It’s rarely a good idea to arrive in a new town without any idea of why you’re going there, or what there is to see and do. Even if you carry a guidebook with you, you’ll likely waste a good deal of time scouring it for information, when you could be out enjoying your travel.
What should you be looking for? Well, looking into the history of a town is a great start. It can help explain many things, from just the layout of a town, to an insight into the behaviour, culture or language of its citizens.
Studying a map of the town before you arrive allows you to quickly gather your bearings, rather than wasting the first couple of hours of your time getting from the central station to your hostel, and learning how the public transport works will help you avoid being dumped on the outskirts of town by the wrong bus. And even if that does happen, at least you’ll know you had the right ticket and won’t get fined by roving inspectors.
So, where to start your research? It’s hard to go past Wikipedia. While there are justified concerns about the state of many of its articles, I’ve found that the standard of geographical articles to be high, and even if you don’t trust the content, the references can be excellent.
Check out the websites of universities and other educational institutions in the countries to which you’re travelling. Often their history departments will be the foremost authorities on their country’s past – not surprisingly – and may even publish their papers online, which could be great sources of information.