How To Nail A City Break

11/01/2017 17:29

Cultural holidays. For some, the phrase raises the image of trailing around an ancient city in 30 degree plus heat, sweating profusely and desperate for a glass of water. For others, it's hours spent idling over a single Goya and eating ice cream on sun-baked pavements. Certainly from my own childhood, I fondly remember being dragged up the Eiffel Tower, nauseous with sunstroke after a day of walking around what felt like the entirety of Paris. Then there was Istanbul, where my father refused to let us stop for a much needed break in his insistence on seeing every Byzantine relic that the city had to offer. From these experiences, you might think I despise all things sight-seeing related. In reality, I love trawling galleries and museums as much as - or most likely more than - the next person. However, there are certainly ways to avoid the aching legs and museum syndrome and, as a city break veteran, I feel they are necessary for those who want to have a quick vacation without feeling as though they've been dragged onto a 'visit as much as you can as quick as you can' marathon.

Stop for breaks

Certainly the most important tip. Even if you're not visiting a city in the height of a mainland European summer, this still applies. It's highly unlikely that you're going to be enjoying yourself if you've been trekking around since 9am - you'll probably be in a foul mood. A break doesn't even need to involve spending money. If the weather's fine, a sunny spot in a park will do the trick just as well. Picnics can be a brilliant way to avoid waiting for hours to be served in a busy café, as long as you can handle the squirrels and pigeons trying to dive bomb you for a nibble.

Keep your personal items safe and out of sight

This is true for everywhere yet particularly prominent in cities. Where large amounts of people congregate, large amounts of thieves do too. Lock your passport in the hotel safe, and if you have to take it with you, make sure that you're aware of all passport scams. Even if you feel safe, your expensive camera slung around your neck is singling you out as a tourist just waiting for trouble. Public transport is also a prime place for pickpocketing, especially during peak hours where it's likely you will be crammed in and not paying attention to your belongings. Make sure your most important documents are kept safe and out of sight or you'll be spending a miserable day in the consulate trying to get home instead of trying not to capsize in a gondola.

Plan your holiday well

As a rather stern teacher once told me, 'If you fail to plan, you plan to fail'. This is certainly true in the case of city breaks. Run through this checklist before you go, and plan your days when you're there. If you've got a good structure, you can fit more in and avoid the hypoglycaemia after having eaten nothing but your continental breakfast all day. Don't try and attempt to do more than one area in a day or you'll end up missing half the sights. If you're in a group, it's often worth letting each person plan a day each - that way everybody is happy, each person only has to plan one day, and you might end up seeing something that you wouldn't have thought to visit on your own! Also bear in mind if you're 'sight-seeing' a city's nightlife, you might want to consider that in the following day's agenda - no one wants to throw up in the Sistine Chapel.

Use a guide book
Old school but highly effective. I am a firm advocate of guide books, and often find myself substituting it for my holiday reading in my aim to seek out the best restaurants and shops. Coupled with the FCO's foreign travel advice which gives country specific advice, guidebooks are brilliant for getting to know a country before you go. There's something strangely satisfying about racking up a collection of guide books - even those which are horrendously out of date. If you've got a recent one, they are really handy and provide entertaining reading for a public transport trip (which also saves you having to whip out your phone). They let you know about all the nooks and crannies of a city, as well as places to dine on any budget. Rough Guides and Lonely Planet books are often your best bet and are filled with a plethora of useful info.

Try and get off the tourist track

Of course, there will be things that you will want to see which will be thronged with tourists, but this doesn't mean that you have to stick to the crowds for the entirety of your stay. Not only is this tiring, frustrating and a never-ending cycle of people trying to sell you mass produced tat, you're often seeing a false perception of the city through tourist-trap goggles. In particular, cities like Dubai can reveal a far more charming and less globalised side if you take the time to give the vast shopping malls and desert buggies a miss and venture into the old Souks and passageways of the old town. If you are exploring a city on our own, particularly away from the crowds, do make sure that you're taking precautions and being safe.

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