Off the beaten path in London, Paris, Venice, Rome
May 3, 2014 2:31 PM   Subscribe

I can't believe I waited this long to ask the MeFi hive-mind, but here we are. In 24 hours my wife and I will be leaving on our honeymoon to the above-mentioned destinations. What I'm looking for are some cool, unusual, secret, or just plain "local favorite" things to do and places to go. Rather than simply pointing me to other sites offering collected reviews of places (tripadvisor, et al) I'm hoping to get some first-hand recommendations from you all. Time will be rather short in each city (3-4 days each) so let's try to stay within the cities themselves, as we won't really have time for outlying excursions. To give you an idea of what we're after, my wife and I are both lifetime members of the gothic subculture, and she in particular is very interested in fashion. Eccentric bars/pubs are also favorites. We leave on May 4th, but feel free to contribute later in the week, as I'll be eagerly checking this thread for your suggestions. Cheers, MeFi!
posted by ShutterBun to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Well for London the obvious options are Camden Market (not on a Saturday afternoon unless you have a strong stomach for hordes of tweens out shopping with their mums but great on a weekday and in the evenings), Slimelight is a reliable and long-running goth night. From a fashion point of view, I'm not sure if you mean designers (check out Liberty on Regent Street, Browns on South Molton Street, or Dover Street Market on Dover Street), or more small boutiques (Brick Lane, Shoreditch) or goth fashion (no idea, sorry. There's lots of stuff in Camden but I don't know enough about it to judge if it's decent or gimmicky).

The big goth pub used to be the Devonshire Arms in Camden but I think it's changed hands now. Camden is definitely still the epicentre of goth though, so just wander around that sort of area and chat to people in the shops. You may not want to buy records, but record shops will have flyers for club nights and people enthusiastic about music. You could also try the Slimelight facebook page, most London goths are pretty friendly.
posted by tinkletown at 3:10 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Fiorella Gallery in Venice. Do Mori (first listing; article also talks about how to order Venetian bar snacks, which are very worthwhile) claims to be the oldest bar in Venice, and it's nice and cave-y.
posted by jaguar at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

As for London, pretty much the place to go for people interested in fashion is the Victoria and Albert Museum. A personal less-visited favorite place of mine is the Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library, which contains (among other things) Shakespeare's First Folio, a Gutenberg Bible, and some of Leonardo da Vinci's original notebooks. (It's not exactly goth-y, but if you're a big old literary nerd like I am, it's a good way to spend an hour or so.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:15 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Catacombs in Rome, and then gelato at San Crispino.
Dennis Sever's House in London.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:30 PM on May 3, 2014

When my wife and I visited Venice, she booked us a boat tour where we spent about 45 minutes each on the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Overall the experience was nice. We got a very cool glassblowing demonstration on Murano. Torcello was a little underwhelming.

We ended up thinking to ourselves that it would have been nice to have been able to spend a few hours just walking around Burano and having lunch there. The painted houses are just really cool, especially after having not known what to expect going into it other than that the fishermen paint their houses different colors.

I don't know that I would plan on spending more than an afternoon at most there, but that's where I tell people going to Venice that they should try to see.
posted by cali59 at 4:08 PM on May 3, 2014

When in Venice, there is too much to do and to see. If you are in need for a great, but quick meal, do yourself a favour and go to Rosticceria San Bartolomeo. Don't bother going upstairs. If you enter and see two seats, park mrs. Shutterbun on one seat, throw yourself at the bar and start ordering. At the right there's all sort of salads, wonderful light sandwiches and deep fried delicacies like croquettes and arancini di riso. At the left you see the meats and above all, the fish. They serve it anyway you like, I can recommend the risottos and the polenta. All this served with simple, excellent wines. It's close to Rialto bridge & you'll probably spend more time there then you intended to. Have a wonderful honeymoon ShutterBun!
posted by ouke at 4:17 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

For Paris: the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. Very unusual, very cool space. For Rome: the Capuchin chapel lined with bones.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:45 PM on May 3, 2014

It's not really a secret place, but you shouldn't miss the catacombs in Paris. The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise and the Cimetière du Montparnasse are also interesting and worth a visit. Have a great trip!
posted by redfishbluefish at 5:05 PM on May 3, 2014

Response by poster: Great responses so far! You guys are really tapping into the right kind of vibe for us. Thanks!
posted by ShutterBun at 8:57 PM on May 3, 2014

To expand on cali59's suggestion, you don't have to book a tour to get to Murano, Burano and Torcello. You can get there by taking the water bus and then explore by yourself.

If you do want to do that, this article on planning a Murano day trip and the matching one on planning a Burano day trip can be a good starting point (but do mind that there is no longer a water bus line 9 going between Burano and Torcello).

