As travel becomes easier with the ever-growing hunger for the new and unexpected, it’s easy to get caught up in a game of one-upmanship.
More and more seasoned travellers are expressing their disdain of popular destinations, famed sights and accessible attractions. For these world-weary souls, the only way to see the world is via off-the-beaten-path and life-changing experiences; the bragging rights that come with breathing such rarefied air is also deemed a big factor. It would be a shame, however, if we were to overlook the well-known and the most-visited just for the sake of difference, or so we can boast about it.
While I love the unique, I’m also a fan of blockbusters, not just in cinema, but in travel. For me, big cities, pulsating with life, are thrilling: A week in happening New York is barely enough to scratch its surface and I’d happily go back again and again (if I’m allowed in); Rome is a living, open-air museum that leaves me in awe every time; Bangkok is so easy, convenient and affordable it’s a regular for quick getaways; Tokyo is a unique mix of politeness, obsessiveness and eccentricity that always surprises. Yes, they are obvious choices, but these cities offer so much, they deserve a first, and then return visits.
Hong Kong's Star Ferry. Photo: Shutterstock
Many individual attractions also draw all and sundry for good reason, and there’s no shame in wanting to tick them off your list too. The trick is to know which ones are a must, and which ones to avoid. Remember too, the simplest things are also sometimes be the best. Take Hong Kong’s Star Ferry, a universally-recommended attraction. For more than a century, these boats have been plying the ever-narrowing straits of Victoria Harbour, connecting Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Rather than becoming a tourist trap, the ferry is a practical commute that doubles as a quick, cheap and fab sightseeing opportunity. Every visitor should hop on, especially when the city’s skyline lights up.
Cultural beacons like the Louvre, Prado and the Met are deservedly popular as destinations in their own right. Don’t be put off by the thought of millions of people flocking to these treasures, a little planning can help make a visit more enjoyable and meaningful.
Hiring an informed guide can do wonders, but there are simple things you can do to lessen the headache. Booking ahead is always useful when visiting the big guns. If you’re hell bent on cramming as many museums and sights in as possible, city passes with priority entry are a great bang for your buck.
Timing is everything: For Angkor Wat, the most impressive time to view this grand C. 12th temple is at dawn. Unfortunately, every selfie stick-wielding tourist will be jostling with you for a spot in front of the lotus pond. You can, with a guide, avoid most of them by entering through a different gate. And if it’s a cloudy day, sleep in and wait for the buses to depart, leaving the complex relatively crowd-free.
Rockefeller Centre. Photo: Shutterstock.
Sometimes, looking for smart alternatives is the trick. The observation decks at the Empire State Building often involve tedious queues, you’re better off a few blocks up at Top of the Rock: While everyone heads out to the first observation deck, you should make your way up the stairs to the very top deck to enjoy breathtaking panoramas of the Big Apple. And in Chicago, skip Willis Tower — head to the bar at the top of the nearby John Hancock Observatory, where you can get bladdered at sunset instead.
What of the attractions to ditch? Well, if I’d paid more attention to the LUXE Loathes section of the Bangkok guide, I would not have found myself at a floating market. Anything as artificial as Hollywood’s Walk of Fame or celebrity wax museums have few redeeming features and should be given a wide berth. Bottom line: If it's a contrived creation for the sole purpose of drawing in tourist dollars with no historical or emotional significance, give it a hard pass.
Want more insider tips on avoiding drab locations? LUXE can be your guiding light to Bangkok, Siem Reap, New York, Chicago and Hong Kong...
Whether on safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta or watching the opera at La Fenice in Venice, content consultant and ex-LUXE editor Kee believes that great travel experiences are made even better with a hearty meal, stiff drink, good company and a comfy bed.