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Authored by Rebecca Crawford

It’s one thing to go sightseeing, visit a couple of museums and take a guided tour when you’re in a new city, but that only gives you a glimpse of a place.

When it comes to learning everything about the cities you visit, and truly immersing yourself in a new place, you have to do much more research.

How to Learn Everything About the Cities You Visit

Drive Around

Driving can tell you a lot about the traffic. You can find out how polite people are by how much they swear when they driving, or how impulsive they are by how they’re trying to get away from a traffic jam.

If there’s little traffic, then the authorities are doing their job. Good roads mean the country is investing its money wisely. A decent-looking, clean and fast public transportation means the citizens are treated fairly.

We recently visited Spain, and just catching a taxi from Madrid airport to city center was a great opportunity to chat with our driver, and get a first impression of the city from a ground level.

New York City Cab

Walk the Streets

Walking the streets by foot will give you tons of info too. You can look at the buildings, get to the bad side of town, or look at the rich part of the city.

You can analyze the discrepancy between these, visit the shops and check out the merchandise, but the advantage is you’ll get a better clue about how people are living. Don’t forget to bring the best monocular for the money, it can really help you scouring the surroundings.

Talk to Locals

If you can learn a few words in their native tongue, you’ll have the upper hand. People are generally more willing to open themselves to someone who gives the impression they care.

You can even share things about your country. But the advantage here is that you can specifically ask for interesting stories, cool places to go, hidden “gems” in terms of the local history.

And if you’ve taken our previous advice, you can ask them about the traffic or about how the people behave. Not to mention you’ll find out where all the bargains are.

But the best thing about talking to the people is finding out their opinion about the current political events, as well as about their historical past. You might find they’ve been taught different things in school, which explains their mindset.

Watch the News

The first thing you can do is read the news about that country or city. You’ll see an official perspective on their economy and politics, as well as how they are viewed throughout the world.

But once you get there, it’s good to watch the local news too. That will tell you what events are important for the local people. After that, you can compare and contrast with what you’ve learned about them.

Visit the Touristic Objectives

Sightseeing can’t be neglected because it’s the official, objective perspective about the local accomplishments. Besides, it will help you understand the culture too.

What are the more prominent sights? Old monasteries and cathedrals? Then the place is rich in spirituality, but it might also be prone to superstitions.

Are there more museums with paintings and sculptures? Then the city you’re visiting has art on a pedestal. That might even be obvious in how the new buildings look, how the parks are decorated or how the people behave.

A city filled with ancient temples or other archaeological sites will give out a mysterious vibe. You’ll find its people are more prone to share stories too, even if not all are true.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul

Eat the Local Food

That’s definitely something worth doing for many reasons. If the ingredients are simple, without anything fancy, you’ll know that the local cuisine has developed from the eating habits of the majority.

Spices are another good clue about the historical background. If there are lots of spices used, you’ll know the cuisine has been modeled by different civilizations. Same goes for a wide variety of cooking methods or very different meals.

The cooking methods themselves will tell you a lot about the people’s relationship to food. If they like cooking outdoors, or even on the ground, they have a special connection with Mother Nature.

If they like to eat outside, with their friends or in the company of strangers, on paper plates or even standing, you’ve come to a community that values sharing. The opposite is true if the serving is very elegant, and people tend to eat in restaurants or in their homes, serving meals that require plates and kitchen utensils.

Read about the Geography of the Place

If you want to know more about the local geography, a backpacking tripod is always good for taking pictures of awesome vistas. But more than that, people and cultures are always influenced by their landscapes:

How Landscapes Can Influence a Community

➡ An isolated city will show a more close-knit community.

➡ A place that’s in an unfriendly area, with extreme weather will have more resilient inhabitants and possibly more accomplishments.

➡ A city with more natural means of navigation, like water streams or gorges, is more multi-cultural and tolerant because they’ve been exposed to different cultures throughout the ages.

➡ A city located in a Mediterranean country will likely be more hospitable, and more relaxed about deadlines. That’s because the warm climate requires taking frequent breaks and siestas.

➡ A place that’s in the Northern hemisphere has people more interested in a specific routine, excellence, and punctuality. That’s because the environment pressured them to get things done fast before the weather went bad or before the nightfall.

Even if you like traveling alone, or you’re already with a group, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of meeting new people as you’re making your way around the globe.

Take a History Lesson

This means taking your old high school manuals and searching info about the city you’re visiting. Just like what you did when reading the news, this will tell you how that city is seen from the outside in terms of their historical and geopolitical contribution.

But when you do get to that city, ask for the local perspective. You can even read a couple of their tourist guides, so you can see what historical monuments and moments they take pride in.

Knowledge is Power

After experiencing a different culture, you’ll understand yours better, You might even get a new perspective on the status quo of your country, or find creative solutions to your problems. That said, how do you think you can learn more about a place?


 Amazon Backpack Bag

EcoCity Travel Laptop Backpack

 Amazon Passport

Phone Charging Passport Holder

Amazon lock

Combination Cable Luggage Locks 


Rebecca is a USA writer and hiker at Her favorite hike to date is the Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. While this hike usually takes 16 days, she likes to slow down, and enjoy the mountains and company of other adventurers, so it took her 28 days.

Photo credits: New York Cabs by Richard Burger.


  1. Great write up Rebecca! I totally agree that getting into the local vibes can really open up the possibilities when you’re traveling. I especially like the bit about eating the local food, food gives you such insight into the hearts and minds of a people.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Jim! Food is the great social connector of our time :)

  2. You perked my interest in a monocular.
    Too often tours move too quickly on to the next site.
    Some of my best vacations have been when I travel at my own pace and research where I am going next.

