Even if orienteering is not one of your stronger skill sets, you can still get acclimated to a new city anywhere in the world by using these tips. Whether you have limited time at a destination and want to get familiar quickly, or, you are wondering how to find the best destinations, activities, and services for travelers in a new location, these universal tricks will help you acclimate quickly. Do one or all of these and soon you will know the lay of the land, be able to blend in with the locals, and find the best of a city–even if you are the new kid on the block.
To get familiar with a city quickly:
1. Take a guided tour
If offered in the city you are visiting, this is a no-brainier. You can schedule a tour online in advance in large cities or ask for a guide at your hotel in smaller cities. Buy your tour tickets online before you leave home to ensure you get the exact tour you want. I like to use Viator.com because of their many tour options, ease of use, and great customer service.
2. Visit the local tourist agency
If a city is large enough or developed enough to have one, take advantage of it. You will usually find helpful information and maps there. They are often located in the most popular areas of a city. Take the tourist agency address with you just in case you need additional assistance once you arrive at your destination. Large cities will often have tourist bureaus with multiple locations. Most developed areas want to help visitors find the best places to visit. In California you will find several “Welcome Centers” throughout the state that can help you find the best places to visit in that local area.
3. Aim for a major tourist site
Even if you are not particularly interested in a certain tourist site or monument, (or generally try to avoid those same tourist traps), head for that area just as a starting point for orientation. Having a major, well-known site to aim for can help orient you to the area, give you a look around the city, and possibly connect you with additional travel resources (maps, guides, taxis, food, and other tourists). In Barcelona you can aim for the Christopher Columbus statue, located in a major tourist area.
4. Find a local market
Some of the best sites, sounds, smells, and activities happen around local markets (big or small). Find out where the locals shop and you will also find what they eat, where they eat, and how they live. This is true in the largest cities and the smallest villages. The famous Pike Place Market in Seattle is an example of a local market that has become a city institution.
5. Go on a food tour
Foodies may want to arrange for a food tour as a way to eat their way through a city orientation. Whether you take an organized tour that highlights an area’s eats or hire a local to take you to their favorite places to eat, you are certain to learn more about that destination and its people. One of my favorite food tours, “I Can’t Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown!”, is a great orientation of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
6. Stop at a large museum
Large museums often have staff members that speak several languages. They may be helpful in guiding you to other destinations in the area or answering any questions you may have. You may find you can join tours there or learn more about the area from guides and experts. The museum at the Doge’s Palace in Venice offers multilingual tours and staff to assist visitors.