How to Be a Tourist In Your Home City

I'm lucky enough to live in London, which in my view is one of the world's most exciting cities. At the risk of coming over all Ralph McTell, I like to spend time wandering its streets - sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with purpose - and notice things.

I'm lucky enough to live in London, which in my view is one of the world's most exciting cities. At the risk of coming over all Ralph McTell, I like to spend time wandering its streets - sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with purpose - and notice things.

One of the things I notice a lot is other Londoners, who mostly bustle around with head down, earphones on, phone in one hand, cardboard coffee cup in the other. Many of them are adherents to the modern-day cult of "busyness" - they appear to confuse high status with a long to-do list. Ask them, "How are things?" and they'll invariably reply, "Busy". They sound pleased.

The "busy" people tut and growl at the tourists, who walk too slowly, stop to look at things they find interesting and gaze upwards at the skyline, rather than down at the pavement.

But it always strikes me that the tourists have got it right. Walking slowly is enjoyable, noticing your surroundings is a positive and experiencing wonder is one of life's great pleasures.

When I travel I seek out new experiences, I enjoy serendipity, I even talk to strangers. Most of all, I try to put myself in situations where I will experience wonder. And I think it's possible to do this in your home city, to see the familiar with fresh eyes, but it's not easy. It takes a certain change of mindset. These tactics might help.

Walk more

An obvious start. Put on some comfortable shoes and perhaps even the international uniform of the tourist - a waterproof and a backpack. Don't be embarrassed, you're going to try to be a tourist, so why not look like one.

Look up, not down

A lot of city streets all look the same, thanks to identical shopfronts and office buildings. But glance up beyond The Gap, Starbucks and Pret a Manger and - in London, at least - you'll see beautiful historic buildings. You might even enjoy glimpses of clouds and blue sky. Even Oxford Street is fascinating if you look skywards, but I would recommend starting in more promising and less crowded areas such as Mayfair and Fitzrovia, St James's and Russell Square.

Buy a compass

One of those small handheld ones, because you're going to use it to find your away around. No maps because you actually want to get lost (and you don't want to walk around with your head in a map either). Well, sort of lost. You want to be heading in the right general direction, so a compass will do the job. I know you've got a great map on your smartphone, but you are going to ... (sharp intake of breath) ...

Turn off your smartphone

I know, I know. It's such a useful device, greatest invention of the modern age, etc, and you might even get an important phone call. But seriously, switch it off if you want to enhance your enjoyment of a walk in the city. The only really useful app your smartphone has for city walking is a compass, which is why you've bought a small analogue one. Another thing: unplug your headphones. You are going to start listening to the sounds of the city.

Change your routine

I can understand that commuting is dull when you see the same sights every day. So try something different. If you get the Tube every day, try taking a bus instead. Yes, it will almost certainly take longer, but you will need to break the bonds of routine to reopen your eyes. Recently I sat on the front seat at the top of a bus travelling across Westminster Bridge at dusk. Big Ben looked so beautiful I almost wept. I never cross a bridge in London without stopping to look both ways.

Allow more time for your journeys

This is absolutely essential. You can't experience the joys of being a tourist in your own city if you are in a rush. So leave 30 or 60 minutes early for a meeting, and wander. Aimlessly. A good way to achieve this is to ...

Get off at the "wrong" stop

Isn't it infuriating when you find yourself on the wrong Tube line or - worse still - miss your stop? Well, this is something I often do deliberately. I had a meeting recently at Marble Arch so rather than change Tube lines I set off early and got off at Leicester Square then zig-zagged my way without a map across Mayfair. I realised to my shame when I stumbled across Grosvenor Square that I'd never been there before. It's rather lovely.

Do something touristy

Not Madame Tussauds and not even the London Eye (though it's great). How about one of the free guided tours of the National Gallery held every weekday at 11.30am and 2.30pm, and at 7pm on Friday 7pm. Or one of the free lunchtime concerts at St Martins in the Fields, held at 1pm every Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

Talk to other tourists

This is a tough one, but challenge yourself to talk to strangers. Ignore the "busy" people who will just look at you as if you're a potential rapist, and find your fellow tourists. They're invariably a friendly bunch. You may want to share some insider information with them, but it's even more fun to pretend you're also a tourist. Try a Canadian or Swedish accent, perhaps. One of the great things about chatting with tourists is that you'll pick up on their enthusiasm, and they might even show you things you hadn't noticed before.

Get up early, stay up late

You can experience familiar places in new ways by seeing them at different times of day. If you've ever walked home after pulling an all-nighter, listening to the unfamiliar sound of birds tweeting in the city, you'll know the feeling. It's also possible to get a similar buzz stepping out of a cinema into the daylight. Depending on whether you're an owl or a lark, get up at 5am and take the first Tube into town. Or stay up stupidly late and take the night bus home.

Got any more tips on how to be a tourist at home? Leave a comment below.

* Mark Hodson is Editor of 101 Holidays

Photos by Trevor Cummings, Flickr