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So many web sites list "top 10" in such-and-such city. And, for any specific city they usually list the exact same 10 items. Almost like they've copied them from each other. Or something.

How can I get around this and find some things to see other than the top 10?

Example, I've now been to Shenzhen, China about 6 times (because my lady friend lives there), for a month each. And I've SEEN the top 10 things. Every tourist type web site in English has the exact same top things, in the exact same order.

When I search for things like "hidden gems" and such, the results are often disappointing. Not because they are not good, but because there are usually only 2 for the entire city. Like when I visited Beijing, the hidden gem search found me a local Buddhist temple with a really interesting musical presentation, and entrance fee that was really small for the value.

Any hints?

closed as too broad by David Richerby, Giorgio, gmauch, Rory Alsop, CGCampbell Jul 20 '18 at 12:02

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Somewhat related: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/69543/… – JonathanReez Jul 18 '18 at 21:41
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    you could write one – Azor Ahai Jul 18 '18 at 22:03
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    To address When I search for things like "hidden gems" and such, the results are often disappointing. The thing about a hidden gem is that, well, it's hidden. Once it's coming up on web searches for "[city name] hidden gem" it's not much of a hidden gem any more. – Pont Jul 19 '18 at 8:35
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    Ask your lady friend? – RemcoGerlich Jul 19 '18 at 9:08
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    I'm not sure this is worth an answer on its own but I often find Atlas Obscura (atlasobscura.com/destinations) to be a really good way of finding weird and wonderful things to see that don't make it to the normal top 10. – Andrey Jul 19 '18 at 15:37

10 Answers 10

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Start by getting real guidebooks instead of trying to get it free with a web search.* A guidebook should have hundreds of attractions especially in a city as large as Shenzhen.

Next, look for things in your specialty. I find it difficult to believe you're a generic cookie-cutter person who only likes things everyone else likes, whose taste in music is exactly the Billboard Top 10, and who wants the generic "best of" experience. Maybe I just have cooler friends, but one is a hardcore spelunker (that's cave explorer), one loves to climb mountains, one is really into wine, one knows who Utada is, a Youtuber, a genuine Indian rock star, a couple of railfans who if there's a train around, that's their weekend. Is Shenzhen one of the few places in the world with a Bobsled run?

Where does who you are intersect with what Shenzhen is?

I for one, if there's a Jolibee in Shenzhen, you'd have trouble getting me to eat anywhere else. I just searched; no but found a lot of other stuff though.


* What you're missing from the web searches is all the ads. The purpose of those pages isn't to inform you; you're not the customer. The purpose is to serve advertisements to you; you're the product. Ads on the Internet are bid via auction and the travel space is extremely valuable; a website can be paid a couple of dollars per ad clickthrough. (that's nothing; you should see mesothelioma.) So a lot of people in the commercial SEO business manufacture pages solely for clickbait. The content is as cheap as possible, hence all the copying. In fact, I bet many of the sites you hit are the same guy.

These pages are filling your search results because you are doing the most straight and obvious searches, which those pages are tuned to rank on. Turns out the SEOs aren't smart enough to spam up "Shenzhen Jolibee".

  • What do you mean by “that’s nothing; you should see mesothelioma”? What has cancer to do with tourist attractions? – 11684 Jul 19 '18 at 11:52
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    Your suggestion to look at the ads is brilliant. Yes, the ads are varied and show lots of things I might be interested in. And often with better contact info than the "top 10." I guess I'm just trained to reflexively ignore ads on the internet. – user79534 Jul 19 '18 at 13:42
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    @11684: Harper means that the clickthrough rates on ads for the keyword "mesothelioma" are much higher than for the keyword "Shenzhen" or other travel destinations. Which means that the incentive to spam mesothelioma is (even) higher than for popular travel destinations. – Stephan Kolassa Jul 19 '18 at 13:49
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    @puppetsock I mean you definitely should ignore the ads, but recognize that the presence of a large number of ads is an indication that the page content itself is utterly worthless, trolling clickbait garbage, and a waste of your time. – Harper Jul 19 '18 at 17:50
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    @puppetsock Just to make extra sure you see this, the takeaway in your comment contradicts the intent of the answer. When Harper says "What you're missing from the web searches is all the ads," they mean that you're missing the implication of all the ads being there, not that you should look at the ads. The ads will rarely be of any use. – ZAD-Man Jul 20 '18 at 0:10
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The top 10 things are usually the most distinctive for the given location. There are only so many, so the same will usually be listed both online and in guidebooks. The wording might be different Top 10, Must See or Unforgettable Experiences usually end up have the same selection since they serve the same purpose of telling newcomers what is special about the destination.

