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10 Ways to Enjoy Cities
When You Hate Cities
Cities are full of exciting activities, exquisite cuisines, and exceptional experiences. They offer variety that just isn’t possible in the ‘burbs, let alone in rural America.
The problem is, we hate cities. We hate the crowds. We hate the noise. We hate the smells. And don’t even get me started on finding a place to park our huge truck.
There was a time when we avoided the hassle of cities altogether, but, eventually, curiosity and recommendations from trusted sources led to us venturing in and finding a surprisingly delightful world full of art, culture, history, and architecture. Now we thoroughly enjoy cities – and you can too!
Even though they are loud, chaotic, and unnerving compared to a generally slower pace of life, you can learn to enjoy cities following these 10 tips.
No trip to Philly would be complete without climbing “The Rocky Steps”, aka the Philadelphia Art Museum East Entrance. We really enjoyed this museum and the view of the city.
Asheville is a really pretty area in western North Carolina. As we love the mountains, this area was such a nice change from most of the lowlands of the east coast. The only thing we didn’t really like about this area was the brown marmorated stink bug.
No matter how large or small cities are, they all seem to have a visitor center. I bet your city has one and you don’t even know it! Large cities may even have multiple visitor centers spread out around town.
Normally, visitor centers are great places to park for the day (many have free parking and some even include over-sized spaces). Visitor centers supply all kinds of maps, coupon books, and local attraction pamphlets. In all the visitor centers we’ve visited, we’ve never met staff or volunteers who were not exceptionally knowledgeable or friendly.
In larger cities, many also house museums and displays of local history, as well as short informational movies (which are usually so cheesy that they are fabulous).
You can also typically schedule tours, buy event and attraction tickets, and get great recommendations for dining options.
We contact visitor centers before we even arrive in a city to get information on crowds (they always know if there is an event or busy season) and find the best parking option for our over-sized truck. We always enjoy cities more when we know where to park.
For those traveling in an RV, they also will usually offer overnight parking at the visitor center and offer suggestions for urban camping.
Take the bus! Getting to see the city from the “comfortable” seats of a bus, trolley, or train is one of the best ways to see the major sites quickly (and with the added benefit of not having to find and pay for parking). When we first started traveling, we were reluctant to ride public transportation from fears developed after watching countless movies and TV shows. We recommend you throw aside this stereotype and enjoy the transportation options available.
We find that we really enjoy cities when we know someone that is familiar with the area and is willing to give us the grand tour. They know what neighborhoods to avoid, how to get around with the least amount of hassle, and what activities are worth the visit (and often times, the cost). As a bonus, they usually will drive! It allows us to go into relaxation mode when all we have to do is show up.
If you don’t know someone in the city you want to visit and hate cities as much as we do, we highly recommend participating in a guided tour. By letting someone else worry about the logistics, you can focus on relaxing, having fun, and enjoying the sites. Just make sure to use a reputable company. The visitor center is a great place to get information on tours.
You are no longer limited to bus tours either. Many cities now offer Segway, bicycle, and walking tours. You can also take carriage rides and reserve equestrian tours in some locations.
Agendas typically include important and historic locations and buildings, but there are also food and drink tours, haunted spook fests, and other specialty schedules so there is a tour for everyone!
Over the years, I have become a bit of a Jedi Master in regards to finding things on the Internet. We’ve learned that good research and having a solid plan before we get somewhere significantly increases our enjoyment of an area.
In order to enjoy cities, it is important to complete your research before you go and have a flexible plan of what you want to do and see. You will most likely cram in too many things (things seem a lot closer to each other on a map), so prioritize what is a must do against what would be a good filler activity if you have time to kill.
If attractions are only open at certain times, make sure you know the operating hours and schedules for any shows. There is nothing worse than arriving right before closing or right after the last showing.
Also pay attention to any restrictions that may have an effect on your group, such as pet restrictions and age limits. Some cities are very pet friendly and will welcome your four-legged companion just about anywhere, while others are not so accommodating. Same goes for bringing children. Many cities will have adult themed window displays that are not child friendly (I have a funny story about that from when I was a child). Many restaurants turn into bars at certain times and will kick out anyone under 21 (another story, though not so interesting).
