Every month, resident Travel Expert Jake Messimer answers a travel question submitted by one of our readers. Have a question you’d like to ask? Click here to send Jake an email, or leave your question in the comments section below.
Q: I’m going to have some free time on my vacation. What are some things I can do to experience a new city as the locals do?
A: Some of my most treasured travel memories are of the things that have occurred during breaks in scheduled activities. As you read through your chosen itinerary, you’ll often notice that there is significant free time built into your trip (“Enjoy a full day free to do as you please in Vienna”).
In a new country or city, it’s common to feel a little nervous to set out on your own. On a Guided Vacation, your Travel Director will make every effort to acclimate you to the local language, customs and culture. You’ll usually get a pocket map and clear directions on where to go and how to meet back up with the group. They’ll also have plenty of recommendations for places to eat or things to see that may not be on the included itinerary.
On a full day at leisure, you will likely have already done your city sightseeing the day prior, so you’ll feel more comfortable setting off on your own. Here are some of my favorite things to do with free time:
Have a picnic lunch
In just about every city in Europe, for less than $10US, you can enjoy a fresh, delicious meal and a cold drink. Just pop into one of the many small delis or grocery stores, point at the most delicious looking sandwich or slice of pizza, grab a beer or a sparkling water and plop down on a bench in a nearby park or square. An unforgettable meal at a fraction of the cost of eating at a restaurant!
Visit an authentic local market
Shopping for souvenirs is a major part of any vacation. Of course you can pick up postcards and knick-knacks from any tourist shop, but if you have time, you can do some much more authentic shopping at one of Europe’s many street markets. For example, in Lisbon, Portugal I found the “Feira Da Ladra”, the city’s most popular flea market. Instead of postcards and keychains, I picked up a pile of old black and white photographs being sold out of a tattered suitcase for a few cents each. Check with your Travel Director or hotel concierge for advice on finding an authentic local market.
Try public transportation
Using local transport is a great way to feel what it’s like to live in another country. And many of Europe’s cities boast some fun modes of transportation: Vaporetti (water busses) in Venice, Electricos (vintage tramcars) in Lisbon, the Funicular on the Isle of Capri, an iconic London double-decker bus – you get the idea! In most places, ticket machines offer an English option and of course your Travel Director can give you advice on scenic or interesting places to travel to.
Get above it all
Many cities have some sort of hilltop area with a great view. I like to visit these places just around sunset when many of them take on a festive atmosphere. Families eating ice cream, couples on first dates, street musicians and performers; sometimes it seems like everyone in town has gathered to watch day slip into night. Some favorites are: The Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence and Mirador de San Nicolas in Granada.
These are only a few suggestions. What do you like to do with your free time while traveling in Europe? Leave your comments below!