With many of us forced to stay local for the foreseeable future, you may be looking for responsible and safe ways to keep your travel spirits high. If you can still move around, now may be the perfect time to get out and explore your own backyard.
There are lots of benefits to travelling local – including helping small businesses stay afloat. Supporting local tourism at a time when international visitors are down is critical to helping the industry survive.
Staying curious can lift your spirits during difficult times. Wandering your town or city on foot is a terrific way to get some exercise in and boost your immune system.
You may feel like you know your city inside and out – but trust me, there’s always something new to learn. Take a leaf out of Ferris Bueller’s book – tick off those bucket-list items you’ve never got around to; seek out your own ‘I-think-I-can-see-my-dad’ moment.
Here are 12 easy and budget-friendly tips for being a tourist in your own city.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you). Learn more.
12 ways to be a tourist in your own city
1. Take your camera for a walk
One of my favourite ways to get a fresh perspective on a familiar place is by looking at it through the lens. I used to pack my camera away as soon as I arrived home after a trip, thinking I’d seen it all and that my city was ‘boring’ in comparison.
In reality, there are probably just as many photo opportunities close to home as abroad.
Try using a macro lens to pick up the small details you’d otherwise miss. You don’t have to visit tourist spots necessarily – it can be just as rewarding to photograph architecture, nature or street scenes, depending on your interests.
Photographing a place where you feel comfortable and confident can be a great opportunity to push the boundaries and hone your skills. I’ve even taken photography tours in my home city – they’re always a lot of fun!
2. Get up for sunrise
Another way to get a new look at your town is by going out at a different time of day. Rising early might already be part of your routine – but how often do you go out sightseeing at daybreak?
Go for an early morning stroll before the city wakes up (a great way to get some exercise while practicing social distancing), or head somewhere for a golden hour view. If your town has a popular sunrise or sunset spot for tourists that you’ve never been to, give it a go and see what it’s like.
Welcoming the day by watching the sun come up always helps me feel humble and connected. It can be a great way to brighten your mood during dark times.
3. Visit a viewpoint
One of the first things I do when I arrive at a new destination is go somewhere for a view. I find that getting a bird’s eye perspective helps me orientate myself while getting a feel for the scale and layout of a place.
I can’t remember the last time I drove or walked to a lookout point in my own city… Shame on me! This is a classic example of an activity that I always put on the back burner, thinking I’ll get around to it the next time a friend visits.
Does your town or city have a lookout point that’s popular among tourists? Check it out for yourself – maybe it will give you a new appreciation for the beauty of your city.
4. Walk a route you normally drive
It’s easy to let the world flicker by when you’re in the car or riding on public transport. Even if you’re looking out the window, you’re always bound to miss things.
There are probably routes you take to work or school that you think you know inside out. Try walking part of the way instead and see what new things you can spot from street level.
When life returns to normal, you’ll have a renewed sense of appreciation for those paths well-trodden.
5. Borrow a guidebook
Even if you’re an avid guidebook reader, chances are you’ve never picked up a guide to your own town or city. That’s a huge untapped resource!
Head to your local library to borrow a book or download a PDF. See how many sights you’ve never seen or activities you’ve never experienced, then start a local bucket list. If you think you’re an expert on your hometown now, just wait until you’ve hit up all the tourist spots.
6. Be a tourist in your own city by joining a guided tour
This one might seem obvious, but if you want a history lesson or an alternative hands-on experience, a surefire way to experience your city from a tourists’ perspective is by joining a guided excursion. Free walking tours are perfect because they usually combine history and local tips.
A self-guided walking tour can also be fun. When you’re wandering around, be sure to read any information panels – I’ll be you’ve never stopped to read those plaques before.
7. Follow a blogger’s itinerary
On a similar note, it can be fun to follow in the footsteps of an outsider who has spent a limited amount of time in your city. Search online for curated itineraries from bloggers or travel writers – even better if they have different interests to you – and see what their top picks are.
Check out some of the spots they endorse then leave them a comment or write them an email to tell them what you thought. As a blogger myself, I always appreciate recommendations from locals on what to visit next time I’m in town.
