7 Tourist Traps That Are Worth Checking Out On Your Next Vacation

From duck boats to sports stadiums, these tourist activities are popular for a reason.

The upcoming travel season means taking some much-deserved time off, visiting new cities and bumping shoulders with the nearly 100 million other Americans who plan to do the same this year.

Fighting your way through traffic and crowds is definitely a downside of traveling, so it’s understandable if you want to skip the obvious tourist traps and look for things to do that are off the beaten path. While that’s all well and good, there are a few “touristy” activities you should reconsider. You might be surprised by how fun they actually are.

1. Hop On And Off A Bus Tour

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Hop on, hop off bus tours help you get the layout of the city.

Riding a big double-decker bus across the city screams, “I’m not from here!” But don’t knock this uber-touristy activity until you’ve tried it. During my first trip to Boston, I decided to take a hop on, hop off bus tour at the suggestion of a local and it remains one of my favorite activities. 

“They can be a quick, pleasant and low-effort way to get an initial view of a city,” said Miguel A. Suro, a Miami attorney who co-runs savings blog The Rich Miser with his wife. “They can also help you figure out where you want to do some more in-depth tourism later.”

2. Hit The Water

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Try a duck boat tour for something a little different.

If a bus tour is too boring or time-consuming for you, consider a boat tour instead.

You can choose to go the classy route with an architectural tour down the Chicago River or a gondola ride through Venice, or opt for a slightly cheesier experience like a duck boat tour. “Those giant car boats are ex-war machines turned tourist traps, but are so delightful to ride in and see a city,” said Vanessa Valiente, creator of travel and fashion blog V-Style. “Boston, London and San Diego are just a few cities that have fantastic duck tours.”

Other unique experiences include swamp tours in Louisiana, riverboat tours down the Mississippi River and the celebrity homes tour of Miami.

3. Visit A Museum

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The Louvre in Paris contains a wealth of art.

One of the most obvious tourist activities in any city is visiting the local museums. Though you might have a list of more exciting or unusual stops to make, consider strolling through at least one. A city’s art, history or industry-specific museum holds an incredible vault of knowledge that you can soak in at your own pace. 

Valiente said a few of her top spots include The Blue House, Groeninge Museum, the Louvre and The Met. My personal favorite? The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. 

4. Go For A Hike

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The outdoors offer a different perspective on the history of a city.

I know, I know ― hiking is so basic. But it can be a great way to burn off some of those extravagant vacation meals while getting lost in nature for a couple of hours.

One great way to experience the unique offerings and rich history of a new city is to trek through its national parks. “Taking advantage of the national parks and landmarks that are being opened to the public or restored [allows you] access to these places that would ultimately be lost in time,” said Lauren Grech, adjunct professor at New York University and CEO of event planning firm LLG

If you’re looking for something more adventurous, Grech suggested hiking through ruins. “We did this recently through Mayan ruins in Mexico, but there are options for this all over the world,” she said. “Once you get a sense of the location’s history and culture, it heightens the entire rest of your trip because you pick up on certain customs, flavors or sights that you otherwise would have overlooked.”

5. Ascend The City’s Tallest Building

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One World Trade Center offers striking views of the city.

Many cities are home to landmark buildings that let visitors take in the city from hundreds of feet up in the air. Waiting in a long line and paying way too much to spend 20 minutes observing the city’s skyline might not seem like your ideal way to spend the day, but it can be a view worth investing in. 

In London, my wife convinced me to take the high-speed elevator to the top of the Shard,” said Trevor Kucheran. The couple, who blog at Travel Off Path, usually pride themselves on avoiding mass crowds and being “off the beaten path” travelers. “I was absolutely stunned by the breathtaking views 95 stories above the city. ... It may have been a touristy stop on our London adventure but is definitely one I won’t soon forget!” 

Other buildings worth visiting include New York’s One World Trade Center, Seattle’s Space Needle and Los Angeles’ U.S. Bank Tower, which features a glass slide at the top.

6. Visit A Place Of Worship 

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Istanbul's Blue Mosque is a popular tourist destination.

Regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), you should consider visiting a noteworthy cathedral, mosque or other place of worship while traveling.

“There’s a reason why the Notre Dame, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or the Cologne Cathedral are visited by millions of people per year. It’s a holy escape from the city and a glimpse into history,” said Erika van’t Veld, a full-time backpacker and travel blogger at Erika’s Travelventures. “Although you may still be surrounded by crowds of tourists inside these places of worship, you can’t help but feel a sense of peace and security within the echoing walls.”

7. Attend A Sporting Event

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Mingle like a local by catching a game while you're in town.

On a work trip to New Orleans years ago, my company’s CEO organized a group outing to see a basketball game at the Smoothie King Center. I’m not much of a sports fan and wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea, but I went and ended up having a great time.

