Travel Like a Local: Find the Places You’ve Never Heard Of

Around the World, Travel Tips — By Alex Resnik on August 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm

It’s that time again when we challenge our worldwide network of Local Experts to give us their most specific, über-relevant on-the-ground travel advice. It’s the Local Expert Challenge!

This week, we challenged our experts to betray their local loyalties and spill the beans on some of their destinations’ most secret, hidden, or off-the-beaten-path attractions. Below, you’ll find some of the best recommendations you won’t get from a guide book.

São Paulo – Beco de Batman (The Bat Cave)

The name just implies “secret.” Graffiti artists have claimed this alleyway in Vila Madalena as a tortuous communal canvas. The walls of the labyrinth are spray-painted with Technicolor ripples, personal mantras and mythical beasts. Casa Redonda is a nearby nook for visitors to eat, drink or read away the afternoon.

Athens – To Koutouki (The Little Place)

This misshapen taverna is just at the base of the Hill of the Pnyx (the neighborhood of Anapetralona), and both are vastly underrated. One is wide fields of green space and historical importance that goes, for the most part, ignored compared to her neighboring hill, the Acropolis. The other is an earthy, painted-up taverna that looks straight out of Sanford and Son. Don’t be dissuaded by the narrow, crumbling steps leading down and underneath the bridge, the spotty path, the hand-painted sign on the door… Once you’re inside and facing the glorious tangerine walls, or sitting on the rooftop with your fork hovering over a plate of deep fried zucchini or grilled lambchops, a view of all of Philopappou Hill before your eyes, you’re going to thank me.

Ottawa – Rideau River

Sure, the Ottawa River is famous because it flows right by Parliament Hill. And the Rideau Canal is the glamor girl of Ottawa waterways. It’s the world’s largest skating rink and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the Rideau River also offers quieter pleasures, whether it’s hanging out watching the swans and herons at Windsor Park (just east of Billings Bridge), or cycling the recreational pathway from Rideau Falls to Hog’s Back Falls. Because most tourists don’t know about it, it’s far less crowded on sunny summer days than the Rideau Canal, too. One word of warning: don’t attempt to canoe or kayak the river north of Hog’s Back Falls unless you are quite experienced; the waters get trickier the closer you get to Rideau Falls.

Jerusalem – The Ades Synagogue in Nachlaot

Yes, there are hundreds of synagogues in Jerusalem, but few are as interesting as the intimate and richly decorated Ades synagogue. Founded by Jews fleeing the Syrian city of Aleppo, it enjoys a unique cantorial prayer style, beautiful inlaid mother-of-pearl furnishings, and the chit chat of its members kibbitzing in the courtyard.  Ades is little known outside the Syrian community because it’s hidden away on a pedestrian-only street in the central Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot. Not for you if just can’t bear to cover up your shorts and tank top.

Las Vegas – Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market

This is unlike any other Las Vegas farmer’s market: it’s indoors, carries only regionally grown, seasonal items from Southern Nevada and Southern California, and it’s just off the Strip. Molto is the creation of two Las Vegas chefs, and it’s only open on Thursdays, from 11am-1pm.

Bangkok – Koh Kret

The Chao Phraya River is simply awesome. It runs through the city and is always busy with big barges, passenger ferries and long-tail boats. It really establishes a sense of Bangkok. Koh Kret is an island a bit far from the madding crowd and also a bastion for Mon culture. See pottery being made, check out a different style of temple, eat some awesome sweets, and best of all, NOT see a single car – pedestrians only!

Budapest – Wikinger Hamburgers

You can get a large variety of huge, calorific hamburgers for a good price! With names such as “gastronomic orgasm,” you won’t be able to refuse indulging in one! Budapest is full of sausage and hamburger stalls, but not all give you good food and value for your money. It’s located at the end of the Great Ring Road, so not many visitors wander out this far. Plus locals aren’t even ever aware that this stall is not your average place to get hamburgers!

Los Angeles: St. Vincent Court

This alleyway is full of good cafes and delis, mostly featuring Middle Eastern food. The whole place is a real surprise–you are walking down Broadway in the Jewelry District, you turn west onto 7th, travel another half block and BOOM, it’s like you have been transported to a quaint little street in Europe. The whole experience is disconcerting. This site was originally the second location of St. Vincents College, a school founded in 1865 that eventually became Loyola Marymount. Then in 1907 the first Bullocks department store was built here. The Bullocks building still exists and is used as a huge Jewelry marketplace (the basement is a Big Lots). Most of the food and drink establishments on this street close on Sunday, though you can still get tea from the tea shop/deli at the mouth of the alley.

