One way to experience a city is to take an official tour. Many cities offer tours ranging from historic routes that will teach you all about the origins of the city to ghost tours filled with spooky stories and over-the-top theatrics. Some cities have themed tours at different times of the year. Time your visit correctly and you might get the chance to tour historic homes in an old neighborhood or hear tell of famous events in the city's past.
If you want to see a lot of the city in a compressed time, a tour is a good option. On the positive side, you'll have a chance to see the sights in an orderly way without having to be in charge. However, there are some drawbacks, too -- you won't be able to spend all afternoon at any particular stop on the tour due to the tour's schedule.
Some cities have tours that let you hop on and off on your own schedule. This might be a great choice for tourists who want the freedom to explore a particular part of town without worrying about a bus leaving them behind. Be sure to look into the tour details to see if the city you're visiting has a tour with this option.
If the city is next to a lake, ocean or river, you may want to look into boat tours. A boat tour gives you a relaxed and romantic view of the city. Whether you're sailing down the Thames through London or taking a tour of the bay in San Francisco, boat tours are a fun way to see the town. You might even find a tour that will serve dinner on the boat as you float by the sights. Keep in mind you're only going to see a small part of the city -- anything not adjacent to water is usually off limits.
If you would rather have a little more freedom during your travels, you can purchase a city guide and plan out your trip based upon the recommendations inside. Some guides will contain suggested touring schedules that can help you experience as much of the city as you can in the time you have.
You can always create your own tour based upon the information you've gathered. Just remember to build in extra time in case you hit traffic along the way. It's also a good idea to look online to make sure the sites you plan to visit will be open on the days you'll be in the city. It's better to find out a particular location will be closed for renovation while you still have the option to make alternate plans rather than when you show up at the front door.