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How do you find ways to explore a new city before you go?
It’s totally okay to arrive at a destination with no itinerary. Actually, it’s probably better that way! Although some of us plan months in advance and have a strict to-do-list to tick off, others prefer to be more spontaneous! Sometimes, having no expectations leaves more room fun and more authentic discoveries. So, what do you do when you’re in a place you’ve never been before? How can you find the best things to do in a new city? We got you…
Whether you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path adventures or to hit up the classic tourist destinations, we’ve put together the ultimate guide for how to find awesome things to do while visiting a new city (and some suggestions for when you get there). Gone are the days when we had nothing but maps and guidebooks to rely on for travel tips, your phone is your friend, and you have endless information at your fingertips! Here’s how you can harness that information… You’re welcome!
Google Maps is your friend
I must confess, I’m Google maps user rather than an Apple maps user. The predictability works really well for travelling.
When you first arrive in a new city, study a Google map of the area to get an idea of what’s around you. If you’re trying to find a place to eat, tap on the three horizontal lines in the search bar and hit “Explore”. This will take you to frequently reviewed places in that area that other users recommend, such as “best lunch” or “cheap eats”. Read what other travellers and locals have to say and save the location on the map so that you remember to check it out later!
If you know of something more specific that you want to do, for example ‘yoga’ or ‘art classes,’ then type this into the search bar and Google (being the savvy genius that it is) will map out a few studios near you that are open. Thank you magical Google bot!
Insider tips from hostel friends
The beautiful thing about hostels is that you’ll be amongst travellers like you, who are also looking for things to do and places to explore. Chat with travellers in the common area or in your dorm room. It’s a surefire way to find new friends and gather insider tips from people who’ve been in your shoes. So strike up a convo at the hostel bar, rent a moped or a bike and go out and meet the world! That’s how I found a Beetle Fighting Competition in Thailand… yes, really! Next thing you know, you’ll be sharing all of your tips with the new person you meet at your next hostel!
Become an Instagram Queen
📍 Cliff Jumping, Mount Martha, Australia 📷: @marinasmilestones
I don’t know about you, but I follow A TON of travel accounts on Instagram. Other than giving me all the ~wanderlust~ feels, it also inspires me to travel to new places or provides me with ideas for my ever-growing bucket list.
BBC Travel, National Geographic and, Lonely Planet usually post great ideas for where to go next, but following travel influencers, such as @heartmybackpack or @thisbatteredsuitcase, is super helpful for finding things to do at said place. Thanks to Instagram stories, travel bloggers can get real and show you what they’re doing in a new city. I would have never known about the Lanka Challenge if I didn’t follow @thelifeofjord. Now I can’t wait to do a tuk-tuk race throughout Sri Lanka!
Another tech-savvy way to use Instagram is to type the name of a specific city into the search bar. I know that’s broad, but it’s a great tool to find out if there’s an event going on or find popular places to check out. The city’s Discovery Story is usually helpful too (you can find that right underneath the search bar!)
If you’re looking for a specific activity, but don’t know where to start, search hashtags such as #SurfingInBali or #HawaiiWaterfalls to help you find specific gems. If a photo comes up that looks really rad, click on the geo-tag to locate where that person was shredding waves. Hella gnar dude!
📍Lunch Spot, Chiang Mai, Thailand 📷: @marinasmilestones
If you’re a man reading this and thinking “Pinterest is for girls” — it’s not. Because guys, if you have Pinterest, you’re doing it right! The travel-friendly website is helpful in finding things to do because you can be super broad in the search bar and it will narrow down what you’re looking for using specific filters.
For example, if you search “Chiang Mai, Thailand” in Pinterest’s search bar, the first few things to pop up are “12 Amazing Things To Do In Chiang Mai”, “4 Perfect Days In Chiang Mai” and “10 Coffee Shops Not To Miss In Chiang Mai”. After clicking on a pin that catches your fancy, it will pull up a separate tab to the link where the article lives. It’s usually written by a travel blogger who’s been there, done that.
I find that this is the best way to discover off-the-beaten-path experiences and gather knowledge about the city (like how to get around, pricing, what to pack). If it weren’t for Pinterest, I would have never found Huay Tung Tao Lake, which is a hidden gem of a lunch spot right outside of Chiang Mai FYI!
P.S. Pinterest is also great for pre-trip planning (packing, places to stay, transportation, etc.). Check out our Pinterest here for wanderlust inspo!
Read Local Publications
📍 Fairy Pools, Noosa, Australia 📷: @marinasmilestones
I’m a HUGE fan of following and reading local publications of the cities I travel to. You can usually find them if you type something specific into Google search like “things to do in Melbourne, Australia”.
Local publications and tourist boards will pop up in the search and they’re an AWESOME insider guide to the city! Combine these with Hostelworld’s blog (hi!) and you’ll free things to do, cheap places to eat, and even more specifically, where to find the best margarita in San Diego. Score!
📍 Falls Music Festival, Australia 📷: @marinasmilestones
Just when I thought that I wasn’t a big user of Facebook, I found a little hack that makes travelling way better. If you know that you’re going somewhere for a few weeks or more – say backpacking Southeast Asia – join a few travel groups on Facebook. For instance, I joined a Facebook group called Backpacking Southeast Asia Alone. It proved to be a gold mine for gathering tips from other travellers about where to go and what to do. You can do the same thing for any major city or region, such as Backpackers Sydney or Backpacking Europe.
Scan the posts to see what people are talking about or just write a comment to ask for suggestions like, “Hey what’s up, I’m travelling to Bali for the first time and was wondering if anyone has suggestions for cool experiences to do or see?” People love to share their tips, so you will get replies. You might even find a travel mate!
