Once you think you are in the swing of things, because finally you understand the public transportation system, you finally found that right balance between school and play, and you finally…. finally…. are starting to understand a few words of the native language…. up comes a public holiday.
If you are originally from the United States or have lived there most of your life, you are accustomed to when the public holidays are, and even then, you have most places of business open and it’s like any other day. In many places around the world, there is a much longer list of public holidays, and for what feels like all of them, everything is closed.
Most of the time those at your university will inform you when there is a public holiday, so you can go grocery shopping the day before if needed. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. Even with the wonderful tool that is the internet, you might (alright, will) have days where you wake up and find out – oh, it’s a public holiday. While it may occasionally put a hamper on your plans if you’re not aware, it does not mean that the day will go to waste. Sundays are also a day, in some countries, where you may also find that almost everything is closed. Even with knowing that, you may find yourself too waking up and realizing that everything is closed.
First off, you won’t starve
If you are living in a capital city or a big city in general, there are places that are open. Think touristy spots more than anything, although not all will open either. Google around, or walk around the area to see what is open and what is not. Worse comes to worse, head to your local McDonalds which are more than likely to be open.
In some places, there are some grocery stores open – mostly in train stations. Be warned, though, that it will be crowded and therefore you spend a lot of time just to get some groceries.
When it comes to smaller cities where none of this may be true, eat what you have – and if you are desperate, collaborate with your fellow classmates to make some sort of meal together. With smaller cities, definitely mark your calendars or planners with all of the public holidays that will occur during your term, semester or year abroad, so you can shop before the date.
Be mindful of public transportation schedules
The schedules will not be the same as everyday schedules – often there are less trains, trams, and busses running on holidays and Sundays. Check Google Maps or your local public transportation app for details before you leave. There may also be delays. So, in other words, don’t rush! Take your time, and if you have to be at a place at a certain time, leave with plenty of time for any likely disruptions.
Now – what should you do?
My first recommendation is to take advantage of the fact that it is a public holiday or a Sunday and study. Catch up on your schoolwork without having to deal with what is open and what is closed when you are out and about.
Naturally, you may not want to do that all day (or at all) – so here is a list of things that are likely open:
Touristy Places – Think: Museums, Palaces, Gardens, Historical Landmarks. Not all will be open, but more places than you’d think will be open. Note: it WILL be crowded more than likely, but it’ll give you a chance to get another thing off your bucket list. But expect queues wherever you go.
Parks – Especially if the weather is nice, grab whatever food you may have, a good book and head to the local park to get some fresh air and (hopefully) some sun. There might be some ice cream stands open as well.
Church – While I’m not sure if churches are open on all public holidays, but if it is a religious holiday, they will be open and of course, on Sundays as well. Even if you are not yet fluent (or not at all fluent) in the local language, go to a mass and experience that facet of the local culture. Bonus points if it is a famous church – it’s better to see churches in action rather than just walking through them, in my opinion.
Events – Check out the local Facebook events in your area or start asking around. Mostly on the weekends during the spring and summer, there are likely festivals going on where you can enjoy music and food, as well as meet local people while you are at it. If you are in any European city near Christmas, you’ll likely find a Christmas market or two around you. Same goes for Easter time.
Worse comes to worse – just go for a walk
Grab your bag, throw a water bottle in there, and just head out. Wander around areas that you have yet to wander around. Get on the subway and stop at a stop you’ve been curious about, and just walk. Explore. Take a deep breath and see what your city has to offer that you have not quite seen yet.
One of my personal favorite things to do is to take my camera along with me, wherever I go on a Sunday or public holiday. You’ll find that certain areas are less crowded than they are on a normal day, so you’re able to photograph pretty streets without random people walking into your photos. It’ll also give you a chance to photograph those touristy, historical places without feeling the guilt that you should go in and explore. Give yourself a goal on how many photographs you can take in a day. Then spend the evening editing your favorites.
As you can see, just because it is a public holiday or a Sunday does not mean that the day has to go to waste. It may not be like your normal day abroad, but there are ways to enjoy it for what it is.