Some of our most memorable moments have come during unplanned walks through cities and towns. It is a great way to get to see a city from the “ground level.” You’ll come across stores and restaurants that are unique (we dislike big box stores) and wonderful.
A big part of city stress is getting from Point A to Point B. If you have a plan of what you want to do and see, you will know what areas of the city you will be visiting.
While public transportation is easy to use, it is also very daunting for those of us who never (or rarely) use it. By staying close to the attractions that you want to see you can avoid having to take public transportation and just walk to where you want to go. Hotels that are centrally located are usually more expensive (and charge you a pretty penny to park), but we find that when we can afford it, the extra cost is worth not having to stress about transportation.
We enjoy cities by foot, stopping wherever tickles our fancy. You never know what you will see as you walk the streets. Keep in mind that when you look at a map, things can appear closer than they are and the most direct walking path may not take you to an actual entrance. A hotel may border an attraction on a map, but their entrances are miles apart (think Disneyland and all the hotels that are within “walking distance” to the park).
Also, if you are not familiar with the area, you may not know if the most direct route is the safest route. Check with visitor centers and the lodging itself.
Even though we RV to see the country, we never bring the RV into cities. Our 5th wheel is just too large and we do not enjoy urban camping or urban campgrounds. We would rather get close enough with the RV and then stay in a hotel a night or two if we need to.
In many cities, bike and car rental stations are becoming increasingly popular. Using these services are both cost effective and fun ways to explore cities.
Cities are big and usually don’t have all the attractions in one spot. When you have to navigate in a city, try to use public transportation. Don’t be afraid of looking foolish or like the tourist you are. It is not as complicated as it looks and the locals will help you out if you need it. No one is going to judge you and, if they do, you’ll most likely never see them again anyway.
Parking is usually limited and expensive, so using your car like you would in smaller towns, is not as convenient as it sounds. If you have a larger vehicle, forget about it. We can normally park our truck in 1 or 2 open parking lots in the entire city and avoid low clearance of parking garages. So, for us to enjoy cities, we know we are not always going to park within the city limits.
Just like with tours, there are a lot of options for public transportation, including bike rental stations, taxis (or cabs depending on where you are), trains, buses, and boats.
With the help of friends, we’ve managed to master (or at least adequately use) bus and train systems. The hardest part is figuring out the local name of the public transport system so that people know what you are talking about.
It’s the Metro in Washington, D.C., the “T” in Boston, Massachusetts, and the ‘L’ in Chicago, Illinois (this is not a typo – when I looked up the “T” it was “ and the ‘L’ was ‘). And even though it is officially the Metro in New York City, New York, don’t ever call it that, stick to subway or train.
Think of your public transportation adventures as sightseeing tours and another way to enjoy cities.
Park City is a high altitude, ski resort town east of Salt Lake City. This sidewalk becomes an access path to a ski lift that departs from the historic downtown.
If you have a car, you are used to being able to carry all that you will need for a day in your trunk (or, in our case, backseat). When you are going in and out of museums and attractions, getting on and off public transit, and walking in crowds, you want to have as little with you as possible. This isn’t just a pickpocket threat, but if you leave your purse sitting somewhere it might be impossible to find it.
I am lucky in that Chris is willing to carry my essentials in his wallet and/or pockets. If you lug around a large purse, seriously consider downsizing to a small purse that completely zips up and is worn over your shoulder on the front of your body.
A backpack is also an option, but again, in crowds, you can’t always control or feel if someone is getting into them. Many establishments have security screenings so the more you carry, the longer you will wait in line for bag checks. I prefer to wear a sweatshirt with pockets that zip and treat the pockets like a chipmunk treats its cheeks. This gives us more time to enjoy cities as many security areas have an alternative area to the long check-line if you are not carrying anything.
Even with continuously increasing taxes, we weren’t expecting to pay this much for filling our truck with fuel.
There is a fine line between carrying too much and carrying too little. We’ve paid $4 for a 12 oz. bottle of water in Washington D.C., so traveling light is not always traveling cheap. It’s hard to enjoy cities when you feel like you’re going to break the bank every time you visit.
