For us, we like to do our research once we get to a city. Once there, we we will look up recommended places to eat, get coffee and what is recommended for visitors as ‘must sees’. If we decide to do/see something more on the ‘touristy’ side then we consider what is worth the money, the time and the crowds. We’re usually quick to determine what either sounds the ‘most cool’ to us (like seeing a unique castle; or getting an incredible view from Eiffel Tower; etc) or something we think we could learn, such as something about the region and its history from (e.g. a museum or cathedral tour). We also try to be flexible with our plans though and if we get to a particular place and don’t like the wait or are feeling herded or bombarded,
we just leave and go explore surrounding areas.
This method has actually led us to some pretty neat adventures and we have found that simply walking around a city can be its own adventure.
In general, once we get to a city we will look up ‘best coffee roasters/food/live music/theater/cocktails/breakfast near me’ or use Google Maps to ‘Explore Near Me’. Because things like food, drinks and music are so taste specific and subjective there is going to be a certain amount of trial and error no matter what research you do or don’t do. I personally like looking through people’s reviews to read about specific experiences and then look at any pictures people have posted (I’m visual like that!). Then it’s just a matter of picking a place and giving it a try and forming your own opinion.
Keeping some sort of journal of what you’ve tried and what you thought of your experience can be very helpful as well (or so we have found). If your memory isn’t what it used to be (not naming names), or you go out a lot and have a hard time keeping track of where you’ve been and what you liked or didn’t like about your experience. It can be nice to have a record of that some place and can be fun to just look back and see where you’ve gone and what you’ve done 😉
Finding Music/Performing Arts
- If local music’s your thing and/or you are looking to participate in making music with others then seek out instrument shops, record/music stores and keep an eye out for music specific pamphlets/newspapers/posters/adds etc detailing shows, performances, gigs and musicians seeking others to play with. We’ve also found these at the performance venues – like the concert hall. This is a great way to get into the local music scene and you can usually find free and low-cost options this way.
- If you enjoy classical music, like we do, then we found that cathedrals and large chapels in bigger cities in England seemed to also be a great place to find incredible free/low-cost performances throughout the week- In England they have “Lunch Break” performances at many of their churches where they will have performers come in and put on a concert during people’s lunch hour (usually around 12:00 or 1:00). We saw a choir and a cellist and pianist that were absolutely incredible during said “Lunch Hour” and highly recommend checking them out if you have an opportunity. They also offer these is other large cities like in Berlin with the Berlin Pilharmiker so check out the city you are in for “free lunch hour performances’ becasue we have found these to be some of the most incredible shows around, and you can’t beat the price!
- Using apps and websites like Bandsintown (which is the one we use and like) can also be very helpful in tracking down local music and can even help you narrow down your search based on type of music you are looking for.
- Ask your AirBNB host! Several times we have been hosted by some amazing and thoughtful people who have connected us with musicians in their network to give us options for a night to remember. Turns out one of our favorite hostesses was a former professional who was part of the band Colorboxx who created the worldwide hit everyone knows: Pump up the Volume. Yes, you can imagine she was well connected with incredibly talented people!
- Interacting with locals is a great way to find out where the best eats are. Be clear about what you are looking for (a unique experience/fun and lively/ low key/ low cost/ romantic/ etc) so people who know can help you find exactly what you are looking for. Some of our favorite places and experiences came from sharing what we were looking for with locals we met and taking their recommendations- whether it was super delicious food or making our way to hidden speakeasy-style cocktail bar hidden behind the sink in a men’s bathroom! Being open with others totally paid off! Of course, Google Maps, Yelp and TripAdvisor and other such general searches can be helpful as well, but nothing beats a first hand recommendation from a local (or so we have found!). Don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation while you’re waiting in line, or being waited upon. We’ve had luck with strangers, bartenders and waitresses alike.
- Being very frugal in our travels, it can be difficult to find an easy standard way of determining the affordability of a location. Google Maps, TripAdvisor and Yelp all have some indication for price but is limited by region/availability of the data. Anyways, consider studying your area and we recommend packing food or having an easy plan-B available if you find your desired restaurant is closed for the night or too expensive. In Germany, we’ve gone crazy over Doners. €3.5 for a delicious meal works anytime we are tired of searching/cooking/shopping.
Coffee Shops/ Roasters and Cafes
- My husband is a self-identified “coffee snob” and coming from San Diego where local coffee roasters are popping up and raising the bar on a monthly basis, I would say his standards are extremely high. Although I am not much of a coffee drinker and prefer sweet, less potent drinks. One of my all time favorites is a honey and cinnamon late’ called an “Iced Almond Milk Champ” from one of our favorite roasters- Dark Horse Coffee Roasters. While in England we found ourselves on a mission to find ‘the best coffee shops’- Nick seeking out the best roast and me trying to find the best non-dairy hot chocolate. Not everyone has caught on to the non-dairy bandwagon yet so this was a little more challenging in some places than in others. Honestly though, we had a lot of fun essentially taste-testing as many top rated coffee shops within walking distance, never going to the same place twice (unless we were in a smaller town and there weren’t as many options to choose from). Variety is key when starting in a new place. Even when we find a favorite, we generally will only go twice if we go again at all because it’s important to us to get a broad of an idea what is in the neighborhood as possible, and in bigger cities new places can pop up with some frequency, so variety and challenging ourselves to continually try ‘new’ things and places is all part of the cultural experience.
*We would love to hear your favorite methods of finding good food, drinks, coffee and live entertainment! What methods of tracking down ‘the best’ have you found most helpful?