Going beyond your guide book: What to see and do on your trip
Yes, I read travel guide books, and use them to plan my trips. Eyewitness Travel Guides are my favorite because they have lots of pictures and graphic diagrams. And I do internet searches and read a plethora of travel websites. But not everything worth seeing is in the guide books, or you missed seeing it in the guide book, or it just didn’t look interesting in the guide book. I always like to keep my eyes open for interesting things once I arrive at a destination.
Ask the hotel staff
And pay attention if they say to go on a certain day. When I was in Soriano nel Cimino, the hotel clerk suggested that I visit the Palazzo Chigi-Albani, which I had not heard about, and told me exactly what day it would be open to visitors. I went on the suggested day, and got in to tour the place (well the parts open to tourists). I didn’t realize that the palace is rarely open. If I had not gone that day, I wouldn’t have gotten in at all.
Walk around and look
This was how I stumbled upon the the Colecion de Titeres de Francisco Peralta in Segovia. Obviously this method has limits. How walkable is the area, and you may not get a high return for your time and effort. I usually get something worthwhile, though. This was also how I found the Casa-Museo Antonio Machado and learned who Guiomar was (the lady that Segovia’s train station is named after).
Buy a city pass
If your destination offers one. I usually find these by searching the internet and reading the city’s official visitor website. A “city pass” will get you free or discounted entry to local museums and sights – hence the beauty of it (besides the cost savings) – you get a list of things to see and do. Granada’s “city pass” became the back-bone of my sight-seeing beyond visiting the Alhambra. Ditto for Paris’ museum pass. Switzerland includes free entry to a seriously lengthy list of museums around the country with the purchase of a Swiss Rail Pass.
Drop in at the local tourism information office or booth
They typically have maps and brochures about local sights. While visiting New Braunfels, Texas, my family wanted to do a cave tour. We picked up brochures from the local tourism office – including information on various caves that were open for tours. We picked a less known cave instead of the famous one, and enjoyed a lengthy, detailed, and truly fascinating four-hour cave tour for substantially less cost and no crowds.
Read maps and brochures that are in the local language – even if it’s Chinese
Many times small local museums and sights are advertised to the local folks, while guide books for foreign visitors list mostly the major and well-known stuff. I picked up maps in both English and Chinese when I stopped at the tourism office in Hangzhou. Back at my hotel, I looked them over and compared the listed sites, and sure enough, the Chinese list had sites that the English version omitted. The result was touring the Former Residence of Hu Xueyan – one astoundingly magnificent house. Best reward ever.