After you’ve checked off all the sightseeing places, tour buses, guides, and museums. There’s a good chance, you may think, “what are the non-touristy things to do?”
This is where the crossroads meet and separate the travelers from the tourists.
Don’t get me wrong, tourist spots should be visited as we can learn a lot from those sites. But when we activate our curiosity to intentionally engage with local life. Our viewpoint goes from standing on the observation deck to being on the ground floor as an active participant.
So what and where are these non touristy / hidden gems? Spoiler alert. They are the most obvious (and low-key) areas, and the same places that we frequent at home. BUT as mentioned before, this is where we separate the surface level travelers to those who immerse themselves with their destination to elevate their adventure.
Lean Into Local Life
Want to hang out with the locals? Well go where they go. These spots are the true hidden gems and far enough “off the beaten path” from the tourist traps.
1) Go to the grocery store, or a local food market
If you’re a foodie or just love to eat, visiting a grocery store or food market should be a default on places to visit. Food is a big part of ones culture. So why not visit a grocery store or check out the local market? I’m willing to bet there will be a lot of questions like, ”what is that?” followed by “wonder what it tastes like?” There will be both big and little differences of how food is displayed, packaged, the check out process, etc.
Here in Singapore, getting to a grocery store is a bit of an adventure and very different to American practices. Many grocery stores are located in the bottom floor at shopping malls. I can go clothes shopping and pick up avocados all in one building.
2) Be a spectator
Within the same breathe, go to a theatre, concert, or comedy show as well. Local entertainment is where it’s at!!! There’s nothing more energetic than a crowd of crazed sports fans.
Plus you cannot forego testing out the arena’s food and drink. It might not be gourmet cuisine, but having a bento box at a baseball game in Japan is something else. And if you’re lucky the entertainment is exhilarating, accompanied by the singing with the crowd is equally exciting. Cheering with other spectators is an encounter that you can’t get meandering around a museum.
Read more about Baseball in Japan and why it’s a must go.
3) Take a cooking class
Now that you’ve been to the market and have a sense of the local cuisine. Now it’s time to immerse yourself and learn how to cook classic local dishes (it’s also a great ”souvenir” to replicate in your own kitchen back home).
Taking a cooking course usually has the dual experience (shopping at a market and then creating the food). There’s no better way to get involved in the culture than to make bread, bake it, and break it.
4) Dine alfresco in a park
Being able to slow your roll, is everything a picnic in the park does. While it’s a great area to people watch, it can also make you stop and smell the flowers. Besides getting to know the local flora and fauna that’s in season, it’s a perfect outing to dine out and save a bit of money.
One of my favorite activities to do when visiting a new country is to have lunch in a nearby park. It’s a lovely little break to kick back and still be able to take in all the sights, sounds and flavors, and not have to pay the tourist overly priced meals in close by restaurants.
5) Watch a festival or parade
Ask your accommodations what the on-goings are and in hopes for a nearby festival or parade. These events are packed of energy, pride and the spirit. The vigor of life really comes out.
Years back, I was so fortunate enough to be around for opening day of the Panagbenga, flower festival in the Philippines. We had no idea people would be up and out at 4 am getting their individual floats ready for this enormous event that took over the whole city. Seeing the colorful and beautiful costumes of the dancers was such an impressive display of appreciation of their history, values, traditions and pride.
6) Go on a hike
Nature hits differently when you walk on foreign land. For some, this could be outside their comfort zones, but it’s really is fascinating to get to know the local biodiversity. If species hunting is not your thing, then at least do it for the summit views.
I find that anywhere in the world I hike, fellow hikers are the nicest and friendliest people out there. They always say hello in passing, or in my personal experience. I’ve shared food with other hikers when huddled together under a pagoda waiting for the heavy to stop. Or the time I ended up making a new friend, as we hiked for 3 hours down a mountain back to our cars. Nature helps us connect with others in a different fashion, and I’m all about it.
Read about The Science Behind Nature and the connections we make and can create.
7) The local library
My aunt once said, “you can really tell a lot about a community based on their library.” And it’s such a true statement. They are trusted institutions. They provide information, and add health to the community.
While libraries might be thought as outdated because we can get information from the internet from a small device we carry around in our pockets. The information overload can be overwhelming and devoid of morals and guidance.
Libraries true missions are to assist people in order to elevate themselves, and their situations. Is that the max core/true intention of the internet?
These temples of knowledge shouldn’t be overlooked. They showcase galleries of cultural artifacts, have unique designs, impressive architecture, and play an important role to its community. And if you’re lucky they will offer free city tours, sometimes a section for discounted books (think souvenir), and a cozy café.
8) Have a pint or glass
At a brewery, vineyard or a distillery to be more specific. It’s a great alternative to going to a bar. Because you can get a tour of the facility, and then a flight of tasters that’s made on site. It’s another way of getting to know and immersing yourself into the local flavor.
Yet, if you really want to get a little more creative, and exercise your sleuth detective skills. Figure out where the speakeasies are.
9) Balance on a bicycle
Get a bit of exercise, and tour around on a bicycle.
Just make sure you know what the local road / bicycle rules are. Cities are creating more mobility for their locals and tourists with rental bicycles. And sometimes, you don’t need to visit a brick and mortar rental spot. With rental bicycle apps, companies are becoming more efficient on getting people from one place to another on wheels.
10) Vintage seeking
Want to get some retail therapy in, but don’t want to visit the same stores you have at home?
Visit antique clothing and furniture stores. At times, there can be finds that’s retro enough to be a bit chic. Plus, who doesn’t want an unique souvenir?
11) Get crafty
Speaking of unique souvenirs, take a workshop class.
Getting to know the neighborhoods skilled craftsmen, is the best of two worlds; experiencing a little adventure and making your own souvenir. After all, holidays are meant to have time to lean into your hobbies or find new ones.
12) Visit a cemetery
Okay, I know, I know. This seems a bit grim, but hear me out. Cemeteries showcases how cultures think about what their dead means (and does) to them. I know, you’re still cringing at the thought, but there are so many cemeteries with beautiful and impressive stone carvings and mausoleums.
There’s something about cemeteries that can bring inner calmness to a restless traveler (or maybe this is just me).
The little differences of what people leave on burial sites is interesting too. It could be flowers, coins or stones. It’s also important to mention to do your diligence on reading the history of a cemetery, but more importantly what the cultural norms are when visiting, to keep respectful.
Being open, learning and being curious is what travel is all about. No matter how well traveled you are or just starting out. There’s always something new to experience, and this is what makes travel so rewarding.