When you’re touring an important world city, should you stay near the main attractions or avoid those areas? On a recent post from Istanbul on my extended trip, I commented on transportation from the airport to the Sultanahmet area, where I recommend travelers stay. Somewhat surprisingly, several readers excoriated me for recommending that part of town. “It’s full of tourists,” they said; “you’re better off staying in an area where the nightlife is.” The most vehement were expats living in Istanbul who know the city well. And their take is certainly appropriate for long-term visitors and residents. But for short-visit tourists, I disagree.
Istanbul is an outstanding example of a common situation. The city’s three blockbuster visitor attractions, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi palace/museum complex, are all located within a few blocks of each other in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district. And Sultanahmet definitely is a tourist area, with dozens of small, typically two- or three-star tourist hotels and moderately priced restaurants. That’s where I stayed (it was my first visit to Istanbul), and I loved the idea that all three of the main visitor targets were within an easy walk. I didn’t fly all that way for the nightlife; I wanted to see what makes Istanbul such an inviting place.
My readers’ comments reminded me of the Yogi Berra-ism about a big-name restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” As a tourist, I wanted to be where the tourist action is, not a cab ride or transit trek distant.
You find this question in lots of other places, but not all: Some cities have easily identified tourist centers, while in others, the points of interest are widely dispersed and “there is no there there” local center.
If you’re hitting New York City mainly for Broadway theater, for example, staying at one of the many hotels in the Times Square area makes sense. Fortunately, visitors there have choices at a wide price range. On the other hand, if your interests range from the Cloisters to the Statue of Liberty, you can stay just about anywhere and figure on spending a lot of time on the subway or a lot of money on cabs. Certainly no resident in his or her right mind would like to live in the Times Square area, but for visitors, it can be ideal.
In the Orlando area, too, the real visitor action is centered on the Disney complex, and staying within the complex offers a lot of advantages. But price isn’t one of them: For budget accommodations, you have to go elsewhere.
Other U.S. cities where you probably want to stay near the main tourist center include Atlanta, Boston, Miami Beach, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington.
Elsewhere, however, visitor attractions are not centrally clustered, and almost anywhere is equally convenient. Los Angeles is the prototype of such cities; its main centers of visitor interest are miles from each other. What you want there is a rented car and a hotel or motel with free in-and-out parking.
Overseas, you find examples of both sorts of development. You probably want to be in a central “tourist area” location in, for example, Avignon, Brussels, Florence, Krakow, Rome, Venice, or York. But centers of visitor attraction are so widely dispersed in Berlin, London, and Paris that you can stay just about anywhere and figure on using lots of local transit.
I’ve even experimented with staying well out of a city center and commuting, either to try this strategy for finding budget accommodations or because hotels in the city center were full. Either way, I decided that wasn’t a good approach: too much time and money spent on transit and not enough on visiting.
So, to those readers who unloaded on me, I’d say that tourists often want to be in tourist areas. And expat residents surely don’t.
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Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.