How to Truly Get To Know Great Cities and Come back with New Interests, Ideas, and Friends

How to Truly Get To Know Great Cities and Come back with New Interests, Ideas, and Friends

You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.

― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

For many people, a satisfying life of the mind includes getting to know the world’s great cities. Great cities elicit stories. They aren’t just places, they’re characters with whom you form relationships. Each has its own rhythm and flavor that can reveal different aspects of humanity and of yourself. As the quote above says, a city answers questions. But developing a relationship with a city that has depth requires asking the right questions of your travels.

Perhaps the most common mistake travelers make is doing only typical touristy things—seeing just the recommended and renown sites and moving on. Fancy restaurants or visits to the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building or Belém Tower are great. Really knowing a city, though, also means doing things you would do on an average day if you lived there. So, if you really want to get to know a city, figure out what locals do. Only then will you start to get two questions answered: What might living here be like for me? and What might I be like if I lived here?

Of course, if you know someone who lives in a specific city you can ask them where they hang out and what they do. Another approach is to google what neighborhoods you should visit or the best neighborhoods to live in. Then drill deeper into a specific neighborhood that interests you by looking up grocery stores, coffee shops, libraries, bookstores, farmer’s markets, green spaces and dog parks.

As a tourist, you might go to big, expensive productions like a Broadway revival, an opera, or the traveling production of Wicked. But to know a city more intimately, also go to the small comedy club where up-and-comers perform, the amateur storytelling event, or the night of Irish music at the pub.

Cities vary in terms of walkability, but one of the best ways to get to know many places is by walking. One way to make walking fun is to start by choosing something you enjoy, such as a good cup of coffee. Then google an outstanding sounding coffee shop or two that are in a neighborhood you want to explore and a distance from where you currently are. Walk to the shop, enjoying the many unexpected glimpses into the nature and culture of the place that you take in along the way. As you walk, stop wherever you feel like it, and allow yourself to get lost in the city even as you ultimately know where you’re going. Whether you’re doing a bakery crawl in Vienna, a coffee crawl in Brooklyn, or a bookstore crawl in London, this often turns into a travel highlight. 

To make the adventure even better, whether you’re a natural extrovert or an introvert, when you go places like coffee shops or art galleries, try to get into conversation with people. Usually, saying you’re visiting from out of town is a natural conversation starter because people will want to hear what you’re up to and give you helpful suggestions. So, leave any shyness at home and be bold. 

Another great way to meet people is to first think of an interest you have, like reading fiction, tasting wines, or playing games. Then look online for a local Meetup group or google the interest you have plus the neighborhood in which you’d like to find a group. Even though you don’t live there, this is an excellent way to connect with people who do and who also share a common interest. Not only might you make some local friends, but while you're with them you can ask how they like living where they do and pick their brains about where locals hang out, shop, etc. 

Also, if there’s an interest you’ve never quite gotten around to pursuing before, like drawing, bird watching, or beer making, being in a new city can be an excellent place to give it a try. New place, new you, new interest, new friends, right?

Finally, don’t forget that if you’re in a city with Interintellect members, you can organize or initiate an in-person event there, which is (if we do say so ourselves!) a wonderful way to get to know interesting new people.