You’ve arrived jetlagged but bursting with excitement in a brand new travel destination… so, what next? How do you actually find local things to do during your trip that are interesting and fun?
You can Google “Top 10 Things to Do in _____” or look in your guidebook… but what if the main tourist attractions don’t interest you? Or what if you cover them all in a day or two and you want to find something a little different? Sometimes the most memorable travel experiences aren’t the ones that you find in the top ten lists, they are the odd places that you discover when you dig a little deeper into your destination.
You could find yourself learning how to make handmade empanadas at a cooking class in Chile, volunteering to walk dogs at an animal shelter in Belize or checking out a museum dedicated to British comic and cartoon art in London.
Each travel destination has a wealth of intriguing attractions, you just have to know where to look to find local things to do. Fortunately, it’s never been easier. There are multiple apps that are designed to help you find cool events and attractions around you and many websites dedicated to hunting out the most awesome local things to do and curating them for your enjoyment.
So, no matter where you are heading it’s worth bookmarking this post so that you can try using all of these tools to scout out great things to do in your destination. Some tools will work better in some destinations and not in others, but you’ll be able to use many of these to find local things to do no matter where you go in the world.
Resources To Help You Find Local Things to Do Anywhere
Meetup is a very cool website that allows you to find events, groups, clubs and other get-togethers related to what you are interested in. You can search for Meetups in your destination and find a huge range of things, from book clubs to language exchanges to running clubs to writing workshops to food tasting get-togethers and much more. No matter what you are interested in, whether it is hiking, chess or watching the football – you’ll find people who share your interests.
Atlas Obscura is one of my favourite websites in the world. It is a beautifully presented and expertly curated collection of odd and wonderful things to see and do. It’s typically filled with quirky museums, historical buildings with odd pasts, bizarre architecture and one of a kind cultural quirks such as the Witch Market in La Paz, Bolivia.
Oh, and if you start reading the blog you’ll never want to stop. It’s one of my go-to sources for weird and interesting facts that I can come out with randomly during lulls in the conversation. For example, you probably had no idea that the sex lives of penguins were so scandalous or that there were secret hidden apartments in the top floors of New York City’s branch libraries.
Link: Atlas Obscura
I love Culture Trip. It’s such a great website and it’s become one of my main go-to resources to find local things to do. You can search through it by destination and find all of the articles related to where you will be traveling. The posts are well written and they offer unique and quirky suggestions, not just the same cliche top 10 things to see and do. It’s especially helpful if you are into art, history and food.
Plus, they also have an app that you can download and use to look for local stuff on your phone. I haven’t tried the app, but it gets good reviews so it seems like it is as good as the website.
Link: Culture Trip
Instagram isn’t just for cute puppies and girls with nice butts. It’s also a way to find local things to do in your travel destination that are unique and interesting.
- Open up Instagram.
- Go to the Search page.
- Type in the name of your travel destination.
- Click “Places” on the top bar underneath the search function.
- Select the place tag for your destination.
Voila! Now you will be seeing all of the top Instagram posts for your destination. This is helpful because people usually take Instagram photos of things that are worth checking out. See an amazing looking chocolate sundae? You can find out which cafe serves it. See a photo of an amazing view? You can see where it was taken and head there yourself. Plus, you can even say hi to other travelers who are currently in your destination, you might even make a friend. 🙂
Facebook can be another great tool for finding events in a specific destination. Did you know that you can use it to search by location or category? The app now allows you to browse events and sift through them using different categories such as music, nightlife and sports and fitness.
How do you do it?
- Go on Facebook.
- On the left hand side of the page, click “Events.”
- There will be a “Happening Today” section that will show events in your nearby area that are currently occurring. You can also select a date to see events nearby on that day.
- You can also sort by category, ie. Arts, Causes, Music, Dance, Film, etc.
Take a look through and see what kind of events are happening around you. You just might find something fun and exciting to do!
Hostel Bulletin Boards
Most hostels will have a bulletin board near the reception, in the kitchen or in the common room that is filled with posters and flyers for local events and clubs. It is also often used as a message or announcement board, such as when someone is looking for a travel partner or trying to buy or sell something.
The hostel bulletin board can be a great way to find out about interesting events in the area, so if your has one make sure that you take a glance at it every day to spot if anything new has been posted.
Facebook Newcomer Groups
In many locations there will be a Facebook group set up for expats and newcomers who have just moved to that location. There’s no reason why you can’t use these groups to find local things to do as a traveller as well.
They will usually organise meetups, events and tours, which is a great way to meet people and explore the city.
Laundromat Bulletin Boards
It might sound strange, but a local laundromat can also be a great place to go to find local things to do. They will have posters and flyers up for local cultural events, concerts, clubs, workshops and much more. The same goes for community boards at the local university or recreation centre. It’s certainly worth taking a peek!
Coffee shops are wonderful. A good coffee shop is usually much more than simply a place that serves coffee and food, it’s a hub for the community. Look for a long-established, independent local coffee shop that hosts events and supports local artists and musicians (ie. not a chain store).
If you can find a place like this, it will usually have a stack of flyers or a bulletin board somewhere filled with local events, shows, concerts and other things to do. Plus, the staff will be passionate locals who will be able to recommend things to do in their city.
Plus, when you find your favourite coffee shop you will have discovered a place where you can sit and relax for a while, sip a delicious beverage and soak up the atmosphere of your destination.
You can also use Google Maps to find out what’s interesting nearby. The “Explore” feature will show you what is around you and help you find local things to do, along with reviews and travel times.
To use this feature, just tap the “Explore” button on the bottom right corner of your map to get a look at what is nearby. You will see different places and activities in each area no matter where you are. You can also sort the results based on travel times, or on the time of day.
