Nine tips for seeing a city on a time crunch

An aerial image of a pathway leading towards the ocean inin Costa Rica
I'm Jenny Jay!

Storyteller, creator, and all-round multi-hyphenate passionate about what it means to exist as a creator in todays world. 

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You just got to a new city, but you have less than 24 hours there — if you’re lucky. For backpackers who try to cram in as many sights as they can see in a short period of time, it can be hard to feel like you experienced everything a city has to offer. In reality, it’s not easy — so here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you’re exploring a city under a time-crunch.

#1. Get a map


When you’re short on time, the last thing you want to be is lost in a strange place. Find yourself a map — and yes, that means beyond the app in your phone. Phones can be unreliable — batteries die, the compasses get disoriented around buildings, and you may not always have cellular data or Wi-Fi. Having a physical map serves for more than just directions — there are markers of notable monuments and parks on city maps. With a physical map, it’s easy to spot where the main districts are in the city — where most of the sights will be — so you can easily take yourself to the area you want to be at.

#2. Walk everywhere

The best way to learn the secrets of a city is to walk it — this is especially true for smaller European cities. Spending time looking for things such as car parking can be time consuming and exhausting, so once you know where the highlights of the city are located, get out there and walk. Not only do you learn the area pretty fast, but it also allows you to learn the aesthetic and feel of a city — including varying shops, boutiques, or quaint eateries that you may have not otherwise found.

#3. Use local transportation

While walking around the city will allow you to properly experience the area, be sure to also use local methods of transportation — whether it’s the underground, streetcars, or even renting a bike, certain cities pride themselves in their means of public transportation. In many cities, you can rent a bike for a few hours; some cities have double-decker streetcars, or extensive metro systems, or in places like India or Sri Lanka there are unique vehicles such as the ‘three-wheeler’ taxi’s that are an inexpensive method to go from one area to the next.

#4. Avoid the “Popular” sights

While there are always going to be some sights that you just have to see, there are also many sights that simply cater as tourist traps — which means long lines, expensive ticket prices, and one-too-many souvenir options. If you’re on a budget as well as a time-crunch, these places are impossible to get out of — so stay as far away as possible. Instead, visit smaller parks, or historical buildings in a town, which can tell you a lot more about the city than the brochure guide that hundreds of tourists before you have already experienced.

#5. Find out where the best lookout points are

Almost every city has it — it’s the spot where you can see the skyline, or overlook the downtown district. When you’re limited on time, this can be one of the most rewarding ways to experience a city — so whether it’s on the roof of a skyscraper, or the view from across the lake, find the best lookouts for viewing the cityscapes, and go there.

#6. Experience the city through its food

One of the best ways to experience a new place is through its food. Find somewhere local and authentic to both the culture and the city — and then try it. A huge part about travelling to a new place is about trying something new, so take the chance to do it when you can. While you may not remember every monument you went to, or every statue you saw, good food and new experiences tend to linger with you — so find something for your taste buds to remember.

#7. Find yourself a local

Whether it’s on the bus trip there, or at the overnight hostel, find yourself a local, or at least someone who has visited the area a few times. More often than not, they will know the best places to see and the greatest parts that the city has to offer, beyond the typical stops that are told in your average guidebook. *For solo travellers, remember that you should still prioritize your safety —  if you’re travelling alone, find yourself a group of people to explore with, and only explore public areas.  

#8. Use apps like TripAdvisor to your advantage

There are so many apps that are now out there, catered for the traveller. Apps such as TripAdvisor are filled with reviews and tips for every new city, so before you go to a place, spend time reading about what other travellers recommend. Take note of what people say — if there are good reviews for a place, but they mention long line-ups, you may want to avoid it. Some users even add trip guides and must-see lists for certain areas, so take the time to use these resources — because in the 21st century, the internet can in fact be your friend.

#9. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself

In the frantic rush to see as many things as possible, it can be easy to forget to appreciate it all. Take the time to appreciate where you are, and what you’re doing. While you may not remember every fact about the city, or every place that you went to, what stays with you is how it made you feel — and the last thing you want is to remember feeling rushed or stressed as a result of an extensive itinerary — so take the time to enjoy it.

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Hi, I'm Jenny Jay,
Your online fav and Storytelling Coach.

39 countries, over 150 cities, 7 years of business, and a lifetime of trying to figure out my  multi-hyphenate identity has lead to what I can only describe as this place: this blog, right here. I hope you stay for the ride, because I promise you, it's a good one — and one I'm truly proud of. 


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