Put your map away and spin round three times – it is time to get lost. Going off the radar in a strange city can be the perfect way to uncover its secrets, get a feel for the layout and meet the locals.

Of course, there is good lost and bad lost. It is best done on purpose, with plenty of time to spare and a sound way to get found again. Some cities lend themselves to this kind of off-the-chart adventure; here are six of our favourites – and six ways to make it home again.

This northern Italian city is the ultimate head-spinner. First it comes at you with an endless recession of identical canals and bridges, then it veers off at odd angles and into blind corners, and all the time boggles your senses with its impossible film-set beauty. No fair, Venice! Getting lost here pays  – the tramp of a thousand tourists yields to tranquil sunlit courtyards and the sound of pigeons’ wings.

Get found: Look for signs and arrows scrawled on the walls. You can follow them to hubs like the Rialto and L’Accademia.

You could throw yourself into Varanasi’s dark maze of streets a hundred times over and still come out at a different point. Discover temples, sweet shops and silk bargains in the back alleys of this Indian city.

Get found: Countless bicycle rickshaw drivers will be only too happy to take you home – for a price that is in range of just about every budget.

Most visitors to London have a fractured, point-to-point experience of the city, popping up from tube stations to visit the sights then diving underground again. It is efficient, but where is the romance? Try to wander and you will be rewarded by grand squares, secluded churchyards and one-off boutiques.

Get found: Just look for the distinctive London Underground sign. Bingo, you are back on the map!

The bewildering pace and flickering neon of this go-go city guarantee a bit of giddiness. Abandon yourself to the disorientation and you might just get off-road enough to find the wabi-sabi side of Tokyo.

Get found: Like London, Tokyo has an excellent public transport system. If it all gets too much, jump a train back to home base.

There are (at least) two great things about getting out of the tourist centre in Istanbul. One – the hotels and hard-sell rug merchants fall away, replaced by local tea shops, parks and houses. Two – the city’s rollercoaster hills reward you with Bosphorus views and toned-up legs. Get lost every day and see your fitness soar!

Get found: If you want to get back to the tourist area, stop for a glass of tea and ask the way to Sultanahmet. Soothe your tired muscles in one of the city’s spectacular bath houses.

With its systems of circular roads, Australia’s capital city regularly traps its visitors in a hamster-wheel spiral of confusion. But there are better ways to get lost here. Head out of the city centre – yes, into the bush. Keep going. There! See those suburbs? That is where the life of the city is going on – including some of its best eating.

Get found: Hooray for GPS! Or go with the traditional Aussie method and ask for directions at a servo (service station).

Tell us how you lost your way and why it was worth it using the hashtag #gettinglost on Twitter, or tell us your tale by commenting on Facebook. We’ll publish the best responses in an upcoming Travelwise column.


The article 'The six best cities to get lost in' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.