Cities allure travelers with their celebrated sites and landmarks. But ask locals what they hold dear about where they live, and you may be inspired to explore beyond the obvious.
It’s difficult to imagine going to San Francisco for the first time and without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, or wandering the streets of Rome without stopping by the magnificent Trevi Fountain. Historic architectures have attained this status because they exemplify the remarkable creativity, imagination and skill of their creators. Without these landmarks, the cities in which they are located would be unrecognizable and would not have entered our travel conscience.
However, urban destinations are filled with entertainment options and lower-key spots that are known to and appreciated by residents, but not necessarily on a visitor’s radar. Discovering them may provide travelers with an insight into the city’s daily life, create a greater connection to the place, and make their trip even more memorable.
Here are a few things to do that will allow you to take a deeper look at the city you are visiting. Each can be easily incorporated into your travel itinerary.
Visiting various neighborhoods
- Popular areas where residents spend their free time tend to have plentiful entertainment and dining options, at times cheaper, more authentic and more diverse in comparison with tourist-oriented downtown spots.
- Many cities can be best explored on foot. Guidebooks often feature ideas for walking tours, and some cities have complimentary greeter programs that pair you up with a knowledgeable volunteer guide. But if you do research or simply buy a map and use it as your guide, you can create your own route and explore at a desired pace. When you go outside of well-known areas, you might stumble upon an unusual shop, an interesting building, witness a street performance, or find a park to relax in. Make sure to check with reliable online sources or with locals to find out if there are any unsafe areas you should avoid.
- Some places have very efficient public transportation systems. Taking a train, streetcar or trolleybus may not only be helpful when you are tired from walking, but makes for a fun activity in itself.
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Attending a sporting event
- If you are a sports enthusiast and find yourself in a city or country passionate about its teams, you may enjoy going to a game. It will give you a chance to watch team stars in action and see how your usual game-day experience compares to the way things are done in other places, including food and customs.
- Even if you are not a fan of a particular sport, you might still want to catch a game to find out why it appeals to locals. Their energy may prove infectious and make the event worthwhile for you.
- Depending on where you are, wearing your home or favorite team’s jersey may lead to insightful conversations with other sports fans, or result in playful verbal exchanges. However, in certain places where supporters are extremely ardent, it may be wisest to wear neutral gear to avoid a potential risk of heated debates and, in extreme cases, violence. Upon buying a ticket, do not hesitate to ask ticket sales or customer service representatives where it is safest for visiting spectators to sit.
- If you cannot make it to a stadium, another way to enjoy local sports is to attend watch parties held at bars. For big events, such as the World Cup or Super Bowl, large-scale events may be held as well.
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Seeing a performance
- Local theater companies often produce new and original work. You may be able to catch a world premiere and, especially at smaller theaters, chat with actors and other audience members during post-show discussions.
- Bars, music venues and festivals provide an excellent opportunity to hear artists you might otherwise not come across. CD’s are likely to be sold after shows and can make for great souvenirs or gifts.
- Concerts and dance performances are practical ways to spend an evening filled with art if you are in a foreign country and do not know the language enough to watch a movie or see a play.
- Other ideas: comedy club, musical theater
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Finding books by local authors
Just like CD’s, books make practical souvenirs and will remind you of your trip long after it is over. Local writers can offer an insider’s look at the city you are visiting, and some of their work might be hard to find elsewhere. Some bookstores may host book readings and signings, giving you a chance to meet authors.
Hanging out at a coffee shop or brewpub
- If you need to slow down and take a break from sightseeing, you may opt for a quiet coffee shop where you won’t feel rushed, but instead sip coffee out of china cups, read a book or watch as people go about their day.
- Independent coffee shops often have exceptional ambiance and carry unique selections of coffees, teas, pastries and sandwiches. And some cities, such as Paris, Rome and Vienna, are famous for their coffee and have well-established cafe cultures. You can ask locals for their recommendations, or try historic coffee shops that used to be hangouts of famous writers and thinkers.
- Beer lovers may delight in discovering one-of -a-kind craft beers or micro brews at local brewpubs. Tours might also be available.
Taking a cooking class
When you travel to destinations where regional cuisine differs from your own, you may benefit from taking a cooking class and learning about the history of local ingredients and dishes. Classes are an opportunity to share a meal with locals and like-minded travelers, and if recipes are provided to participants, you will be able to prepare the same authentic feast after your trip.
Shopping at a Farmers Market
Another way to taste local foods is to join chefs and food lovers at a farmers market. While supporting organic, sustainable farming and food manufacturing, you can get fresh pastries, breads, and coffee for a breakfast picnic, or buy natural preserves, cooking oils and beauty products to bring home.
Read also: 10 Tips to Become a Sustainable Traveler
One way to prepare for your trip is by browsing popular online entertainment portals such as Time Out or City Search, or travel guides, e.g. Trip Advisor. Social media sites, e.g. Twitter and Facebook, offer another avenue to connect with residents and receive insider tips and quality recommendations. After you’ve arrived at your destination, look for event listings in local daily papers and free weeklies available at coffee shops, bookstores, bars and bus stops. And when you happen to talk to locals, ask them what they like to do in the city, what their favorite spots are, and if they know of any upcoming events.
By adding lesser-known places to your trip plan, and participating in activities that locals are likely to engage in, you can create a balanced, more thorough travel experience. And when your journey is over, perhaps you will long to return to the city you just visited not only to see its notable buildings, but to sit down in an outdoor cafe, watch street life, and indulge in a steamy espresso.