7 Useful Tips To Explore The Cool City

It’s holiday time! But how to find cool places, bars, clubs, shops and restaurants in a city you’ve never been to? The only way not to land up in a ‘Lonely Planet Queue’ or walking around behind a guide’s umbrella, is to look for new ways of ‘city navigating’. You, in the end, are your own best city guide. Because you know what you like and what you actually want to experience in a city. The only question is: how to find it? How to connect with the local scene and to get to the places where it’s happing?

We’ve listed a bunch of great tips for ‘scene surfing’ in an unknown city. Doing so, I speak from my own experience. An undiscovered fresh city is an endless source of excitement to me. It makes me want to go to the most special clubs, to the most obscure bars and to the most inspiring shops. All within my specific field of interest. But how to find all this within, let’s say, two days and no local friends? In understanding a city it’s important to not only understand the physical patterns (the tourist map), but also the social and cultural networks.

Here they are: 7 useful tips for ‘scene surfing’ that makes you find the cool places in a city.

  1. Before you go: don’t search on Google, try Delicious.
    Browsing other people’s online bookmarks may help you to find some great stuff about a city you want to visit. I always do this before I leave. Delicious is probably the best site to discover the underground scene of a city before you leave. The social bookmarking site offers personal information (saved websites) of ‘local’ people. As soon as you find the profile of an interesting person, you are able to search through his or her shared bookmarks using keywords or tags. If you want to find a nice techno club in Dortmund, just enter the words ‘techno’ and ‘dortmund’ in the search bar. Your results are other users’ tips. Instead of giving you the preferences of the majority as a result, like Google does, Delicious gives you the qualitative preferences of specific users (of your choice) as result.
  2. Don’t focus on places, better focus on people.
    We all recognise people with comparable interests immediately by their clothes, style or stuff they carry. It’s very interesting to chase some of these ‘cool’ people passing by. No, don’t stalk. Just look where they’re going. It’s surprisingly how often this directs you to the best places in a city. This method actually works best finding a bar or club at Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The decisive point, however, is which people to trace. Look for the ones that are obviously going out. Of course it’s possible to just ask these people instead of chasing them. If you’re the social type, you might like that better. But you might get stuck with them, which means you loose your independence that night.
  3. Don’t follow a guide, follow posters.
    Most people consider posters polluting public space, but actually they represent the programme of the city at a specific moment, which is quite relevant. Looking after posters is really up to date, as the programme refreshes itself all the time. Most posters give information about location, ticket price, programme and sometimes a website (handy for the mobile Internet users). Actually it takes some experience to find out which posters best suit your interests. Again, it’s a lot about style. If you like the design of a specific poster, you might like the programme of the event it promotes. But don’t go blindly on that.
  4. Don’t use a guide, use a network.
    This one needs some more time. Building a network of great people in another city has become quite easy through social applications such as Twitter. This method works really well and will provide good insider tips, but you should not start doing this on the last day before departure. Moreover, Twitter generally introduces you to a lot of great blogs which might have tips as well.
  5. Don’t read that free magazine in the airplane, read flyers.
    The events that you found on the posters on the street, will surely come back in the flyer racks. Located in fashion and book stores, bars and restaurants, they can be considered tips from the owner of the store or bar, saying “if you like this store/bar you might like these events or places as well”. Flyers offer good info on upcoming initiatives. Be critical though. Not every store or bar owner keeps his flyer rack as up to date and relevant as they should.
  6. Don’t take pictures, look at them.
    Geotagged pictures on Flickr will give you a good visual perspective of certain urban areas. Shared pictures of someone else can tell you al lot about the atmosphere at specific places or events.
  7. Don’t watch the traffic lights, watch the pillars.
    In great neighbourhoods you’ll always find traffic light pillars with a lot of stickers on it. This is already good information, as you’re apparently close to a great area. But, as a lot of underground bands, record labels, clubs and DJs use these stickers to promote themselves, they might give you good suggestions as well. Often, they refer to a MySpace page of a band. Check their profile and see at which venues the band or DJs usually perform.

I hope these city exploring suggestions are helpful. I wish you all a very inspiring holiday!