“Been there, done that — and could’ve done without.” It’s one of the worst feelings to have on vacation, particularly after waiting for hours in line at a top tourist attraction. Unimpressed by the Mona Lisa’s surprisingly small dimensions after dodging crowds for an entire morning at the Louvre? Uninspired by Sydney’s Darling Harbour, overrun by tourists and overpriced shops? Unmoved by a town along the Italian Riviera solely because of its inflated prices?
Having lived and vacationed around the world, our staff of travel experts is here to help, weighing in on must-sees and must-dos that will help you avoid long lines, high prices and masses of tourists.
No one would dare rule out a visit to Sydney's exquisite harbor and waterfronts for a spectacular view, but it's the vantage point that makes all the difference. Having lived in Australia for years, Don recommends the Sydney Fish Market -- located a little more than a mile west of the business district - over touristy Darling Harbour. Share a plate of oysters and a bottle of wine (Australian, of course), and admire the seaside marina's sights and sounds. Want a lesson in shelling and grilling? Sign up for a class at the market's premier Seafood School, Australia's leading cooking school.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
It's especially difficult to know in a new city where to go for great night life. Kat, a former resident of Argentina, recommends skipping the tango shows in Buenos Aires' San Telmo neighborhood. Though impressive, they're full of tourists and fail to give visitors a real taste of Argentina's capital. Instead, head to La Bomba de Tiempo for a night of fabulous live music. Let loose with locals as percussionists jam out for the first hour, and an invited guest joins in for the second half of nonstop music and dancing.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The chance to bathe, ride and play with elephants draws visitors north from tourist-packed hotspots in Thailand, like Phuket and Bangkok year-round. But foreign tourists rarely see the negative impacts that these wait-in-line attractions have on the animals, and unknowingly support ill- intentioned groups. Lauren, an English teacher for a year in the Land of Smiles, recommends Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center near Chiang Mai. The nonprofit is a wonderful alternative, and gives volunteers the chance to learn about and play with their elephants on day-, overnight- and week-long visits.
On a recent trip to America's capital, Nadine discovered fabulous landmarks a bit more off-the-beaten path. For dinner, she skipped M Street and tried the newer, much trendier 14th and U streets near Logan Circle. From Asian fusion to Spanish tapas (her personal recommendations are Estadio and Masa 14), the area's culinary gems are climbing the ranks of DC's best restaurants. While there, also check out Logan Circle's recently happening art scene. Less buttoned-up than Georgetown's galleries, Logan Circle boutiques, like the Hamilton Gallery and Project 4, are more casual -- and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is a startling impressive national art museum - and every visitor to Amsterdam knows it. The tourist-filled, all-kinds-of-art attraction can be overwhelming, so if modern art is your thing, consider a visit to the Cobra Museum instead, suggests Meagan D., who grew up in the Netherlands. Only Dutch, Danish and Belgian artists are featured at the wonderfully inventive space, and its curators do a fantastic job of blending local culture with contemporary art to create a powerful homage to the Cobra movement. The avant-garde collection and rotating exhibits make the trip to Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam, absolutely worth it.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Our resident expert on Brazil, Josh, has been to Rio de Janeiro four times in the past two years alone. His advice: skip Ipanema and Copacabana, the hot spot's bustling beaches. If what you want is seclusion and your own slice of South American paradise, take a two-hour bus ride to Buzios. Twenty-three beaches, fantastic boutiques, and quirky restaurants dot this fishing village -- no surprise that it's become the Riviera for Argentines and Brazilians alike. Grab a towel and a bus ticket and go; last time Josh visited, he had the beach all to himself.
The Italian Riviera doesn't have to be painfully pricey, insists Amy. On a recent trip to Portofino, she was startled by the exorbitant price tags on everything, from beers to boutiques. Instead of just handing over euros, she recommends catching a water taxi to neighboring Santa Margherita, a more down-to-earth alternative. Melt-in-your-mouth food and charming bed-and-breakfasts fill the coastal town -- and at a fraction of the price of Portofino's restaurants and accommodations. Even more important for some travelers, Santa Margherita attracts fewer tourists -- providing you a more authentic Italian vacation.
St. Charles streetcar New Orleans
A massive fan of both live music and New Orleans, Emily suggests that travelers looking for more music for their money skip JazzFest and instead take a trip to The Big Easy a couple of weeks earlier -- for the French Quarter Festival. Often called the locals' festival, the four-day celebration features up-and-coming and local musicians in venues strewn along the riverfront and throughout the Quarter. It lacks Jazzfest's overshadowing headliners (this year's line-up includes Bon Jovi, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett) and high price of admission (up to $60 a day at the gate). It's well worth the trip for an authentic -- not mention free -- event.
Neve Tzedek Sculptures, Tel Aviv
While exploring Tel Aviv, check out an up-and-coming alternative to Jaffa: the culturally revitalized neighborhood of Neve Tzedek. After years of neglect, the historically rich area has recently made serious strides and now boasts amazing architecture, boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Dalia, a frequent flier to Tel Aviv, recommends Café Dallal -- a charming bistro -- for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Follow it up with a decadent dessert at the sweet little bakery next door. And another must-visit: the Tachana, a train station-turned-entertainment complex that, after 10 years of renovations, now attracts visitors with photography exhibits, arts and crafts fairs and live music shows. After an afternoon of strolling, grab a seat at one of the Tachana's many great restaurants for a meal al fresco.
Carnival du Quebec
Winter is a spectacular time to visit Quebec City. But before you make any snow-filled plans, Meghan K. recommends considering a visit during the annual Quebec Winter Carnival. Sleigh rides, snow sculptures and canoe races along the icy St. Lawrence River are on the agenda -- and absolutely not to be missed. If you can't make it during the man-made winter wonderland, take a toboggan ride in the center of Old Quebec at Les Glissades de la Terrasse Dufferin any day between December and March. Situated beside the stunning Chateau Frontenac, it's a 60-mile-per-hour adventure smack dab in downtown Quebec.