The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

I love to take city breaks whenever I can. It’s a great way to go somewhere new, soak in the atmosphere, and recharge for a bit. But when you only have a couple of days to see everything, it can start to feel very rushed and frustrating. With that in mind, I’ve compiled my list of top tips to help you get the most out of a weekend break.

Choosing a Destination

When travelling for inspiration, you don’t have to go very far. It could be as simple as going for a walk through an unfamiliar neighbourhood. I trace my love of travel back to my childhood, when I would go for a walk or a bike ride, and flipped a coin at each intersection to decide which way to go. I would turn back once I felt lost, and try to find my way home.

It was just about experiencing some place new, as a way to reset my brain. The truth is, everything looks different when you see it for the first time, and you notice things you might otherwise ignore.

Of course, if you’re reading a travel blog, chances are you want to choose a destination farther afield. If there’s somewhere you have always wanted to visit, go there. Research everything you want to see, plan an itinerary, and go for as long as it takes (or you can afford).

If, on the other hand, you want a short break, I recommend a trip to somewhere you never would have thought to visit. Find a cheap deal from a travel agent or website, and go wherever that takes you. Or find out where a band you like is on tour. Conventions for niche hobbies can be good for this, too.

When I started travelling intensively, I needed a way to choose, so I started playing competitive e-sports. I took weekend city-breaks to wherever they held a major European tournament.

I was embarrassingly old, and not very good, but that wasn’t the point. The first tournament I travelled to was in Bilbao, a city I was barely aware of at the time. It now tops my shortlist of places I would love to go back to.

Choosing an itinerary

The best advice I can give you for travelling is this: Don’t try to do too much too quickly. On a city-break, very often less is more.

When I visited Prague (one of my few bucket-list locations), I planned too many walking tours, and went into every castle and cathedral. I saw everything I ever wanted to, took a lot of pictures, but ended up with blistered feet and a cranky wife.

It was like a stressful business trip instead of a relaxing holiday. Now, I plan for one or two activities a day, and get there as slowly as possible. This way, I’m happy, relaxed, and have time for impulse stops.

Try to pick the most unique attractions at each city you visit. I love museums, art galleries, cathedrals and other pretty buildings, but every city in Europe has those. Go to unique museums or attractions that offer completely new experiences.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao is an architectural marvel that was well worth the visit, but in Koln, I avoided the art museums and went to the Chocolate Museum instead. I learned about something I didn’t know much about, and had some delicious chocolate. I also wandered between beer halls, and tried every variety of kolsch I could find.

Getting Around

If you take a taxi everywhere, you’ll never really get the atmosphere of the place you’re visiting. Instead, travel like the locals do. Take a train or a bus. Rent a bicycle. Figuring out how a local transit system works is part of the adventure.

Personally, though, I like to walk. If I’m planning to go anywhere that’s less than a three hour walk away, I take the whole day, walk there, and take public transport back. The radius you’re willing to walk might be considerably less – or more if you’re brave!

The point isn’t to walk there all in one go. It’s to go for a nice, relaxed walk, taking in the sights and sounds of the city, and stopping for lunch and snacks along the way. Use your phone to navigate, but sparingly. Put it in your pocket and check every now and then. Taking a wrong turn isn’t going to hurt you.

While in Frankfurt, I stumbled into a local market where I stopped for lunch, sampling their bratwurst and apfelwein (a local drink a lot like cider), then a free symphony playing in the main square, and finally a bunch of stalls promoting healthy, active living. All of which I would have missed if I hadn’t been walking!

What to eat

It’s always best to sample the local cuisine, but try to avoid eating in heavy tourist areas. Restaurants that cater to tourists often inflate their prices, and offer less authentic food.

For evening meals, wander away from the tourist areas and take a peek inside the restaurants. If there’s a casual atmosphere, reasonable prices and the customers are all speaking the native language, you’ve hit the jackpot.

For lunch, I stick to street food. Every country has its own street food that usually caters to locals as well as tourists at cheap prices. Otherwise, small pubs and cafes tucked away out of sight are usually a great place to soak in the local atmosphere.

Summing up

By now you’ll have noticed a common theme: mix with the locals, not the tourists. In quiet bars and cafes, a lot of people are willing to talk to you, and it’s always surprising to me how many speak English.

Everybody hates large groups of obnoxious tourists coming in and disrupting the atmosphere of a restaurant, but locals usually appreciate it if you bring your money to small, independent establishments. Just be polite, and respectful of local customs.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your next weekend away!