There are so many wonderful cities in the world to be seen, all with different characteristics and histories that make each one different and incredibly interesting in their own ways. With the potential to tick off multiple cities a year by extending your weekend a day or two, city breaks are a great option if you, like me, are always running low on annual leave.
I don’t see city breaks as a time for relaxation. Relaxing holidays aren’t what drive me. I’m a total sightseeing junkie, and I can’t sit still for long when I know there is so much so see and do on my doorstep! Therefore, city breaks provide a wonderful opportunity to reduce my travel hunger for a little longer until my next bigger trip. With cities having a lot of sightseeing to offer, and city breaks generally being a short 3 or 4 days, how to I make sure I make the most of my precious time there?
- Accommodation –The last few times I’ve been on a city break I have delved into the world of Airbnb, and I have to say…I’ve been really pleasantly surprised and overall extremely happy! Airbnb is constantly improving and have recently announced their changes for 2018 which I’m incredibly excited about! Check them out here. When searching for my ideal Airbnb accommodation I will research which part of the city I want to stay in, and using Airbnb’s map feature I will narrow down the available accommodation in that area using their well categorised selection criteria to meet my desires. With some good research you can find hidden gems, for incredibly reasonable prices, exactly where you want to be location wise. Planning your location well will save you time and money on transport in and around the city. Having stayed in multiple apartments, studios and villas with amazing views, quirky features and top notch hospitality (that you would end up spending a fortune for if you were to stay in a hotel) I cannot recommend it enough!
- Packing – With city breaks being short, there is no need for a checked suitcase. Travel light and stick with carry on baggage. Yes it will mean you need to take extra time to plan your outfits and not just throw everything but the kitchen sink into your case, but it also means you won’t waste time on arrival waiting for your suitcase to be unloaded. Furthermore, having little to carry means you can begin sightseeing straight away! A particularly positive point if you are arriving a few hours before you are able to check into your accommodation.
- Priority Lists – Something that will make your sightseeing decision making a lot easier when you arrive, is to make a priority list in advance. Whilst you may have every intention of cramming in every single sight you want to see on your trip, the reality is……you won’t. Sightseeing always takes longer than expected. After you minus the time it takes to transport, stop for lunch/coffee/dinner etc, and general enjoyment and being in the moment, there really isn’t an abundance of time left in the day. Hence, priority lists! You are guaranteeing yourself that you will see the most important things on your radar, and once you’ve ticked those off then anything else you have time to see is a bonus! Without having decided on the main things you want to see it can be incredibly disappointing to arrive home and realise you forgot about something you really wanted to do.
- Excursions – I will always do my research to see if there are any worthwhile nearby towns, villages or activity excursions that are available. An example of a recent add on I made to a city break was taking 1day out of my time in Lisbon, Portugal, to visit a nearby town and UNESCO World Heritage Site called Sintra. With it only being approx 40mins in an Uber from Lisbon, and reading so many positive reviews of it’s majestic palaces and mystical woods, I couldn’t pass it up. Without having done any research I would not have known Sintra even existed, and now that I have experienced it’s beauty I would recommend anyone and everyone to make this excursion part of their priority list when visiting Lisbon! A little research really can go a long way and open up some of the world’s most amazing opportunities.
- Mapping – It is one thing to Google or Pinterest the main attractions/sights to put on on your to-do list and screenshot them, but in order to plan out the most time-efficient way to get from one place to another and fit the most in as possible…I have taken to mapping! Yes it is old school, yes it involves an actual paper map, but I promise it is incredibly helpful and it will save time! This is something I normally do in the airport. I’ll buy myself a city guide (one that comes with a pullout map) and I’ll circle all locations on my priority list. This makes it easy to plan which places you are going to see each day based on how close they are together. This is a great way to be able to focus in on particular sections of the city and explore the streets, comparing one to the next. I’ll then spend any extra time in the airport and on the flight reading through the travel guide to see if there’s anything worth visiting that I hadn’t already researched.
- Transport – I like to ensure I take at least one mode of public transport when I’m in a new city. The quirkier the better. Living in Northern Ireland, the most exciting mode of transport we have is a bus or train (not exciting at all). So when in Barcelona, for example, I was very excited to take a ride on their funicular, even just to have the experience it’s worth the few €! The same applied to Lisbon and it’s famous tram system (which turned out to be a godsend when we discovered how steep the streets of Lisbon really were) and Vancouver with it’s water taxis. Having that experience I find adds to the authenticity of the trip, and the vibe of the city. You get a real feel for what it’s like to live there as a local. I love that! This is something you can research when you are mapping out your priority list. Consider how you will get from one to the next and make note of any nearby transportation stops. When the time comes you will have saved yourself time trying to figure out where to go and what to do, making the transition super simple.
- Weather – After I’ve mapped out what I want to see/do, my next port of call is the weather forecast. Now that I know which day will involve the most outdoor time, I will match this day with the best weather predicted. It may seem like common sense, but it can easily be forgotten when the excitement of booking tickets and planning activities takes control. Always check the weather forecast when you’re packing also! There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing when on a city break. Exploring the city when you’re feeling too warm, too cold, or too wet can really put a dampener on your experience.
- The early bird catches the worm – Sightseeing in cities can mean long queues and crowded locations. Something that can be particularly frustrating when trying to take nice pictures that don’t have 1354277 people in the background. One way to beat this is to get up early and make the most of the daylight. During my recent stays in Airbnb’s I have found myself doing a bit of a grocery shop from a local supermarket. This allows me to grab a quick breakfast before heading out. That way you can travel straight to the first sight/attraction and give yourself the best chance of beating the queues and having some nice picture opportunities.
Do you have any travel hacks that you find yourself using time and time again? What else would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!