Nothing zaps the fun out of a trip to the big city like long lines, packed sidewalks and restaurants so crowded you can’t hear yourself speak. Instead of letting the hustle-bustle get overwhelming, make the most of your getaway with a few tried-and-true tricks from offbeat travel apps to underground culinary adventures that will help you decompress and discover a new side of town you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
Photo Credit: “MusÃ©e dÃ©partemental Albert-Kahn – Boulogne-Billancourt” by Esther Westerveld via Flickr.
Explore lesser-known green spaces
Why put up with the selfie sticks and tourist groups at the most popular urban park when you can have a lush sanctuary all to yourself? With its vast database of state and federal parks, Oh, Ranger! is a great location-aware app for charting a crowd-free course to spots hidden in plain sight (who knew Washington D.C. had a beautiful island dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt?). It also provides a list of park activities and fascinating historical insights.
Based on the recommendations of professional travel detectives like UnTapped Cities and Atlas Obscura, Google’s Field Trip app features the coolest under-the-radar attractions, from Musee Albert-Kahn’s 10-acre garden in Paris to Tokyo’s Rikugi-en garden, plus tips on where to eat nearby.
Escape to campus
When the city starts to squeeze, you can always rely on a beautiful, sprawling university for fresh air, a dose of calm and some fascinating history. Consider South Africa’s University of Cape Town, offering spectacular panoramic views from its perch at the base of Table Mountain, or Beijing’s Peking University, which harbors the Qing Dynasty’s sacred Weiming Lake as well as the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology. Have a campus in mind while planning the trip? Instagram is a great tool for scoping out a school in real time. Just plug in the university’s name into the “places” section and you can plot out the best picnic spots, saving precious vacation time later.
Attend a supper club
Instead of waiting hours for a table at the hottest restaurant in town, consider what is bound to be a more memorable (and likely more affordable) meal at a supper club. A growing gastronomy movement in major cities across the globe, these communal dining experiences invite a mix of locals and foreigners to gather in secret locations from churches to warehouses aglow with massive murals and enjoy inventive cuisine cooked by esteemed chefs. Try Little Meats LA, The Underground Social in Chicago and New York City, or the Japanese supper club Monograph in London. These guerrilla feasts are sure to be the highlight of your trip.
Choose an offbeat museum
Travelers often make the mistake of overlooking some of the most exquisite cultural sites like these small museums in Paris simply because they had to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa (which, by the way, you can get all to yourself after hours). After pinpointing your destination in Google’s Arts & Culture app, you’ll discover places like The Little Museum of Dublin and the USC Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles.
Wikipedia also makes it easy to plan an outdoor cultural adventure with its comprehensive list of hundreds of sculpture parks around the world. While pedaling through Chianti Sculpture Park in Tuscany or the North Carolina Museum of Art Park in Raleigh, you’ll be able to revel in wide-open spaces without tourists slowing you down or photobombing your perfect shot of those sky-high installations.
Get an insider tour
It helps to have friends in foreign places, but if you’re on your own, turn to a site like Tours by Locals for offbeat, private excursions led by an expert. Or, rely on a digital expert: Eventseeker is a dependable resource that curates activities tailored to your interest and location, be it a craft beer sail on New York’s Hudson River or a behind-the-scenes Eiffel Tower tour. Sidekix is the perfect app option for itinerary-free travelers who love to see where the city takes them. As you wander the streets of an up-and-coming neighborhood, the app offers local blogger tips on the best cafes, boutiques, pubs and art galleries around the next corner. What’s more, you can create your own shareable, self-guided tour just in case you or your friends ever want to retrace your steps.