    Blog on.

    • They usually use them for hunting, but a great tool for scouting out your surroundings, especially as many cities have hills with walking trails to the top. I agree that tours often move too quickly, we enjoy exploring at our own pace too.

      Happy travels Doug!

  3. I agree with all of these- except the news, unless it is proffered in your native tongue. I have found (even though I am more than fluent in a few languages) that the news, between names and places that are unfamiliar and buzzwords about which I have no clue, that the news is a frustrating listen.

    • Well that’s definitely true, if you don’t have a good command of the local language, it won’t help to listen to local news! I’ve found that often you can log onto the channels for CNN or BBC though which are international, though localized to where-ever you’re tuning in from. And usually in English.

  4. Great Tips! Getting lost ís my favourite way to learn about cities- get away from the tourist traps as you say. Thanks for sharing your tricks

    • Thanks Katie, glad you enjoyed the post – I find getting lost to be half the fun of exploring a new place – we usually throw out the tourist map, and love walking the streets to acquaint ourselves with a new place :)

  5. I love researching a destination before I go, but immersing yourself in that destination when you get there, teaches your far more than you could ever read. Walking is my by far my favourite way to breath everything in. Oh and of course food!!!

    • Absolutely agree – you can do all the research in the world (which I obv recommend too, because being prepared goes a long way!) but ultimately, you don’t get a real sense of a place until you’re there. And there is so much to each destination which is missed out from the guide books.

      Walking is our favorite way to explore too!

  6. I would add reading a book set in the city you’re going to visit. It would provide a nice background. Watching movies set in that city would also work!

    • Oooh I love that idea Aleah! Going to make note of that for my next trip :)

  7. I always prefer walking in Cities, you definitely see more. An interesting perspective that a city with not much road traffic is a well managed one – there are so many factors which come into play and you might just be unlucky and arrive when there are serious road works for example? London has been a traffic nightmare for a while during the period that new bike routes across the city were being installed. That was all part of a grand scheme to improve the road network – the pain for the gain so to speak. A visitor would not necessarily have realised as the re-routing wasn’t always signposted – just something that locals invented!

    • Very good point re needing a locals perspective to really know whether a city is well organized or not. I think the traffic example is a good general example, but you are right that there are certain things only locals will be able to know and pick up on. Which is why we love talking to locals as a way of getting to know a city, learning about their day to day lives :)

      Walking is one of our favorite ways to get around too :)

  8. I really liked your suggestions: they’re smart and doable by everyone who wants to really get to know a new place. We for example love to talk to the locals, because it gives us good insights. More often than not, we end up talking of our respective countries and it’s never boring!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Dany! Talking to locals is the best – it really does allow you a deeper insight which you wouldn’t normally get. ANd you’re right – they’re always usually then interested in you and your country as well, so it’s an incredible way to connect with new friends, and share a cultural exchange :)

  9. Great ideas about getting immersed in the city you’re visiting. I love walking around cities, stopping and soaking up the sites. Interesting about the traffic, it does give a sense of a city.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Katherine! I actually find traffic patterns really fascinating, and observing when we get to a new place, because they’re always very different, and give you an insight into local life!

  10. Great tips! You really do learn so much from walking around the streets and talking to locals. I couldn’t imagine travelling without these things! Polly

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, walking aimlessly is our favorite way to spend the first couple of days – you get really well acquainted with a new city that way :)

  11. I tend to do all of the above, apart from driving and watching news (although I like to read local newspapers if they are available in English). I’ve found that reading a fiction that is laced with some factual history of the place I’m visiting always excites me more as I trace each spot that is mentioned in the book. It’s a surefire way for me to learn & remember more about the history lesson of the place.

    • Really great tip on finding some fiction laced with history before your trip, I’ll have to note that! We did that for our recent Antarctica trip, read a lot of novels and books about the continent, and you’re right, it really was exciting once we got there knowing we were following in the footsetps of those we had read about in books.

      I would guess finding films would have the same effect :)

  12. Great list- especially the part about talking to locals. That’s how I’ve always found the bet advice. And of course, eating local food is my favorite thing to do!

    • Thanks Nathan, glad you enjoyed the post :) Talking to locals is always the best way to find advice – and if you’re a little scared I find hitting up the hotel concierge is also a great source of local advice :) … they always have great tips on the local food joints too!

  13. Great tips. Walking around and talking to locals really help.

    • Thanks Holly, glad you enjoyed the post :)

  14. I love to go running in the places I visit. That gives me an opportunity to take a look around while exercising.

    • Great tip Stuart! Might give that a go myself :)

  15. In my opinion it is really important to understand and feel the city atmosphere. And the best way to do it is talking with locals. You’re absouletly right! I love your suggestions. I will talk about this topic in my next article. Thanks a lot for this post!

    • Absolutely Hilal – totally agree with you, the locals are the best source of knowledge and info in getting to know any city you travel to. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  16. Fantastic post! Thank you for sharing.

    • You’re welcome – glad you enjoyed the post :)

  17. Great post – traveling among locals seems to enrich a journey.

    • Thanks Meg, glad you enjoyed the post :)

  18. Asking the locals is a good place to start. Once you’ve heard the same recommendations a few times, usually it’s a winner.

    • Absolutely, I always hear about secret local spots that aren’t listed in the guidebooks :)

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