How much time do you have to spend in a city to consider it explored?
A layover in the airport isn’t going to cut it. I wouldn’t even consider a single overnight visit enough either. That doesn’t mean you need to spend months in a city though.
Here are the most important things to do in a city to check it off your list.
Either romantically or as a play date, dating is a great way to explore a city. Dates make certain experiences more fulfilling.
Many attractions are designed for couples. You'd only get part of the experience by going at it alone.
It's also an opportunity to experience a city through the eyes of another individual. While you might be quick to judge a place, seeing how someone else reacts to it can offer a fresh perspective.
Speaking of getting a fresh perspective from others, bar hopping with a group of friends or strangers is an excellent way to see how people socialize in new place.
A few drinks also tends to loosen people up and you'll often end up with more honest opinions of what people think of the place.
Try and find a unique place where drinking games ensue. Some of the best memories come after learning a new drinking game with strangers.
Urban parks are a must visit location to see locals express themselves. You'll often get to see how locals socialize outside of work environments, and local artists can always be found in parks.
For an even better understanding of a city visit the parks early in the morning or in the late afternoon. In Bangkok, the parks really some alive at those times as community fitness programs take place before and after work. It's a sight to see.
Tourist activities are often cliche, but visiting a city without doing them means you probably didn't experience that city's most notorious themes.
You can't say you've visited Paris if you don't go see the Eiffel Tower. It just doesn't count.
Went to New Orleans but skipped Bourbon Street?
Doesn't count either.
Friending locals is important. They have the know how to show you parts of the city that separates typical tourists from the rest of the explorers. You'll also learn a lot more about the real customs of people in the city by hanging out with them.
City tours often cover the cliche customs, but you'll learn more about the subtle customs they don't always mention in the guide books. Like in Vietnam, I learned from friends it is rude to pour yourself beer. Always pour for others and they'll do the same.
Making friends also means creating a connection to the city and gives you a strong reason to come back one day.
If you really want to know what a city is like and not just the affront the tourism board wants you to see, stay in district outside of the tourist area. This is a great way to see what normal life is like.
It's also your best chance to run into expats who can give you insight into what a longer stay in that city is like.
Even in a lengthy city visit, if you tried to visit every restaurant once, you'll never finish. You'd just feel burned out anyway.
A better option is to find a restaurant you like, and visit it several times. You'd be amazed how quick servers pick up on a familiar face. By visiting the same restaurant multiple times, you'll begin to feel like a local yourself.
Repeat visits gives you a better opportunity to get to know the people who work there. Spend time learning about who they are, what their aspirations in life are, etc. As you do, you'll get an increasingly better understanding of what growing up and living in that city is like.
Getting lost in a city is the best way to find it's most interesting secrets. Often some of the best places to eat and drink are hidden down the back alleys of the city.
These off the beaten path spots are also where you will get to see local art.
Just be careful not to wander into the "wrong" neighborhood. Some cities have dangerous parts that should only be explored with a local guide if at all.
I've always felt a city is only as good as its public transportation. To understand how a city flows, it's best to rely on public transportation. It's also a means to escape the touristy areas.
You'll find unique people on public transportation, and you'll never know what you might pick up from the conversations of people around you.
It's easy to fill up your visit with endless tours and events. One of the most important parts of exploring a city is to set aside at least a day to just live in it. To understand what it's like to live in a city you must spend a day in it with no expectation or agenda.
So what should you do on your no plan day? Do whatever feels natural.