpes. Most vacationers never visit outside Cannes or Nice, so they miss out on learning why Pablo Picasso chose to live in Mougins.
Bangkok reigns as the place to visit in Thailand, but Chiang Mai is rapidly gaining a nice following. This beautiful city offering something for seasoned travelers, shoppers and adventurers.
While traveling Chiang Mai, take the time to for a Thai massage and or learn ancient Thai cooking techniques and indulge in wonderful cuisines.
The city also boasts a very lively nightlife scene, so don’t be afraid to let your wildchild out.
Traveling and vacationing should be fun, enjoyable and most importantly, memorable. We’ll always be drawn to popular tourist attractions.
Nevertheless, I’ve always found adding a few non-popular attractions to my itinerary make my travels more enjoyable and less like everyone else’s.