Pick up any travel guide and you will see certain destinations repeated time after time. Paris, Barcelona, New York – these major cities hold almost untouchable positions as must-see travel spots.
It is time to stop and think whether these metropolises genuinely deserve the status they hold. Are you really visiting Paris to see Paris, or did you just like the film Ratatouille? Is New York really going to take you on a whirlwind adventure or is it more a rotten (albeit big) apple?
Sir Noël Coward, a popular British actor, playwright, and composer, once commented “the higher the buildings the lower the morals”. Indeed city travel is not for everyone, and certain cities can fail to match expectations. Five years ago I travelled to New York City, only to be surprisingly underwhelmed by what I found. The buildings were tall and the lights were bright, but as a Londoner this all felt somewhat normal to me. I never made it beyond the mainstream tourist spots and struggled to find any real soul. This is not to say that New York isn’t extraordinary; I myself failed to capture it.
Sometimes you need to look beyond big cities to get a true feel for a country. A weekend in Dublin taught me little about the Irish spirit. However, spending some time travelling down the winding roads of County Wexford, I began to truly understand the character and beauty of the land.
Even within major cities there are things you can do to get under its skin. Don’t visit museums and skyscrapers and monuments without a second thought simply because they came top of a Google search. Taking the time to consider your own interests and aims can improve your trip tenfold.
As a passionate sportsman I often look to see if there are opportunities for this in places I visit. In Switzerland, I found a beautiful set of diving boards on the iconic Lake Geneva, and in Barcelona, I managed to shoot some hoops at a local university basketball court. Mixing with locals like this can give a wonderful insight into a city’s genuine, though often hidden, character.
Visit neighbourhoods on the outskirts and see what they have to offer! Freetown Christiania is an autonomous, anarchist district, totally distinct from its wider setting and has to be a highlight for any traveller in Copenhagen.
You don’t have to avoid big tourist cities, but do consider how to best understand them. If all you care about is landmarks you may as well remain in the UK. To get the most out of your trip you must mix with locals, do things as well as see things, and most importantly try something that appeals to you specifically!