It’s an old travel cliché: Americans go to Paris and eat at McDonald’s.
While this is an unfair stereotype, it’s not unheard of for visitors in a foreign country to spend so much time with other like-minded vacationers at top tourist destinations that they never uncover the more underground, local attractions.
Look no further! Here are 10 exclusive cultural experiences that offer the opportunity to interact with locals and learn firsthand about their country and customs.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists will be flocking to Brazil in the next four years for the World Cup and the Olympics. While they'll be lured by the siren song of fútbol and sport, it would be a shame to miss out on one of the cornerstones of Brazilian culture: the samba. Sure, you could hit a samba performance and call it a night, but why not embrace a dose of Brazilian enthusiasm and take a class instead? Learn to swivel your hips with a one hour dance class at a Copacabana samba school and then hit the streets for a night of revelry in Rio's famous dance clubs!
Marrakech's ancient red walls and bustling souks offer a totally immersive cultural experience in and of themselves. But sometimes, to really get to know a country, you need to get a little messy. In this case, we're talking about a kitchen mess. A half-day cooking lesson with a local Moroccan chef means six hours' worth of culinary adventure -- such as learning to use local herbs, spices, oils and traditional conical cooking pots to make spicy tagines. Add in a little wine, and you have the makings of a perfect cultural culinary experience.
With a population of over 23 million, getting to know the locals in China's biggest city should be easy, right?
Unfortunately, cultural and linguistic barriers can make the process of interacting with Shanghai natives more than a little daunting. Instead of focusing on the major city sites (e.g. the Bund, Old Town, and the Shanghai Museum), why not take a peek into day-to-day life of Shanghai's citizens?
With a translator in tow, pay a visit to Shanghai's Putuo district. Head to a local kindergarten to meet and play with children, then visit a farmer's market to barter and trade with vendors. As a last stop try and meet a local family to chat about life in the 'Paris of the East'.
Vietnam is a wonderful place to visit if you're in the mood to really dig into a country. From its warm and welcoming population to its unspoiled natural beauty, you can hike the mountains of Sa Pa or sand-surf in the resort town of Mui Ne.
Just three hours outside of Hanoi, Mai Chau is a mountainous region dotted with traditional stilt houses. Two tribes, the White Thai and Black Thai make up the majority of the population.
The best way to immerse yourself in the region is through a homestay with local families. Spend two days cycling across mountain trails and through rice fields, visit local villages and watch a cultural performance by White Thai villagers.
Typical Italian vacations include a lot of pasta, wine, Roman architecture and all the Renaissance paintings you can handle. From the cosmopolitan streets of Milan to the vineyards of Tuscany, it's easy to get caught up in the flashier sides of Italian life.
Why not slow it down, hit the water and embrace Italy's seafaring tradition (where do you think Columbus learned to sail, anyway?) In Italy's Adriatic Coast (near the heel of Italy's boot), you can hop aboard a traditional fishing boat and head to sea for a fishing excursion with a local Apulian fisherman.
Try your casting skills and learn about Adriatic marine life, while soaking up the warmth of the Mediterranean sun.
For those in-the-know, Budapest is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Sitting along the Danube River, the city is home to an imposing 13th century castle, breathtaking medieval churches and boulevards lined with Neo-Renaissance mansions.
The Romans colonized the area in the 1st century for the express use of Budapest's thermal spas. Since then bathing houses have remained ever popular, hitting their heyday in the 1920s and 30s. Pay a visit to the Art-Nouveau Gellert Spa, where you can relax for 12 hours in its glass roofed thermal pools overlooking the Danube.
Lisbon is at its most beautiful at night, when the city's hills and bridges light up and revelers take to its winding, cobblestone streets. An evening in Lisbon is incomplete without mojitos and the melancholy strains of Fado.
Jump on Tram 28, one of Lisbon's famous vintage yellow trams, that transports you up to the medieval streets of the Alfama. Lisbon is dotted with miradores, plazas designed to offer the best views of the city and the Tagus River. Soak in the sunset at Senhora do Monte and Graca, before setting off to explore the local taverns and music venues.
If you're headed to France, you're probably planning to drink a little (or a lot) of wine. Rather than stick to expensive bottles in 5-star restaurants, why not head straight to the source?
In Bordeaux, tour the Medoc wine region, where worlds-best wineries sit amidst charming French villages and romantic chateaus. Pay a visit to a working winery, where you can not only taste their offerings, but soak up the region's history, learn about the winemaking process and the special techniques that set Bordeaux wines apart.
It can be hard to know where to start on a journey to India. Do you pay homage at ancient temples? Take in a dance performance straight from a Bollywood movie? Or relax on Goa's beaches?
To get to the heart of India, spend some time in Old Delhi, where you can tour the bustling bazaar and visit one of the last standing haveli (old private mansions). Climb to the top of the haveli to take in sweeping views of the city and the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. Or try your hand at the favourite local pastime of Old Delhi children - kite flying!
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