How to Make the Most of a City Break
City breaks are the perfect introduction into a new place. They offer bite-size morsels of culture, food, lifestyle, traditions, and history – but it can be a huge effort trying to fit everything into such a small timeframe. Because, let's be honest, city breaks are usually only two or three days long – certainly not enough time to get to know a place in its entirety.
But if you’re really wanting to immerse yourself in the wonderful ways of a city during a short break, there are a number of things you can do to help the process.
1. Plan in Advance
There are people who can completely wing it in a new destination. They thrive on spontaneity and the unknown, often hoping for the best with an optimistic aura following them with every step. While this can be a great way to travel – it presents endless possibilities – it’s not the best method for a short trip.
You don’t want to land and then have to spend a whole afternoon searching for somewhere to stay when you could be visiting that new museum or having lunch in a park. For a short city break, you want to have as much planned in advance as possible, so you can just breeze in and reap the rewards.
Start by making a list of the sights you want to see and the things you want to experience, then mark down the addresses and opening times. This guide will come in handy when you’re planning your itinerary or find yourself in a bit of a bind because the museum you wanted to go to has closed for renovations.
It’s also a good idea to plan how much you’re willing to spend during the trip, so that you know what’s within your means and what’s not. That doesn’t mean you can’t splash out every now and again, but we all know how tempting it can be to spend all the money you own while exploring somewhere new.
2. Learn a Bit of the Local Lingo
It shows good manners and cultural respect when you can stream off a few words in the local language, even if it’s a simple “Hola!” or “Au Revoir!” Learn the necessities before you go and you’ll find that, not only will you feel more comfortable getting around, but you’ll also open yourself up to many more opportunities that might not have arisen if you’d stuck to your guns and reeled off a load of English.
3. Talk to the Locals
A lot of tourists think that places are made popular by their sights, their major attractions, and their food. But, when you start to explore the world, you’ll realize that it’s in fact the people that make places so special. When you return from your trip, it’ll be the encounters you had that you’ll remember.
To really delve into the city, talk to as many locals as you can. Don’t harass anyone by any means, but strike up conversation with vendors, or ask a local for directions. You’ll be amazed at how friendly people are and how much they’re willing to share about their life and culture – it can be much more of an eye-opener than visiting all the museums in the vicinity.
4. Don’t Cram in Too Much
Travelers often make the mistake of trying to cram in too much into a short city break. Yes, it can be tempting to race from one sight to the next so you get to see them all, but carry on like this for too long and you’ll get burnt out.
While you’re busy attraction-crawling across the city, you’ll miss out on the finer nuances of a place – the atmosphere, the charm, and the things you’ll only notice if you sit back and soak it all up. It might seem like contradictory advice in an article suggesting how you can make the most of a city break, but one of the best things you can do is to become a passive rather than an active traveler.
5. Enjoy the Moment
Which brings me onto my next point. If you’re a bit of a technology addict, then you’ll most likely be spending your spare time uploading photos, texting friends about the great time you’re having, and scrolling through Facebook to see what you’ve been missing out on back home.
To make the most of a city break you need to ditch the phone – get yourself offline and really revel in the small moments. You’re unlikely to get chatting to locals if you’ve got your face glued to your phone, and there’s no way you’ll discover the local café culture if the only thing you’re after is free WiFi.
6. Try Something New
Just because you’re only spending a short amount of time in a place, it doesn’t mean it can’t offer you a revolutionary moment. Most people think life-changing situations only happen on long trips, when travelers go with the intention of ‘finding themselves’, but this is absolutely not true.
These pivotal moments happen when you’re outside of your comfort zone, in a situation you’re not used to, or when you’re trying something new. So, whether it’s a local dish you never thought you’d try, or something as extreme as skydiving, push yourself a little harder and a little further to really make the most of your trip.
7. Go With the Flow
However much you plan and primp your trip to perfection, there’s always going to be something that goes wrong, whether it’s a late bus, a sold-out exhibition, or a dodgy dish in what you thought was an authentic restaurant.
The worst thing you can do is worry. These things happen and they will keep on happening as long as you continue to travel. Don’t waste precious time worrying – instead, smile about it, and move on to the next. At the very least you’ll have a great story to tell when you get home.
8. Go With No Expectations
High expectations are always, always hard to live up to, and they are the number one reason travelers come back from a city break feeling disappointed. No doubt you’ll have all these grand ideas about how you’re going to spend your time, and all the great stories and memories you’re going to make.
While it’s great to think ahead, it’s also a good idea to lower those expectations and take things as they come. This way a place is bound to surprise you, whatever mishaps arise.
City breaks offer perfect small doses of the travel lifestyle, packed neatly into a couple of days. They provide a great starting point for getting to know places, and are great for getting away for a few days, relaxing, and unwinding with good food, great sights, and new experiences. So make the most of it with these tips, and leverage the endless power of a short trip!
By Lizzie Davey
Lizzie is a freelancer travel writer who currently spends her time between sunny Barcelona and beach-side Brighton in the UK. When she's not weaving words, she likes to travel to new places and wander through great galleries. She's the founder of creative travel blog wanderful-world.com, and her personal website can be found at LizzieDavey.com.