I’ve now gotten a lot of practice in mapping out a city and seeing exactly what I want to see in the amount of time I have to see it. We spent just one full day in Barcelona, Prague, and Vienna, and I’m about to head to a full day in Amsterdam.
With cities that have so much historical value and so many sights, one day might not seem feasible. But, if you’re willing to strategize, I promise you – you can fit it all in.
The first trick to conquering a new city in a short amount of time is be willing to walk. Thankfully, I’ve been with some fellow walkers along my trip, because let me tell you: you will begin to stumble upon things that you A) didn’t even know were in that city and B) were trying to eventually find but forgot you wanted them on the list. In Paris, we stumbled on so many landmarks just because we were trying to walk ourselves to another side of the city. Walking is totally worth it.
Next, Google Maps will be your best, best friend. Before each city (usually, the night before exploring), I look up the things in each city that are worth seeing. There are usually a couple of lists (at least for major cities) that’ll get you started on things that people have recommended taking a look at – and, things that other travelers have deemed as overrated or not worth the price of admission.
Make a list of those places that you want to go, and then set your Airbnb or hotel location as your “home.” Open directions in Google Maps, and set “home” as your starting and ending spots. On walking mode (once you hit directions, click the walking man next to the car and bus symbols) you can tap the three dots next to your location and “add stop.” Add in all of the places that you’ve listed as your top destinations. Then, you can drag and drop the places. Create a circle out of your list. This way, you’re not doubling back on any places that you’ve missed, and you’re creating an efficient walking path to see everything. It’s an awesome trick. You can also download an offline map of the city that you’re going to so that you aren’t using so much data while you’re mapping.
You also want to pay attention to the day of the week that you’re visiting the city. Sometimes, sights and locations are closed on Sundays or Mondays. You don’t want to walk a kilometer to a spot on your list only to find out that it’s not open to the public. Do a little research beforehand so that you can avoid any surprises (and cut out any unnecessary trudging) while you’re exploring.
But, as I mentioned, the absolute best part of walking around a city is finding the places that you didn’t even know you wanted to see. In Paris, this was an incredible botanical garden that was free to the public that we happened to find. Take a little time to explore these hidden gems, because the big stuff isn’t always where the best memories are made. If you see a church that looks interesting, stop. Go up the hill for a view of the city. Sit in the park for a few minutes. Absorbing the culture of a new place is much more authentic when you step aside for the smaller stuff.
When it comes to food, research any special dishes or treats that the area is famous for, and make that a priority. Although pasta in France is fun, it’s not pasta in Italy. And, although Germans love their bread, it doesn’t compare to a Parisian croissant. Stop for these special items when you find them or when you see them on a menu, and supplement any expensive meals with cheap (and delicious) street food, like döner (gyros).
It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Heck, you don’t even have to use public transportation (we skipped it in Prague, Florence, and Rome). Just take thirty minutes to plan the day before, and maximize your time. I promise, it’ll be totally worth it as you’re hitting all the Colosseums and Eiffel Towers and ruins that you wanted to see and stumbling upon incredible murals along the way.