I’m a huge fan of a city break. Being able to fit in a whole world of new food and culture in a few short days without the need to use loads of your annual leave – what’s not to love? In particular, if you’re lucky enough to live on the doorstep of Europe, I recommend utilising the competitively priced flights across the continent as much as possible.
However, city breaks can get stressful, and are often more rushed than they need to be, with huge amounts squeezed into a short space of time. Here’s some advice on how to get the most out of a city break, and ensure you return home feeling like you’ve actually had a holiday rather than spending the long weekend racing from place to place, burning yourself out.
Have A Rough Itinerary
City breaks tend to be a long weekend in length or sometimes even shorter, so it’s best to get a bit organised in advance of your trip to maximise your time. Not everything has to be laid out down to the hour – this is a holiday, after all, but checking the opening times and crucially in Europe – days, of places and restaurants you want to visit is going to save you time and disappointment. Learn from my experience and my mistakes, people!
It’s also worth doing a bit of research to see which places on your hitlist are close together so you’re not darting across the city in a rush only to realise that you were just around the corner visiting that museum yesterday, and you could’ve grouped them together. This is particularly smart in places such as New York and Paris, where distances can be great, journeys can get long and neighbourhoods are easily explored in little pockets.
Have Five Things You Definitely Want To Do, And Do Them
A part of the joy of discovering a new city is leaving some things open to chance and spontaneity, and I’m in no way suggesting you don’t leave some time to wander aimlessly and take it all in. As much as it’s great to hit every single tourist hotspot a city has to offer, it’s exhausting and you can often feel like you aren’t getting a genuine feel for a place if you don’t leave some time to sit back, have a long lazy lunch and watch the world go by around you.
Most cities cannot be fully explored in a short few days – imagine trying to do that with London. It’s impossible. That said, I always have a handful of places to go or restaurants to eat in that I absolutely do not want to miss, and I plan my time in a new place around them. Have a hit list of five or so places you definitely want to see during your trip. This will avoid frustration, whilst satisfying the wanderlust that brought you to this city in the first place. Don’t stress if you don’t fit everything on a city guide in on your few days there – it’ll always be there for you to return to, and it’s nice to have an excuse to go back. But do try to get the things you were most looking forward to ticked off!
It’s worth looking into how you’ll get around a new city before you arrive. At the very least, look up where your accommodation is situated. In most cities the public transport is very easy to use and cost efficient, and hotels and Air BnB hosts will readily give you a map and some instructions as to how to get around with ease. Many cities are also now on Citymapper, which is my favoured app to use to tell me how to get from A to B, even in my home city. I used it on my recent trip to Rome constantly, and plan to do the same in Paris next week.
I’m purposefully with 3 as my mobile network due to being able to use my data allowance whilst in lots of other countries at no extra cost, and this comes in handy when I’m not sure where to go next as I don’t have to worry about finding some wifi or wracking up a big bill in order to help navigate my way around a city. That said, if you don’t have access to your data allowance or don’t want to pay for a bolt on, it’s easy enough to utilise the wifi in cafes and restaurants to figure out a routing for your next spot of the day as Citymapper will remember your routing when offline.
Having an idea of where you’re going definitely eases some of the stress that can occur on city breaks, especially if you’re travelling solo and have no one to follow around, but honestly, sometimes the best thing to do in a new place is get lost. You’ll figure it out before long and may see some places and sights you wouldn’t otherwise see.
Timing Of Flights
I’ve always been someone to max out the holiday days I have, which means going somewhere over a weekend or bank holiday, or squeezing things in – and subsequently this affects the timing of flights I book. I don’t enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn in order to take a 6am flight, and the cabs get expensive at that time of day when the trains aren’t up and running yet. However, I’m starting to find it’s important to find a balance between arriving somewhere with most of the day available to explore versus being exhausted, or on the flip side, taking a later flight and inadvertently spending the whole day travelling.
I had a noon flight to Rome in February, which was delayed, and then I didn’t end up getting to my Air BnB until around 6pm once the time difference and the journey from the airport was factored in. Not ideal when I’d taken a day’s holiday. I’m starting to see the value in paying for an extra nights accommodation and travelling after work in order to wake up in a new place rested and ready to take on a whole day of city break-ing. Everyone’s different, but something worth considering.
When it comes to accommodation, don’t forget to check out the options on Air BnB as well as hotels and Bed and Breakfasts. There are so many amazing, quirky and beautifully decorated properties available to stay in on Air BnB that often, I much prefer to stay in one versus a hotel. I’ve been lucky with excellent service from the hosts so far and they often turn out to be cheaper than a hotel stay, especially as a solo traveller. Speaking of budgets, don’t be afraid to check out private rooms within hostels. I’ve booked a great hotel room for Paris that is within a hostel for much cheaper than a regular hotel room would be. Hostels aren’t all bedbugs and twenty beds to a room anymore, and in Europe especially there are plenty of great options!
Bear in mind the location of your accommodation wherever you do choose to stay. Look it up on google maps and try to find out the local public transport options in advance. You don’t want to find you’ve booked somewhere that’s a taxi distance from all the main attractions with no option to either wander in or hop on the local metro with ease. City breaks should ideally maximise your time – don’t spend it travelling into the city you’ve come to visit.
If you have a late flight, which let’s be real, most people do during a city break to utilise the most of their short time away, remember to plan what to do with your luggage on your last day. Fine if you’ve been staying at a hotel – although logistically it may be better to leave your luggage in a more central location or train station which will be on your way to the airport – but particularly if you’ve got an early Air BnB check out time, you’re going to need to look into left luggage places.
Book In Advance
With some attractions it’s well worth purchasing tickets in advance to guarantee entry, skip queues and sometimes even get a discount with advance purchase. With popular attractions such as The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, buying a time allotted ticket in advance will save you hours of queuing, and in Paris if you purchase tickets in advance for the Arc de Triomphe or Tour Montparnasse for example, you can queue jump when you go, even without a specific time slot. In New York, buying a CityPass will save you a fair few dollars if you’re planning to hit everywhere the pass gets you entry to – and with sights such as the Empire State Building, Circle Line boat tour, the Met, 9/11 Museum and Top of the Rock observation deck, it’s likely you are. It’s great to be spontaneous but sometimes being organised pays off!
In terms of packing, remember to check the weather forecast before packing for your trip – you don’t want to be caught out with flip flops and sundresses if the weather is due to piss all over you. Remember an umbrella if the forecast looks dodgy as cheap ones from tourist shops that let in every drop only ever seem to be what you can find when you’re desperate.
This should go without saying, but given city breaks tend to involve a lot of walking around and climbing up monuments and old cathedrals for the views, be sure to take comfortable shoes to wear. There is nothing that will make you more miserable than trying to push on through a city on foot with blisters all over your feet.
My final packing tip is to take a back up charger and cable to charge your phone on the go so you don’t have to worry about not being able to use your phone when navigating and running out of battery and missing out on some photos of the amazing places you’re seeing.
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