Europe is a popular travel destination for many people: the history, culture, food, nightlife, and natural beauty appeal to a huge number of visitors every year.
The result is destinations that are full of crowds and tourist traps. This makes things difficult for travelers who want an authentic and unique European experience.
1. Rent a flat or a house
To truly experience another country, try living like the locals. Hotels are often located in tourist or business areas. Renting a residential property places you in a neighborhood where you can mingle with natives. On a recent trip to London, I rented a flat and enjoyed my coffee every morning in a local shop, instead of at Starbucks with the other Americans. This gives you the opportunity to talk with locals and find out where they like to go for fun, dinner, shopping, etc. Also, the vacation rental owners will most likely be able to provide recommendations.
2. Think small
Instead of large cities, choose smaller towns and villages. Usually, these smaller locations attract fewer tourists. Consider staying in a small town 20 to 30 kilometers outside of a larger city. For example, Kingston upon Thames instead of London or Poissy instead of Paris. Other smaller cities to check out include Salina, Italy; Bonn, Germany; Ardennes, Belgium; and Helsinki, Finland. Once again, staying in a city with fewer tourists allows more contact with locals who can steer you toward their favorite attractions.
3. Wander around
No matter where you stay, take time to walk around or rent a bike. Take off exploring and see what you find. Look for parks or other open-air spaces where you can relax and people watch. As always, stay aware of your surroundings and avoid sketchy areas. But often, allowing yourself time to explore will lead you to your most treasured finds.
4. Try public transportation
Buses often meander through residential areas providing a picture of everyday life in your destination. You will also notice restaurants and shops frequented by the local population. Take note, so you can remember to come back later.
5. Travel by train or car
Once you arrive in Europe, travel around by train or rent a car. This allows you to find villages and other places to stop and explore. When you travel by airplane, you miss all these hidden gems.
6. Engage in outdoor activities
Hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities will definitely get you off the beaten path. Whether you take a day to hike a trail or plan an entire trip to hike, you will get out of heavily populated cities and discover smaller towns and villages.
7. Follow your interests
Plan a trip around your hobbies or interests. Most likely, this will lead you away from touristy areas and to places you will really enjoy. For example, if you love to read, plan to visit famous bookstores, landmarks related to your favorite authors, etc. If you love to golf, plan a trip that revolves around courses where you would like to play.
8. Travel off-season. Even if you plan to go to a popular place, like Paris, the experience can be quite different when you travel off-season. Fewer crowds mean you can take your time and really experience a place. On another trip to London, I traveled in January. I spent an entire day at Hampton Court Palace at my own pace. There were many times I found myself in an area of the palace entirely alone (well, except for a staff member). It was magical. Also, touring the British Museum and Westminster Abbey was a totally different experience from going in the summer.
Perhaps the best advice of all is to be flexible and travel without a strict itinerary. Going where the road takes you is often the best way off the beaten path. Happy travels!