Another way to find things to do (thanks to Facebook) is to check out the “Explore” tab in the app. Click on “Events” and Facebook will filter all of the events happening in the area over the next few days. You might find a cool party, a local music festival or a maybe a cool food truck gathering. This is how I found out about a sand sculpting competition going on in South Florida!
Arriving in a new place with no itinerary may seem scary on the outside, but it’s a great way to discover things on your own whilst gaining local and using social media as a tool (rather than as a distraction). Don’t forget to share your discoveries with the world! It’s the best way for us travellers to connect. So geotag it and hashtag it because I could be searching #KitesurfingInMiami and find your awesome Instagram!
Ways to explore a new city when you get there
You’ve read all of the above, but now you’re here it’s all a bit… Overwhelming. Don’t worry! We’ve got a few fool-proof suggestions for you and your new mates that’ll have you exploring a city in no time!
Booze it up on a bar crawl
Forget one bar, or even two. The best way for any hosteller to experience a new city is by seeing it through the haze of beer goggles. Hopping between bars in a drunken daze is not only great fun, but you’ll also really get to grips with the local area. The only downside? Have too many, and you might not be able to remember anywhere you went the morning after.
All dressed up and no one to drink with? Use our new app feature, Linkups, to invite nearby travellers to join you.
Eat all the street food
Moving swiftly onto the best part of any trip… Food. However far off the beaten track you venture, expect the eminent food stall to light your path with the warm glow of a freshly lit grill. Street food is EVERYWHERE, blending the smell of sizzling roti amongst the car fumes of a street market in Dehli; dripping gravy on frozen hands clutching cartons of steaming poutine in Quebec. Local food enlightens local culture. Not to mention the time you’ll spend strolling the streets in search of the region’s best eats.
Get immersed in local markets
You can really familiarize yourself with a city through its markets. Colourful food halls see rows of slippery, iridescent fish scales contrast with stalls studded with heaps of jewel-like fruits and berries. Flea markets offer up crumbling warehouses crammed with hand painted ceramics and faded textiles. Any good market will equip you with a true sense of the local culture and identity. So, grab a group, head out, and soak up a 3-course feast for the senses.
Quite obvious, no? Wherever you venture, they’ll be sh*t to see. I don’t care if you’re a history-buff or just there for the party, you can’t travel without drinking in your local surroundings with an oversized straw. The best way to sightsee? Just get your butt off the hostel beanbag! Whether it’s the Eifel Tower or a particularly pretty alley in Montmartre, no sight is too big or too small for a group of eager backpackers.
Watch the sunset
Maybe the most magical way to enjoy a new city is watching the sunset over the skyline with friends. It’s also a brilliant experience to share with new people. Who doesn’t love a sunset, right? First, ask the hostel team for recommendations for a good vantage point. Then, create a Linkup event so you can share the sunset with other travellers in the area. Grab a few beers, maybe some snacks if you’re feeling peckish, and get to know your new buddies with mother nature’s most beautiful background .
Find local street festivals
Any big city has all sorts of free festivals and events you can attend. There’s ALWAYS something going on. Like we mentioned previously: put on your detective-hat and do a little digging. Use Facebook Events or the local tourism website to find out what’s happening, and extra points for unique or niche events that most travellers won’t have thought of.
If you’re lucky enough to be around for one of the big ones, be sure not to miss it. The colourful feathers and swaying hips of Rio’s Carnival or the squishy, splattered chaos of La Tomatina in Spain are once in a lifetime events. You might lose your friends in the madness, but you’ll make memories that last forever.
Have a picnic in the park
The local park is always a great way to experience any city first-hand. Not only will you join citizens enjoying the sunshine, you’ll find a serene slice of leafy paradise in an otherwise overwhelming metropolis. Our suggestion? Plan a picnic to save on pennies and sample some of the local delicacies. Pick up bread and pastries from the bakery, maybe some cheese and meat from the deli. Bottle of wine? Why not! It’s a great way to break up a busy day of sightseeing and really get to know the people you’re travelling with.
Visit a museum or gallery
Want to really get to know the city you’re in? Then it’s time for some good old-fashioned culture. Most popular galleries and museums are free, so there’s no excuse to not switch your brain on and immerse yourself in the local culture. If the crowd in your hostel aren’t interested, it’s time to create a Linkup on the Hostelworld App. Nearby art-lovers and history-buffs can join your intellectual crew. And hey, you’ll come out a lot more sophisticated than when you arrived.
Eat at a local restaurant
More food. Like street food, local restaurants allow you to immerse yourself in the cities culture like nothing else. Avoid chains you can get at home. No McDonalds here! Seek out the authentic. Chat to the owners to get a real explanation of the grub you’re eating. Most likely, there’s a story behind it that spans hundreds of years. A sit down meal is also a great way to get to know your new travel mates. Good food and good company is the gateway to great travel.
Get on your bike
Get on your bike, it’s time to get lost. Get away from the crowds, find the tiny side streets and residential neighborhoods that aren’t in guidebooks. If you’re not a cyclist, use your legs! Walking is nature’s way of telling you to EXPLORE. This is the way to really get to know a city. And if you get tired? There’s always a bus/tram/train to take you back to the hostel.
You might have noticed a few mentions of our new feature. Linkups allow you to create events and meet up with travellers in the local area. Create your own Linkups and invite other travellers, or join their Linkups and meet new friends from around the world. From pub crawls to street food tours, pre-drinks on the roof terrace or movie night in the cinema down the road. The power is in your hands. Bonfire on the beach, anyone?
Download or update the Hostelworld app and you’ll have access to Linkups and beyond.