The first time I go somewhere I always see whatever the big thing(s) are in that area. Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I don’t think anyone should go somewhere and NOT see the iconic sites of that area. You can usually find a hop on hop off bus or a day tour that will take you to all the “must see” places in 1 day or less.
Up next after my “must see” items I look to see if any holidays will be celebrated while I’m there. Participating in the local celebrations is an awesome way to remember your trip and celebrate with the locals!
I’m also in for food and shopping! If there is a local dish or food they are known for (no matter how strange) I want to try it. It may only be one bite, but I’ll try it. If there is an amazing or iconic market, I want to shop there. Food and shopping don’t need to be a high priority, I’ll eat at some point but I want to know what the area is known for so if I see it I can get it while I’m out and about. For the shopping, I’ll usually do that on a free afternoon or evening.
The next thing I do is look for the secondary things I want to see or do. These are not the iconic “must see” things for the area but things I’m interested in. I scuba dive so if I’m somewhere that it’s an option I try to fit it in at least one day of my trip. I’m also a sucker for priceless jewels, butterfly sanctuaries, aquariums, old churches, Castles, ancient temples and ruins. I was an art minor in college so if there is important pieces of art in an area or artists I’m interested in I try to fit seeing those.
Part of my secondary things to do I look for an unusual tour. They have always been a highlight of my trip and very interesting. Some examples of things I have done in the past a flashlight Jack the Ripper tour of London and a Haunted tour of Sydney in a hearse. I did an erotic tour of different kinds of brothels and sex shops and learned all about the sex worker industry that was quite enlightening. I did a symbolism tour of an old graveyard. Some destinations have them, some don’t. But I have learned the quirky tours are usually a blast so if there’s one available, I try to fit it in.
The last thing is a bit of pampering. I try to book this at the end of my trip or after a long day. There are day spas and salons all over the world waiting to pamper you. It may be a mani-pedi, facial or massage a little pampering is nice. If there is something unique to the area I try to give it a try.
My only piece of advice is: Don’t pre-plan every day, every minute. Try to book one thing a day so you have time to do other things you didn’t know about until you were there. I usually book a tour or activity in the morning leaving my afternoons and/or evenings free. If I have an evening activity that I want to do I make sure that the next day is not an early morning (like diving) and if I have a morning tour that day it needs to end by lunch so I have the whole afternoon free before my evening out.