There are certain attractions around the world that top many travelers' bucket lists -- from the Eiffel Tower to the Brooklyn Bridge. But upon arriving, you'll find hordes of tourists, expensive admission fees, and dozens of raised, camera-toting hands that appear in your photos. Generally, these sights are famous for a reason and many folks find the reward worth the hassle of frustratingly long queues. However, after traveling across the globe, we've found some quieter, less-crowded alternatives to the popular landmarks. Below, check out 11 under-the-radar spots to hit up on your next getaway.
Housing one of the world’s most famous pieces of artwork, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” the Louvre is Paris‘ most well-known museum. In fact, it’s the world’s most-visited museum. The huge, 1793-opened space has works of art ranging from the “Venus de Milo” to the “Code of Hammurabi,” and visitors can spend hours upon hours here.
But, if there’s not one specific piece you’re dead set on seeing, it’s worth avoiding the crowds and heading to the Musee Rodin. While it certainly sees its fair share of people, the numbers simply don’t compare. Here, visitors will find an indoor museum and gorgeous outdoor garden dotted with the famous sculptor’s masterpieces — “The Thinker” and “The Gates of Hell” are highlights.
The Empire State Building is iconic, from providing a romantic meeting point in “Sleepless in Seattle” to being featured in skyline paintings of New York City. However, unless you purchase the VIP pass or visit on a rainy day, you’ll likely be met with long lines to get to the top. Even worse, tourists often push each other for the best position and high wired fencing obstructs the view. So, if the landmark’s primary appeal is its panoramic vista, there are better spots to get a bird’s-eye view of the Big Apple.
Just 15 blocks north, the Top of the Rock observatory at Rockefeller Center isn’t as high (70th floor versus 86th and 102nd), but it does provide views of the Empire State Building and Central Park. Plus, time slots with fewer people, and glass panels instead of wiring, means a much more pleasant viewing experience.
The 443-foot-high London Eye is a family-friendly Ferris wheel that offers lovely views over the city, including sights such as the Parliament and Westminster Abbey. However, even with a more expensive fast-track ticket, you’ll still be waiting in a line to get up. Those without the upgraded ticket can often expect to stand in a queue for at least an hour for the 30-minute ride.
Meanwhile, the Sky Garden is a free indoor public garden with bar and restaurant service, plus sensational London skyline views from the 35th floor and above. Travelers can book a free observation floor time slot or reserve a restaurant space in advance, helping to keep the number of people in check.
Mayan ruins provide a superb look at the ancient civilization, with their stunning structures, hieroglyphics, and advanced mathematics. One of the most popular Mayan sites is Chichen Itza, due to its close proximity to Cancun. While the complex is big and stunning, on any given day, visitors can expect to encounter hordes of other travelers. Additionally, its perimeter is lined with vendors hawking souvenirs, detracting from the overall historic feel.
Deep in the jungle, Calakmul is a large Mayan site surrounded by lush vegetation and howler monkeys, making it feel like an undiscovered gem. It’s not easy to reach, requiring a long drive from the nearest major cities, so we recommend hiring a guide.
There’s a reason the Sagrada Familia is the number one attraction in Barcelona. The Gaudi-designed church is a magnificent, imposing structure that’s still being completed. Though unfinished, its sensational mix of Gothic and Art Nouveau designs, multiple towers, and stained-glass windows bring tons of visitors each day. And that means long lines and lots of people that keep it crowded at all times.
Although it also attracts many tourists, the Barcelona Cathedral offers a striking, less-busy church experience in the city. The Gothic cathedral first began construction in 1298, but its current look wasn’t completed until 1913. It’s generally a serene spot, featuring stained glass, gargoyle-adorned roofs, and a pretty cloister with 13 live white geese.
Many of Sydney‘s most famous attractions are centered around the Harbour, including the Sydney Opera House. The iconic 1973-opened building has an unmistakable design, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. While taking photos of the outside is free, a tour or performance at the venue will cost you. Many past visitors have noted that there are bound to be lines of tourists here.
If an exterior shot is more vital than an interior, we recommend heading to Blues Point Reserve. Set in a quiet area with limited dining and retail outlets nearby, the park offers picture-perfect views of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, without the crowds.
St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is a gorgeous representation of Renaissance architecture, designed in part by Michelangelo, Bramante, and Bernini. Construction started in 1506 and was completed in 1626, and today, it is the largest church in the world. Perhaps its most alluring feature is Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” though the architecture and additional works of art are no less impressive. However, visitors will almost certainly have to face a long line of other eager tourists.
Despite being the best-rated attraction, the free-to-enter Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore manages to avoid the tourist crowds of Rome. The fifth-century church is large, containing a gilded and coffered ceiling, incredible mosaics, and marble columns. It’s a 20-minute walk from the Trevi Fountain, giving it a convenient location to other top attractions.
Thailand, and Bangkok specifically, are full of gorgeous temples that provide a great look into the country’s culture. The most popular temple in the capital is Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, as it’s one of the oldest and largest, known for its 150-foot gilded Buddha statue. Intricate decoration, a striking exterior, and even Thai massages on offer make this spot extremely touristy.
Those who want a more serene, spiritual temple experience should head to Wat Ratchanatdaram Woravihara (Loha Prasat). The quiet, free temple has an iron roof and 37 spires representing each of the enlightenment virtues of Buddhism. Multiple floors provide space for sitting and walking meditation.
Dark in color, with a roasted coffee and chocolate-like taste, Guinness is hands down the most popular beer in Ireland. And whether or not they actually like the brew, most Dublin tourists make time to visit the iconic Guinness Storehouse for a tour and tasting. But the lines are long and interiors are crowded, so unless you’re keen on seeing a brewery, there are better spots to have a pint.
Enter The Brazen Head, a buzzing pub where you can down a Guinness with great food and live Irish music. Claiming to be the oldest pub in Ireland, the place is certainly busy, though most visitors can easily find a spot to sit inside or outside and take in the atmosphere during the day.
Berlin is an interesting city, with its tumultuous past on display at the Berlin Wall Memorial, and present alternative art scene felt with widespread graffiti and late-night music venues. One popular spot that will help you understand the city’s past is Checkpoint Charlie, a replica of a crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Today, actors dressed as soldiers provide a touristy representation of the historic site, and take pictures with travelers for a fee.
Those interested in the history of Checkpoint Charlie should head to the less-visited Allied Museum. Documenting the Western Allies’ roles in Germany between 1945 and 1994, the museum houses the original guardhouse from the Checkpoint Charlie border crossing, as well as a transport plane outside and historic documents.
India‘s most famous attraction is the Taj Mahal, a huge marble mausoleum built between 1631 and 1648 in memory of the emperor’s wife. Set along the the banks of the Yamuna River, the gorgeous structure is revered for its top dome, tombs, intricate details, and interior archways. But massive crowds, often coupled with high temperatures and intense smog, can be less than ideal.
On the opposite side of the river sits Mehtab Bagh, a lovely park with direct views of the Taj Mahal. Flowers, trees, and a few benches replace hordes of tourists, allowing visitors to take in the Taj Mahal’s beauty amid a serene setting. Come early in the morning or at sunset for the best vistas.
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