HOP ON, HOP OFF, HOP TO IT
If timing allows, I believe one of the best ways to start a stay in a new city is with a tour. The obvious choice is the hop-on, hop-off bus which exists as a staple of big cities the world over, and for a reasonable sum will take you to the key attractions and landmarks.
From the top tier – for these buses are always double-decker – a newbie can also start to get a feel for the city by observing the locals and streetscape. Is it a walking or cycling city or are most people in cars or catching public transport? Are the locals dressed casually or in more sophisticated attire? Where are the shopping hubs? Is there a neighbourhood for bars and restaurants ? Do they have a cafe culture or are people flocking to street vendors? Are there green spaces? Is it a place that looks easy and safe to navigate?
Even better is a small group tour with a local. This gives the visitor a chance to not just see or hear about the history, culture, art, architecture, geography, politics, religion or whatever niche they’re into, but it’s the perfect opportunity to talk to someone who lives in the city and can answer individual questions about the habits and quirks of getting around.
On the first night of a recent trip to Barcelona, I joined Marta from Taste Barcelona on a tapas walking tour. We started with very posh pintxos then walked from bar to bar – they became more rustic as the tour went on – sampling cured meat, cheese and seafood, washing it all down with an assortment of Spanish wine.
The group was capped at six and immediately we fell into a relaxed, amiable vibe. It was pricey, but for the volume we consumed – I definitely didn’t need dinner – it was also one of the best tours I’ve ever done.