The Local Cultural Magazine
Most major cities where you will travel will have their own locally produced cultural magazine that highlights the cool and interesting events happening around the city. For example, the L Magazine in New York or Londnr Magazine in London.
Some of the bigger and more culturally rich cities will have several magazines, each for a different scene or niche. These magazines can usually be found in coffee shops, local bookstores and art galleries – or just ask a cool local to borrow their copy. They are usually goldmines for finding out about the best cultural events in the local scene, as well as being a really interesting glimpse into what life in that city is like.
Tripadvisor is one of the biggest review websites on the planet and it can also be used to find local things to do near you. The great thing about Tripadvisor is that it is filled with honest reviews from people who have actually tried the restaurant/tour/attraction you are looking at, so you can get a realistic idea of what to expect.
You can use the website to search for things to do in your area, or you can find top-rated attractions nearby when you are on the go with the location-based app.
Link: Tripadvisor website, plus the app for iOS and Android
This website is your hub of information when it comes to finding out which live music gigs are happening in your destination. You can download the app on your Android or iOS device and track your favourite artists. You’ll receive a notification if those artists are playing in your area. There is also a social aspect to this app – if you have any friends in the area it will let you know which concerts they want to go to, so you can plan to go together.
Another app that you can use to find events and concerts in your area is Eventbrite. You can connect it to your Facebook account and it will show you popular events and fun things nearby.
It will also tell you what your friends are attending if they are in your area. There’s a wide range of events and activities on here, including parties, musical events, street food festivals, sports games, club nights and much more.
Like a Local App
If you had a cool local friend who knew all of the best places to go you wouldn’t need all of these websites and apps. The Like a Local App is sort of like that friend, offering insider tips on what to do in your destination.
The tips are supplied by actual local people – there are 11,712 contributors from 3855 cities. They have lived in the city for years and they really know what they are talking about. The app is location based, so you can open it up and see the interesting places near you wherever you are. You can also download the map so that you can use it in Offline mode.
It’s not available for every city in the world, but it’s available for many cities including Prague, Tallinn, Paris, Riga, New York, Moscow, London, Helsinki, Berlin and many more. . If you are heading for a popular tourist destination there is a good chance that you’ll find your destination on there.
Gravy is a pretty cool app that will offer you suggestions for events and help you find local things to do in the local area based on your mood. For example, you could select a “lively” mood and you’ll get recommendations for dance clubs or live music pubs. If you select the “classy” category you might get recommended a wine tasting or an art gallery opening. The app is location based, so it will recommend events all within walking distance from you anywhere in the world.
Links: Gravy for iOS, Gravy for Android
That mention of gravy has made me hungry. One of the best parts of traveling is checking out the local culinary scene. Fortunately, there are people out there who are really serious about food. So serious in fact, that they sign up for online boards and argue for hours about which restaurant serves the most authentic Pho or the fluffiest French toast or the perfect pint of beer. You can tap into these passionate foodie forums and find great recommendations for delicious places to eat and drink. You could even sign up and start a thread asking for recommendations for the type of restaurants you like.
Links: Chowhound, eGullet, Roadfood, Beer Advocate.
Your AirBnB Host
The sharing economy has really changed travel in a lot of ways and one of the biggest examples of this is AirBnB. You can rent a home or apartment (or just one room in a shared house) from a local person. It’s much more comfortable than a hotel room and you’ll have access to a kitchen, laundry and other facilities. Also, in addition to this you will have the benefit of meeting your host, who may be able to offer you tips on awesome local things to do in your travel destination.
But what about the situations where your AirBnB host might not actually be present at the rental? No worries, you can always check their AirBnB profile to see if they have created a Guidebook. This is a really cool feature of the website that allows hosts to suggest local spots around the listing such as parks, restaurants, bars, attractions and much more.
Plus, some of the bigger cities on AirBnB will have City Guidebooks, which are compiled lists of recommendations that several hosts from that city have added to their guidebooks.
Link: AirBnB Guidebooks
I’ve written about how wonderful Couchsurfing is and Lee and I have had some fantastic experiences using this service while we traveled across Canada. Couchsurfing, if you haven’t heard of it, is a website where welcoming and generous people from all over the world connect with each other. Local hosts offer up their couches and spare bedrooms so that travelers can come and stay – for free.
It’s completely free and no exchange of money takes place, although etiquette suggests that you should do something to show your appreciation such as perhaps bringing a small gift of thanks or taking your host out to dinner.
The free hospitality exchange is a beautiful thing, but that’s not the only aspect of Couchsurfing. Even if you aren’t staying with a host, you can still take part in the many events and activities that are organised in the destination. There are often Couchsurfing meetups, activities, movie nights, parties and group excursions organised by Couchsurfing groups.
Plus, the Couchsurfing mobile app is a pretty cool way to find local things to do while you travel. It has a “Hangouts” feature that uses your location to display other travelers who are in your area and are looking for someone nearby to hang out with. Just set yourself to “available” and let people know what it is you want to do, whether it is going for a walk, grabbing coffee, etc. You can see who is around you and make a plan!
Last but not least – ask the local people you meet to recommend things to see and do! They live in your destination, so they are the experts and will know much more about the location than could be included in any guide book.
If you aren’t sure HOW to meet locals, here is a great post with some tips for meeting local people while traveling. Making the effort to talk to the locals will really enrich your travel experience.
How do you find local things to do in your travel destination?
If you have tried even a few of these, you have probably found more cool and interesting events in your travel destination than you could possibly attend during your trip. So what are you sitting around here for? Go out and do them!
There really are many things to discover in every travel destination, you just have to make the effort to look for them.