Explore Your Hometown: Ways To Be A Tourist At Home

May 17, 2020
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Trolley Bus - Ways To Be A Tourist At Home
How to explore your home city like a tourist in a staycation and throughout the rest of the year

If a tourist asked you what to do or see when they visit the city or town you live in, what would you recommend? Would you be able to come up with a long list or would you struggle to identify items? How many of the attractions on your list have you visited yourself?

Many of us may not be as familiar with the attractions in our own back yard as those in locations we’ve travelled to farther afield. Work responsibilities, looking after a home, caring for family, and other activities we’re involved in may leave little time or energy to explore our city in the same way as we might explore new destinations when we travel. We may have a large circle of family and friends around us and want to spend any free time we do have with them. We may think about visiting the better-known attractions someday, but there isn’t the same sense of urgency to get there now as there is when one is only in a city for a few days.

In the 1990s, friends visited us from England. They stayed with us for a week. We were one of several stops on their big Canadian adventure. It was wonderful to explore my home city with them and to see it through their eyes. In the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to do more travelling than in the past. I’ve become a travel writer and blogger. Some of the travelling mentality has returned home with me and I’ve made a conscious effort to explore my home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I’ve learned a lot about my city, had fun experiences, and developed a deeper sense of pride in my home.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights alongside the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge in Winnipeg, Manitoba
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened in Winnipeg in 2014 and has become both a city landmark and top tourist attraction. I’ve visited on my own and with family visiting from out-of-town. It’s been interesting to see and hear the different reactions.

Exploring your city as a tourist will give you a better appreciation for it. It is a great way to experience something new, learn more about your city and yourself, and have a bit of adventure without leaving home. This can be done as a concentrated vacation-like effort by dedicating a solid block of vacation time, a weekend or a week or two, to being a tourist at home. Sometimes financial constraints, family commitments, or other circumstances prevent us from travelling when we would like. We can still get a sense of the travel experience by exploring our own cities.

I would encourage you to also think beyond the one-time tourist blitz experience and consider incorporating the “explore your own city” attitude into your regular life. Not every day and not even every week, but perhaps once every month or two make a point of seeing something you’ve not seen before or revisit a place you haven’t been to in years. The treasures of your city will unfold slowly and delightfully.

I’ve felt strongly about exploring my own city for years. I’ve been blown away by all my home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada has to offer. It has been underrated for years, although in recent years its attractions are starting to be recognized internationally.

As I write this, much of the world has spent weeks in varying degrees of “lock-down” due to COVID-19. Some areas are in a phase of gradual lifting of restrictions while others remain essentially shut-down. After many things open locally, travel is likely to remain restricted for some time. Safety concerns and financial constraints caused by loss of income during this pandemic will keep many close to home even after travel restrictions ease. This might be a good time to look at exploring your home city. Although some typical tourist attractions and activities may remain closed longer than other businesses or have new restrictions, there will be other places still available for exploration at this time. Follow whatever distancing protocols are recommended. Have fun and stay safe.

Ways To Explore Your City

Take A City Sight-Seeing Bus Tour
Visit Museums And Art Galleries
Stroll Through Historic And Tourist Districts
Take A Tour
Try New Restaurants
Explore Street Art And Public Art
Walk Through Gardens and Nature Preserves
Spend Time In A Park
Visit A Zoo
Attend A Festival
Have A Spa Day

Take A City Sight-Seeing Bus Tour

City sight-seeing bus tours, which typically range in length from one to three hours, are a great way to get an overview of a city. If taken at the beginning of a visit to a new city they provide a good introduction to the place and may pique interest in sites to visit in more detail. When on a short stopover or on a trip busy with business activities they allow you to get a snapshot tourist view in a short period of time.

But why would you take the tour in your home city to see and hear about familiar places? While you may be familiar with some of the places on the tour, there is a good likelihood you will pass something you know little about. You’ll hear interesting stories on the background and history of sites and neighbourhoods. You may gain a different perspective on your city when you see the various sites and distinct neighbourhoods of your city connected and integrated in one tour. And, like many of the tourists on the bus, a particular site or two may pique your interest for further exploration.

Visit Museums And Art Galleries

Your city may have internationally recognized museums and galleries that top tourists’ lists of things to see. Have you visited them? In my home city, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has received accolades and awards from around the world.

