It’s Memorial Day and, in honor of the unofficial start of the summer travel season, I thought I’d share the #1 way in which I personally use TripAdvisor to give an extra kick to my travels.
I do an online search and add TripAdvisor to the name of the destination I’m interested in visiting—for example, “TripAdvisor Paris.” When I arrive at the destination page, I click on “Attractions,” and look at the top five that pop up. This surfaces iconic sights that are on everyone’s To Do List, but it also surfaces quirky, surprising, hidden gems. The #1 attraction in Paris, for instance, is not the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre; it’s HintHunt Paris—a “live escape game.” In San Francisco, the #1 attraction is not Fisherman’s Wharf or Pier 39 or even in the city itself; it’s the Marin Headlands, set in a national park on the far side of the Golden Gate Bridge. In Rome the top five attractions do not include The Colosseum or The Forum; the #3 attraction is a lesser-known museum called Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini that might just become tomorrow’s must-see.
When I’m bound for top cities for culture, as I often am, I look up Attractions by category too. I might click on “Museums,” for instance, and usually this yields more lesser-known jewels. In London, for example, the top-rated museums are two that most people have never heard of but are two of my personal favorites: The Wallace Collection and The Courtauld Gallery.
Here are the highest-rated attractions for the top three U.S. destinations for the 2014 summer travel period (according to TripAdvisor search data for June 1 to August 31):
1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
It’s a well-known family vacation spot, and the predictable attractions that are on most visitors’ To Do Lists include the beaches of the Grand Strand, the Boardwalk, the water sports, the amusement parks. Look up “Attractions,” though, and you’ll find at least three that you might never have thought to try: Myrtle Beach Safari, a unique hands-on wildlife experience; Pelicans Ballpark, home to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, an Advanced “A” affiliate of the Texas Rangers; and Carolina Paddle Company, for stand-up paddleboarding.
2. Las Vegas
I end up in Vegas a lot for work. I’ve seen the Bellagio fountains, I’ve strolled the canals at The Venetian, I’ve even done the Big Shot atop the Stratosphere. (Never again!) But I’ve never even heard of a couple of the top-rated attractions: Dig This, a giant sandbox where you operate earth-moving machines—bulldozers and excavators—as you would at a construction site; and World Class Driving, where you drive exotic Ferraris and Lamborghinis through Red Rock Canyon. Who knew?
3. New York City
The top five things to do in New York City do not include the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. They do include my favorite museum in Manhattan—one that most people don’t visit till their third or fourth trip: The Frick Collection, a dreamy collection of European masterpieces housed in a Beaux-Arts mansion on Fifth Avenue.
As you know, a key way to make any trip memorable and invigorating is to do something you’ve never done before. Hitting a TripAdvisor top-rated attraction could be an easy way to accomplish that this summer—especially if it means stand-up paddleboarding or driving a Lamborghini.
I’d love to know: Where are you headed this summer, and what lesser-known top-rated attraction will you be road-testing for yourself?