Experiencing the local side of popular tourist destinations is increasingly becoming a trend among travellers. Many are avoiding queues at the biggest landmarks in favour of a more local atmosphere at smaller sites and areas. More still are choosing to go one step further by ‘living’ like a local, finding apartments and homes to stay in on sites such as Airbnb and shopping for food in local markets and stores. Travelling like this can be extremely rewarding for those who know how to do it right. Here are some top tips to travelling ‘like a local’.
Avoid creating a long list of ‘must sees’
Landmarks are, of course, brilliant. The Colosseum wouldn’t still be standing all these years later if people didn’t believe that it is worth saving, preserving and visiting. Yet trawling through guidebooks creating long lists of things that you ‘must see’ whilst in a particular destination can often be more hindering than enriching when it comes to travel. You could be missing out on something spectacular whilst you wait three hours to spend five minutes in the bell tower at Notre Dame or stand for ages trying to get the perfect picture of the canal, town-houses and bike in Amsterdam, only for it to look the same as everyone else’s. Furthermore, by seeking alternative experiences to your fellow travellers, your stories will be about different things and therefore far more interesting on your return home.
That doesn’t mean that you should completely miss out on the big landmarks however. But getting a different perspective of a well-known area either from afar or from a different angle can be very rewarding and often means avoiding long queues. Knowing that you don’t have to take part in a guided tour to make the best of a destination means that you can spend more time soaking up the local culture. Wandering a city without a definitive destination in mind can often be the perfect way to soak up some authentic local culture, and come across some interesting and unique finds along the way.
The best restaurants aren’t in the tourist areas.
This idea is most particularly true when it comes to food and drink. Any savvy traveller knows that the most expensive and most definitely not local restaurants can be found in areas surrounding the biggest tourist attractions. The trick to eating local is not to head for the next big tourist hub, where the prices are only marginally better and each restaurant is practically the same. Often the most successful way of finding the best restaurants is to ask a local where they eat, guaranteed it will be away from the tourist areas, much better quality and much cheaper per head.
When it comes to food it’s about trial and error and most importantly not being afraid to try new things and venture into the unknown. One of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in was in Lucca, inside the walls but on the edge, away from the main hub of the amphitheatre. Lucca in Tavola is run by a local couple who love to entertain their guests just as much as they love to feed them. From the outside the restaurant doesn’t look like much whilst the inside is designed like a cafe, with cakes in a display cabinet and a view of the kitchen. But if the postcards and letters lining the walls, praising the restaurant and it’s friendly hosts, aren’t enough to convince you that this is the place to eat in Lucca, then the food definitely will. This is a restaurant that I have come back to time and time again and will continue to do so, and I discovered it entirely by accident.
Wines, beers and spirits are also always better when they are local and almost always extremely cheap. Lucca in Tavola’s Limoncello certainly packs a punch, and they are definitely not the only ones to make their own in this part of the country. Whilst staying in a small village on a hilltop in Tuscany we bought a bottle of local wine made from a vineyard close by. At around £2 a bottle this wine was crisp, sweet and perfect, better than anything I could have purchased for a lot more money at home. Jet2Holidays have recently published a guide to local beers in Europe, a useful article for anyone looking to experience the local side of life whilst travelling.
Tourist markets are great, but local ones can be better.
There is no better way to get a true taste of local produce than to buy it from a market stall. The colour, atmosphere and excitement of the marketplace has long been a favourite on the ‘must see’ list of travellers the world over, this traveller included. But whilst markets are a great way to experience some local culture many are becoming more and more targeted towards tourists, meaning it pays to know where the real ones are. The Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid is a fantastic experience filled with colour, noise, taste and smell, but it isn’t where the locals go. Find where the locals shop and you’re bound to get similar, better quality produce at half the price; local vendors are much more willing to haggle. Not to mention you’ll be bumping shoulders with the locals, and not other tourists.
If possible, adopt a local as a guide.
There is nothing more authentic than seeing a city through the eyes of a local and no better way to do this than to befriend one. On a recent trip to Prague we befriended a local guide who took us to his favourite restaurant in Prague where we ate some of the best Czech food I have ever tasted, at a very reasonable price. Locals will know all the best places to visit in the city as well as the best places to eat, drink and party. Better still, you may make a friend for life.
A note on staying safe
Much of the advice included in this article suggests interaction with locals whilst travelling. This, of course, is a brilliant way to experience the world, but common sense must prevail. No experience is worth risking your safety for. Don’t follow anyone anywhere unless they are a certified guide, be wary of who you give personal details such as full names and hotels details to, stay away from balconies when under the influence of alcohol (I’m serious!) and remember that there is safety in numbers so where possible travel in groups. Above all remember that travelling like a local means experiencing the world from someone else’s point of view so at all times be respectful of cultures and traditions and you will have a full and exciting local experience.
Image credit: flickr.com/jazminmillion