5 impressive alternatives to tourist hotspots

Popular destinations are popular for a reason: It’s hard to argue with the cultural importance of the Louvre, for example, or dispute the Grand Canyon’s jaw-dropping views. We want to visit the places that that have become legendary among travellers.

Unfortunately, it seems everyone else has the same idea. Those postcard-worthy places don’t look the same when packed with people, and some spots have even become victims of their own success.

You’ve done your time waiting in long line ups, paying high prices and braving the crowds, but that doesn’t mean you expect anything less than the best experiences. Seeking out “the road less traveled” doesn’t have to mean compromise, according to Eyewitness Travel’s Off the Tourist Trail: 1000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives. There are many lesser-travelled destinations to rival even the most popular places. In fact, you might even enjoy the experience more without the tourist throngs.

Here are five alternatives to consider:

Enjoy art in Paris beyond the Louvre

The Louvre is justifiably at the top of many travellers’ bucket lists. After all, it is the home to some of the most famous works of art in the world, like the classical Venus de Milo and Delacroix’s iconic Liberty Leading the People. However, the Louvre’s long line ups and crowds can be a turn off, and viewing the Mona Lisa behind bullet-proof glass in a packed gallery isn’t the ideal way to experience art. 

If you’d like some room to properly view great art — not to mention breathe — try Paris’s smaller art museums. For example, head to the Musée National de Moyen Age for a look at all things Middle Ages. The museum is known for its impressive tapestries, including the famous Lady and the Unicorn series, but also has an impressive collection of artefacts like crowns, stained glass, enamel works and armour.

Looking for something a little more intimate? Take in the impressive art collections in the private homes of the elite at the Musée Jacquemart-André and Musée Cognaco-Jay, and indulge a love of decorative arts at the Muse Nissim de Camondo, the lavishly-decorated former home of Count Moise de Camondo. For a look at the life of an artist, try the Musée National Eugène Delacroix — Delacroix’s former home and studio.

Paris is packed with museums and galleries dedicated to individual artists and eras — you don’t have to see it all in one place. For more information, visit Parisinfo.com.

Admire Bryce Canyon instead of the Grand Canyon

To call the Grand Canyon impressive would be an understatement. After all, it’s 227 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and carved a mile deep into the Colorado Plateau. The coloured strata of rock unveils many secrets about the geological history of the area, but the sheer size of the canyon means most people only see it from afar at designated viewing spots like Grand Canyon Village.

If you want to get up close and personal with geology, a smaller site is also sure to impress. Bryce Canyon isn’t a canyon per se — it was chiselled by erosion from freezing and thawing cycles, not carved by a river. Even calling it a “forest of stone” doesn’t do justice to its natural amphitheatres lined with towering sandstone columns and hoodoos.

Like its larger, more visited cousin, Bryce Canyon has many view points along the rim to enjoy the natural beauty. However, you don’t need to be an expert hiker to descend into this canyon. Even some of the easy and moderate level trails take you among the rock formations. Try snowshoeing or cross- country skiing during the winter, or see the park by horseback the rest of the year.

For more information, visit the U.S. National Park Service website.

Experience the wonder of water at Iguazu Falls

When you hear “waterfall”, chances are Niagara Falls is the first to come to mind. The spectacular Horseshoe Falls and American Falls are the largest and most powerful waterfalls in North America — plus they’re more accessible to Canadian travellers than remote destinations. You can see the falls from many angles, including from the Skylon Tower or the Maid of the Mist boat tour. There’s also plenty to do in the area, like shopping, wine tours, theme parks and the Fallsview Casino.

However, Niagara’s city atmosphere isn’t the place to commune with nature. For that experience, you’ll have to go farther afield. Along the border of Brazil and Argentina, you’ll find the 275 cascades of Iguazu Falls — and their height and power is as impressive as their number. Perhaps the most impressive point along the three mile stretch is Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) — a nearly 500 foot wide U-shaped bend. There are many places on both sides of the border to take in the many views, including a visit to San Martin island.

And unlike its North American rival, the falls are surrounded by two national parks — protected refuges where you can spy a wealth of flora and fauna rather than a bustling city. While you won’t spot fireworks or spotlights here, the full moon casts a unique light over the falls.

For more information, visit Iguazú Argentina and the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu website (Spanish only).

Venture to Riga rather than Prague

Many travellers have caught on to the fact that “Western” European destinations like Italy, France and England are pricier than their Northern and Eastern neighbours. Prague in particular has become famous for its Old World charm flavoured with Bohemian, Jewish and Germanic influences. Unfortunately, what used to be a lesser-known destination has now become the sixth most visited city in Europe — complete with crowded streets, souvenir shops and scammers waiting to prey on tourists.

Looking for another medieval capital to visit instead? Often called “the gem of the Baltics”, Latvia’s capital Riga is no less steeped in history and beauty. The pretty turrets and cobblestone streets belie a vibrant and cosmopolitan atmosphere that has been thriving since the country gained its independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union fell. This mercantile centre was once the third largest city in the Russian Empire in the 19th century — evident in the Art Nouveau architecture throughout the city.

When you’ve had your fill of culture, head to the beach at nearby Jurmala on the Baltic Sea or hop a river cruise down the Daugava River which runs right through the city.

For more information, visit the Latvian Tourism Portal.

Skip Whistler and ski Kicking Horse

You don’t have to go far to find alternatives to popular spots. Whistler is known for many things — its snow-capped peaks, its lift system, the nightlife and the many activities and amenities in the village. In fact, it’s consistently named the top mountain destination in North America, and skiers from around the world come to enjoy the slopes. The area even hosted the world during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

However, it isn’t known for its peaceful atmosphere. If you’re looking for that downhill rush without so many fellow skiers on the slopes, the guide recommends Kicking Horse Mountain Resort instead. Located in Golden, British Columbia, the resort is farther inland than Whistler and therefore dodges those coast rains and clouds, not to mention lighter “champagne powder” ideal for skiing.

True, you won’t find the variety of activities, dining or spas in the area surrounding the resort, but the book claims the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant is second to none and the challenging runs of Kicking Horse are worth the trip across province.

For more information, visit Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

Of course, these five are just a small selection of the many “off the trail” destinations: The book does make good on its promise to introduce you to 1000. Some ideas will take you to the hidden gems in major cities and while others you might never have heard of before.

If you do plan to go off the beaten path, remember to do some careful research first. You might not find the services and amenities you’re used to in popular tourists spots, or easy access to transportation. What you will find is fewer people and often lower costs — but still great experiences.

For more information about the book, visit DK Publishing.


Photo: Iguazu Falls. ©iStockphoto.com/ Gerad Coles

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