This travel lark takes quite a bit of courage. Heavens, just browsing through the new edition of the Rough Guide to Paris, we see the text kicks off with Notre Dame (and a handful of other sights stranded on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the River Seine), and then dives straight into a weighty essay on the Louvre. No holds barred, the text—extremely well written, to be sure—takes us on a guided romp from Egyptian wall tiles via Renaissance crucifixions (lots of those) to 19th-century lithographs.
Defy the travel canon
If we had a month to spare in Paris, we would surely hit the Louvre, but it is not compulsory for a first-time visit. We must confess to having skipped the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, the Kremlin in Moscow and the Tower in London.
Of course, it does take a bit of courage to miss those big sights, the multi-starred attractions that have acquired legendary status as keystones in the travel canon. The art of being away from home does not come easily, but after years of practice, we think we have it sussed. It is, essentially, to live as the locals do. Parisians do not spend their weekends in long lines waiting to see the Mona Lisa, and nor should you.
Opt for an alternative
This strategy takes a bit of nerve to begin with. We returned home and confessed to elderly relatives that we went to the Vatican, but skipped the Raphaels and Michelangelos, preferring instead to go and see the Vatican railway station (yes, there is one!).
But slowly we grew into the role, realizing that it was possible to travel through Bavaria without including Neuschwanstein Castle in our itinerary. We became ever bolder with every journey. We missed the Edinburgh Festival, slept by accident through Tuscany, and said “No, thanks” when offered free tickets to the Alhambra.
“What barbarians,” we hear you say. “How can they visit Athens and skip the Acropolis?” Our retort will always be, “Because there are too many more interesting things to do instead.” In Paris, there are cafés to linger in, parks to savor, backstreets to explore. And, in truth, once you have traveled through Europe as much as we have, one Renaissance crucifixion begins to look much like another.
Tell us what you think
Do you agree that your travel experience can be enriched by skipping the big-name draws? Share your thoughts in the comments section.