Oslo – Hovedøya

Tourists in Oslo usually see the major sights in or near the city center. Some venture out in the forest and some even take a sailing excursion on the Oslo Fjord. Oddly, many visitors aren’t aware of the Oslo Fjord islands. But the locals know: the islands are a paradise for anyone who loves frolicking on the beach and in the waves on a hot Norwegian summer day (and no, that’s not an oxymoron).

At Hovedøya you get much more than sun and sand. The island is a protected wildlife reserve, which means you can’t pick the rare flowers or disturb the birds. The free-roaming sheep and goats don’t mind being touched, though. Also, playing among the ruins of the 12th-century Cistercian monastery is a hands-on – and fun – lesson in medieval history.

Boulder – Eben G. Fine Park

During the summer, Eben G. Fine is the place to be. Locals come here to sunbathe, lounge in the shade, grill, picnic, and tube down the Boulder Creek. It’s not the easiest park to find, so most tourists and newcomers don’t know about it until they’ve been taken there by a local.

Edinburgh – Canny Mans Pub

Yes, it’s considered one of the most unfriendly pubs in Edinburgh, but Canny Mans is also one of the most dazzling – that is, if you like vintage wines, whiskeys and cigars.

Be warned – if you look like a tourist you may not be let in! In the words of The Independent: “The onslaught on your confidence starts outside, where a sign reads: ‘no mobiles, no credit cards, no backpackers, no cameras…’ Inside, an intimidating maîtresse d’ guards the door with no less fury than Cerberus guarding the gates of Hell. If you manage to understand the ordering system (hint: write some code on paper, don’t for god’s sake try to talk to the waitress), you’re in. And it is worth it.”

Don’t let the seemingly plain exterior fool you. Inside, you’ll be awed by the “all polished glass and glittering tableware, the bar offers hundreds of whiskeys lined up like jewels along its back wall. The music is ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.’ A stopped clock makes you want to stay for hours. This is pub décor and some: alongside the traditional mandolins and dusty jeroboams pinned to the walls are military uniforms, paintings, swords, prams and a boat.”

Lake Tahoe – Rubicon Point

This portion of Lake Tahoe, in between Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss State Park, has some of the deepest, bluest water around. Imagine your bottle of blue mouthwash…that’s the color of the lake water in this rocky, rugged part of Tahoe. This area is really only accessible by kayak, canoe or another form of watercraft. Most larger boats can’t anchor here because of the depth. Launch from Lester Beach or Emerald Bay in a kayak or canoe, and you will find this area nearly people-free. There are several large rocks to lounge on and jump from and a few perfect small beaches.

Cairo – The Friday Market

This huge weekly market between the Citadel and the City of the Dead hosts vendors selling everything from live snakes to antiques, knock-off clothing to (probably stolen) bikes, and hardware to broken computer monitors. Tens of thousands of poor to middle-class Egyptians who descend on it each week.

It’s not exactly unknown; it’s more that visitors don’t bother to go. Locals will try to dissuade visitors from going, claiming it’s dangerous (it’s not) and full of thieves (maybe just a few).

Madrid – Medina Mayrit

Drawing on a blend of Madrid’s Christian, Muslim, and Jewish heritage, Medina Mayrit is a relaxing hammam-style spa featuring three underground pools, a relaxation room, gurgling fountains, flickering candles, and ambient music. If you go alone, be prepared to be surrounded by love struck couples.

Zion National Park – Kolob Arch

One of the world’s largest free-standing arches, Kolob spans about 287 feet. It gets its name from the Mormon faith, which holds that a planet named Kolob is the greatest to be found in the universe. It’s found in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion, which many contend is prettier than the main Zion Canyon itself. How’s that for super cool and must-see?

Here’s the catch: getting to Kolob Arch requires a pretty vigorous hike. At 14 miles round-trip, this is not what most people would consider a day hike. Why is that a bonus? Because so few people see it, you have the trail (and the arch) practically to yourself! And wow, is the scenery along the way worth the hike! It’s almost as awe-inspiring as the arch itself.

Wear a backpack, carry plenty of heavy water, and be prepared to stave off blisters.

So Many More Local Confessions…

Orange County
Niagara Falls
Niagara (ON)
New Delhi

Tags: Athens, Bangkok, Boulder, Budapest, Cairo, Edinburgh, hidden gem, Jerusalem, lake tahoe, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Madrid, Off the beaten path, Oslo, Ottawa, Sao Paulo, secret, undercover, Zion National Park


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