I know the feeling: you arrive to a new city, take one walk around the centre to ‘get your bearings’ and then reach for the trusty guidebook once you find yourself back where you started.
If you have ever come home from a holiday feeling almost as unfamiliar with the city as you were at the start, you probably wonder how other people ‘do it’. How can you truly get to know a city in the few days you are there? How can you leave feeling like you fully experienced it? Here are my 7 ways to truly make the most of your short city break.
The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.G.K. Chesterton
- Research the locals’ favourite spots! If you can trust anybody’s recommendations, it’s those of the locals. Plus, these places are usually void of tourists, which might sound like paradise to those of you who want to achieve a bit of peace and quiet while you’re away. But also…
- Do the sightseeing! There’s a reason the Unesco-listed Taj Mahal lures in an average of 8 million tourists a year, and the Eiffel Tower over 300 million in total since its opening. They are impressive and you’d be mad to miss out! (Set yourself an earlier alarm and you’ll avoid the mass crowds.)
- Plan your break! We’re not talking minute-by-minute spreadsheets here, but I’d highly advise making a note of what you want to see. If not, you risk missing out on things that require pre-booking (e.g. dome of the Reichstag, Berlin) or out-of-the-centre day trips that you didn’t realise require extra travel time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
- Figure out distances! Maybe an obvious one here, but going to Montmartre one afternoon, only to head to the very nearby Moulin Rouge 2 days later is a waste of your time (and your Metro ticket!). If you really want to make the most of a city break and you don’t have a lot of time there, explore sights that are near each other on the same day, and see another part of the city the next.
- Learn one word! People appreciate you speaking their language. It’s up to you how far you go with this one, but even finding out how to say one word in the language will make your experience better (“Hello” and “Thank you” are good ones that you’ll be able to use a lot). Plus, you’ll feel pretty good about yourself!
- Understand the city! Some of you might be happy to hear that you can learn in ways other than language to enrich your short city break. Entirely optional, but if you read about the city’s culture on the flight or have a walking tour for an hour to appreciate the city’s history, you’ll feel like you’re really getting to understand the city on a different level to most tourists.
- Get a taste of tradition! If you want to go a little deeper under the touristic surface of a city, don’t hesitate to involve yourself in a part of its tradition. There’s a myriad of ways to do this, depending on the country, but the most convenient (and tasty) way to do this is to find a traditional restaurant or a street food market and try some dishes you can barely even pronounce. If there’s a market stall a long line of locals are queuing up at, that’s the best sign!
But more so than those listed above, there’s one method that’s foolproof: do whatever you enjoy.
GO THE GLOBE