HOP ON, HOP OFF, HOP TO IT

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - WELCOME - JANA FRAW­LEY, NA­TIONAL TRAVEL EDITOR

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.

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