Monotonous: usually the last word associated with travel. But sometimes, visiting a city can be just that. Once you’ve visited the must-sees, like historical sites, best restaurants, shopping centers, and museums, it’s hard to remember which city you’re in, exactly. The noisy traffic, the busy people in heels and dark suits, the lingering smell of smoke, the brand-name chain stores… often, when travelling, we forget we’re in a maze full of fascinating stories waiting to be discovered. Here are just a few ways to make the most out of your next urban vacation:
Try Something Subcultural Ever heard of cosplay? If you visit Japan, you’ll find out about it soon enough. Short for “costume play”, it’s practically a way of life for tons of anime, comic, and video game fans. In Tokyo’s Akihabara district, there are even restaurants in which the servers dress as characters and treat guests as if they were masters and mistresses in their own homes. They’re called maid or butler cafes, and you’ll see young women and men in drag dressed as frilly French maids and men in tuxedos or suits. The service varies from venue to venue, and can include the option of taking pictures with the servers, getting massages, and even going on “dates” with them. The popularity of cosplay restaurants has spread around the world, but for the original, you’ll have to head to Tokyo.
Go Underground … Literally Paris – the city where couture legends Christian Dior and Coco Chanel made classic perfumes like Miss Dior and No. 5. The scent no one talks about, however, lies beneath the city streets. It’s the smell of Paris’ sewers, whose legendary passageways, as large as subway tunnels, date back to the year 1370. Unbeknownst to many tourists, the city has offered tours of the 2,100 kilometer system since the 1800s. Visitors can get a close-up look at the most unique sewer system in the world. So the next time you’re in the City of Light, take your amour to the least romantic place possible. If your relationship can survive the sewers, you know you’ve chosen well.
Meet the Locals Back in the day, getting to know the locals meant hanging around in bars and waiting for someone to strike up a conversation. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can now lock down the details of the who’s who before you leave home. Sites like Meetup.com let you search for anyone in any city around the world for anything you have in mind. Go target="_blank">singles events aren’t your thing, try searching for group activities with people who share your interests. Either way, you’ll come out with an urban travel story that’s a lot more unique than, “And then we went to the other history museum….”
Raise Your Spirits Down on your luck? Why not do what the locals do for spiritual revival by trying out one or more of their religious customs? That might mean attending a service or neighborhood event, but in the case of Bangkok, it means heading to an amulet market. These busy gathering spots aren’t meant for tourists—they’re actually for Buddhists looking for good luck charms—but that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you, too. Head to Wat Mahatat, near Bangkok’s royal Grand Palace on a sunny Sunday to see the most vendors and customers. Similarly, check out the Hippie Fair in General Osorio Sqaure next time you’re in Rio de Janeiro. You can’t buy these amulets for yourself, however—they only work when given as gifts.
Get Your Groove On A souvenir is a lasting take away but it’s only a memory of something seen or done. Actually learning something completely new – namely, dance moves – will provide more than a memory. It could become a lifelong talent. Visiting Barcelona? Forgo shopping bags for castanets and take a flamenco lesson. Plenty of studios offer hour long workshops taught by professionals. Afterwards, relax with a pitcher of sangria and a performance by the experts. You’ll gain a whole new appreciation for the arts as well as the city you’re in. Plus, you’ll have something to take with you when you head out to the club for a little disco night. Other variations on this idea include learning Bollywood in New Dehli or taking South African dance classes in Johannesburg.