Totem poles inside the entrance of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia
Totem poles at the entrance to another world-class museum, the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Museums such as the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba and the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia showcase human and natural history of the area. Museums such as the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, British Columbia provide a larger global view. And some museums, such as the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan, the Winnipeg Police Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ontario, or the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska, have a more specialized focus. Places like Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary, Alberta showcase history through recreated villages that often contain original buildings moved to the museum location.

You needn’t live in a large city to find a local museum worth visiting. I’ve visited many small-town museums with a fascinating mix of artifacts and information. The Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre in Cowichan Bay Village on Vancouver Island, British Columbia highlights the history of shipbuilding and fishing in the area. The New Iceland Heritage Museum in Gimli, Manitoba does a wonderful job of presenting the area’s Icelandic background. The collection of restored and furnished historical buildings moved to the Arborg and District Multicultural Heritage Village in Arborg, Manitoba tell the stories of the area’s Icelandic and Ukrainian-Polish settlers.

Prairie grain field mural on the ramp leading to a small town Manitoba museum housed in a former grain elevator
The Prairieview Museum in Plum Coulee, Manitoba is housed inside a former grain elevator

Art galleries may showcase local or international artists or both. A local gallery may be internationally recognized for a special type of art. For example, the Winnipeg Art Gallery in my home city holds the world’s largest collection of contemporary Inuit art.

Consider revisiting museums and galleries you haven’t been to in years. There are likely to be new and updated exhibits. Use of technologies, such as augmented reality, interactive displays, touch screens for focused and detailed information, and mobile apps, create a richer experience. Or consider visiting in a different way than you might have done in the past, perhaps by signing up for guided tours. Make return visits to take in special temporary exhibitions. Don’t forget about the smaller, community-based or specialty museums. Living in a city full-time gives you the luxury to explore more deeply and get to some of those places tourists on strict time schedules cannot. To save money check the museum websites for dates and times when admission may be reduced or free.

Stroll Through Historic And Tourist Districts

Are there certain areas in your city that have special appeal for tourists? Areas with historical significance, interesting shopping, or a variety of entertainment and dining options? Spend time exploring these areas. Two areas within my home city, The Forks and the Exchange District, contain historical significance as well as offering entertainment, dining, and shopping. The Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario is an arts, culture, and entertainment area set in quaint 19th century buildings that once housed a large whiskey distiller. The historic downtown of Branson, Missouri feels like stepping into another era. Gastown and Granville Island are popular tourist areas in Vancouver, British Columbia. The downtown area of Victoria, British Columbia contains historic buildings, modern shops and restaurants, plus scenic harbour views.

Street in Winnipeg Exchange District lined with heritage buildings
One of the streets in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District

Take A Tour

A variety of guided tours may be available in your city – walking tours, bus or trolley tours, and even cycling tours. Sign up for one (or several) of these tours to discover your city in a different way. Historic districts often offer walks through history. Food tours take you to several different restaurants to sample their cuisine. Visit craft breweries on an ale tour.

Standing beside a tour sign in a heritage district before embarking on a walking food tour
About to start a food tour in my home city

Other specialty tours may focus on architecture, ghost stories, musical history, or movie locations. If your city borders a lake or has a river running through it, boat cruise tours may also be an option.

Tour guide talking to group at the bottom of the Tyndall stone steps leading into the Manitoba Legislative Building
Dr. Frank Albo getting ready to lead a Hermetic Secrets tour of the Manitoba Legislative Building where we discovered Freemasonry secrets hidden in plain view

There may also be options for self-guide tours. I followed a self-guided map when I toured Canada’s oldest Chinatown in Victoria, British Columbia. The GPSmyCity app contains a selection of self-guided walking tours for a variety of cities. Check to see if there are any for your hometown.

Try New Restaurants

For many, one of the pleasures of travelling is eating out and trying new foods. Visit restaurants you haven’t previously been to. Are there restaurants getting top billing with tourists and locals that you haven’t eaten at yet? Try a cuisine you haven’t tried before. For a more local experience, visit restaurants specializing in the food and dishes associated with your city and area. Try local delicacies at other restaurants.

