The Best Way To Explore A New City? Walk It! (+ 5 Reasons Why)
Today I want to talk about a revolutionary new way to explore cities you visit.
Who knows, it may even become the "in" mode of transport for the year ahead.
Can you guess what it is?
The best way to explore a new city doesn't use technology at all.
No motors, no chains... not even a wheel!
Instead, it uses the oldest and simplest machine we possess - our own bodies.
The best way to explore a new city?
5 Reasons Why Walking Is The Best Way To Explore A New City
There are countless reasons why walking a new city enhances your adventure. Let's consider 5 of the main ones...
When You Walk, You Build A Mental Map In Your Head
One of the main reasons I love to walk a new city is that it allows you to build a mental map of the city in your head.
You don't just see the sites of interest. You begin to understand where they are located in relation to one another.
This often allows you to develop a better understanding of the things you see because you discover what makes the locations they are built in unique.
As you build up your mental map, exploring the city also becomes more enjoyable. You can relax and submit to the joy of getting lost without ever really getting lost at all!
If you're anything like me, you like to come away from a trip feeling like you kind of "know a place".
Or at least that you know it better than you did before; that you've gotten some understanding of it.
Walking allows you to do that because by walking you construct a mental map of the plazas, the rivers, the interesting buildings and the busy avenues.
Find Out What A City Is Really Like
By walking around a city, you discover far more than just the main tourist sites.
You get to see what the place is really like day-to-day for the locals.
In fact, the kinds of shops and buildings you see on a normal city street will tell you far more about what local life is like in a city than the famous monuments ever will.
When you walk a city, you get to explore these streets.
You also get a feel for the different neighbourhoods in the city and you quickly discover...
- The posh neighbourhoods with their trees and embassies
- The hipster zones with great street art and chic cafés
- The working streets full of offices and banks
And it's the combination of all of these different kinds of streets and neighbourhoods that bring a city to life.
That's why exploring a city on foot gives you more than just a mental map... it can give you a very interesting insight into the social and cultural layout of the modern city.
Discover Hidden Gems You Won't Find In Your Lonely Planet
Another benefit of walking a city is that you will discover wonderful surprises that are never mentioned in the tourist books.
It might be fascinating little church, an impressive piece of street art, a beautiful park or an interesting statue.
It is these kinds of little surprises that often live longest in the memory.
And they provide colour and depth that will make your travel experience more rounded and more meaningful.
Understand The City's History
Taking a walk helps you to better understand the geography of a city. And this in turn helps you understand its history.
Let me give you an example...
Rome is a city whose geographical location is central to its history.
But you might not fully appreciate that if you don't spend some time walking its streets and alleyways.
Rome is built on the banks of the River Tiber. This flowing river is very old and meanders through the city in wide loops.
Yet you could easily visit Rome and hardly see the Tiber or even miss it altogether.
After all, the main "tourist sites" like the Colosseum and the Pantheon are not on the banks of the river. The Vatican is close but it's hardly sitting right beside the river either.
Navigate the city in taxis or on the metro and you might not really notice the ancient old river at all.
But it's precisely because of the river Tiber that Rome was built where it is.
More specifically, it's because of the location of a hill, close to the river which made it an ideal location for trade and defence.
The hill I'm talking about is the Palatine Hill, where the ruins of a number of Roman palaces sit today.
This simple fact tells you an enormous amount about Rome's foundation and its development. It helps you to understand the city.
And yet, if you didn't take the time to walk the city, discover the river, and notice the location of the river close to the hill... you might not learn about it at all!
Walking Is Great Exercise!
Last but not least, walking is the healthiest way to get around a city.
It's good for the environment and it is good for you!
Besides, most of us like to indulge our tastebuds when we travel...
I know when I'm in a new place I often eat more than I should because I want to try all of the interesting local dishes.
Explore the city by walking and you'll at least have burned off some of the calories from your lunch before its time for dinner.
That delicious Italian pizza or German schnitzel will be well earned after you've walked 15 or 20 thousand steps and burned a few hundred calories to boot!
What About Really Big Cities?
Now, you might be thinking that this is great tactic for small cities, but that it is unrealistic in larger cities.
But actually, I think in larger cities the benefits of walking are perhaps even greater!
I've spent countless hours exploring large cities like London, Buenos Aires, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro on foot, so I'm speaking from experience.
When a city is big, it's really hard to get a feel for where everything is in relation to everything else.
The points of interest can sometimes feel like dots in the middle of a concrete jungle.
But you can get around that challenge by walking.
Sure, the distances between the "key" sites you want to visit might be longer than in smaller cities, but that just means there's more for you to explore in between!
After all, bigger cities tend to have more surprises to share.
Take London for example...
In my opinion, London might be the best city in the world to explore on foot.
- It's relatively safe
- There's lots to see and each area has its own unique character
- You never know what you might find around the next corner
You could spend months walking around London without ever getting bored.
And yet most people who visit the city take the Underground everywhere!
Now the Tube is pretty cool, but it's hardly the best way to "see" the city. After all, if you're stuck underground in a train tunnel you're not going to see very much!
Ready For A Walking Adventure?
If your goal is to better understand the cities you visit and have a more authentic experience when you're there, there's no substitute for walking.
Walking allows you to build a mental map of a city and discover hidden gems that most tourists never see. And by walking a city, you experience it the way locals do every day.
You may not always experience the "wow" that comes from visiting a famous site. But you'll almost certainly learn a lot more!
So why not try it out on your next trip?
Resources Related To This Article
The Anti-Tourist Club
The Anti-Tourist Club is a training and support centre for curious adventurers who want to do travel differently.
It is where anti-tourists like you and I come together with a common mission:
To put learning at the heart of our adventures and unlock the kinds of meaningful travel experiences most tourists never have.
Have you ever explored a new city only on foot? What did you learn from the experience? Leave a comment below and let me know!