Slow the Pace: The Beauty of Europe is Living, Not Sightseeing

Europe’s great cities have a thousand inspiring things to see. But their real beauty is defined by atmosphere, not attractions. And by slowing the pace you’ll find that rather than a thousand things to see, Europe’s cities have an infinite roll of potential experiences.

The Crowded Chaos of Traditional Sightseeing

Stand in the heart of London or Paris and it is easy to be underwhelmed. Thousands of tourists are milling around, turning the postcard images into a mess of selfies. Trash covers the ground, mostly leaflets for junk given out by annoying ticket brokers. Every store you see is dominated by the same ugly t-shirts and painted mugs. Sure, the Arc De Triumph is pretty. As is Trafalgar Square. But it can be hard to appreciate the beauty with all the noise and pandemonium.

A similar experience is found in Rome, Athens, Madrid, and other iconic European cities. And it can have you wondering what all the fuss is about. Paris receives 16.1 million international visitors a year. More than 20 million travel to London. Considering that the majority of European visits happen in summer and you can imagine how crowded it all becomes: planning two hours for the Eiffel Tower is considered normal.

A Different Way of Exploring

The challenge for most visitors is that they only have a few days to cram in a whole month of city experiences. They have to be everywhere at the same time, in order to see everything, they are supposed to see. This inevitably means spending a huge amount of time negotiating public transport and waiting. But many Londoners will go years without ever venturing past Big Ben. Most Parisians will only travel along the Champs-Elysses when they are entertaining guests.

Live in a city for a month and the experience is completely different. In essence, European’s great cities are split into two. One side is populated by landmarks and tourists, the other is dominated by atmosphere and authenticity. One is crowded with tour buses and famous signs, the other concerns exploring without a map and finding out for yourself. One side ensures every visitor receives a similar experience. The other, local side, enables everyone to create their own adventure. And that is the real beauty of slowing the pace and living in a city.

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Living Also Means Sightseeing, But Without the Crowds

But how can you go to Madrid and not visit the Prado? How could you see Rome without ever setting foot inside the Colosseum? Living also means sightseeing. It’s just sightseeing without the crowds. Spend a month in a city and you discover the best times to visit the most popular attractions, as told by the people you meet. Not only do you negate the wait. Attractions like the Sistine Chapel are at their magical best when silence reigns and you feel alone with their beauty.

With a month in Madrid you’ll discover when the famous art galleries are free to visit and mostly empty. Get to know Rome and the locals will tell you to avoid the Vatican on a Saturday, or on any morning, and that it is best to visit on a late Friday afternoon because all the museums stay open until 9pm. Many tourists are on tight schedules, either their own or those dictated by tour companies. By getting to know a city you’ll quickly learn of the standard tourist schedule and be able to plan your traditional sightseeing differently.

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Live Out an Adventure Rather Than a Guidebook Entry

Live in any city and you can still be a tourist. Every day or two you can handpick an attraction and marvel at the scale or detail. But for 95% of the time you are a local: delving into backstreet cafes; conversing with strangers on al fresco terraces; understanding neighborhoods where tourists don’t venture; knowing where really does the best gelato, not just where the guidebook suggests.

After a few days you no longer rely on a map. After two weeks you have favorite cobblestone routes in and around the city. After a month you feel an infinity with the city, as if it is part of you, and you have become an infinitesimal part of it. Most poignantly, by spending more time you live out an adventure that is unique to you. And when a friend asks you about Rome you won’t mention the Trevi Fountain but a tiny espresso bar where the owner become your friend.

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Ross LonsdorfComment