How to explore a new city (more like a local)
How do you start to get the “feel” of a place? Whether you are traveling, or moving to a new city/country, how do you take in more than just seeing the sights? Worry not! This is your guide on how to explore a new city more like a local. The following tips have helped us the most in getting to know the real Amsterdam and they come in handy when we travel around the world, too.
Some of our tips might seem a bit weird and possibly a little touristy, but they are all great ways to understand the culture, the people, and the food of any new place you might visit. If you have more to add, please leave a comment!
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Explore a new city through a food tour
Yes, I know. Isn’t this a touristy thing to do? Yes and no. Sure, it will be all tourists on the tour, but it’s a fastest way to take a tour, learn about the food, and best of all, get awesome local tips that aren’t just “local” tips for tourists. Some of the best advice we’ve gotten are from food tour guides.
I also think that food tour guides are the nicest guides out there. How can you not be when they are also obsessed with the food?! Our favorite food tour ever was in Naples. It’s hard to explain why, but you can watch our video and see why!
If you’re in Europe, we highly recommend Eating Europe for food tours. We work with them a lot because we are major fans! See if there’s a tour for you by using our affiliate link. It really helps us and doesn’t cost anything extra for you 😉 Are they not available where you are going? Check out Get Your Guide for other options.
Ride Public Transportation
Yes, at home you may think that taking the bus is just not going to happen because you have your car. But when you are in a new place, you can see places and people that you wouldn’t see while walking to the next places that checks your list. Some buses or trams take you to just the parts of the city you wouldn’t see otherwise. When using public transportation, just make sure you are doing it right and remember to watch the locals!
In Amsterdam, tram 2 is a typical tram for visitors to take and see more of the city since it goes from Amsterdam Centraal Station to the new west neighborhood. It’s quite a variety of buildings and you’ll see more of the “real” Amsterdam. If you plan to visit Amsterdam, check out our helpful guide on on Amsterdam’s public transportation.
If it’s nice out, find somewhere with outdoor seating where you can watch people go about their day. Of course, inside is fine too but try to get a window! See how the locals live. Watch them bike, walk, talk, drive, etc.
Watch how they greet each other or how they say goodbye. See how parents interact with children. If it’s really nice out, go to the grocery store (another great way to see local life) to grab some food and drink and head to some steps, a park, or a bench and just eat while taking in your surroundings.
Rent an apartment or stay in a local area
Typically we will rent an apartment if we stay somewhere for more than a couple of days or if we are traveling for a conference. This may not be in the center of town, but it will give you a different perspective. And let’s face it, you’ll be in the center pretty much every day anyway, so try something a little different (and probably quieter) for your sleeping arrangements.
Did you know that especially during longer stays, that renting an apartment may be cheaper? I don’t just mean the price, but you might have a kitchen and can at least make your breakfasts in your apartment and save money that way.
BUT, and it’s a big but, check to see if short-term rentals are an issue in the city you are visiting. Places like Barcelona, Amsterdam and Venice are having major issues and I would more likely recommend and apartment in those cities to be a responsible tourist.
We tend to find apartments through Booking.com for our rentals and have had very good luck with them. Sometimes they are individual apartments and sometimes it’s an aparthotel…yes, that’s a thing. It has all the advantages of a hotel (luggage storage, check-in desk, etc), but with the set-up of an apartment with a kitchen and more space.
Eat at Local Restaurants
I don’t mean you have to eat local and organic (although, those aren’t bad things!). But find where the locals have their after-work beer or late-night burger. Skip McDonalds, Burger King, Hard Rock, Subway, or anything you can get at home!
Find the authentic. Think a little outside the box, too. If you are traveling to another country, think about what countries they have colonized in the past. Why? Because some of those people settled in the “home” country and brought their cuisine with them. Did you know that many Indonesian and Surinamese people live in the Netherlands because they used to be under Dutch rule? So, you can find authentic food from those cultures in Amsterdam as well as the pancakes and herring that you probably think of.
Find a Local Festival
Any major city probably has various kinds of festivals running all year ’round. See what you can find and join in! We found a wine festival in Amstelveen during our first weekend here. It’s a town just south of Amsterdam (by the airport) and super easy to get to. So, we figured out how to get there and learned do as the locals do. It is a festival for locals and there was no English anywhere, so we asked a lot of questions to figure out the whole process. But that’s part of it.
Go beyond what others might do when visiting, find the unique things you want to do. Use Facebook Events or the local tourism website to find out what’s going on. You may have to get out of the city center to do some of the cooler things, so just keep that in mind.
Here’s a great list from Rick Steves of local festivals in Europe that’s really helpful.
Take a walk or bike ride and get lost
Walk. Then walk. Maybe take a bus/tram/train, then walk some more…away from the crowds. Not only is this amazing exercise, but you can find and see things that aren’t in guidebooks. Today we found a place with macaroons that we didn’t know existed because we had never walked that way before. But we will find our way back to give them a try. When you find a spot that is just right, hang out there for a while and take it all in. You are in this place in this moment. Take some time to really focus on the right now.
If walking isn’t your cup of tea and you’re in a flat area, grab a bike and get going. We’ve also done some bike tours which are special because you tend to go farther out of the main crowded areas and see more of the local neighborhoods. Then, you can always go back and explore some more.
Talk to locals
This may show up last on this list, but that’s only because we hope you found a way to do this through the list above. If you haven’t found a local to talk to by this point, go to a bar, a park, or anywhere, and just start talking. Ask them a simple question, or make a comment. It could lead to a whole conversation!
I had a 45 minute chat with a girl because I commented that her breakfast looked good and I missed the cheap breakfast that was on the menu. We spoke about everything from living in Utrecht vs. living in Amsterdam, university, politics, etc. It was a great conversation while we ate and she waited for her train. You just never know!
“Meet” locals ahead of time for advice or to make friends. Online communities are a big part of everyday life, so head to Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, or in Facebook groups and ask locals where to eat, what to do, if there are meet-ups, etc. They have lots of advice to share and with so many people proud of where they live, it won’t be hard to get some incredible advice that will have you experiencing a new city like a local.
You will have an amazing time and you might stress out a bit. You will be uncomfortable and you will walk away with stories. I hope that you learn a little more about yourself in whatever travels you may take.
What would you add to this list? Has any one person had an unexpected positive influence on a trip you have taken? I would love to hear about it!