Cities … I hate them and I love them. For every city I love, I can name another one I hate. City trips (especially for business) are sometimes a necessary evil – so how to make the most out of them?Ok, this is a difficult one. Why I love city trips … hmmm … Actually, my wife and I recently realized we are kinda over city trips. We have been to plenty of places – we’re done doing city trips. And if you’ve read only just some parts of this blog, you probably noticed I’m close to obsessed with nature and remote long-distance hikes. In remote areas of Iceland, Jordan or Greenland. In the mountains of Japan.
For my quarterlies, I tend to chose cities that have a lot of green and/or are near the water or rivers. Dubrovnik over Dubai. Antwerp over Abu Dhabi. But because of my work I get to visit a lot of cities around the world – I even developed my own habits in exploring a city (sometimes even running). So this page is more about how I cope with cities rather than how I love city trips.The best of cities and not the worst of cities. That is the trick to coping with cities for me. It is about finding ways to experience a city without feeling like the ultimate tourist and/or the ultimate outsider. It is about approaching cities with an open mind – with an omakase mindset. I wrote a separate blogpost about it as well, but find some ideas and favorites below.There are plenty of ways to explore a city with and open mind.
Turning left when you think you need to go right.
Asking that hipster barista what is a good place to have food.
Having the waiter order your food.
Spending time in a neighbourhood and just adapt to the rhytm of the area, like we did in Madrid.
And that brings me to my first real point, food. A great way to experience a city is just adapting to the food rhytm of a city. Queueing up with locals for the best pizza in town in Naples. Going for a braai in Johannesburg.Ok, if there one thing that makes cities worth visiting from time to time, it’s food. Where large groups of people flock together, there is a chance, you’ll be able to find some amazing food. My best true omakase experience was in the tiny village of Tanabe in Japan (also, read why surprise dinners make you happier). I never had a better pizza than I had in Naples, period. The best food experience I ever had was in The Jane in Antwerp.Next to food, another great way to explore cities is running. It allows you to quickly explore a city off the beaten paths and to connect with locals.
Running is a great way to explore a city. Probably one of my favorite run cities ever, is Utrecht in The Netherlands, which offers a wide range of possibilities, ranging from running through the historic center to running along the river. Amsterdam has some amazing areas in the Western part of the city. Helsinki is magical with its different lakes. Prague and Bratislava both have amazing runs along the river and have a green backcountry just outside of the city. And although I wouldn’t recommend the cities as running cities per se, New York and Athens have marathons that make a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Talking about these elements – food, running, omakase experience – a specific breed of city usually matches my criteria when it comes to city trips. There is actually a list of cities I would like to visit in the future.
So many cities to choose from. I tend to like cities that have good food, have either green areas or rivers/sea, that aren’t too big and have a big of a rough edge. Gent (my hometown), Amsterdam (my second home), Ostend (our favorite retreat on the Belgian coast), Ljubljana, Dubrovnik, Athens, Prague, Madrid, Tokyo, … these are probably my favorites.
This, in contrast to cities like New York, Paris, Dubai and Abu Dhabi that just don’t do it for me.It has never made my stay in a city, but it can break your stay in a city, a horrible place to stay, whether it is a hotel, AirBnB, a hostel or something else. Over the years, I have become locked into IHG, Hilton and Marriott‘s loyalty programs, which means that 99% of my stays is in one of the brands of these hotels.Sometimes hotels are a necessary evil (like with my sad birthday experiment, with dirty hotels rooms or the annoying habit to turn on all the lights). Sometimes, they are so good, you don’t want to leave your hotel room. One of my favorite hotels ever is the Kimpton DeWitt in Amsterdam, closely followed by the Hotel 1898 The Postin Gent. Here are my favorite hotels for your city trips. Ah, and while you’re at it – don’t forget to take a picture of your room number 😉I have so many memories, but these are some of my favorites.
Father-daughter-days in Antwerp.
The premise: my daugther chooses what we’re going to do.
I spent a week in the souks of Marrakech.
Beautiful environment, amazing cosy city.
Blending in with the locals in Tokyo.
What happens in Tokyo …
Some other highlights:
Some of my favorite city trips:
- The surprise city trips I made with my wife to Madrid and Gothenburg,
- Probably the European capital I visited the most, after Amsterdam and Brussels, the city of Prague.
- My home city and one of my favorite cities in the world, Gent.
- Running the iconic Athens Marathon and visiting the insanely creative city of Athens
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