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Skip the Crowds at these Alternatives to the Obvious Tourist Sites

January 22, 2016

Think bigger is always better? Not when it comes to crowds, it ain’t. If you've already ticked off the obvious tourist sites and want to ditch the fanny-pack hordes in Paris, Istanbul, Barcelona, Tokyo and New York, then consider one of these lesser-visited alternatives instead.

Updated 3 July 2019

Paris 

Big: Château de Versailles. Better: Vaux le Vicomte

The Sun King’s palatial masterpiece is as majestic as it is massive, but shuffling through the Hall of Mirrors with a few hundred other audio-guide-affixed Tammy Tourists will likely only leave you reflecting on the tedium of it all. An hour from Paris, petit Château de Vaux le Vicomte (the original inspiration for Versailles) remains charmant and crowd-free, with hectares of landscaped formal gardens and lavish baroque interiors. Go on a Saturday night in summer when the grounds are lit with more than 2,000 flickering candles. Ahhh, the romance.

Vaux le Vicomte, Maincy, France. +33 1 64 14 41 90, vaux-le-vicomte.com


Istanbul 

Big: The Blue Mosque. Better: Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque

The big blue Sultanahmet Camii is a vision of soaring arches and cobalt tiles, but with some five million visitors filing beneath the domed ceiling each year, it isn’t exactly the most spiritual experience – especially given the pervasive pong brought on by so many bare feet! For a more peaceful moment float over to nearby Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, a little bobby-dazzler built in 1571 by main-man Sinan. Hidden behind high walls you’ll find an open collonaded courtyard and light-filled hexagonal prayer hall covered with indigo calligraphy and intricate Iznik designs.

Want a wee alternative to the Hagia Sophia too? The Church the Holy Savior in Chora, is a slight shlep 20 minutes from the city centre, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the world’s finest C.14th Byzantine art.

Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, Dizdariye Cesme Sok. 43-45, Fatih, Istanbul, +90 212 524 6410, sunrise-sunset daily, arrive after prayer times and the caretaker will let you in

Church the Holy Savior in Chora, Kariye Cami Sok. 6, Edirnekapi, Istanbul. +90 212 631 9241.  


Barcelona 

Big: Sagrada Familia. Better: Palau Güell

A tranquil moment to behold the ever-swamped Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, and packed-out Park Güell? Good luck – uncrowded Gaudí sites are as rare in Barcelona as Real Madrid t-shirts. But you can avoid the blighting bustle at Palau Güell, a Modernisme mansion marvel crowned with 20 of the iconic architect’s characteristically colourful chimneys – best seen by twilight during one of the rooftop recitals.

Palau Güell, Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5, El Raval, Barcelona. +34 934 72 57 75, palauguell.cat


Tokyo 

Big: Sensoji Temple. Better: Hie Shrine

The Sensoji temple in Asakusa has a gigantic red gate, a great big pagoda and one of the largest lanterns you’ll likely ever see… but the masses of tourists are just as immense. In contrast, the centrally located hilltop Hie Shrine is a quietly humming haven reached by a long staircase corridor of torii gates – or a decidedly unorthodox escalator. The site is particularly pretty during the Spring Sanno lantern festival.

Hie Shrine, 2-10-5 Nagatacho, Chiyoda, Tokyo. +81 3 3581 2471, hiejinja.net


New York 

Big: Empire State Building. Better: Top of the Rock

What with all the endless stop-start lines and hoards of school kiddies, NYC’s best known building is more queue-y than view-y. Staggered visit times and ample space on the glass-walled observation deck make Le Rock the city’s true panorama mamma.

Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center, 30 Rockefeller Center, Midtown, New York. +1 212 698 2000, topoftherocknyc.com


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