What I learned is that you don’t have to be rooting for the home team or necessarily even like sports to enjoy a local game. Live sporting events are a great way to mingle with the locals, get a taste of the regional hot dog style and have something to talk about when chatting it up with strangers at the hotel bar.

Plus, some stadiums are landmarks in their own right. Visiting the iconic Wrigley Field, Notre Dame Stadium or the Rose Bowl will give you a taste of history while you catch a game.

Before You Go

4 Travel Upgrades That Are Worth It (And 5 To Avoid)
At the Airport(01 of03)
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Get:TSA Global Entry Pre-Check
With airports expected to be epically crowded this season, experts agree that getting TSA Global Entry is absolutely worth the $100 application fee. Certain credit cards will actually reimburse the fee; Citi Prestige, American Express Platinum and Citi/AA Advantage Executive Card are three that currently offer this perk.

Skip: The Airline Club Room
Again, it pays to know your plastic. Some credit cards, such as an American Express Platinum Card, will get you gratis entry to certain airline lounges. But if you're paying cash, take the $25 to $50 per person cost and use it to buy a cocktail in an upscale airport restaurant. Since so many airports are investing in their dining options beyond loud sports bars and sad coffee stands, it's easy to find something suitable in the departure terminal, says Cheryl Rosner, travel expert and co-founder of Stayful. And you can stay connected: According to a 2016 survey by wireless software company Devicescape, 90 percent of the 150 biggest airports in the U.S. offer free WiFi.

Get: An Upgrade to First or Business Class
This summer airlines are expected to fly an unprecedented 231 million passengers, according to a forecast from Airlines for America, so upgrades will be extra hard to come by. But that doesn't mean they're impossible, says Rosner. The best way to score one: First, make sure to rack up loyalty by using one credit card and airline for travel. Second, be flexible: It's easier to score two separate seats in first or business class than two seats together.

Skip: Extra legroom
If you can't spring for first class, you may as well squish, say experts who point out that the premium price placed on extra legroom in economy is rarely worth it for short-haul flights, especially if you're paying cash (instead of points) for the privilege. On some carriers the "extra" legroom is a measly 4 additional inches larger than standard economy. Best to choose an airline that has spacious economy seats or use SeatGuru or SeatExpert to choose the roomiest seat within your cabin.
(credit:Tom Cockrem/ Getty Images)
At the Hotel(02 of03)
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Skip: The Package Deal
These all-inclusive packages tend to include add-ons you wouldn't have chosen in the first place, says Rosner—and the costs are multiplied when you're staying more than one night. For example, at one major hotel, a romantic retreat package that includes champagne, flowers, cookies and chocolates costs $60 more than a basic room rate per night. If you're staying three nights, better to take that $180 and buy fancy drinks and snacks from local stores. The only exception: If one of the major reasons for your trip involves an activity like scuba diving or snorkeling, purchasing a package from the hotel that includes gear and lessons will save you time, says Rosner.

Get: The Loyalty Program
Even if you don't travel frequently, it's well worth it to sign up for the free hotel loyalty program, says Rosner. Programs often offer perks like minibar credits, upgrades and insider deals. For example, Marriott offers a fifth night free to loyalty members; Kimpton gives new members a $10 minibar credit and a $30 spa service discount. To make sure to keep spam to a minimum, Rosner suggests setting up an email address to be exclusively used for travel. Awardwallet.com is also a good resource to track your programs, points and expiration dates in one place, says Emily Jablon, co-founder of the travel blog Million Mile Secrets.

Skip: In-Room WiFi
Spending up to $12 a day for WiFi access is a waste of money, agree travel experts, especially since most hotels will offer gratis access in the lobby. You can get online for less by joining the loyalty program or using your phone as a hotspot for your devices. If you're staying for multiple nights, consider upgrading your data plan by $15 or $30 before the trip to avoid overage charges.
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On the Ground(03 of03)
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Get: A Private Guide
Sounds pricey, but Rosner says that private guides can be reasonable depending on where you're traveling, and the access they can give you to must-see attractions is unparalleled. "When we were in Rome, we got a private guide for the Vatican, which allowed us to skip the line," she says, adding that one benefit alone allowed her and her husband a free afternoon to explore more of the city. ToursByLocals.com is a good place to search for expert tour guides who have knowledge and "ins" at local attractions.

Skip: Rental Car Upgrade
Unless driving a convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway is a specific must-do for your trip, it's best to pass on the pricey upgrades to a luxurious car. It's also not hard to get one free, using Jablon's trick: Reserve a compact car, which tends to be in highest demand and thus, may not be available when you get to the reservation desk. "When this happens, they often offer an upgrade," says Jablon.
(credit:Cultura RM Exclusive/Seb Oliver/ Getty Images)

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