How to Explore Your Hometown Like a Tourist

So, you can’t take a “real” vacation. Maybe you don’t have the funds saved up, or you’re too busy to get away for longer than a day or two. Maybe the mere thought of leaving your own city or country puts you into a state of virtual culture shock. But there’s nothing to stop you from going into tourist mode and exploring your hometown as though you’ve never been there before.

This is a lesson my husband Mark and I learned a few years ago. Due to illnesses in the family, we needed to remain close to home, but still wanted to have a couple of days alone together for Valentine’s Day. We didn’t want to leave town, and we had left the planning a bit late, so booking anything on such a busy weekend would have been next to impossible.

So we got an idea.

What if we booked a hotel in town and explored our lovely city of Edmonton as if we’d never been here before? It sounded like a silly idea at first. Why would we pay good money to sleep in a strange bed in our hometown when sleeping at home was free? But we decided to give it a try to see if we could make it interesting.

We booked a room at the Glenora Inn Bed and Breakfast, a historic hotel (built in 1912, which is considered historic for Canada!) in an artsy, eclectic part of town filled with amazing restaurants, bars, shops, antique stores and art galleries. It’s an area that we would occasionally go to for dinner, but never really explored in-depth before.

We started the weekend by having lunch at an artisanal cafe, then we walked through art galleries, went antiquing, and saw a small part of our city that we had previously taken for granted. We ended up enjoying the weekend so much, that we’ve gone a few more times over the years to do the same thing. Just this weekend we decided to take Friday off to stay at the Glenora, just for one night, and pretend we were on a mini vacation again.

Here are five tips on how you, too, can explore your own city like a tourist:

1. Book a hotel. It can be historic, posh, a spa hotel, a cabin, whatever floats your boat. For me, I have a weakness for historic buildings, so the squeaky wood floors (hidden under carpet, mostly) and old-timey-wimey stylings of the Glenora Inn are right up my alley.

Glenora Inn Bed and Breakfast, Edmonton Alberta

Are we relaxed yet?

Choose a hotel in an area of your town that has things to do and attractions within walking distance. People are often confused by this concept; why would you book a hotel in your own town? Well, it’s to get away from the distractions in your own home. Dishes, laundry, chores, cooking, TV, whatever your regular routine is, this forces you to get away from it. If you’re at home it’s guaranteed that you will fall back into old habits and not really enjoy your time off. So I think it goes without saying, when you book the hotel, don’t get one with a kitchenette. You’re on holidays, remember? No cooking allowed. And don’t turn on the TV. Go out, walk around, and explore.

2. If You Forgot Something, Don’t Go Back For It. Friday afternoon, after we had already left the house, Mark realized he forgot his Wii Fit Meter at home. I had forgotten my cell phone. Neither item was crucial, but there was a temptation to swing home to pick up the things we forgot. But this was one of our earliest rules. Your car becomes your slow, low-flying airplane to your holiday destination, and if you forgot your toothbrush, you can’t very well ask the pilot to turn the plane around so you can go fetch it. You’ll only be gone a night or two, and you can always go out and purchase a replacement for whatever little toiletries you may have left behind. This rule forces you to chillax and sever that tie to home. If you keep running back home to pick things up, you’re not really on vacation.

3. Bring Your Camera. Sure, maybe you think you’ve seen your town a million times and there’s nothing left to surprise you. But your perspective changes when you have a camera in hand. You see things from different angles, different lighting, and different points of view. If you had never been there before, what would you consider worthy of a photograph? You never know, your photos might even inspire someone else to visit your town.

4. Try Something New. Every time we explore Edmonton on one of these weekend getaways, we find new things to see. This weekend we discovered a new store carrying environmentally friendly, “green” products for the home, and a little antique store we’d never been in before. Sometimes we go out to eat and try a new cafe or restaurant, but this time we decided to have an indoor picnic for supper. We stopped at an organic food market called Planet Organic for potato chips, pop and crackers, then picked up several gourmet cheeses at Paddy’s Cheese Shop, all of which are just within a few blocks of the hotel.

Glenora Inn Bed and Breakfast, Edmonton Alberta

5 kinds of cheese, red wine, organic crackers, red pepper dip and Roast Ham potato chips. Supper time!

We also explored Edmonton’s new Neon Sign Museum which just opened in February of this year, but hadn’t gone to see until now. Sure, it took all of five minutes to see it, but the thing is, we hadn’t made the time before, and now we had no excuse not to take a peek. It’s in its infancy, with only eight signs up so far, but there are four more currently being restored. There’s room for about thirty in total!

Neon Sign Museum, Edmonton Alberta

Neon Sign Museum

5. Buy Yourself a Souvenir. You always end up bringing something home when you go on holidays, right? So why not do it on your hometown tour as well? On our first home-away-from-home holiday, Mark and I bought a vintage Pyrex coffee pot at an antique store. It’s become one of our most treasured souvenirs even though we bought it in town. (It makes the best coffee ever. We’ve never had a bad pot!) Every time we use it, we remember the weekend we purchased it. This weekend, we stopped at the Duchess Bake Shop for sweets to take home, since we only seem to purchase pastries there when we stay at the Glenora. This place is so popular that the line-up usually goes right out the door! And no wonder, look at their gorgeous displays:

Duchess Bake Shop, Edmonton Alberta

I want two of everything!

So back at home this morning, while sipping coffee made with our Valentine’s Day vintage coffee pot, we split the brioche we purchased at this year’s Glenora getaway, and it made our mini “staycation” last just a little bit longer.

Duchess Bake Shop, Edmonton Alberta

Their Brioche is to die for!

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