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The upcoming travel season means taking some much-deserved time off, visiting new cities and bumping shoulders with the nearly 100 million other Americans who plan to do the same this year.
Fighting your way through traffic and crowds is definitely a downside of traveling, so it’s understandable if you want to skip the obvious tourist traps and look for things to do that are off the beaten path. While that’s all well and good, there are a few “touristy” activities you should reconsider. You might be surprised by how fun they actually are.
Riding a big double-decker bus across the city screams, “I’m not from here!” But don’t knock this uber-touristy activity until you’ve tried it. During my first trip to Boston, I decided to take a hop on, hop off bus tour at the suggestion of a local and it remains one of my favorite activities.
“They can be a quick, pleasant and low-effort way to get an initial view of a city,” said Miguel A. Suro, a Miami attorney who co-runs savings blog The Rich Miserwith his wife. “They can also help you figure out where you want to do some more in-depth tourism later.”
If a bus tour is too boring or time-consuming for you, consider a boat tour instead.
You can choose to go the classy route with an architectural tour down the Chicago River or a gondola ride through Venice, or opt for a slightly cheesier experience like a duck boat tour. “Those giant car boats are ex-war machines turned tourist traps, but are so delightful to ride in and see a city,” said Vanessa Valiente, creator of travel and fashion blog V-Style. “Boston, London and San Diego are just a few cities that have fantastic duck tours.”
Other unique experiences include swamp tours in Louisiana, riverboat tours down the Mississippi River and the celebrity homes tour of Miami.
One of the most obvious tourist activities in any city is visiting the local museums. Though you might have a list of more exciting or unusual stops to make, consider strolling through at least one. A city’s art, history or industry-specific museum holds an incredible vault of knowledge that you can soak in at your own pace.
I know, I know ― hiking is so basic. But it can be a great way to burn off some of those extravagant vacation meals while getting lost in nature for a couple of hours.
One great way to experience the unique offerings and rich history of a new city is to trek through its national parks. “Taking advantage of the national parks and landmarks that are being opened to the public or restored [allows you] access to these places that would ultimately be lost in time,” said Lauren Grech, adjunct professor at New York University and CEO of event planning firm LLG.
If you’re looking for something more adventurous, Grech suggested hiking through ruins. “We did this recently through Mayan ruins in Mexico, but there are options for this all over the world,” she said. “Once you get a sense of the location’s history and culture, it heightens the entire rest of your trip because you pick up on certain customs, flavors or sights that you otherwise would have overlooked.”
Many cities are home to landmark buildings that let visitors take in the city from hundreds of feet up in the air. Waiting in a long line and paying way too much to spend 20 minutes observing the city’s skyline might not seem like your ideal way to spend the day, but it can be a view worth investing in.
“In London, my wife convinced me to take the high-speed elevator to the top of the Shard,” said Trevor Kucheran. The couple, who blog at Travel Off Path, usually pride themselves on avoiding mass crowds and being “off the beaten path” travelers. “I was absolutely stunned by the breathtaking views 95 stories above the city. … It may have been a touristy stop on our London adventure but is definitely one I won’t soon forget!”
Other buildings worth visiting include New York’s One World Trade Center, Seattle’s Space Needle and Los Angeles’ U.S. Bank Tower, which features a glass slide at the top.
Regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), you should consider visiting a noteworthy cathedral, mosque or other place of worship while traveling.
“There’s a reason why the Notre Dame, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or the Cologne Cathedral are visited by millions of people per year. It’s a holy escape from the city and a glimpse into history,” said Erika van’t Veld, a full-time backpacker and travel blogger at Erika’s Travelventures. “Although you may still be surrounded by crowds of tourists inside these places of worship, you can’t help but feel a sense of peace and security within the echoing walls.”
On a work trip to New Orleans years ago, my company’s CEO organized a group outing to see a basketball game at the Smoothie King Center. I’m not much of a sports fan and wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea, but I went and ended up having a great time.
What I learned is that you don’t have to be rooting for the home team or necessarily even like sports to enjoy a local game. Live sporting events are a great way to mingle with the locals, get a taste of the regional hot dog style and have something to talk about when chatting it up with strangers at the hotel bar.
Plus, some stadiums are landmarks in their own right. Visiting the iconic Wrigley Field, Notre Dame Stadium or the Rose Bowl will give you a taste of history while you catch a game.