How to Decide How Long to Visit a City

In conjunction with my European travel post yesterday, I was wondering if I might ask the hivemind a question. I’m looking at going to some new cities on this trip, but it’s always a balancing act, trying to decide how much time to spend in one city vs. trying to see multiple cities. What is your general approach?

I think it boils down to two different mindsets. On the one, it’s fun to go see new places, check out the “best of” and then move on to the next. With this route, you don’t get to really *experience* any of the cities. It’s more like you consume them, like when you go to a restaurant buffet and try a little bit of everything. After the meal, someone might ask you what you liked, but you can only give a cursory summary of what you tried, and how they compared. You didn’t commit to a single dish, and so you don’t know any one dish very well. But you know a little bit about all of them.

On the other hand, you can spend multiple days in a city and really get to know it. (Well, as much as just a few days in a city will let you. In my experience, if you really want to get to know a place well, you need to live there at least a year or two. But since we can’t all go around moving to a place for a year or two . . . ) This route, you get to see the city at different times. Eat at several restaurants. Check out different areas. You don’t just see the “best of” sites. You get to hopefully go to lesser-visited places.

I see the advantages of both. If you’re never going to go back to an area again, it sometimes makes sense to rush through as much of that area as you can. But on the other hand, some of my favorite stories come from telling people about places I’ve seen and things I’ve done that most people never will be able to. It’s all fine and good to visit Vienna and see the Hapsburg palaces. But my favorite Hapsburg estate was the one at Svaty Anton. It’s a place hardly anyone has been, and I remember it really well. It’s different than any of the other palaces I’ve been to.

Then again, if you’ve never seen a Hapsburg palace at all, maybe Svaty Anton wouldn’t be as interesting.

Perhaps in the end it depends on what you want to get out of your trip. Do you want to be able to watch movies and remember the time you were at that location? Tell other people about the cool cities you visited? Or would you rather talk about the interesting, novel things you did? Or remember the unique experiences you had that perhaps no one else (or very few) have?

I might be going to Poland or Eastern Slovakia. What do I want to see there? How long do I want to stay? So what would you plan to do if you were going to a country for the first time? What’s your approach been? Please share.


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