If you get bored or tired of those because you have seen them already, they may be limited interesting things to do in that area. You can try to search for hidden gems or off-the-beaten path sites but these queries suffer from the same problem of being generic.

The best advice I can therefore give it to be more specific. It might help you find something more to your liking. Let's say you like museums. The Top 10 list may contain 2 or 3 but if you search for best museums of insert city then you will most often get some really good ones that did not make it into the Top 10 list. The key is to focus on your interests, all these can give you ample choice where there is more to see:

  • best architecture insert city
  • biggest insert city festivals
  • most popular events insert city
  • best restaurants insert city
  • etc

A Top 10 is bound to have only a few of each category to get variety, so by specifying the type of things that interest you, you will get those that did not make it into the Top 10. Of course, some destinations are quite small and you will literally be able to see everything with the Top 10 lists usually being padded with some not so interesting or repetitive options, which is usually a hint that this is probably it for that location.

  • yeah. I don't go to those things just because they're on such lists, but I don't avoid them just because they're on the lists either. – jwenting Jul 19 '18 at 8:09
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Even major tourist destinations will still only have so many "attractions." You can ensure you enumerate them all by getting a good guidebook, which should have a generally comprehensive list of tourist sites, and by checking the website for the city's tourism agency, which often has listings.

Once you have that covered, or get sick of the tourist offerings available (even the most cultured city only has so many tourist attractions), I find some of the most satisfying memories come from creating experiences rather than finding stuff to see. It could be as simple as grabbing a picnic from a local market and enjoying it in a scenic park. Go for a hike. Or rent bikes or kayaks and explore. Eat a meal with locals, or even just go to a restaurant far off the tourist path. Wander a neighborhood shopping street. Go to a typical local grocery store. See a concert or a play. See a movie. Make some sort of craft. Cook something local, or take a cooking class. Volunteer. Convince a shopkeeper to sell you a display from the store window as a souvenir. Ride all the public transit lines. Peoplewatch. Get lost.

Airbnb has listings of experiences you can book through their service. Some are more touristy than others, but browsing them will give you more ideas as well.

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    That's not really true. You could spend a lifetime exploring the attractions in Washington DC, Kyiv, Des Moines, Birmingham, Sydney or even Detroit. Locals do. Granted, seeing Fazerdaze in concert in Sydney isn't an experience unique to Sydney, but it's certainly a good time. Once in Little Five Points I saw a theater show, a positively bizarre reinvention of Othello as the JFK story. I also stumbled into Sarah McLachlan's "Touch" tour, playing some tiny community park, back before she was anything. Front row seats. You just have to let yourself find. – Harper Jul 19 '18 at 3:50
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    @Harper That's what I was trying to say by "see a concert or a play." They're activities that wouldn't appear on a typical list of tourist attractions for many cities (excepting say, New York and London). Eventually, you're not looking at tourist attractions; you're just looking at local entertainment. It could prove to be a memorable time whether it's a Prom at Royal Albert Hall or you brave a blizzard to see a college theater group doing Wendy Wasserstein in a basement. – Zach Lipton Jul 19 '18 at 3:59
  • Well said...... – Harper Jul 19 '18 at 3:59
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An option for internet searches is to leave the English (and in this case likely all European) language sites and go to local information in the local language.
When you do an internet search you can use online translations, so even if you do not speak the local language you can use that.

Also search on smaller locations, like parts of the city and locations outside the area of the city itself. This is likely not that useful in English, as the information in English is aimed at the 'few days only' visitors.
You fall in the same situation as 'rather local' visitors who will have seen the top 10 or want things even more local than the big city while they stay in a near town or village.

It can also be that much of the information is not available online (I can not guess how much internet access the local 'tourists' have.) In that case newspaper clippings and information of local information offices (touristy if available) and worth of mouth of others who visit the area.

And worth of mouth might be available on online information platforms, like Lonely Planet's Thorntree. This kind of platforms may not yet have the information but if so, you can ask.

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You can also take a decent map, such as OpenStreetMap or a local paper map, browse it around and see if anything catches your interest.

We've found quite a bit of really nice small museums and restaurants that way all around the globe. With some skill you can also pretty easily differentiate between historic parts and boring ones, choose better paths, etc.

Also, just walk around with your eyes open, see if anything catches it.

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I am a geocacher and can confirm that quite often geocaches give you a lot of interesting, but not so touristic attractions for nearly every place of the world. Say, instead of being taken to the super-famous XY building in Z town, you may find a nice quiet park on a hill with an extraordinary view of the XY building and interesting local cuisine nearby. Or a "forgotten" monument of a nevertheless important person. Or a geological peculiarity. Or ...

