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  • Post published:27/12/2021
  • Post last modified:27/12/2021

Get the full flavour of these four amazing European cities without following the tourist herd.

Rome

Why Rome?

There are the world’s historic capitals, and then there are the cities that were once epicentres of the known world. Rome is the latter. Both a living history and a thriving metropolis, Rome bombards you with quintessential images at almost every turn. This city is nothing less than epic, and the perennial tourist traffic proves everyone else feels the same way too.

Escape the crowds

Sanctuary can be found just yards away from the teeming multitudes around St Peter’s Basilica. Most tourists will be so focused on the Basilica that they miss the tranquillity of the Vatican Gardens, a sublime space laid out behind the palace complex.

Live like a local

Head over the River Tiber to the Trasteverse district for an authentic Roman atmosphere and a younger, creative vibe within the charming web of cobbled streets. You’ll also find plenty of superb dining opportunities in unassuming hosterias fit for an emperor.

Alternative Rome

Avoid ‘heritage fatigue’ with a visit to the less-frequented Museo Centrale Montemartini (www.centralemontemartini.org). Here ancient and modern worlds clash in what was Rome’s first electrical power station. In the 1990s savvy curators turned it into a permanent exhibition of classic statuary from the Roman and Etruscan eras, set against a backdrop of vast turbines from the industrial age.

Insider’s tip

A visit to the Colosseum can seem like chaos with the huge queues, pushy tour guides, and badly dressed gladiators. None of this is necessary if you buy tickets from the Roman Forum at the start of the day, allowing you instant, stress-free access to the Forum, Palatine Hill and Colosseum.

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Paris

Why Paris?

The City of Light is the epitome of chic and has been a tourist favourite for centuries. In such a culturally rich city, you can be sure that for every Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Louvre there’s an alternative hidden gem.

Escape the crowds

When peak time at the Louvre becomes unbearable, flee across the Seine to the Musee Rodin (www.museerodin.fr). Barely visible from the street, it was opened in 1919 in the former Hotel Biron, which had been the artist’s home. It has since exhibited a stunning array of the master-sculptor’s work, including The Thinker and The Kiss, adorning the house and its secluded French gardens. This is one of Paris’s most peaceful and romantic museums.

Live like a local

Daytime in Paris may be cafés, shopping and museums but come nightfall it’s all about the clubs. For clubbing and dancing until breakfast, check out the achingly hip Le Cab (www.cabaret.fr), as well as Batofar (www.batofar.org), a bright-red party-boat, and Le Rex (www.rexclub.com), which draws the world’s top DJs.

Alternative paris

Properly hidden, below the streets of Montparnasse, the Paris Catacombs were created from ancient quarries during the 18th century and used as a mass grave for six million Parisians, whose remains were removed from overcrowded cemeteries. Their bones now line the walls of the labyrinth of passageways in this subterranean ossuary, which can be toured with experienced guides (www.myparisiantour.com).

Insider tip

Get around like the locals by using the Batobus, a hop-on hop-off waterbus system with eight stops along the Seine, a practical alternative to a boat tour.

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Barcelona

Why Barcelona?

Vibrant, ever-changing, and steeped in Catalan sunshine, Barcelona virtually glows with youth and exuberance. One of the few cities to boast a history of avant-garde contemporary architecture, Barcelona excels at re-invention, creating countless opportunities to entice tourists and intrigue natives.

Escape the crowds

Loose the crowds quite literally with a visit to Labyrinth Park in Montbau. This undiscovered jewel, created in 1791, is laid out in immaculate neo-classical style, with hedged mazes, stucco pavilions and romantic Mediterranean gardens. The park is open from 1000 until dusk and is off of La Vall’d Hebron station.

Live like a local

Just 1km north of central Barcelona is the Gracia district, a picturesque barrio that feels like a whole different city. This is where the Barcelonans themselves come to take refuge from tourists during the busiest summer months. The neighbourhood buzzes all night with superb local tapas bars, restaurants, cafés and clubs.

Alternative Barcelona

Check out the big attractions and hotspots on your own terms by joining one of the burgeoning scooter tours, where small groups are given exciting, whistle-stop city tours by local experts (www.cooltra.com/en/barcelona/tours).

Insider tip

Stay alert to Barcelona’s pickpockets and avoid allowing strangers into close physical proximity upon greeting you. Popular areas such as La Rambla should be avoided after dark.

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Amsterdam

Why Amsterdam?

Liberally seasoned with art and culture, Amsterdam is a city that’s all things to all people. Dubbed “the Venice of the north” Amsterdam actually has more canals, and unlike its frozen-in-time southern twin, Amsterdam is a vibrant ever-changing metropolis with a reputation for catering to all tastes.

Escape the crowds

Situated opposite the tourist swamped Van Gogh Museum is The House of Bols (www.houseofbols.com), the world’s oldest distillery. Established in 1575, it still produces the Netherlands’s unique gin, known as Genevre, along with 33 different liqueurs which can be sampled at the contemporary Mirror Bar.

Live like a local

To catch the local buzz, head across the harbour to the North Amsterdam waterfront. Try the Hotel Goudfazant (www.hoteldegoudfazant.nl), a hip restaurant inside an industrial shed and enjoy delicious, unfussy dishes, all eaten at long canteen tables where you’ll rub shoulders with the city’s creative elite.

Alternative Amsterdam

The St Nicolaas Boat Club of Amsterdam (www.amsterdamboatclub.com) is a non-profit group whose dedication keeps a small flotilla of historic boats cruising the canals. Sign up for a trip, then glance smugly at the huddled masses in oversized, glass-sided tourist vessels while you chug past with the locals to far more interesting places.

Insider’s tip

Buy a one-, two- or three-day Amsterdam Pass for unlimited travel on the tram, busses and metro, as well as canal journeys with two of the city’s boat companies.

Click here for more on Amsterdam.

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