8. Write your own city guide
On the flipside, you could try taking on the role of author yourself. There’s no one better qualified to write a city guide than a local, after all! What are the must-sees? What should people avoid? If a tourist asked you for a personal recommendation, where would you point them?
Travellers usually approach cities from a completely different angle to locals. Putting yourself in the shoes of an ‘outsider’ can really help to refocus your worldview.
Write your own online itinerary, make a photo guide, record a video or use social media to share your tips – future travellers will love your recommendations. This is a great way to promote your favourite local businesses, too.
9. Retrace an artist’s footsteps
Maybe there’s a movie or TV series that was filmed in your city, or a novel set in your area. If you need some extra inspiration, you could watch/read then visit some of the locations mentioned.
Alternatively, get acquainted with a local painter or sculptor and seek out the locations where they found artistic inspiration. One of my favourite books of all time is set in my hometown – I always get a pang of nostalgia and pride when I walk down streets or past cafes named in the story.
10. Seek out the popular Instagram spots
Every city and town has (in)famous Instagram spots these days. Whether it’s a city sign, a viewpoint or some other beautiful backdrop, places where tourists flock for photos may be totally off a local’s radar (I can think of a few examples in my own city that I know are popular but that I’ve never bothered to visit myself).
Be a tourist for the day – go on a selfie treasure hunt and snap photos solo or with a friend. If you’re anything like me, your photo library is probably lacking images from your own city – now’s your chance to fix that once and for all!
11. Eat at your town’s most touristy restaurant
Are there venues in your town or city that tourists love but locals avoid? If you can’t think of any, here’s where that guidebook or blogger’s itinerary might come in handy!
Play tourist and take yourself out for a meal to see what all the fuss is about. Alternatively, you can order takeaway or delivery. This is the perfect way to champion small restaurant and cafe businesses that are struggling with the downturn in tourism.
12. Book a staycation
One of the best ways to give local businesses a boost is by booking a staycation close to home. It could be a hotel a few kilometres away or a guesthouse or homestay in a rural town nearby.
Ask your host for their recommendations and leaf through the brochures and flyers in the lobby – you might just pick up a few tips.
Eat at a small restaurant, visit a local museum, and do some classic touristy activities while you’re there. You’ll feel totally treated, and you’ll be giving local tourism a much-needed vote of confidence. If you have a positive experience, don’t forget to leave a review.
If you find yourself having to cancel international travel plans and stay home instead (whether it’s because of the current pandemic or something else entirely), that doesn’t mean you can’t fuel your passion for travel.
Take this opportunity to discover your own backyard – you might just find yourself falling in love with your home city or town. And when it’s safe to start travelling again, consider local tourism as a way to help the economy.
I hope this list has give you some inspiration for ways to be a tourist in your own city. Do you have any other tips to add? If so, please share them in the comments below.
- 10 tips to be a minimalist backpacker, lose the luggage!
- How to support small travel businesses, easy & actionable tips
- Tips for making friends on the road, make your travels more fulfilling
- 10 ways to find authentic souvenirs when you’re travelling, support artisans
- Tips for supporting small businesses when you travel, give back to local communities
- 12 tips for eating like a local when you’re on the road, tips your stomach will thank you for!
- How to avoid crowds when you’re travelling, get off the beaten path
- How to be a more mindful traveller, get more out of your journey
- Tips for long-term slow travel, break into digital nomadism
- How to choose the best travel insurance provider, things to watch out for
- More travel resources & booking tips, more tips & tricks
Great tips, thanks
I’ve used a lot of time with my camera the recent two years of the pandemic being a tourist in my own city and its surroundings. Usually on my cycle to get some necessary exercise for my health but also just walking.
It’s been fun, both to revisit places I’ve not seen for many years and to find new attractions never seen before. And there are a lot of those, it seems…!
I’m not a professional photographer, but enjoy every time I return with a good shot or two from my trips around town. Especially because it helps my memory later on.
That’s terrific Jesper, cycling is such a great way to explore! Thanks for your comment!
These tips rock! Thanks for writing this!