It’s important when traveling to explore things off-the-beaten-path, those unusual finds that perhaps only the locals frequent. But it’s also nice to know which bizarre tourist attractions are worth the lines and the price of admission. Here are my picks for both.
Shunt Vaults (London, England) – the spooky, hidden bar in the Underground. This bar, among the brick-arches of a former part of the Tube and found through a barely marked door in the London Bridge tube stop, is spooky and dark, and often hosts art and theatre in its labyrinthine corridors. Unfortunately, this spot is closed for the time being, or is it….?
The Atomium (Brussels, Belgium) Built for the World’s Fair in 1958, this giant molecular structure (resembling no actual naturally occurring molecule) is lined with escalators taking you inside the chemistry. This is a tourist attraction, for sure, but its so bizarre its worth the diversion away from central Brussels’ frites, beers, and chocolate.
Searching for Sudek (Prague, Czech Republic) The best way to experience Prague is to wander around the old part of the city (do this both during the day, and at night). The city is gorgeous and interesting, but you’ll also stumble across things worth seeing that aren’t in your guidebook. One way to guide your wandering around the city, is to follow the path of Josef Sudek, one my favorite photographers of all time. It will take some research to find where to go, but you’ll be glad for this unusual way to see the city.
Puppetry Pub (or Theatre de Toone) (Brussels, Belgium) Where else in the world can you say that you imbibed among marionettes, and caught a puppetry show while downing pints? Only at this place…down an alley in downtown Brussels.
Gaudi’s Church , Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain) This massive, nature-inspired structure by Antoni Gaudi, is technically still under construction (many years past his death). It will probably never be finished, but that is part of the charm. Be sure to visit the museum exhibits that explain how designs in the natural world inspired the architecture. This is science and art intersecting in the best way.
Nap beneath the fake Eiffel Tower (Prague, Czech Republic) There is a tiny Eiffel Tower at the top of a hill in Prague, reached by tram or hike. But if you’re a weary traveler and the weather is nice, this is also a great spot for a nap (best European nap 2nd place: any public park in Paris, France)
Climb the Lion in Trafalgar Sq (London, England) This is a lot harder than it looks. I, myself, only made it to the lion’s ass – but my friend (a gymnast and rock-climber) pounced to the top of the lion’s back with no problem.
White Trash Fast Food – get a burger, a beer, catch a show, get a tattoo (Berlin, Germany)
Parma, Italy – this city isn’t atop most traveler’s Italian itinerary, but it should be. While in Parma we enjoyed fresh fruits, Spumanti, truffle-laden crepes, the best parmesan cheese and parma ham, and more. This is a foodies’ travel have, and this old academic city is also beautiful and interesting to explore.
Former Tacheles department store with squatting artists’ colony (Berlin, Germany). This is also a spot that may have been shut-down since my visit, but if its still in full swing this is a great place to explore during the day (when you can wander through the abandoned department store to see the street art lining the walls), or at night, when a makeshift bar operates out back and the artists’ co-op is open up front.
** Bonus: My absolute favorite way to see any new city or locale is to visit the local food spots: cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, co-ops, farmer’s and food markets, etc. You mingle with interesting people, get to know local products and flavors, and really feel like you’re NOT at home (which is the point of traveling, after all!).