Here's the water bus map and timetable. (Note that the website seems a bit buggy, at least in my browser. The link to the timetable is below the second Lido water bus service map, but there's no scrollbar so I had to zoom out to get it to show up.)
posted by sailoreagle at 9:31 PM on May 3, 2014


- brunch at Coromandel (just a hint of the esoteric here, but great location & food part from that)
- Dorothy Circus gallery, via dei Pettinari
- Centrale Montemartini industrial archaeology vs.
sculpture collection (more steampunk than goth, but still)
- if it's still on when you're here, the Giacometti exhibit being held at the Galleria Borghese - again, not precisely on brief but quite intense, if you concentrate on the brooding existential moodiness of Giacometti, in contrast with the bombastic gallery setting.
- alternative neighborhoods worth checking out (maybe rent electric skateboards to do so?): Testaccio (including the Macro contemporary art museum, housed, along with a farmer's market, a molecular restaurant (Stazione di Posta) and a gipsy camp in what was once the city's slaughterhouse; Garbatella; perhaps even the new-bohemian Pigneto
- there's an arcana/curio shop just opposite the piazza di Montecitorio (house of parliament) that I can't remember the name of

In Paris: don't miss Deyrolles, if they've restored the place after the recent fire...

Would be nice to read a recap once you're back. (Also: have a look at the Spotted by Locals site/app, I've found it useful.)
posted by progosk at 11:11 PM on May 3, 2014

more Rome:

- a list of alternatively interesting historical sites (in Italian)

- some more shops

- a community forum:
posted by progosk at 12:39 AM on May 4, 2014

There's not much off the beaten path in Paris, but once you're there, you immediately understand why. I'd recommend a walk along the Seine, starting at Notre Dame and going west to the Eiffel Tower. You'll cross loads of Gothic architecture (starting with Notre Dame) and more than a few boutiques, especially if you wander off into any side streets that catch your eye. This could take a whole day if your walking stamina is good and you allow for discovery. There are quite a few haute couture places in the 16th quarter too; again, it's best to let your wanderings and your own eyes guide you.

That's the best way to see Paris, really – I've only been a "hit the sights" tourist once, and have a correspondingly jagged memory of everything I saw. That was 17 years ago. I went back several times on business, always for two or three days, and so said "eff it" and just wandered. Wandering changed everything. Especially one evening when I decided to walk south from Montmartre, and happened across this little island decked out in lights, with a freaking amazing Gothic cathedral on it, and surrounding lit-up Parisian apartment buildings contrasted with shadowy trees all reflected in the Seine. Breathtaking. I looked at my map. "Oh riiiight, Notre Dame." Heh.

Montmartre is also a wonderful area to wander. Take a walk around the cathedral up top for incredible views of the city and its architectural details (the back has some great gargoyles), and there's also a cemetery with famous names (Zola, for instance). Go back down and wander the bustling cobblestone streets filled with fabric and cheap fashion for a shock of color, if so inclined – it's like nothing I've ever seen apart from fabric-shop streets in Beijing.

You may also enjoy this: Paris Gothique: A Gothic Travel Guide to the City of Love
posted by fraula at 1:47 AM on May 4, 2014

Get a copy of Secret Venice and flick through it before you get there - it's great for pointing out lots of weird and fascinating little details that you would miss otherwise. (I remember vaguely recognising a damaged doorway sculpture I spotted while sitting outside a cafe, and looking it up to discover that it was one of the lions carved on the houses of the conspirators in the rebellion of 1310, which had subsequently been defaced because it was a badge of shame - that kind if thing). To be taken with a pinch of salt at times, but great fun. Also, if you're in St Mark's Basilica, check out the treasury, where they keep all sorts of bizarre, dubious, and creepily hilarious things like pieces of the True Cross and vials of the Virgin Mary's milk and St George's mummified arm.

Definitely check out Slimelight if you're of the gothic persuasion and in London on a Saturday night.
posted by doop at 3:06 AM on May 4, 2014

Oh , and if you're into fashion then a trip to the V&A is definitely in order. (The nearby Science and Natural History museums are also great - well known but deservedly so).
posted by doop at 3:16 AM on May 4, 2014

I've read a tip about Venice to stay off the main roads where all the tourists are and venture into the back alleys where people actually live.
posted by empath at 7:10 AM on May 4, 2014

If you're in London tonight you could go to this gig. If you do decide to go (definitely sample the headliner on YouTube first), try to get there when the doors open so you won't miss Jo Quail.
posted by K.P. at 7:44 AM on May 4, 2014

Isola di San Michele is beautiful - the vaporetto that crosses the lagoon to Murano stops there (check the route map).
posted by ersatzkat at 8:28 AM on May 4, 2014

