As a traveler (not a tourist), you want to delve beyond a city’s most popular sights and attractions to get a deeper understanding of place. These surprising attractions take you out of the well-trod tourist areas to neighborhoods you wouldn’t see otherwise. Seek out these interesting spots for a dose of travel discovery.
The Parthenon in Nashville
How many people planning a Nashville trip say, "I think I’ll visit the Parthenon?" There is, in fact, a to-scale replica of the Parthenon in Centennial Park, just west of downtown. Why? Because in addition to being Music City, U.S.A., Nashville is also nicknamed the “Athens of the South.” Built from plaster for Tennessee's 1897 Centennial Exposition, Nashville’s Parthenon was recreated in concrete in 1931 when the city decided it wanted this Doric Greek temple to be permanent. Just like the 5th-century original in Athens, Nashville’s Parthenon includes a 42-foot statue of Athena. Unlike the original, its Elgin Marbles are intact (but not made of marble).
Mermaids in Denver
Yes, Colorado is landlocked but that doesn’t stop a pod of mermaids from inhabiting a building downtown. Head to the Under the Sea exhibit Thursdays-Sundays at the Downtown Aquarium to watch “mermaids” swimming in tanks with barracudas, nurse sharks, and a 400-pound grouper. Back on land, they hold court with meet and greets after their shows, posing for photos and signing autographs. You can prove to your friends that mermaids are real.
Insider Tip: Ditch the crowds and book a table at the aquarium’s restaurant, which has mermaid shows that coincide with lunch and dinner seatings.
A walk of fame in the East Village
Mann’s Chinese Theater in L.A. isn’t the only one to preserve the handprints, footprints, and signatures of Hollywood stars in cement. At Theatre 80 in NYC’s East Village, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Joan Rivers, and more left their marks. Named for its address at 80 St. Mark’s Place, the theater was a Prohibition hideout, a jazz club featuring the likes of Thelonious Monk, and a film revival house. See what’s being staged (everything from Cymbeline to a belly dance competition) and explore this vibrant, artistic neighborhood.
Insider Tip: Theatre 80’s building includes the small but interesting Museum of the American Gangster and a former speakeasy, Scheib’s Place.
Atlantis is Miami
Divers headed to Miami should check out the Neptune Memorial Reef, three miles off Key Biscayne. This artistic interpretation of Atlantis, 40 feet underwater, is one of the world’s largest artificial reefs and a mausoleum for people who are cremated and placed there. Explore its 16 acres: Swim under archways, weave in and out of columns, and view statues depicting lions and dolphins. It’s free to visit (but not to stay).
For the rest of the strangest tourist sites in America, like the Middle Eastern-style Shangri La in Honolulu, visit Fodor's.