Considering a visit to one or more of the great cities in Europe? Getting the most out of your city travel experience takes a special kind of planning, especially as we navigate COVID and how it has altered the way we dine and sightsee.
You can still enjoy the best of Europe’s cities. Many have fewer tourists than usual right now, so it is a great time to plan a city Untour. Here are ten travel and planning tips to help you make the most of your trip to any of Europe’s popular cities.
1. Map it
Do some critical thinking about what you want to see and do on your trip, and what themes you wish to explore. Look at maps to group sites by location, and set up a Google map with pins for your places of interest. Plan some potential day itineraries, but always keep your planning loose enough to accommodate last-minute closures or shifts in the weather or your energy or desires. Good planning leaves room for spontaneity.
2. Get outta town
Maybe you’ve heard the expression “I’ve never been to France. I’ve only been to Paris.” Staying in a city center only gives you part of the story of a country and its culture. Plan at least one excursion out of the city. Train service may work best, but in some places like Florence, regional buses are a great alternative as they can bring you into the town center of its rural hill towns.
3. Reservations please
Make your reservations for museums and other sights online ahead of time. Be very aware that some of the smaller museums are now requiring timed entrance reservations to control crowds and better allow for distancing. Here are a few links to start:
In Paris, reserve the Eiffel Tower.
In Barcelona, reserve Sagrada Familia.
In Florence, reserve the Uffizi Museum and the Galleria dell’Accademia.
In Rome, reserve the Vatican Museum / Sistine Chapel.
Be sure you are up to the walking that city travel requires. Before your trip, get in shape and walk to build stamina. Now is a good time to break in those new walking shoes too. Blisters will slow you down in Venice or Amsterdam. Better to get ready ahead of time.
5. Power up
Get your tech tools ready. Take time to clear memory space on phones and cameras. Download helpful apps and ebooks, including city-specific ones like transportation and museums guides. Many museums have apps that offer tours and collection highlights. COVID exposure trackers are also helpful and can provide information on safety. Rick Steves offers some handy audio tours of museums and neighborhood walks; download them to your phone ahead of time.
6. Plan your grub
Research restaurants before you go. Look for local food blogs and sites like Yelp that attract reviews from locals (who eat in the restaurants more than once) rather than Trip Advisor, whose writers are only passing through. Note requirements for admission to restaurants, as many require proof of vaccination for indoor dining. Reserve in advance. Also, consider booking a meal in someone’s home on EatWith.
Read about the local events, current affairs, and culture of the city before you go. Look for novels set in the location and nonfiction titles about the history of the region, cultural context, and artistic and intellectual heritage of the place. Also seek out contemporary info from blogs and YouTubers. There are some excellent recent posts for cities like Paris and Vienna that show what travel in the cities looks like currently, including mask and vaccination proof requirements.
8. What’s on?
Check local listings on sites like Time Out before you go to find out what’s on. What exhibits are the local museums showing? Do museums have evening hours or openings, where you you will find a smaller, more local group of visitors? What concerts and cultural or sporting events are on, and what are the vaccination or testing requirements to attend them? Book opera and symphony tickets in advance.
9. Carry a mask, ID, and CDC vaccination card
In most cities in Europe, proof of vaccination is not required for riding city transit, but masks are! For indoor dining and admission to museums, churches, or castles, proof of vaccination may be required; in some cases you will be asked to present your CDC card along with a photo ID. Even with this, a mask may be required. Pack surgical and N95 masks, as cloth ones are not considered adequate in some locales.
10. Enjoy the great outdoors
COVID has inspired us to rethink seasonality and enjoy things like outdoor dining in cooler weather. The same is true in Europe. Bundle up and enjoy outdoor cafes or a sidewalk pizza. Enjoy other open air attractions, from markets to parks, botanical gardens to cemeteries. There is a surprising amount of green space in cities like London and Madrid, and you will find them full of locals who are out running, walking dogs, or picnicking.
Of course staying in an apartment is a given, allowing you to connect to a neighborhood and be a little apartment from the tourist sights. Untours offers city apartments in London, Paris, Barcelona, Vienna, Budapest, Venice, Florence, and Rome.