Summer has (unofficially) begun! As kids finish up the school year, everyone is getting eager to pack up and get out of town. With literally countless options to choose from, deciding on a destination (or activities once you get there) can be overwhelming. Everything has to hit the right balance of price, interest for everyone involved, not too many crowds, and fun. But if you have never been to a particular location, all you have are guide books (and blogs) to go by.
To add another voice to the mix, here are some tourist destinations and attractions that you might want to reconsider. Below each, you will find an alternative option. Happy travels!
This could be a hard one to convince you to skip, but hear me out. First, I lived in Paris for a year, so I’m not coming at this from some sort of Francophobic place. I love Paris and I love France. But Paris can get crowded, especially in the summer. You will have to be smart about booking museum visits ahead of time to avoid waiting in lines for hours (and even with reservations, you’ll probably still wait a while). In the summer, it is hot and sticky, and you have to be prepared for lots of walking and Metro rides. More than anything, though, Paris isn’t all France has to offer. It’s beautiful and charming, but practically everyone has been there. If you’re taking the time to cross the Atlantic, consider something slightly different.
Try instead: Tours and the Chateaux of the Loire Valley
Instead of Paris, look into spending a week in the Loire Valley. It is about an hour-long train ride from Paris, with the city of Tours at its center. If you stay in Tours, you’ll have access to wonderful restaurants, parks, and everything a city has to offer. From there, you can take day trips to the various Chateaux in the Loire region. Visit castle after gorgeous castle and do a bit of wine tasting in the very popular wine country. (This is where Sancerre is made.) Some chateaux to consider include Blois, Amboise, Chambord, Chenonceau, and Villandry (for its magnificent gardens). Your pictures of France will be way more impressive than those of your friends who went to Paris and have the same old photo as everyone else does in front of the Eiffel Tower.
2. The Louvre
If I can’t convince you to skip Paris, consider skipping a visit to the Louvre. By that, I mean skip going into the Louvre. Since the building itself was originally a palace, it makes for an incredible photo op. It’s just beautiful to look at and to eat lunch in front of. But unless you’re desperate to see the “Mona Lisa,” “Winged Victory,” or “Venus de Milo,” you will probably be happy to not bother. It is overwhelmingly grand, and you can spend days trying to see every work of art. You are guaranteed to get lost when looking for a bathroom or an exit, and you’ll end up spending an extra hour trying to do just that. Many of the paintings on the walls involve some retelling of the birth of Christ and are probably by artists that you’ve never heard of.
Try instead: Musée d’Orsay
If you really want the bang for your buck (and time), head across the street to the Musée d’Orsay. The building itself is beautiful, as it is an old train station with a giant clock. The artwork inside is extremely accessible, with the largest collection of pieces from impressionists and post-impressionists in the world. Monet, Manet, Degas, van Gogh, Cézanne, and Gauguin, to name a few. You’ll see sculptures and paintings that you will immediately recognize and others that will just capture a piece of your soul. Plus, the museum isn’t so big so as to feel overwhelming.
3. Times Square
If you have never been to New York City before, chances are that Times Square is on your list of places to see. Trust me on this: you do not need to see Times Square. It’s a place that most New Yorkers avoid like the plague, but where they begrudgingly and inevitably find themselves for one reason or another every so often. Be prepared to walk slowly (a New Yorker’s nightmare) in a giant crowd of people holding selfie-sticks, while avoiding getting run over by a taxi. There are lots of lights, which apparently is a draw, but I can’t for the life of me understand why. Lights are lights. It is loud, smelly, and far too crowded. And if you think you’re getting authentic New York pizza there, just know that you’re not and that you’re probably paying too much for it. (For proper pizza, head downtown or to Brooklyn.)
Try instead: Lincoln Center
Instead of walking in a herd of people, spend your time checking out Lincoln Center and its surrounding area. The building itself, as well as the fountain in front, are beautiful and are home to the New York City Ballet, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City Opera. You might even consider catching a performance while you’re there. Plus, there are excellent restaurants and Central Park is just a few blocks away.
Yes, Florence is beautiful, but you’ll spend more time fighting crowds, surrounded by people speaking English, than you will checking out the architecture. When I travel abroad, I want to experience the city and country for what it is. I want to hear the local language and meet local people. There is not much opportunity for that in Florence since it’s basically the Disneyland of Italy.
Try instead: Siena
Siena, which is also located in Tuscany, a little over an hour’s drive from Florence, is a university town, so it’s got a young, vibrant spirit while maintaining the breathtaking beauty for which Tuscany is known. There are beautiful squares and a cathedral along with good food and museums. While it is still a popular tourist destination, you won’t hit the same kinds of crowds that you’ll get in Florence. And if you really want to do it right, climb to the top of the Torre del Mangia in the Piazza del Campo and take in the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
5. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre / Walk of Fame in Los Angeles
I get it — you come to Los Angeles and you want to feel a bit of the Hollywood glamour and fame while there. So you head to Grauman’s and the Walk of Fame to see what famous person’s hands or feet were the same size as your own. But similar to Times Square, the only thing you’re guaranteed to get are crowds of tourists, overpriced everything, and the glaring sun. You’ll have actors dressed up like Spiderman and Batman who will take photos with you for a hefty “tip,” and you might even get pickpocketed while you’re at it.
Try instead: a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu and beyond
Don’t forget that Los Angeles is in Southern California, which is a place of pure, unadulterated beauty. Instead of wasting your time in crowds around man-made tourist attractions, go west toward the coast. Get on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH for locals, or Highway 1, as it is known), and head north. You might hit some traffic (especially at rush hour) but you’ll have nothing but the incredible Pacific Ocean, beaches, and green hills to look at. This will take you up to Malibu, which is basically the only place L.A. residents like to go to the beach, and if you stay on the road, you’ll hit Santa Barbara and beyond. You might even see some dolphins jumping out of the water. That’s way better than a $10 picture with a fake superhero.
6. Walt Disney World — Magic Kingdom
Perhaps it is the happiest place on Earth, but it’s also practically the most expensive. Some families save up for years to take their kids to the Magic Kingdom. Entrance to the park alone is over $100 per person, and that doesn’t include food (which is not cheap), airfare, or lodging. Seeing Mickey Mouse and his gang along with the Pirates of the Caribbean might be fun, but it might not be all it’s cracked up to be — especially with that price tag.
Try instead: The Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C.
Instead of heading to the heat and humidity of South Florida, consider a trip to our nation’s capital with the kids. Entrance to every Smithsonian Museum is free and there is plenty to entertain little people. For a good time with the family, head to the Air & Space Museum (touch a piece of the moon! See spaceships!), the Museum of Natural History (See fossils! Make hands-on scientific discoveries!), and the National Museum of American History (Dorothy’s ruby slippers! Oscar the Grouch in his can!).