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When traveling, one of my favorite things to do is simply explore the local area and see what's going on. I do enjoy guided tours on some occassions, but I'm more interested in finding cool local markets/restaurants/historical sites, photography opportunities, or nearby nature walks/hikes that are hidden gems.

For example, when in Sydney, a relative pointed us to a small nature reserve (one of hundreds or thousands when simply looking at a map) that turned out to be a deep, beautiful forest in the middle of a neighborhood.

Before a trip, I usually search online for reviews of "things to do" but mostly I just come up with tourist traps. So how do I find the opposite of tourist traps once I'm actually on site?

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14 Answers 14

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The best advice you can get is from the guy that work late night in your hotel. Ask for things that he/she does in their free hours. Why late night? Usually they have some concierge services that work only during the day and try to give you the standard advices. I also got some very good deals asking taxi drivers but the better ones were from bus drivers! So, the advice is: ask someone local. Try something like: "what would you do if you want to ..."

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Travel Books is the traditional option: Lonely Planet, Fodors, Rick Steves, Rough Guide, etc.

These days, another good place to look are the travel blogs. There are a handful of dedicated sites (here's a review of several: http://www.travelfish.org/feature/91) or you can search for the name of your destination along with "blog" and you are bound to run into some interesting / useful experiences.

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Ask the locals!

Hands down the best way. The people that live in the area will have the best knowledge of the area. If you are in the area long enough to befriend someone, I can guarantee you will see something you did not expect or see in a magazine.

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If you are staying with a local (e.g., airbnb.com), your host(s) will be a wealth of information. Not only do they have the advantage of being local, but they will also have experience providing advice and sharing experiences with other travelers. –  user82 Jun 22 '11 at 0:45

I normally do some research before going there, e.g. googling "best things to do in x" or looking at travel sites and forums, reading a good guide, or if you are lucky asking some friends who have been there. That would be able to give you an idea. Once I am abroad I simply talk to people and ask to everyone - either local (touristic info, hotel personel, restaurants/bars personel, taxi drivers etc... ) or tourists who may have been there for a few days before me and can tell me what they liked or disliked.

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Wikitravel - a gold mine for up-to-date information on all sorts of places. It's amazing just how much has been written about places you felt like nobody else had ever visited.

And of course - ask the locals! Nothing beats local knowledge of their own city. Be aware of course, that not everyone knows that much about the city - you may need to ask more than one ;)

--edit--

I'd also like to add that wikitravel - because of its wiki nature - is often more up to date than other sources, especially in volatile areas. I used it in South America when strikes were on, and it proved useful on more than one occasion to identify blocked roads / borders.

Currently in Uzbekistan and it's showing its form once more, having correct information on Khiva, whereas the Lonely Planet I'm carrying has led me astray on four occasions in 24 hours :(

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If you have you have a GPS unit at your disposal, I would suggest geocaching.com. Geocaching is a game where locals hide something for you to find. Usually these so-called caches are hidden at superb locations. I really like them since they are often at nice locations not mentioned in any tourist guide.

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I use the following

  • Yelp (mainly for North America and Paris/London) is a location based app. It tells you whats nearby and reviews. The database is commercially sourced.
  • foursquare (explore / trending feature / sometimes tips that others leave) similar to Yelp but the coverage is worldwide. However the database is crowd sourced so in some areas where theres not a lot of users, it may be inaccurate.
  • Gogobot more a review website like TripAdvisor.
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Yelp (mainly for North America and Paris/London) is a location based app. It tells you whats nearby and reviews. The database is commercially sourced. foursquare, is similar to Yelp but the coverage is worldwide. However the database is crowd sourced so in some areas where theres not a lot of users, it may be inaccurate. Gogobot is more a review website like TripAdvisor. –  nolim1t Aug 10 '11 at 1:57
    
I meant add the information in the answer - not in the comment :) –  VMAtm Aug 10 '11 at 4:20

Although maybe not the best strategy compared to what is already written, one thing I like to do on unfamiliar or even familiar places (usually a city) is to take random turns left or right and walk in a random way. I even played it as a game with friends where we took turns in deciding. In this way you go to places you would never go to and you'll always discover something interesting (if you are open for it). It is also perfect for photography opportunities.

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I often do pretty much the same thing, especially in big cities that are full of surprises in every direction like Paris and Budapest. –  hippietrail Aug 1 '11 at 9:18

Couchsurfing is a great way to explore an unfamiliar place. Most Couchsurfers are locals and always have amazing ideas of what to do.

If you want to explore eating places, ask the common man, they know the choicest joints with the most delicious food.

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One site that lets you explore places through photography is http://fotons.com/. It focuses on high quality photos from around the world and lets you add additional photos and places.

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Ugh, just looking at where I live, that site is soooo standard tourist-y and so sparse. It's a neat idea though. I think it would be good for someone trying to get their own pictures spread around. –  AlanSE Oct 28 '11 at 18:40

Besides asking the locals (as many have pointed out), I like to have a look at Frommer's "Best Of" for the area. I've yet to be let down by them.

(no, I don't work for Frommer's, but I do enjoy their guides).

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I've had trouble finding places to see many times. I've tried using a combination of Flickr, Wikipedia and Google Maps, but that's a lot of work.

So I created a website to do just that: Awespot.

The main goal is to be able to find places (spots) on a map, and see photos, descriptions and comments about those places.

For now it's mostly Iceland and a bit of France, but anyone is welcome to make the website grow on content.

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I don't know if it is a rule in another countires, but in Poland sites of communes are very good source of unique information about local area (writing "commune" I mean the lowest level of local authorities; in Poland it's "gmina" and usually consist of small city and about 10 villages).

In most cases you can find on such websites very detailed informations about history, about monuments or attractions which are not well-known. Very often texts on those websites are written by some local scientist, enthusiast or teacher from local school.

It's always the first source I check when going somewhere, because I know that it very often has original content from first-hand.

One example: detailed information about Darłowo Commune on it's site (even about very small villages): http://www.ugdarlowo.pl/499-4a1bdbc6c45a2.htm (polish language).

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This question is quite vague. I am quite surprised that it has not yet been closed ;-) It is also subjective. It depends on what you understand by "tourist traps".

Anyway, here are some suggestions:

  • Forget about guidebooks and other internet sites. Once a place is mentioned there, thousands and thousands persons know about it. It will not be a secret anymore. Don't think that you are smarter than anyone else and that you are the only person reading LP thoroughly or finding out about the wikisomething entry on whatever destination.

  • As a corollary, choose your destinations carefully. Prefer those who are hardly mentioned in the paper and online guides.

  • Asking locals can be a good approach. It depends on the type of locals. If these are friends, than it's fine. Receptionists or employees from tourist offices can be a good source. It depends where you are. Here it can also help if you have a good command of the local language or if you go to places where the locals have a good sense of hospitality.

  • If you go to a city, use the public transport, such as busses and tramways to go around. What I really like to do is taking a random bus and have a ride. That way one can see parts of the city, more or less interesting and more or less beautiful. And it is a bit like a human game drive. You get to see the inhabitants of the city in their natural habitat. Very interesting. This activity is particularly cool in cities where there are double-decker busses!

  • In cities avoid the metro and walk instead. You get a feel of what's going on and you get to see a lot of more and less common sights. Or rather than taking the bus, just have a random walk, outside the center or the "tourist trap" district.

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protected by mindcorrosive Dec 15 '12 at 17:53

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