The 6 best cities to get lost in

Put your map away and spin round three times – it's 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's good lost and bad lost. It's best done on purpose, with plenty of time to spare and a sound way to get found again.

Some cities just seem to lend themselves to this kind of off-the-chart adventure. Here are six of our favourites – and six ways to make it home again.

Venice

This has got to be the ultimate head-spinner of a city. 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 it's boggling 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 out for the signs and arrows scrawled on the walls: you can follow them to hubs like the Rialto and L'Accademia.

Varanasi

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 its back alleys.

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

London

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's efficient, but where's the romance? Try a wander and you'll be rewarded by grand squares, secluded churchyards and one-off boutiques.

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

Tokyo

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.

Istanbul

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.

Canberra

With its systems of circular roads, Australia's capital city regularly traps its visitors in a hamster-wheel spiral of confusion. But there's better ways to get lost here. Head out of the city centre – yes, into the bush. Keep going. There! See those suburbs? That's 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).

The travellers on the Thorn Tree forum are naming and shaming the most confusingly laid-out cities in the world. Which one spins your compass?