Mazel tov! In Rome, take the bus to the top of the Janicolo and then wend your way down on foot, stopping to look at all the beautiful views and little churches tucked into the hillside. Stop in Trastevere for a drink and a meal or bite to eat, and also go to the Ghetto when you cross back over the Tiber.
posted by BibiRose at 8:43 AM on May 4, 2014

There's not much off the beaten path in Paris, but once you're there, you immediately understand why.
True! Paris is damn small, and most visitors don't realize it until they get here (and sometimes, even then). Seconding the recommnendation for the Catacombs, though I have never been to the ones in Italy. If you mean gothic in the historical sense, I recommend the Musee du Moyen Ages, with all of its medieval art - mostly stone and wood carvings - and the large series of tapestries with the lady and the unicorn. My favorite part is the chapel. It's in a corner and near the end of the visit, so many people seem to miss it. A++ have done several times and will do again. It's near Notre Dame/Saint Michel.
posted by whatzit at 10:52 AM on May 4, 2014

In Rome, the church of San Stefano alle Rotonda has some wild murals, and is in many ways unusual. And the Testacchio area, not very far from that.
Something to look for, if you can find the time, are the churches with many layers of churches and temples under them. In Testacchio, there is Santa Sabina. But most of you should just wander, like fraula says of Paris

In London, the Sir John Soane Museum is very beautiful and strange. Tom Dixons shop on a canal is an interesting place with a café, quite a bit off the beaten track.

I found Venice very hard to understand on my first trip there, and the advice above is excellent. Go away from the tourist areas, explore the back-alleys. I like the area near the Giardini a lot, very local, very friendly. But anywhere away from the San Marco - Rialto track is great, and it only has to be minutes off. The food market near the Rialto is amazing, and the area just across the Academmia bridge is friendly and full of nice restaurants and people.
posted by mumimor at 1:23 PM on May 4, 2014

London: Spirit collection, natural history museum.

Try and go on the extended tour. It's worth it.
posted by lalochezia at 1:34 PM on May 4, 2014

Of the four cities listed, I've only spent much time in London. I was not a fan of Camden Market proper, but there's a lot of market area around there. I found Horse Tunnel Market, which is right in that general area, to be a much neater space and still have the same rummage sale vibe. Maybe a little less scene-hip, but since you have to walk through the Camden area in general to get there, you'll accomplish both with one stroll.

Also, the Highgate Cemetery in northern London is just GREAT. They do tours, and it is a wonderful overgrown beauty of a Victorian cemetery. The architecture, the stories, the famous names, and the general creepy vibe of decay and Victorian grief make for a good afternoon. Also, then you're near Hampstead Heath, which has some beautiful views of the city.

Keeping the same Victorian mourning theme, Postman's Park is one of the odder little parks in the city - it's tiny, and covered in tiles commemorating the heroically tragic acts of people in the city. My second favorite park is St. Dunstan-in-the-East, which is in the remains of one of the churches destroyed during the Blitz, and should be gorgeous this time of year. That's also near the Monument, and if you're up for lots of stairs, you should totally climb to the top of it. It's cheap, it's only busy if there's a class of schoolkids there at the time, you get a neat view the top (it's a bit odd being eye-level with big skyscrapers while standing in a stone tower from the 1600s!), and a certificate of achievement once you come back down.

Honestly, you could just wander around in much of central London on your way to the normal tourist traps, and still stumble across all kinds of interesting and offbeat things without really trying. The stuff in the previous paragraph is an easy walk from the Tower of London, for example. There's so many old buildings, little winding tangled mews and alleys, and jumbles of architecture that you're guaranteed to find something quiet and out of the way and novel. Take the Tube, yes, but also walk lots and take the bus, and you'll find things.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 5:48 AM on May 5, 2014

As a Londoner, I second everything bowtiesarecool says.

Also, for all of the cities you are visiting, I would highly recommend getting the appropriate Henry Holt walking guide. The guides are all out of print, and if you had time I'd suggest you hunt down a used copy -- but with only 24 hours to go, you'll need to get electronic editions. Pariswalks is available for Kindle, and Venicewalks is available as an audioguide. Londonwalks and Romewalks are available in both formats.

Because all four books are years out of date, they will be useless to you in terms of offering restaurant recommendations or hotel reviews. But 90% of the historic sites they guide you to will still be there, and they will take you into little corners of the city that you would never find on your own. One of my most prized memories of any trip ever is the walk I took around Venice Venicewalks as my guide, ending up at a little obscure courtyard and putting my hand on a stone that was once part of Marco Polo's childhood home.

I recommend these books so often on MeFi that people probably think I am a plant from Henry Holt. I swear I'm not. I just love walking around a city and seeing interesting things, and these are the best guides I've found for that.
posted by yankeefog at 7:44 AM on May 7, 2014

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