I too have always been attracted to the idea of exploring cities, and have had the amazing opportunity to explore several – not to the same extent though. From these explorations I have concluded there are four tiers to exploring a city:
Tier 1 – “There for a Weekend”
This type of exploration is very detached, even if you spend every hour of your trip exploring. The reason for this is that cities have different cycles. There are the most obvious ones, day&night, rush hours & its opposite. There is also week days vs. weekends, different monthly events, change of seasons, and holiday idiosyncrasies. The weekend exploration will give you a taste of the city – but nowhere near the “full picture”.
Tier 2 – “Tourism a la Mode“
This category falls under the “must do it all” touristic trips and the 10 day guided travels. These are prescriptive and state sponsored views to the city you are visiting. You are indulging in a crafted experience meant to leave you with a specific perspective and opinion about the place. It is far from its honest essence of it, and meant to induce and generate specific perceptions.
Tier 3 – “Monthly Escapade“
Deciding to live in a new city for a month or so is probably the most enriching way to get to know a city without moving there. It will generate the “must see it all” imperative while also making you engage with local issues like food sourcing & neighborhood interactions. The experience will provide you with a nice overview & essence – probably a bit clouded with excitement and the allure of everything being new.
Tier 4 – “A Year in the Life“
A year in a new city will definitely enable you to understand and grasp temporal essence of living in a place. It will have a healthy amount of excitement, allure of the new, local sourcing, and occasional “monotony” to give you a better understanding of what a day in the life (in a year) in this city is like. This tier will provide you with a more in depth understanding of the cycles the city goes through.
In the end though, nothing beats living there for 5 – 10 years, and much less your whole life. But if you have many places you wish to explore, consider researching & really tuning into your intentions with said place to classify it in the correct tier & invest your time (& money) productively.
And remember – cities are their own unique organism. They are constantly growing and evolving with all sorts of new people being born and moving in changing its overall cultural landscape. Embrace the moments you get to be part of it – & cherish your time there with respect and wisdom.