The indie zombie flick, 48 Hours Later, managed to film downtown London, including Westminster Bridge, in a manner that made it look completely deserted. How did they do it? Simple, they waited until London was completely deserted.
Even London, home to eight million people and, at any given time, another million tourists, looks empty at four o’clock in the morning. Most cities do. And that’s when you need to see them.
I’m not talking about staying out late and stumbling about until you find a minicab. I mean deliberately staying up or, ideally, getting up at 4am and going sightseeing. Of course, nothing’s open yet but you don’t need to go into the Louvre to appreciate having Place du Louvre and Tuileries Gardens entirely to yourself.
You’ll have to get about on foot or, if I may strongly recommend, rollerblade. In Paris, position yourself directly perpendicular to the little Arc du Triomphe in front of the Louvre and align it with the big one to the West and note, for as long as you please, that they’re perfectly aligned with the even bigger arc at La Defense. Then meander along the Seine to Isle de la Cité and Parvis Notre Dame and note that you have this stunning cathedral and its charming square all entirely to yourself in a world of seven billion people. On your way pause for a moment on Pont Neuf. If you smoke now would be a very good time. Gaze westward along the Seine toward Pont des Arts and drink in the placid river, entirely devoid of boats.
Continue south and pause at the fountain at St Michel before continuing, just to the right of the fountain, up St André des Arts because it should be coming up on 6am and the creperies will be opening for breakfast, the bakeries will be emitting that distinctive perfume of hot croissant and unlike the vast majority of those who visit the city you’re watching Paris waking up.
In London I’d suggest the zombie tour, starting with Westminster Bridge and have a spiritual moment at its exact centre as you did above on Pont Neuf. In Rome have a walk around the coliseum and the Foro Romano and enjoy in isolated silence standing exactly where Julius Caesar once tread. In Genoa go to any of the dozens of isolated piazzas where you can weep at their beauty with no one to accuse you of being a pretentious emo.
In Antibes or Cannes or Nice it’s got to be the beach which in just a few hours is going to be covered with baking tourists but which, for now, is all yours. Stay by the water, too, in Amsterdam, where the canals absorb every sound and at 4 am you’ll hear the ducks on the river and little else.
It really doesn’t matter where you are or what you see at four o’clock in the morning. It just matters that it’s four o’clock in the morning and you have it all to yourself.