Explore Street Art And Public Art

Street art has become popular across the world. Some cities or districts within cities, such as London’s Shoreditch and Brick Lane areas, have become famous for their collections of street art. But you can find street art in many other cities, concentrated in one well-known area, in a pedestrian tunnel, spread throughout the city, or in unexpected places such as a back alley in Winnipeg known as Back Alley Arctic because of the northern wildlife painted on garage doors by an artist who lives on the street.

Murals sometimes tell stories about the history and people of a neighbourhood such as the murals in Winnipeg’s West End. Each year new murals are painted in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant and East End neighbourhoods as part of Vancouver Mural Fest. The small town of Chemainus on Canada’s Vancouver Island is known as the Town of Murals because of its outdoor gallery of murals on buildings throughout the town.

Public art refers to any work of art designed for and sited in a space accessible to the general public. Much of it is located in outdoor spaces. Many cities have public art programs dedicated to creating and maintaining pieces of public art. Some public art pieces become well-known symbols of a place, but there are usually many other wonderful pieces to discover beyond those icons. Seek these out and learn their meaning.

A collection of 6 iconic pieces of public art
A sampling of iconic public art pieces:
Spoonbridge and Cherry in Minneapolis, Minnesota; emptyful in Winnipeg, Manitoba;

Bronze Horse Fountain in Scottsdale, Arizona; The Birds in Vancouver, British Columbia;
Bloody Saturday in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Red Dragon in Victoria, British Columbia

Walk Through Gardens And Nature Preserves

Spend a day or part of day wandering through a garden or nature preserve. Flowers blooming at different times throughout the year can make each visit to a garden unique. Some cities are home to world famous gardens such as Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia or Kew Gardens in London. Gardens in your city may not be as well known but can still be a delight to visit. Even cities with world-famous gardens have other gardens worth exploring. (Victoria, British Columbia, known as the Garden City of Canada, is an example of a place with numerous beautiful gardens.)

Greenery in Abkhazi Garden
Abkhazi Garden (the garden that love built) in Victoria, British Columbia

Nature preserves in and around your city may be peaceful refuges to spend time in while learning more about local vegetation and wildlife. In my home city of Winnipeg, Canada FortWhyte Alive, a 640-acre protected green space at the edge of the city, offers outdoor recreation and nature discovery in a beautiful setting. The Living Prairie Museum allows you to explore the endangered tall grass prairie ecosystem.

A walking path and a bench along the side of a birch forest
A peaceful path at FortWhyte Alive in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Spend Time In A Park

Picnic in or walk through city parks. Go beyond the parks in your neighbourhood to visit those in other areas of the city. You may discover more than peaceful green space. Some parks contain public art, either an individual piece in the park or a collection of works such as the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park. Other parks have well-cared-for garden space. Perhaps there is a duckpond or a special memorial such as the Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth found in a south Winnipeg park.

Sculpture in a fountain in a sculpture garden in a park
Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park

Visit A Zoo

Spend a day at the zoo seeing new exhibitis or revisiting old favourites.

Attend A Festival

My home city of Winnipeg has a long winter. We celebrate summer with festival after festival. Music festivals, a fringe festival, food festivals, cultural festivals. Your city may also be home to a number of festivals. One or two may already be favourites you make a point of attending year after year. Consider taking in one of the others, one you haven’t been to or one you may not have attended in years. (Winnipeg also has a well-known winter festival. Festival du Voyageur celebrates French-Canadian culture and the history of the voyageurs.)  

Note: As the world deals with COVID-19, 2020 is not the year for festivals. Most are cancelled. Exploring your own city in 2020 will not include festival going. Plan to attend the festivals in future years.

Have A Spa Day

A day at your favourite spa can feel like a mini-vacation. Have an adventure by visiting other spas in your city. Are there spas highly touted for tourists perhaps because of some specialty service? Are there spas offering different types of experiences? In my city you can find spas offering Nordic thermotherapy, hot stone massage, and Japanese Ganban-yoku. There are also studios providing floatation therapy.

Note: Spa services are also likely to be unavailable or limited for a period of time due to COVID-19.

As you can read, there are many ways you can explore your home town. In the post Explore Your Home Town: How To Discover What There Is To See And Do I offer suggestions as to how you can find out what’s available in your city. 

