It’s a big change, moving from a small town to a big city. It feels too vast, too claustrophobic, too many people in too many streets that twist and turn into each other like streams in never-ending deltas.
It’s not just a specific city though. Any place from New York to Paris to Mumbai can feel like that when you’ve never experienced it before. Sure, moving to a city can be exciting, but even that doesn’t completely erase the other feelings.
But there’s some comfort. Every big city can feel like a small town once you recognize the spots that feel a little cozier, the neighborhoods that feel more like lakes than constant oceans. In New York, that means avoiding midtown at all times and in Edinburgh, it means fleeing tourists on the Royal Mile, especially during the summer months.
Why compare New York to Edinburgh when talking about a small town feeling? Well, both are cities that hold a relatively large percent of their country’s population in a very compact space for the number. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by both when you’re not from the area, but they each have unique spots that make you feel like you never left the town you grew up in.
So here are a few tips to get that small town feeling each place has to offer in both cities:
Avoid tourist destinations. I mentioned this before, but here it is again to reiterate the importance. New York and Edinburgh both have a large tourism industry concentrated in a dense area and if you spend a lot of time there, you may feel overwhelmed by your new city life. For Edinburgh, this is a lot less important since the Royal Mile has a lot of less crowded spots where there are virtually no people such as the Writer’s Museum. However, for New York, any street you visit in midtown during the middle of the day is pretty much guaranteed to be crowded.
Try new neighborhoods. Instead of tourist areas, try opting for new neighborhoods or spots in both cities. Both Hamilton and Washington Heights in New York are great spots to feel like you’re in the suburbs again. With the lack of the ever-present crowd, the water on both sides, and the plethora of parks like Fort Washington and Highbridge, it’s a great area with a casual, residential feel. The coffee shops in the area like the Chipped Cupgive a cozy, warm feeling without escaping the novelty of New York. For Edinburgh, nothing gets away from big city life and screams small town like nature. Calton Hill is smack in the center of the city and a great place to hang out if you want to avoid the crowds at Arthur’s Seat. Or if a hike isn’t your cup of tea try the area around Dean’s Garden and Cemetery—super cozy, but beautiful area.
Take a day trip. One of the best parts about living in the small town is being able to drive and see another place. In both New York City and Edinburgh, you can still access new places even without a car. For New York, if you’re an experienced hiker and need to get out for a day take a train from Grand Central to Fishkill, NY ($25-$30, about 2 a hour journey) and hike Breakneck Ridge. If that seems a little too intense, try a trip with Vertically Inclined($35, about an hour’s journey) to Anthony’s Nose in the Bronx. In Edinburgh, if the breathtaking view from atop Calton Hill wasn’t enough, maybe try a trip into a Highlands with Rabbies (tour range from £28 to £42).
Talk to your neighbors. Yup, it’s a simple (or as difficult) as that. The ease of living in a small town is that you know a lot of people. Without that social cushion, cities can seem cold and awkward. In Edinburgh, most people tend to be friendly and tend to be generous with their conversation and advice if you can muster the courage to ask them. In New York, people can be a bit tougher to crack, but frequenting a local coffee shop or other nearby venue is guaranteed to have the barista or another frequent patron notice you and that could be a good way into a friendship that can make the big city seem a little smaller.
These few tips can help you feel a little less alone and scared in a big city. Both places require quite the adjustment period, but trust me, soon it will start to feel like home again and you’ll get a lot more comfortable. And who knows? If you like how New York or Edinburgh can start to feel like a small town, hopefully you’ll get a chance to visit the other city someday and get the same feeling there as well.
Find this article and more under my other name (Jainita Patel) here.