I have done a lot of travelling. A lot. It is probably my absolutely most favourite thing. I love observing the culture, trying the food, learning about the history, exclaiming over the scenery.
There are things that I have learned, however, and one of them is that I should be a little cautious about the more famous tourist hotspots.
So, here are some of my best travel destinations to either avoid or be more pragmatic about, given whatever your interests, time and/or financial constraints might be.
Stonehenge. I was a child the first time that I went there. That was a hundred years ago when you could walk among the stones. Alas, this is no longer possible, the result of vandalism and stupidity. Because one can now only view them from quite a distance, I would recommend spending your time (and your money) in Salisbury instead. Beautiful cathedral, interesting city.
Eiffel Tower. The first time I viewed Paris from the Eiffel Tower I was 12 years old and I could actually view Paris! Now it’s bound up with so many protective layers that you can’t really see much of anything. Unless you’re an architect, going to the Musee d’Orsay to oooh and ahhh over some of the world’s most impressive art works might be a much better choice. A lot smaller than the Louvre – you can enjoy the art without being totally overwhelmed by the size of the place.
Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s out of the way and it takes about five minutes to see. A much better spot is Verona, a very charming, laid back city with an old Roman amphitheater that’s still in use – see an opera there. Juliet’s (of Romeo and Juliet fame) house is also supposedly preserved; it’s unlikely to be hers but it’s a great old house and fun to visit. Check out her statue!
Venice in July and August. Venice has really suffered of late, especially with the concerns about its elevation. There have been attempts to limit the number of tour ships coming through because those large groups of people are doing a lot of damage but aren’t spending much money to help with the upkeep. If you go, it’s much better to visit in May, June or September. I have been there in all three months. The weather is great but not too hot and it’s also not so crowded. Try visiting some of the lesser known, smaller islands rather than focusing on Venice proper – you will find some of the very best local food and you will be able to take your time and explore.
Westminster Abbey. Seriously impressive, of course, and everyone should go there once. But right next door is St. Margaret’s Church, almost as old as the Abbey, and beautiful, historical, and very overlooked. Its smaller scale makes the history of the site much more accessible.
Florence. Don’t get me wrong. I love Florence, but the locals are weary of tourists and this attitude will colour a visit there. If you go, expect it and accept it. I recommend staying outside of Florence, in Siena (a completely gorgeous ancient city about 30 minutes outside of Florence), perhaps, and taking day trips into the city to visit the museums and the Duomo. This is Tuscany and the food, wine and scenery are fabulous almost anywhere you go, and staying outside of Florence will give you more exposure to the Tuscan people and culture.
Santa Fe. I love Santa Fe. But if you have limited time to visit the area, I would suggest spending it in Taos, which is about an hour and a half, very scenic drive into the mountains away. Artistic, beautiful, historical and slightly eccentric, Taos should not be missed.
Quebec City. Again, very beautiful and historical, but Montreal has everything that Quebec City has with the addition of being more cosmopolitan. The restaurants are fabulous and I love the Old City and markets!
Banff National Park. This is Canada’s oldest national park and also one of the oldest in the world. I love this park, especially the Lake Louise area. However, if you’re looking for something a little less crowded or touristy and that will really give you a taste of the vastness and beauty of Canada’s mountains, try Jasper National Park. It’s more off the beaten path and much less well known.
What destination suggestions or tips do you have?