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Six ways to get the most out of a city break

Travel Helpdesk: Live like a local, be open to the unexpected and never, ever eat in a restaurant with food pictures on the menu

Do your research

Sounds obvious, right? But we’re all guilty of just landing in a place and expecting the fun to find us. The simplest thing to do is Google the city name followed by the phrase “… like a local” to find out where to stay, where to find the best pastries, the best picnic spots, the nicest bars, the best markets and all the rest. Instagram and Facebook will also point you to places to go and things to see — as a starting point, check out the hashtag “visit” followed by the place you’re going, eg #visitlisbon.

Only winners take buses

Never mind taxis, public transport can help you really connect with a city. The bus network can actually be enjoyable — not least because it is overground, giving you a better sense of how to go from A to B. Mind you, rush hour on public transport in a big city is as unpleasant anywhere else as it is here. Bus networks can be complicated, but sites such as wikivoyage.org will help you navigate your way.

Don’t stick too rigidly to an agenda

Too often we don’t allow time for aimless wandering. Often the very best adventures are had when they are entirely unplanned. Let yourself to get lost safe in the knowledge that if you do find yourself wandering into dingo country, your phone will be able to guide you back to where you need to be without too much palaver. At the risk of stating the obvious, don’t take risks when getting lost.

Be open to tours

Walking tours can be a great — and frequently free — way to explore a city in the company of strangers, although you must tip the guide well. Paying for a tour is also recommended — you will get one-to-one attention and see more. Food tours are fun and you will definitely pick up tips on where to eat. Always do the tours on your first day so you can mine the minds of the guides and then take advantage of all you have learned.

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Pick your restaurants wisely

Never eat in a restaurant with picture menus or somewhere smack in the centre of a tourist hub. A restaurant on the Rambla in Barcelona might look enticing and the streetscape in front of you is buzzing, but you will pay through the nose for poor quality food. A simple search on TripAdvisor or Google for the best restaurants near me right now should throw up some gems, while Open Table and The Fork are great for making advance bookings in the best and most popular restaurants.

Don’t let language be a barrier

In a perfect world, you would be fluent in the languages of all the countries you visit. But our world is a long way from perfect. Pointing, gesticulating, smiling and your smartphone will go long way once you have a sense of humour and don’t adopt the talk loudly and clearly in your own language approach to communicating with locals.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor