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Arriving in a new city can sometimes be intimidating. There is so much going on, and chances are that you don’t know your way around. You end up spending so much of your time just trying not to get lost, that you don’t take the time to truly appreciate the city and your surroundings.

If you really want to get the most out of your visit, here are a few travel tips for exploring a new city.

Ditch the GPS

This may sound a little counter-intuitive, but hear us out. When you first arrive in a city, it is tempting to map out each place that you want to visit, and then to get exact directions on how to get there. We use the GPS systems on our phones to give us step by step directions, never allowing us to wander off track.

While this is great if you don’t want to get lost, sometimes getting lost is the best way to see a city. By learning to find your own way around, you can become better acquainted with the city, and discover some unexpected treasures.

Of course, if you find yourself in a bad area, it’s not a bad idea to have a GPS handy so you can make a quick exit. Other than that though, foregoing a GPS system will let you see the city in a whole new way.

Traveler female explore

Have Flexibility With Your Plan

Too many people visit a city with an itinerary in place. While it’s great to make sure that you see the things you want to see, you should allow for some spontaneity.

Let a friend guide you around, or hop on a bus tour to see what else the city has to offer. Ditch the map for a couple of hours and simply walk around the city, seeing what you come across.

There is always plenty to do and see in a city, and you’ll get more out of your trip if you give yourself permission to explore it all.

Go For The Bird’s Eye View

What better way to get a view of the city than from above? Sure, you can climb to the top of the tallest building and look around for a great view, by why not go up even higher?

Many cities offer tours via a plane, helicopter, or hot air balloon, and you can see the surrounding area like never before. For something extra adventurous, skydive.

Spend an hour taking a ride around the city, and get a sense of the city that you can’t from the ground. Most pilots are friendly, and more than happy to answer questions you may have about the city. If you want to brush up on your plane knowledge before you go, check out sites like A.E.R.O to learn more about plane parts.

Hot air balloon

Bus Tours

If heights are not your thing, don’t worry. You can still get a great tour of the city from the ground by taking a bus tour. Most cities offer tourists a bus tour that will drive around the city and point out different landmarks and historical sites.

For people who want to learn about the history and culture of a city, and don’t want to find their own way around, a bus tour is a great option. The hosts are typically knowledgeable about the city, and can answer any questions about the landmarks you are seeing.

Have A Local Show You Around

The above aside, the best way to tour a city is by having someone who lives there show you around. While they may not know everything about the history of the city, they’ll be able to steer you towards great restaurants, cool attractions to check out, and which areas to avoid.

They can also tell you the quickest way to get around, and share with you those tips and tricks that only a local would know. So the next time you are heading out to a new city, check your Facebook friends list and see who you might know in the area.

More than likely they’d be happy to show you around for an afternoon, or at least offer you some advice for your trip.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

    22 Comments

  1. Great post! I don’t usually go for bus tours, and I tend to go for viewpoints over the city because that’s usually cheaper than a sightseeing flight with a helicopter, but still. I like to have a GPS show me to where I’m going (otherwise I would never find it!), but then I’ll just veer off course when I see something exciting, and then it’s nice to have the GPS to get back on track when I want to do that.. Oh, and flexibility! Agree so much on that.

    • Thanks Maria! I do agree with you – GPS can be a lifesaver after you’ve wandered off course and then need to find your way back home. So maybe it was a bit hasty to say not to use it all together :D!

      Happy travels!

  2. This is such a great list! I definitely agree with A) getting lost and B) having a local show you around. Sometimes the absolute best places are the ones completely off the tourist trail!

    • Thanks Richelle! Yep totally agree – finding hidden gems locally is always the highlight of our trip :)

  3. I know it’s not always possible, but I really love having a local show me around. Wherever I’ve been where I have a friend and they are willing to do a little tour, it’s been like a streamline to all the good stuff. Definitely worth it! I feel like I spend a ton of time looking online for those gems that you probably can’t find on your own.

    • Absolutely – and I often find that locals enjoy showing people around because it’s a chance to get out and discover their city as a tourist, which we so often don’t get the chance to do :)

  4. I love going up. Helicopters are my preferred mode and I have been fortunate enough to take some incredible helicopter tours (over the Keys, onto a glacier and over Toronto city. I also love things like the Shard in London or the CN tower.

    • Fabulous Anne! Definitely gives you a different perspective viewing a city from the sky. Personally I love to skydive :D

  5. Lovely tips.I always go for the bird’s eye view as I can really understand my surroundings that way and always have my gps handy just in case!

    • Thanks Chrysoula! I agree that a birds eye view is a great way to get a bearing of your surroundings :) And yes, it is true that a GPS can be handy just in case :)

  6. Definitely agree on ditching the GPS. You definitely see and discover more when you’re open to exploration! Great tips, Meg.

    • Absolutely – getting lost is often the best part!

  7. Bird eye view of a city is definitely my favorite. And half the time, it’s free! You just have to be OK with climbing a loooot of stairs…

    • Absolutely! Exercise at the same time lol … churches and Cathedrals, as well as public buildings often allow public access to their top floors :)

  8. I love exploring a new city on foot or on a bike so I have more flexibility but I definitely agree for going for birds eye view. Helicopter rides are the best.

    • Bike is one of our favorite methods for exploring, as well as the birds eye view of course … I’m particularly partial to skydiving :D

  9. Great post. You touched the most important point for me, allow for some spontaneity, because if you don’t plan some additional time you might miss some nice encounters.

    To explore a new city, we usually try to get a hop-on hop-off bus in a new city, it’s perfect to get an overview.

    • Thanks Ursula! Absolutely – I’m an OCD planner, but it’s so important to have flexibility to allow for some spontaneity in your day to day. As you said, otherwise you miss out if your plans are too rigid.

      Hop-on hop-off buses really are great as an introduction to a city’s main sights – we love them too!

      Happy travels :)

  10. Hi Megan, great tips there! I always like to get lost, especially when I’m visiting a new city. One thing I do is use Couchsurfing just to meet locals who want to meet foreigners. I never stay with them, but I’ve met some great people who showed their city around on three occasions.

    • Thanks Pedro! That’s such a great tip re utilizing the Couchsurfing community even if you have your own accommodation. Thanks for sharing your insight! I can see how it would be an amazing way to access the local community, and meet people who are interested in showing travelers around :)

      Great tip. Thanks!

  11. I use a traditional map. If in the city for a short time I’ll go with the hop on hop off city sightseeing bus to see most of the attractions. Otherwise I take the city bus to go around. Great fun 😊

    • Great approach Emmanualle :) I find that even with a lot of time, the hop on hop off buses are a really great way to orientate yourself with the city on the first day, you get an overview of the attractions and where everything is located in relation to each other :)

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