For many, food and travel go hand in hand. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as finding a city that’s known for its culinary riches. It takes a bit of time and effort, but these travel tips will help you find local gems that offer authenticity and aim to avoid the tourist price tag.
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A more authentic breakfast
It’s often simpler and more convenient to eat breakfast at the hotel, but unless its included in the price, its usually much more expensive too. That’s especially true if you don’t have a big appetite first thing in the morning and so don’t get the full benefit from buffet breakfasts.
If you’re staying in a city, there’s bound to be local cafes surrounding your hotel, especially if you’ve chosen the right place to stay. It’s easy to find somewhere nearby for breakfast just by using tripadvisor.
Check out the markets
Food markets in European cities are an awesome place to find amazing produce at a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal. There are usually stalls that will prepare food, whether it’s freshly prepared sandwiches, cheese and meats for a picnic, or a simple menu to choose from.
If you’re staying in an apartment, you have even more excuse to visit the market!
Ask the owner
If you’re staying at a small hotel, i.e. one where you see the owner virtually every day, they’re usually a better source of local restaurant recommendations than the larger hotels. They provide a much more personal service and use their own experience to recommend places worth eating at. In larger hotels, the staff are more likely to commute from outside the city each day and therefore have less knowledge of the local food scene, and they’re also less invested in providing you the very best service they can.
Keep your head up and look around
It sounds obvious, but you can find just where you’re looking for by keeping your eyes peeled as you’re exploring and making a mental note (or an actual note) of restaurants you want to try later in your holiday.
If you’ve got a range of options you know you want to try, it reduces the chances of collapsing in exhaustion hunger at some crappy place on a city square, charging you 10 euros for a pokey little sandwich on soggy bread. It can even pay off to pop into places that look a little more formal or are really busy to see if you need to make a reservation.
Invest wisely in the right excursions
Consider taking a food tour with a local guide; they can be worth their weight in gold, especially if you’re only staying for a few nights. It seems counterintuitive to spend money on food tours because the cost of the tour far outweighs the value of the food you’ll be eating, but it’s not really the food you’re paying for. It’s the knowledge of someone who knows the area and will happily scribble all over your map with local suggestions and tell you where you should steer clear of.
Before booking, make sure you’ve done your research, by checking out what tours are available in the area, what people are saying about them, whether they are escorted by a local guide and the size of the groups. The smaller the group size for better, not just for a more personal interaction, but also meaning you can visit the really tiny places that you wouldn’t even notice if you walked past them on your own.
Use a mixture of sources to find great restaurants
Invest in a good travel guide
A travel guide is an investment rather than an expense. To make sure this is the case, borrow a range from the library beforehand so that you know which works will for you. Lonely Planet guides are usually the best where food is concerned, with the most comprehensive restaurant sections, but which you’ll prefer might be different to you, and Rough guides, DK guidebooks or any other might be better for you.
One caution with lonely planet: The pocket guides, which they usually have for less popular cities, have much smaller food sections and the quality of the suggestions tends not to be as good.
Trip advisor will allow you to search not only top restaurants and budget options, but also places near to your hotel. It makes it easier to find good places that you don’t need to walk miles to. It can be daunting when there are thousands of restaurant options, so this is a good way to narrow down.
Rather than looking at the top 10 restaurants, search for the hotel you’re staying in. From the review page, on the right hand side there’s a small map and a ‘Browse nearby button’. If you select the restaurant link, it will bring up restaurants by distance from your hotel. When there’s over 11k restaurants listed (such as in Rome) it makes it a bit easier to penetrate the list for good spots that don’t have a premium price tag.
Blogs Lots of people blog about food, either from the perspective of a traveller or as a local sharing knowledge. It’s a great way to find restaurants that don’t feature in a guide book, a hidden in the midst of a thousand others on tripadvisor.
Magazine articles In my last post, I mentioned Food and Travel magazine. I’ve found this to be the best magazine for finding local restaurants, if my destination is included, as the whole point of the magazine is food and travel.
These tips work best if you layer them, use all the sources you can find to help you find the best local eats. It does take time and effort but the reward is usually worth it. Even if you use one or two tips on this page, it will certainly help you get more from culinary experiences both at home and away.