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Your tour of Europe is likely to take in at least a few iconic sights. There are, however, few guidebooks which tell you that next to the tower or castle you traveled half a world to see is a sight that’s equally (or more) worth your time and money to visit.
Here a few suggestions of near misses across popular destinations.
1. Leaning Tower of Pisa > Duomo di Pisa
No trip to Italy would be complete without a stop in Pisa to take a picture “holding up” (or, for those more devilishly inclined, “pushing over”) the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And once you’ve turned down every vendor hocking watches, worked up the courage to walk on the forbidden lawn to get your picture, and perhaps even spent precious vacation time in line waiting for a timed ticket to climb to the top, you may finally take in the fact that the Tower is disappointingly small—and is, in fact, dwarfed by the other monuments in the ensemble, monuments you didn’t even know existed until you arrived in Pisa for this short visit.
Save your entrance fee money and buy a ticket for the Duomo, the large cathedral immediately adjacent to the Tower. The Duomo, with its green and white striped design, served as the archetype of the Pisan-Romanesque style and a model for other churches throughout Tuscany. Despite the hordes of tourists outside, the marble cathedral remains comfortably empty and, in the hot of summer, refreshingly shady and cool.
2. Neuschwanstein > Hohenschwangau
Mad King Ludwig II’s masterpiece, unfinished before his mysterious death in 1886, Neuschwanstein is clearly the model upon which Disney’s classic castle is based. For travelers to southern Germany, this beauty is a highlight and a destination in itself.
Unfortunately, many overlook the neighboring castle, Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig spent his childhood. Hohenschwangau is nowhere near as romantic from the outside, but inside, it hides countless treasures. The castle was not damaged during either World War, and the castle’s contents — the royal family’s possessions — were saved from destruction or plunder during those years by local residents.
So whereas on most castle tours (Neuschwanstein included), one may be impressed by the luxurious decorations of the gigantic rooms, yet be left with little sense of how said rooms were actually used beyond the description of the tour and one’s own imagination, a tour through Hohenschwangau gives an excellent picture of everyday royal life. Further, the tours at Hohenschwangau are more personal and informative and less rushed, without the assembly-line feeling one gets at Neuschwanstein.
Entrance to Hohenschwangau: €12; “King’s Ticket” joint entrance to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein: €23. Book tickets online for a fee of €1.80 per person per castle.
3. Eiffel Tower > Museé de Quai Branly
Near the top of the list of European icons is Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Originally constructed as a temporary part of the 1889 World Expo, the Tower won over the hearts and minds of Parisians and has since remained one of the city’s most significant landmarks.
Yet, if you failed to book your tickets for Tower entrance online and don’t have the time (or the legs) for standing in the ticket line or for walking up the Tower under your own steam, or if the weather simply isn’t cooperating, you don’t have to leave the area with a handful of pictures from the ground and a broken heart. Instead, head over to the Musée de Quai Branly, Paris’s museum of ethnography.
Here you’ll find “an unpartitioned geographical itinerary comprising 5,450 artifacts from all four corners of the world.” And on those hot summer and cold winter days, here you’ll find a temperate refuge from the weather outside (and a cloakroom for your luggage).
Your near misses?
What are some of your favorite “near misses”? Share your ideas in the comments.