I’m not sure whether there’s less tourism to the U.S. or whether it’s just different tourism. Our big cities are much more spread out, plus our shorter history yields fewer noteworthy sites for tourists to visit.
In Europe, small towns thrive off of tourism. Óbidos, along with other small Portuguese towns we’ve been staying in, is often done as a day trip. Tour buses come into town in the morning, drop large groups and their guides to see the sites, then drive away in the late afternoon/early evening.
Staying overnight in a town like Óbidos means witnessing extraordinary contrast. The day time is sometimes frustratingly chaotic, but the evenings are slow and relaxed. At lunch, you will probably have to wait an hour for your meal to arrive while squeezed into an overcrowded restaurant filled with the overwhelming sound of French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English mixing together. Dinner, on the other hand, has calm, attentive waiters and your entrees are much more likely to arrive a proper amount of time after appetizers.
Going beyond the day trip also means getting to experience more of the town’s unique gems. While there isn’t much to see in Óbidos, every town has a church (in fact, most have more than one), and no two churches are exactly the same. Touring Europe is often one large church tour loop, simply because religion is such a large part of both their history and daily life. The main church in Óbidos has gorgeous paintings and tilework on its walls that I’m glad I didn’t miss, and it’s possible that a day trip agenda might’ve passed over the church or allowed less time to appreciate its art and architecture.
Staying longer than a day trip also means the freedom to linger. The town is beautiful, and we took our time meandering along the historic wall that centuries ago guarded the city, stopping often to take in the views from every angle. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon, and we affectionately nicknamed it “The Great Wall of Óbidos” due to its similarity to the iconic Great Wall of China.
While ambling along the wall, I looked over the sea of whitewashed houses and red roofs that make up the town of Óbidos. Outside the wall, I admired the lush green lands that extended to another cluster of houses and beyond into the faraway hills. It occurred to me while taking in the views that the United States doesn’t really have towns like Óbidos. Not just in history or architecture, but in the tourism culture. I tried to think of a place in the U.S. that has the same day-trip style tourism as is prevalent in this town, especially one that attracts such a high quantity of visitors, yet I couldn’t. Our beach towns, where people often go in the morning and return in the evening, are the closest example, but they don’t bring in busloads of tourists. In a country as large as the U.S., the towns are farther apart and day tripping is a lot less feasible for people visiting from other states and countries. Small day-trip towns in Europe are seen as uniquely captivating, while our small towns are often in risk of economic downturn. The U.S. simply doesn’t have towns like Óbidos, so visiting is worth it, whether for a day or more.