How to see a city quickly in 5 steps

I do love a big trip, spending weeks or even months travelling from one country to the next, but such things are not always practical. When you’re working, you’ve generally got only a few weeks off, which you have to stagger throughout the year. When you’re studying, you are probably skint. But fear not! Just because you haven’t got oodles of time or money, it doesn’t mean you can’t get out and explore the world. That’s what weekends are for, especially bank holidays where you get an extra day tacked on, although transport and hotels may be more expensive.

I’m pretty lucky to live in Europe, where a short train ride or a cheap flight will take me to an array of new destinations. Recently, I took the Eurostar to Brussels. I left after work Friday and came back on Sunday, ready to get back to business when the new week started. I only had one day to actually do anything. Sure, there were things I didn’t get to do but I think I got a pretty good slice of what the city has to offer. I would happily go back but out of choice rather than because I feel like I have to make up for all the things I missed.

Here are my five easy steps to see a city in a day. If you have more time then that’s really just a bonus:

1. Plan in advance.

There is a lot to be said for winging it and living spontaneously but, when you only have a short time, you don’t really want to end up somewhere that you don’t enjoy. Instead, find out about the place you’re off to: ask a tour guide and/or other travellers, have a Google and, most importantly (obviously), read travel blogs so that you can get the most out of your quick trip.

2. Take a free walking tour.

This is the ultimate gift to travellers on a budget and a tight time frame. In 2-3 hours, you will be marched across a city of your choice, seeing all of the main tourist hubs with perhaps a couple of extras thrown in, whilst your guide explains their history. The tours are also perfect if you know nothing about a place. When I went to Brussels the only place I knew about was the Grand Place- I knew nothing else about other sightseeing spots. Thankfully, however, my guide knew a lot more, so I saw things I just didn’t know about, for the low price of a tip of my choosing.

I’d recommend that the tour is the first thing you do on arrival. They can run at different times during the day but I’d say you should do an early one. Although the tour takes you to many places, you often don’t actually go in. If you finish early in the day, you then have time to go back and explore any points of particular interest. You can also ask your guide for recommendations on other things to do and good places to eat.

3. Pick one or two other activities to do.

Besides your walking tour, you should have time for at least one other activity. You can do some research and find a museum or cultural spot that takes your fancy, for example, but don’t forget you need a break on your city break too- you’re back in the office on Monday after all. Probably. If you find something you really want to do then go for it but don’t feel guilty otherwise. On my trip to Brussels, I just went shopping. It was a sunny Saturday and I was with my friend on our girls weekend away. We were going out that night and fancied new outfits. We wanted to shop so we did. Ultimately, we may have been unsuccessful and came back bagless but it was still fun.

4. Sample the local delicacy.

For me, local cuisine is as much of an entry into a culture as anything else so, if you are only in a place for a short while, make sure you try it. Find out some of the main dishes, pick one or two you like the sound of and Google some places that are known for doing them well or just ask your free-tour guide- or just hope for the best! In Brussels, it was Flemish beef and beer stew at Le Brosella, near the Place des Martyrs- a place I found whilst shopping. You wouldn’t want to miss out on that, trust me.

5. Experience the nightlife!

If you only have one night then make the most of it! Don’t just sleep. You’ll have had a busy day so you should have slept the night before in preparation and, if possible, you can try to fit in a bit of a nap somewhere in the afternoon. Once you’ve re-emerged, go out for a nice dinner, crack out the wine, then go to a bar and on to a club. Other options for your night are available but that’s a routine I have found it effective. In Brussels, we found a bar that had been recommended to us as one of the best in the city- Delirium and then we ended up at a club that played our kind of music (cheesy, sing-along chart music- of course) called You. We may have been the eldest people on the dancefloor but we had just the night we wanted.

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16 thoughts on “How to see a city quickly in 5 steps

  1. I totally agree with the free walking tours – they’re the best! And checking out the local night life – Oh yeah! I’d also add following the locals: If you see a heap of locals going somewhere, follow them! I did that both in Milan, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, The result: excellent eating places, at local prices!

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  2. Such great advice! A suggestions to add on… Stop a random local in the street, ask them ‘ if you were going out for a simple dinner with friends where would you go?’ and ‘what is the best hidden gem in your city?’ this has never let me down yet!

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  3. There is one thing I’d argue about and that is the fact that the Eurostar is OK if you live in London or Kent. If you come from further north or even south, it’s not always easy to get a train that gives you time in your favoured city. But with that caveat, it is a great way to do a city in a week-end. I use Eurostar a lot tying in with the French railway to move further into that country.

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