Carrying a small bag with snacks and water can save you lots of money, so you have to balance out convenience with cost. We like to eat out as part of our travel experience and would prefer to visit restaurants and taste the local cuisine, but if you are just going to grab fast food, pack a sandwich and save yourself the heartburn.
Parking garages are located throughout cities and can vary widely on price, safety, and proximity to likely destinations.
I was appalled at paying $20 to park for a day, $15 to use the gym (especially when you are already paying $200 for a room for the night), or $5 to cross a bridge. Get used to it. If they can charge you for it, they will.
Want your photo with the Rocky Statue in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum? There will be a group of “gentlemen” ready to click away for a small fee. Want a cup of water with your meal? That will be $0.25 for a cup. Condiments are free at your local fast food joint, but it isn’t uncommon to pay for them in cities.
You can whine and complain about it being highway robbery, but it probably won’t do you any good. Just suck it up, pay it, and get back to enjoying your trip. Give yourself a cushion in your budget to pay for all those up-charges. However, if you really do feel something is an error, bring it to the establishment’s attention.
On the flip side, many cities have a lot of free or low-cost attractions and many paid attractions are free on certain days. As mentioned earlier, you can enjoy cities when you research what and when free things are happening.
People move faster in cities. Most restaurant servers will see you as part of a transaction and with all the people everywhere you will become pretty invisible.
People aren’t rude in cities (well some are, but people are people), they just have different ways of relating to those around them. By having a false expectation of how people will behave, you won’t likely enjoy cities (or really anywhere for that matter).
When you are in a small town, people wave and ask how your day is going. This is easy to do when you only come in contact with less than 100 people a day. Imagine walking by more people than that in a minute on your way to work. You aren’t going to exchange a smile with everyone you pass. That would be exhausting.
If there is always an hour wait to get into a restaurant, they are going to get you in and out as quickly as possible. We’ve found that the city stereotypes of being rushed and ignored are mostly true, but not because people are mean or rude, they are just used to a different way of doing things.
Vermont is a wonderful, if weird, state. The cities and towns are havens for the liberal minded and they are surrounded by some of the prettiest pastoral settings in America. The rolling hills, green pastures, and white church spires make for wonderful images.
If you really want to enjoy cities, act like you belong there and above all else, don’t dress like a tourist. I’m a Disney addict but I never wear my Disney gear in a city. Ever. The same goes for wearing any of my souvenir clothes that are a billboard for me being a traveler. How you should dress depends on what city you are in specifically. I will stick out in New York City, New York no matter what clothes of mine I wear because I am just not trendy or fashionable in any way.
Try to do what the locals do and blend in. Being in a touristy area, taking a gazillion photos, while glancing at your bright, paper map is a big giveaway that you are not from their planet.
Many of our scary moments have occurred in cities, but not always large cities. Part of the problem with being a wanderer is not knowing anywhere very well. I have no idea which streets are well-lit and which areas are unsafe.
Ask the locals which areas to avoid or the best places to park. Most cities are actually very safe and have really cleaned up over the years, but don’t tempt trouble. Trust your instincts. If your gut is telling you something is wrong, go with it.
Be observant of your surroundings, but be careful not to jump to a false conclusion. My mom was worried we had wandered into the bad part of town because of all the trash bags, then I pointed to the luxury cars lining the street and that for trash day, people were putting out electronics boxes. She saw a dirty street with trash bags, I saw a nice neighborhood on trash day.
At the very least, don’t be fumbling with a map or your phone and be oblivious to what is going on around you. If we are in a city (especially at night) and are unsure of where we are, we will duck into a store or a well-lit area before we start looking at Google Maps and one of us always stays alert with our head up and looking around. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
The Smithsonian museums in the National Mall hold some of our countries most cherished artifacts. If you’ve never been to visit them, you need to stop what you’re doing, get on a plane, train, or bus and get down there. Allow for at least five days to get a good overview of the museums and MUCH longer if you really want to see everything.
You can still despise all that makes a city a city. Go anyway.
Gorge yourself on architecture, history, culture, religion, food, and whatever floats your boat. Let your senses be overwhelmed with opulence and beauty.
Hopefully, you’ve seen that it is possible to learn to enjoy cities.
Basically, it comes down to this – just enjoy cities. Besides, you never know who you might run into.
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