Travelling to learn about other cultures? But where to start? No matter if you’re going to a European city or on a Mexican roadtrip, this list will make sure you don’t miss out on any special cultural experience!
Right now I am planning a 5th trip to Paris next week, a first trip to Montenegro in June, and a first trip to Warsaw in September with my museum group. So I am right in the middle of this, and I just realised how much planning I do beforehand. You don’t have to do all the steps that I do, just research on the areas that matter to you.
First you do all the things on 10 things to check before travelling!
WORD OF MOUTH
Ask friends who have been at your destination. They will know what you like. If you don’t have any friend’s or don’t know anyone who’s been to places like Istanbul, skip this one and go to step 2…
Watch YouTube videos of the destination, if you don’t know it that well, to get an idea of the mood and the highlights. Lonely Planet has short videos of most destinations, but otherwise you”ll find plenty by googling it (too many).
Go to the city’s or country’s official tourist page. They use analytics and will guide you towards the most popular sights and also they know the often asked question and difficulties. I have worked with both VisitCopenhagen and VisitDenmark, and they are only interested in you having a good time!
Visit the UNESCO website for World Heritage sites in the area! Sometimes it’s a single building like Roskilde Cathedral in Denmark, other times it’s an area like in Amsterdam: a canal ring circling around the center and a defence line also covering a larger part of the city.
Go to TripAdvisor for best ranking museums and sights! TripAdvisor is one of the best to get more honest opinions, but take it with a pinch of salt. Some people complain about weird things and some attractions rate themselves.
Of course I have to recommend this!
Read different travel blogs on sights in the area – this is especially great if you want to go more local. And also if you don’t have any travelling friends. Usually bloggers will only recommend something they’ve actually visited and actually liked. But make sure they have same travel goal as yours (I don’t take advice from people who want to get as drunk as possible as cheap as possible).
Check for any fantastic celebrations, festivals or temporary exhibitions in the area. I usually see TimeOut or the largest museum’s websites. This might give you the opportunity to see the erotic works by Picasso, that will never be exhibited back home (I saw it). We also planned our arrival in Mexico City according to the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Order concert or theatre tickets well in advance. We bought tickets to the Puccini Opera Festival in Tuscany first and then the trip later on. For the Salzburg Festspiele you have to be in really good time, for the New Year concert in Vienna you will put your name on a list in the beginning of the year and they draw lots, and for the Bayreuther Festspiele until recently you had to write a letter! At least 3 years in advance! The waiting list is still a couple of years I think. I think I will register now…
Even if you are not seeing a play, you need to consider buying entrance tickets in advance as well. This is very important since you don’t want to stand in front of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence or the Alhambra in Granada and not get in. (Yes, I know somebody who missed “The Last Supper” in Florence) Even the Catacombs in Paris have a 5 hours waiting line right now!
Check if it’s cheaper to buy a city card. They often give free access to the major attractions and transport.
If you’re bringing a kid, which I often am, I check to see if they have a children’s education pack like a treasure hunt or find the 10 details. Sometimes you can also find kids activities on the museum’s webpage. If you already know the place well, try letting them decide what to see. You’ll experience the art quite differently. This will make your life easier!
If that doesn’t work just let them sit with music, like we did with this one when seeing Casper David Friedrich in Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. By the way, they have an exhibition by him called “Wanderlust” right now…
This is of course very important when travelling in a group. Whether it’s you entire family-in-laws or a professional museum group, you have to think this through.
The activities in one day have to be in the same area. For instance Versailles, the new Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre are not next to each other. You can print a map and draw in the sights, but that’s only necessary if you are a group.
This is an even bigger issue, when it’s not a city trip but visiting something like Valley of the Kings in Egypt or Petra in Jordan. Remember that driving 100 km can be quite different when going on a straight freeway in Germany than taking a narrow, one-car-only serpentine road in the Chinese mountains. You always underestimate how much time it takes! Like I did in Mexico, and we had to take a plane…
When I’m Rome and want to visit the Vatican Museum or MoMA, I don’t go early in the morning as the guidebooks say. Because I’m asleep… It’s way better to arrive 1.5 hours before closing time. Plan the trip so you take the least visited attractions on Sundays for instance, and not do what me and my sister are going to and visiting Versailles midday Sunday.
But remember to doublecheck opening hours. There might be some weird holidays or royal visit. As mentioned before we went to Mexico City for Day of the Dead, but forgot that it meant most of the attractions were closed for the holiday. But it can also be good thing: when in Athens on Independence Day March 25 the Acropolis Museum gave us free entrance.
As we say in Denmark: without food or drink, the hero is no good (it rhymes in Danish). Especially when planning a tight schedule or a group tour, you need to make sure that the last museum of the day is in a cool neighbourhood. Then you can just chill with a drink before you have a great dinner
Like in Riga you wanna visit the Holocaust Museum or see the view from the Science Academy around lunch time, so you can eat in the Central Market. Because there is no time to waste with so much to see and so little time to do it…
You really wanna see the cultural palace, the castle, the Polin Musuem, the Uprising Museum, the Neon museum and also go to a Milk Bar, on a communist firetruck tour and then eat local food and learn about vodka – when in Warsaw. But unless you’re planning to move there, – you can’t! I’ve learned to prioritize the hard way from travelling with an unstoppable mother. I also keep reminding myself that sometimes just sitting in a park gives the best feel of the city.
This happened to me, when I was in New York and my back started hurting. I had to sit in Washington Square reading the Beatniks all day and ended up in a art performance with a stranger. This cultural experience I couldn’t have planned!
If you need inspiration on where to go for cultural experiences go to Top 10 destinations in 2018 for the cultural explorer! or Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Europe!
Do you have a list?