How to Enjoy the World’s Best Cities WITHOUT the Crowds

By Jon Price

The global Coronavirus pandemic may have put travel firmly on hold but there will come a time - hopefully sooner rather than later - that lockdowns will be lifted and the world will awaken to a new normal. Slowly but surely, the tables outside cafes will once again be filled, hotels will open and planes will take to the skies. But what will the post-Covid world hold for those with itchy feet and nervous dispositions? Well, for the short term at least, there's likely to a reluctance to be anywhere near large gatherings of people meaning there's never been a better time to explore lesser-known corners of our favourite cities...

Visit London’s up-and-coming hipster haunts 

If you’re planning to visit the British capital, give the crowded West End a wide berth in favour of discovering some of it's edgier and equally amazing alternative neighbourhoods? In recent years, car parks in Peckham have grown rooftop bars like Frank’s Café, which is famed for its sunset Negronis and epic city views, while Walthamstow has opened up an edgy neon museum called God’s Own Junkyard, and Hackney Wick has all but reinvented itself as East London’s epicentre of arts and crafts. 

Home to warehouse upon warehouse of quirky restaurants, breweries, art galleries and clubs, Hackney Wick is one of London’s most hip and happening neighbourhoods right now. The area has also attracted a huge street art and graffiti following, skyrocketing in popularity with such artists as Berlin Wall favourite Thierry Noir, pointillist master Jimmy C and more. The former Lord Napier pub, which shut its doors to the public in 2016, has received a fluorescent makeover courtesy of internationally-acclaimed street artists and, in short, there’s nowhere better in London to tour street art by day and sip locally-produced gin by night once lockdown is over. Better yet, why not see “the new Shoreditch” in style by joining us on a privately guided stroll of the area led by an artsy local? 

Go ninja in New York 

New York’s Empire State Building alone attracts four million visitors every single year, and boarding a busy ferry to see the Statue of Liberty will see you brushing shoulders with swathes of tourists even on a quiet day. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of scenic parks and quiet spots in The Big Apple where you can enjoy amazing views of its world-leading attractions. We recommend the usually-secluded Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which stretches from the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to Atlantic Avenue, just across the water from Manhattan. This leafy, sky-high walkway offers unrivalled views of the NYC skyline by sunset and, aside from the odd jogger or romantic young couple that’s had the same idea as you, you’re unlikely to run into any major crowds. On a clear day, you’ll have no issues seeing Liberty Island in the distance – and the experience won’t even cost you a dime. 

With New York City’s population pushing nine million people, you might want to be extra-stealthy, particularly when it comes to eating out, right? We suggest checking out Ninja New York, a unique restaurant experience over on Hudson Street that serves up sushi in a mock-up ancient Japanese village, lovingly recreated inside an old office building. This hidden gem can only be experienced here in The Empire State, is surprisingly unknown among tourists and out-of-towners, and seats its guests inside fenced-off shacks, meaning 10/10 for social distancing. Be sure to order one of the menu’s starred dishes if you want a sword-wielding surprise with your tempura roll. 

Eat your way around the quieter parts of Paris 

Is there ever a better way to experience a city than eating your way round it? It's certainly true of Paris. Fortunately, there’s so many bars, brasseries and bistros dotted across the French capital that it’s entirely possible to do so without running into big crowds. The up-and-coming Canal Saint-Martin neighbourhood is far enough from the main drag to be quiet if you pick the right evening, yet central enough and cool enough to still be home to some of the city’s finest French restaurants. 

With its sky-high ceilings, low lighting and unshakeably traditional atmosphere, Chez Prune is the perfect place to go for cheese and charcuterie – which can be enjoyed alfresco if you’re lucky enough to be visiting this classic street-corner establishment in the summer. Meanwhile, nearby Le Comptoir Général is the hipsters’ bistro of choice – a 600-square-metre barn recently converted into a chic restaurant that’s today known for its no-nonsense bar snacks and quirky décor. Take a brief tour of the vintage artworks and the cooler-than-cool clothing shop hidden on the second floor with a cocktail in hand, then head on to Point Éphémère, a warehouse-turned-café which once doubled up as an arts space. Choose from dinner on the sunny terrace, an all-you-can eat buffet indoors, or just dance the night away after the sun sets, and local Parisian musicians start taking to the stage. This is a taste of true French romanticism without the notorious crowds that swarm the brasseries around Notre Dame or the Champs-Élysées. 

Get artsy in alternative Berlin  

Berlin is a city famed for its resilience in the face of adversity, having all-but reinvented itself from the ground-up following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Up-to-date figures suggest that 13.5 million people visit the German capital every single year, so steering clear of the likes of the Reichstag parliament building and the iconic Brandenburg Gate is definitely a good idea after lockdown. Luckily, Berlin’s best hidden wonders lie away from the touristy centre – and are found along the streets of its edgy bohemian districts like Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. With this in mind, we recommend going graffiti-hunting on a small group tour. 

Uber-cool Kreuzberg has a particularly bizarre backstory and something of a reputation as being the birthplace of alternative Berlin. Why not start off with a MakeMyDay art-meets-food walking tour of the area? We’ll introduce you to Kreuzberg’s weird and wonderful post-Wall history, tastiest kebap shops, strangest annual traditions and best graffiti and murals. We’ll hop from movie-famous bridges and Cold War ruins to traditional Turkish sweet shops and uber-cool craft beer bars, giving you a local’s eye view of the neighbourhood’s best sights and trendiest hidden gems. If your thirst for subculture isn’t quenched by the end of the tour, soak up Berlin’s underground nightlife scene near the Kottbusser Tor station in the evening by trying to track down the area’s many hidden bars. Smoky, secretive Paloma Bar can be found behind an unassuming steel security gate between Kaiser’s supermarket and its neighbouring kebap shop. Meanwhile, the former dental surgery on Skalitzer Strasse hides a cultish neon nightclub named West Germany (look out for the stairway next to the door covered in stickers, under the 'Schatz EV Schulaufgabenzirkel' sign). 

Discover distant villages in Edinburgh 

Okay, so the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe Festival might be cancelled (sob), but there’s still tons of great things to see and do in the Scottish capital post-lockdown – plenty of which are a good distance away from the bustling crowds of Edinburgh Castle. We recommend leaving the Royal Mile in your rear-view mirror and heading over to the city’s delightful Dean Village (pictured) – a 19th century fairytale town that, for some reason or another, always seems to be overlooked by tourists. 

Located little more than a mile and a half away from the city centre, this charming hidden gem takes the shape of a lush waterside village lined with brightly-coloured buildings and historic 20th century townhouses overlooking the Water of Leith. Take a riverside stroll to enjoy the best views of the village’s stunning stone facades, eclectic architecture and leafy riverbanks – or, better yet, come and join us on an in-depth walking tour of the area, which will also take you to nearby Stockbridge. You’ll discover the stories behind stunning monuments modelled on Italian temples, Scottish castles inspired by French chateaus and tall townhouses that are reminiscent of the centre of Amsterdam. Be sure to sample some Scottish real ale in the basement of the 35-year-old Antiquary Bar before you leave. 

MakeMyDay offers unique and handpicked experiences and tours in exciting destinations all around the globe. Visit our website to find out more.   

Image: Don Munro