Growing up, my parents had me totally convinced that spending any time in a major city was nothing more than a whirlwind of pure, unadulterated chaos. Any venture into cities like London, Sydney or Paris was just one big blur of running for buses, deciphering confusing public transportation, queueing for overrated tourist traps, lugging heavy backpacks and squeezing through crowds of selfie sticks, fanny packs and other, equally stressed out, red-faced tourists. It wasn’t until I moved to London and began traveling on my own that I realized things don’t have to be this way. It is possible to be a tourist in a bustling city without succumbing to the chaos of it all. You don’t need a militant itinerary or a 6 a.m. wake up call. You don’t need to visit every major tourist attraction or walk yourself to the point of exhaustion everyday. No one is going to emerge from a dark corner and shame you for not visiting the Louvre or getting a photo in front of the Eiffel Tower. It’s your holiday! You can do whatever you want. Your city getaway can be relaxing, enjoyable and even rejuvenating. In fact, I’m a firm believer that when done right, a city getaway can be just as relaxing as a beach holiday or a trip to the countryside. It’s just that when there are so many extra variables that need to be considered, you need to be extra prepared. The perfect city getaway is an art form. So, let me tell you how it’s done.
To experience the perfect city getaway, you first need to ask yourself some key questions. What do you like to do? What relaxes you? What excites you? When visiting a city, especially for the first time, it’s easy to feel pressure to visit all the major tourist attractions or overwhelm yourself with tours or museum visits in an attempt to cram every possible fact about the city into your head. I used to feel like doing this was the only way I’d make the most out of my trip and really get to know a place, but that’s simply not the case. Do you really need to do a three hour walking tour of Buckingham Palace, or would you be content with snapping a quick photo from the outside and moving on? If your answer is the latter, then there’s plenty of ways to condense traditional sightseeing in order to make room for more exciting activities. Try a city bus tour and hammer out all of the must-see items in a few short hours, or figure out where key attractions are and swing by if you find you’re close enough, while on the way to somewhere else. Find vantage points that will allow you to see multiple spots at once and decide that you don’t really need to see them any closer, or carve out some time to have a leisurely walk past attractions in the evening, once the bulk of the tourists have gone. Be honest with yourself about the kinds of activities you really enjoy, prioritize those and then fit any obligatory sightseeing around them.
Once you’ve sorted the main activities for your city break, you need to consider two other key things in regards to how you spend your time. Firstly, you need to prioritize downtime and rest. It’s okay to sleep in, you’re on holiday. Don’t rush from place to place. Focus on taking things out of your schedule rather than squeezing things in. Less is more here. If you’ve got a little extra cash to splash then why not get a massage or book a spa treatment? If you’d prefer, find a local park, buy something to nibble on and spend a few hours reading or lazing in the sun. Resting is free!
Secondly and most importantly, the perfect city getaway revolves around eating good food. It is always worth it to spend some time researching places to eat before your trip. No one wants to eat expensive, subpar meals in chain restaurants or end up with a disappointing meal in the first restaurant they could find, because their hunger has gotten the better of them. Where and what you eat on your trip is just as important as the activities you plan. Not only because food will give you invaluable insight into the city you’re visiting, but because a good meal is a chance to connect with others, to reset and reorient yourself, and to enjoy some good old fashioned people watching. If nothing else, you deserve to eat delicious food. I’m not talking about visiting the city’s fanciest or most expensive restaurants either. Some of the best food you will find will be street food, or in tiny hole-in-the-wall spots only locals know. It’s worth it to do some digging to find them.
Next, take some time before your trip to research the city’s various neighborhoods. The center of most major cities can be a soulless place, where many locals don’t usually dare to go unless it’s necessary. You’ll get a real feel for a city once you break the mold and venture off the beaten track. If you’re young or really like to party, research the artsy student neighborhoods and visit those. Prices will be more affordable and you’ll be mingling with cool, local creatives, rather than visiting overpriced spots marketed to other tourists. If you prefer your peace and quiet, or you’ve got young children with you, try and find the more family friendly neighborhoods and spend a day recuperating in a local park, away from the crowds.
Lastly, it’s worth it to really consider the boring aspects of travel and do your best to streamline and simplify. Get familiar with the public transport before you arrive and have apps like Google Maps or Citymapper ready at your fingertips. If you can, have some money set aside for emergency cab rides. There’s no need to torture yourself with a long walk back to the hotel once the exhaustion kicks in. I promise, splurging on that taxi will always be worth it. If you’re traveling abroad, look into banking options that will eliminate the fuss of pesky bank charges or carrying too much foreign currency. It’s 2022, you should be able to tap and go almost anywhere.
If you’re embarking on a city getaway, you have an opportunity to really dig deep and get to know a place, but you won’t do that by forcing your way through a checklist you were never interested in in the first place. The perfect city break is an ongoing practice in prioritizing pleasure. In order to get the most out of it, you need to lean into some healthy, guilt free indulgence. Every city has its own unique personality, so think of each one as a living, breathing friend with whom you have a special, personal and ever changing relationship. And friends just want you to have a good time, right? So, go forth and apply this method to your next trip and let yourself fall in love with all the charm, relaxation and pleasure a city getaway can bring. Enjoy!
Bryony Parker is a writer and artist currently living in São Paulo, Brazil and working on her Masters in International Affairs. You can find her at @par666ker on all social media.