How to Make the Most of a Short Visit to a Big City

A short visit of a day or two isn’t enough time to enjoy a big city, right?


Yes, it would be nicer if you had more than a 24 hour layover in New York, Paris or Rome. After all, big exciting cities have so much to see and do that you could spend weeks exploring them and and barely scratch the surface. With such a wealth of attractions, how is it possible to distill the essence of a huge and iconic destination into such a short time?

The key is to be incredibly strategic with your exploration. You only have a short time to cram everything in, so there’s no time to dilly dally. Although, on the other hand you don’t want to squeeze too much in, or your short trip will be stressful and you won’t have time to enjoy what you do see. You’ll have to find the right balance for you.

Here are some techniques, tips and strategies that you can keep in mind for maximising a mini-getaway.

Don’t Waste Time Getting Back and Forth to the Airport

Your first step will be figuring out the most efficient way to get back and forth from the airport to the city. In many situations, this might mean paying more for a direct shuttle, taxi or express bus.

However, it can often get you into the city nearly an hour quicker than waiting around for the budget option. If you don’t have much time, the extra hour on either end of your journey can make a huge difference in what activities you will be able to do.

Do Your Research Before You Go

You may be the type of person who likes to get somewhere and look around a bit before they decide what they want to see and do. However, this isn’t the best strategy for a short trip.

Before you visit, start researching your destination so that you can learn about exactly what you want to do while you are there. You can read travel blogs, TripAdvisor reviews, guidebooks and other sources and make a list of everything you want to see in that city.

If you spend your time research and planning before you get there, you won’t have to spend your precious and limited time doing it while you are at the destination.

Consider a Guided Tour

While exploring independently can be fun, there are a lot of advantages to a guided tour if you are short on time. If you find the right tour, you’ll get a carefully curated experience of the top highlights of the city within a few short hours.

Tours are designed to show you the best of the destination in one day, as well as offering you some historical and cultural context so that you can better appreciate what you are seeing. They can also help to give you the “lay of the land” so that you can get your bearings in a new city.

A great use of your time could be to take a half day tour in the morning, then to use the afternoon to cover any attractions that you wanted to explore in more depth or anything that your tour missed.

Consider A Hyper-Focus on One Neighborhood

Another strategy for making the most of a short visit to a huge city is to narrow your focus down to one neighborhood. For example, if you are visiting Paris it’s impossible to cover the entire city. But, if you choose one section, such as Montmartre or The Marais, you’ll be able to cover most of the main attractions in that area. (Airbnb Neighborhood Guides are great for planning trips in this way.)

The advantages of this strategy are that you won’t spend a lot of time commuting via public transport across a huge city and you can really soak up the atmosphere and character of that particular district. On your next short visit to the city you can choose another neighborhood and do it again.

Pack Light

One big mistake when visiting on a short layover is to bring a lot of bulky luggage. This will slow you down when you are trying to get around and packing and unpacking all of your stuff will cut into your previous travel time.

Instead, pack as light as possible so that you can be quick and agile and get around the city with ease. If you can travel with carry on luggage only, you won’t even have to wait for your baggage when the plane lands – you can head straight into the city.

Have a Picnic Lunch

Yes, checking out the local dining scene is an important part of exploring your city. However, sitting down to lunch in a restaurant can take over an hour out of your day – which is time that you could be spending exploring.

Instead, have lunch on the go by snacking at street food stalls, grabbing a quick bite at a market or picking up some fresh food from a deli and having a picnic in a scenic spot. (This is a great opportunity to people-watch while sitting in the main square, or check out a relaxing park.)

Not only will this give you a chance to taste the local market produce or street food, it will be quicker and you can get right back into sightseeing after you are done. Then, in the evening you can go out for a more leisurely meal and experience the restaurant culture of your destination.

What are your short visit tricks?

These are just a few tricks you can use to make the most of a short visit to a big city. When you are able to do this effectively, you can squeeze in lots of travel adventures and explore great cities around the world – even if you are only there for a quick stop.

Do you have any strategies you use for saving time and getting the most out of a layover? Let us know in the comments!



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