City breaks make wonderful holidays when time is short. Take one abroad to uncover the art, architecture, cuisine, culture and history of another country. Take one in the UK to find out more about our own past and the events in the older cities which can be as unexpected as they are fascinating! Whichever you choose, Pat Richardson’s tips will help make it a great getaway.
Know before you go
Go on-line, or contact the Tourist Board or a local Tourist Information Centre, to check when shops, museums and galleries are open and closed. If there’s a temporary exhibition you’re keen to see, check if you’ll need to buy tickets in advance. And for iconic, hugely popular attractions, it’s an idea to buy timed tickets well before your break – this can save hours of queuing.
Be card sharp
If a city card, covering the cost of local transport and some attraction entrance fees, is available to buy, do your sums to see if it makes sense to buy one. It won’t if you don’t go to any of the featured attractions, museums or galleries.
Get a guidebook
Begged, borrowed or bought, this is your key to what you should see, and where to find it – so read it before you go. And do be sure it’s the latest (or a very recent) edition, so the information it gives is up-to-date. Or take a look at the internet versions of guidebooks, read up on review websites and be as informed as possible. If your stay is just a few days, you want to get as much from it as possible.
Take a phrasebook
You may need this too. And if you can’t pronounce a word, you can point to it. Even a few greetings in the local language are useful, these are great icebreakers and demonstrate that you’re trying! It is helpful to know ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘straight ahead’ if you’re walking or driving.
Choose a hotel for location, not just price
The further it is from your arrival airport or station, the more getting there may cost; and if it’s far from the city centre, you’ll have to factor in transport there and back, too. It may be worth paying more to be well-placed, so you can truly immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the city morning, noon and night! The Pitti Palace in Florence is a great example of this.
Pick up a map and mark it
You’ll need one, and they’re usually free at airports or railways stations and from Tourist Information Centres. Mark your hotel location so you can always find it. Then mark sights you want to see and places you want to be, so you can plan outings that save you time and money. NB Walking is free and the occasional wrong turning may bring you unexpected delights!
Be transport wise
Ask about using local buses, trams or underground trains – every system is different and the more you know, the better you’ll get around. One suggestion is to take a hop on-hop off tour bus for orientation, and they can cover many of a city’s key point of interest in a short space of time.
Carry coins as well as notes
Saves time and makes shopping and tipping easier. If all your foreign currency is in high-value notes, buy bottled water at the airport to get some change.
Play your cards right
If you use a credit or debit card to pay a bill or make a purchase, ask for the transaction to be made in local currency, not Sterling. This avoids possibly being charged a higher exchange rate than your own card provider may apply.
Consult the concierge
If your hotel has a concierge, you’re in luck! He’ll happily summon a taxi and advise on the fare; recommend a show or restaurant, and make reservations for you; and can direct you to the nearest pharmacy, camera shop, dry cleaners or shoe-mender. The trickier your request, the more they seem to like it.
For city breaks, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Kirker Holidays.