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Explore Your Hometown: Ways To Be A Tourist At Home. Things to do in your home city. #traveltip #touristathome #travel

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  • Reply
    Ken Dowell
    May 17, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    You’ve definitely done a good job of showing what Winnipeg has to offer. From reading your blog there are any number of things there that I would love to experience.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      May 18, 2020 at 10:20 am

      Ken, Winnipeg does indeed have a lot to offer. I encourage everyone to discover what their home town has to offer. I know from some of your posts that you also explore close to home and have interesting things nearby as well. This might be the summer for all of us to discover more of what our home area has to offer.

  • Reply
    Eva Dueck
    May 17, 2020 at 11:33 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of being a tourist in your own city. The first time I did that was in the early 1980s when I had a week of vacation scheduled and no plans. I decided to do or see at least one thing each day that week, starting with a ride on the city tour bus. It was a great week and I learned much about Winnipeg. This stood me in good stead in future years when I hosted family and friends from afar and was able to show and tell, as well as suggest things to see and do.

    I am certainly not as well versed about Winnipeg as you are, so I enjoy reading about some of the lesser known things that you have explored in our fair city.

    I continue to enjoy visiting and touring new places as well as old favorites in Winnipeg and in Manitoba.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      May 18, 2020 at 10:23 am

      Eva, it is fun to be a tourist at home, isn’t it? It’s surprising how much we can learn about a place we should we knew. Happy exploring – at home and in other places when travel is on again.

  • Reply
    Tag Along Deb
    May 19, 2020 at 9:18 am

    Great post, Donna. There is a tonne to do in Winnipeg, for sure. We hope to explore a bit more beyond the perimeter too. I’m sad that the orange trolley buses won’t be operating this summer. I will miss seeing them ramble through the Exchange District.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      May 19, 2020 at 10:29 am

      Thanks Deb. There is a lot of do in Winnipeg. This will be the summer for people in other cities to discover or re-discover all their city has to offer. And I agree there is a lot of explore beyond the perimeter of Winnipeg. I’ve done some exploring in previous years and hope to do more this summer too. I’ll also miss the orange trolley buses.

  • Reply
    noelmorata
    May 25, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Fantastic tips and ideas about what to see and do in your local town or environment, I love to do all of your fantastic suggestions.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      May 30, 2020 at 5:08 am

      Thanks Noel. There is often so much more to see and do near home than many of us realize.

  • Reply
    Linda Fairbairn
    May 26, 2020 at 8:18 pm

    What better time than to ‘travel’ in your own backyard!
    I’ve often felt it ‘funny’ how we all clamber to see whats on the other side of the globe, when those on the other side are clambering to see what we have :/

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      May 30, 2020 at 5:14 am

      Linda, I agree it is “funny.” This might be the time when many of us gain a deeper appreciation for what is in our own backyards.

  • Reply
    carole terwilliger meyers
    May 29, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    It always amazes me how there are so many new things to do and see in my home town. I’ve been exploring for years, and even have a website dedicated to my own town, Berkeley, and the adjacent big city, San Francisco, yet there is always something new, or something I managed to overlook. Great idea to take a TOUR of your own town.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      May 30, 2020 at 5:15 am

      Carole, I too am amazed (and delighted) that I continue to discover new things or things I didn’t know about in my hometown. Happy hometown exploring.

  • Reply
    travelnwrite
    June 3, 2020 at 11:39 pm

    Funny how it often takes visitors to get us out and about in our own areas! Great advice here and this year in particular!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 6, 2020 at 11:57 am

      Yes, it often takes visitors to point out what is special about own areas. This might be the year many people discover that on their own.

  • Reply
    TravelGalCindy
    June 15, 2020 at 7:23 pm

    I’ve seen a lot of these “tourist in your own town” stories, but your’s is the best! While Winnipeg is your example, your general suggestions are great and applicable to any place. Nice work. And we are long over-due for a trip to Winnipeg – we’ve been waiting for the WAG expansion and, now, for the border to reopen!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      June 16, 2020 at 2:41 pm

      Thanks Cindy. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I feel there is a lot to be appreciated in everyone’s home town and we sometimes don’t explore it the way we explore places we travel to. The new Inuit Centre at the WAG should certainly be worth visiting. The latest news I’ve seen suggests construction will finish at the end of summer and then the WAG will begin installing the first exhibit. I’m not sure what the opening date will be. Perhaps the border will be open by then.

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