  • All the interesting places I've found in my new hometown playing Pokémon Go confirm this answer. Any type of geocaching is good to find places, including games like Ingress and PoGo. – Belle-Sophie Jul 20 '18 at 8:33
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There are a couple different methods you can use, but if you want to skip the famous tourist places, you can't rely on travel sites or information brochures from the city, because they will always be centred on the touristic places.

I've had luck finding interesting new places, even on my own city, using these methods:

  • Check for city walks or tours organised by local groups. Some of these are targeted for locals too, and try to give visibility to less known places.

    For example, I attended a council-organised tour of a historic cemetery on my city. It's not a well known place even for locals, and you won't find it in any guide, but it turned out to be a really interesting place. Not only it had some impressive monuments, but the guide helped us learn more about the city's historical figures. Some neighbourhoods also organise similar tours to show historic, natural, or otherwise interesting places.

  • Use map services where people can share photos and histories about places, like on Google Maps. This works really well for more rural or natural places, because in the city it will be too crowded, but even there it can be helpful.

    I always use this method when going on weekend trips, as it is a nice way of checking for interesting places beforehand, and knowing what to expect in them.

  • There are activities like Geocaching that take you to all kinds of places that you might have missed otherwise. Not all points in the game will be interesting, but you can check them beforehand, or just search for the most popular ones.

    I've met people who go on cruises around the world, while playing this game in each city, to discover the place in a very different way.

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If you know at least one non-obvious attraction that you are interested in, you can use this to “calibrate” online or offline guides for the area: if a guidebook doesn't list X, it means it fails to describe the properly off-the-beaten-track areas.

A guidebook on the Grand Canyon that describes the North Rim as off-the-beaten-track, is not a guidebook I would buy. Although I readily believe it's quiet compared to the South Rim or Zion, it's still quite crowded by my standards. But a guidebook that spends at least several pages on the Tuweap area is something I would consider buying, because chances are a guidebook that has details on areas like Tuweap (that I do consider off-the-beaten-track, at least compared to the main destinations on the Grand Canyon; we hiked all day with canyon and river views, met zero other hikers), is also likely to have information on other off-the-beaten-track areas that I don't yet know about. Alas, the guidebooks for sale in the visitor centre only mentioned Tuweap in passing, so I didn't buy them.

Similarly, a guidebook for Iceland that has information on Lónsoræfi or Þjórsárver, is one that I would buy. Yet if it's limited to "off the beaten track" (not really) destinations like Þórsmörk or Snæfellsjökull, then I will skip it, for they're not off the beaten track by my (perhaps unreasonably high) standards. If I reach a beauty spot clearly only visited by locals, then I know I have succeeded. Incidentally, when I did research Þjórsárver or Guðlaugstungur og Álfgeirstungur I found mostly Icelandic language pages, which is a good sign; and the visitor book at Arnarfellsbrekka in Þjórsárver had mostly Icelandic language entries. An outdoor destination in Iceland where >75% of the visitors are Icelanders is very rare indeed (and it's also exceptionally beautiful there).

Although I don't vacation in cities, a similar principle should work for destinations within cities. What interesting destinations do the locals know about, that visitors have not yet discovered? That may be where you want to be. Few people try this, so I'm not too worried about it becoming self-defeating.

Somewhat related question on Outdoors.SE: https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/4187/566

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How about pages like Tripadvisor?

The information on that page is created by tourists for tourists and anyone can add any destination/attraction. When you check larger cities you'll see tens or even over a hundred of locations that you might be willing to visit. Just remember to rate it yourself afterwards so that other can benefit from your opinion as well!

Whenever I plan to visit some city I check on Tripadvisor what is worth seeing there.

Note, you'll also find there "attractions" like guided tours or escape games etc. Just ignore those.

  • I don't think any of the interesting off-the-beaten-track attractions I have ever visited are even mentioned on Tripadvisor. Tripadvisor is for popular stuff. – gerrit Jul 19 '18 at 16:17
  • OP does not ask for off-the-beaten-track as such, just for things not showing up in the top 10 lists which are repeated in almost all English language publication. – Willeke Jul 19 '18 at 17:47
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For finding out what's going on in a specific place, I have often successfully googled: "what's happening in shenzhen" or "what's happening in shenzhen today". I got quite a few interesting results but one was particularly useful, I think:

https://www.thatsmags.com/shenzhen/event.

It shows a very wide variety of things to see or do from anime conventions over book expos to whisky tasting. These are events, mind, not attractions or 'what to see in Shenzhen' so mileage may vary but I also find it a good starting point if you're there for longer periods of time. There might even be something for your lady friend :)