Top tips for planning a city break, from booking to exploring

Sometimes the key to a great trip is a little planning, plus plenty of room for spontaneity. Photo/Getty Images

A good balance of preparation and spontaneity makes it an ideal city break, writes Ewan McDonald.

Q. What are your top tips for a short city break? We’re both pretty impulsive and like to wake up on Wednesdays and say, “Why don’t we go to Sydney for the weekend?”

A. Ah, the joy of spontaneity. Here’s my best advice: it may be the easiest way to waste your time and money, especially with the unpredictable hassles that can be part of travel baggage in these still uncertain times.

Chances are you’ll be spending most of the long weekend at Kingsford Smith Airport waiting for your suitcase to show up on the carousel before you have to check in for the flight home.

According to someone who’s done more bullshit in more places in the world than most, the key to a whimsical getaway is: a little, but not too much, planning.

It’s going to cost you, whether it’s a weekend in Wellington for a Test match or a few days in Melbourne with a show, a few restaurants and window shopping in Paris End or DFO Southbank. Flights. Lodging. Meal. Move.

So, a little thought beforehand can save you money and make the most of your limited time. Here are five or six things I like to consider:

Free time: Book yours and make sure it doesn’t conflict with a public holiday at your destination. More on that later.

Flights: Book them as soon as possible, with all the usual disclaimers regarding credits, refunds and travel insurance that apply at this time. Tip: Check the options for getting from the airport to the city by public or private transport. Time is precious, and all you can save…

Lodging: Whether it’s Airbnb, a spa or backpackers book, make sure dates and details are set in stone and payment methods are agreed. It sounds old-school, but it’s not a dumb idea to print out the emails and bring them with you. While we’re at it, do you need to put the dog/cat/turtle in a B&B?

The key to a spontaneous urban getaway is a little planning.  Photo/Getty Images
The key to a spontaneous urban getaway is a little planning. Photo/Getty Images

Shortlist: Obviously, if you’re going to Sydney to see the Moulin Rouge at the Opera or Melbourne for the Boxing Day test at the MCG, booking tickets will be first on the agenda and everything else is pretty much a bonus. .

If you’re just going somewhere for the weekend, or if you’re going somewhere you don’t know, Google “XX things to do in Napier”, ask your friends and find three to four must-sees.

Look at the map and see where your cravings are because, remember, time is precious, it could be long Uber rides, bike rides, or public transit rides from each other.

Browse the best places to stroll, the best addresses for breakfast/lunch/dinner/drinks, museums and shops. Tip: even in 2022, there are still cities where businesses close at 6 p.m. or pretty much the whole city closes on Sundays.

Oh, and it’s not a bad idea to check the weather for the time of year.

Light package: Now pack lighter. Seriously, you’re going away for a long weekend. Do you really need more than cabin baggage? (The previous note about the baggage carousel also applies.) And you’re staying in a city – chances are you can find a place that’ll be happy to sell you fresh panties or a new hairbrush. teeth. Charge your gadgets and make sure you have outlets/cables for phone, tablet, camera etc.


My impulsive friends, I know this may seem so organized that it takes all the fun out of your getaway. Believe me, it will save a lot of heartache. Maybe even a breakdown of the relationship.

I know someone who looked at the queues outside the Louvre on a Sunday and said to their partner, “We’ll be back early tomorrow,” then discovered that virtually every museum and gallery in France was closed on Monday. I know someone who said, “Don’t bother booking a hotel, we’ll be fine when we get there,” and then realized it was the 4th of July in Honolulu.

I know someone who had been to Barcelona five times and who had never managed to make a stay coincide with a Messi & Co match. Sixth chance: bought a ticket to the Camp Nou stadium, at the cost of an arm and of a few legs – then I found that the cruise ship sailed at 8:30 p.m. and kick off was at 9 p.m.

Like I said, I’ve done more cockups in more places around the world…

The Beginner’s Guide to… is a bimonthly column where we’ll answer your travel-related questions – from roaming Rome to controlling roaming charges. Send your questions and travel tips to [email protected] with “First-timer” in the subject line

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