See a completely different side of a city when you break away from the mob of tourists following the guide with the red umbrella. On these 10 unique city tours, you'll venture into the Bronx with an old-school rapper, see abandoned buildings in Portugal's second city, and go longboarding through Amsterdam's most famous park. You're sure to come home with a camera full of authentic experiences that most visitors miss.
Crowds gather from March through October on the Congress Avenue Bridge to see a natural spectacle that has earned the resident bat colony celebrity status in Austin. Each night at dusk, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from beneath the bridge, swirling like a black ribbon into the sky. For a unique perspective on the mass exodus, watch it from the water on a Congress Avenue Kayaks bat tour. With a small group of 10, you'll paddle under the bridge in sit-on-top kayaks. After encountering the bats, you can venture out on your own to see other sights on the water.
Details: The 90-minute kayak bat tour departs at sunset in season and is $30 for a two-person kayak.
Insider Tip: You can also watch the bats from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin's lobby lounge, which serves a "Batini" cocktail. Plan an August visit to coincide with the city's annual bat festival.
1960s Summer of Love Tour, San Francisco, California
It's all peace, love, and bubble-spewing on this psychedelic hippie bus that takes you on a trip back to San Francisco's 1960s counterculture. The Magic Bus Tour stops at landmarks of the city's hippie movement; you can even join in a drum circle (this time without the purple haze). On the bus, a groovy guide/actor will share interesting stories and rock out with you to the music of the era. It's a multimedia adventure that evokes the decade's politics and attitudes through live action and video projections on the bus's retractable window screens. The tour hits Chinatown and the North Beach spot where Jack Kerouac hung out. You'll see Golden Gate Park and the crossroads of Haight and Ashbury streets, home of the Summer of Love, in a whole new light.
Details: The two-hour tour is $55 and starts at Union Square.
Insider Tip: Bring a jacket or sweater. It can be chilly at Golden Gate Park even if it's warm downtown at the tour's start.
(Photo: Rob Moody)
Downtown Yoga Tour, Asheville, North Carolina
Take your downward dog downtown in Asheville, North Carolina. On this Travelling Yogini Tour, you'll strike a pose and connect with your breath in several of the city's iconic spots. A yoga guide will start with beginner-level stretches and, as you move from Pritchard Park to the Flat Iron Building to the artsy Chicken Alley district, the poses will become more challenging. By the time you finish with a cooldown and meditation, you'll have heard about Asheville's history and architecture. Between flowing in and out of poses, you'll meet street performers, artists, and others who are out exploring the city.
Details: The 90-minute downtown tour is $20.
Insider Tip: Along the way, the yoga guide will point out funky boutiques and specialty shops, giving you interesting tidbits on the history and products so you can plan your apres-yoga shopping route.
Urban Home-Visit Tour, Berlin, Germany
Want an invitation to sit in a Berliner's flat and chat over coffee or beer? The Urban Living Tour, the ultimate insider's tour, will introduce you to three different Berliners in three different neighborhoods. You'll get to go inside their homes and spend an hour visiting and checking out their decor. The hosts you'll meet will depend on who is in town on the day you're visiting. It could be a set designer in an underground courtyard apartment or a photographer with an uber-luxe pad on a main thoroughfare built in the Stalin era. While you snoop around and see how they live, you'll hear about what drew them to the city and what they love about it.
Details: The 4.5-hour tour includes visits to three private apartments, drinks and sweets, sightseeing between the visits, transport, and a private guide. Prices vary based on how many people are taking the tour; see website for details.
Insider Tip: Keep an open mind and come with questions.
(Photo: Dominic Stevenson)
City Tour Led by Homeless Guide, London, England
See London through the eyes of someone who lives on the city's streets. Unseen Tours hires and professionally trains homeless and formerly homeless people to lead its walking tours of London Bridge, Camden, Shoreditch, and Convent Garden. See the stark contrast between historical landmarks and sites where the guides have slept, hear riveting personal stories, and discover tucked-away places few others ever experience. The tour ends at either a pub or a cafe, so you can carry on with your guide or group in a discussion that ebbs between the politics of street begging and the effects of gentrification on the East End.
Details: The tour runs $9 to $14 per hour and usually lasts about 90 minutes.
Insider Tip: On each tour, the company reserves two free spots for those who are either unable to pay or are accompanying someone as a caregiver. Wondering how much of the ticket sales goes back to the guide? About 80 percent. Unseen Tours was the winner for best tour operator for local experiences in the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2011.
'Worst' Walking Tour, Porto, Portugal
This tour in Portugal's second-largest city is the antithesis of a tourist trap. Avoiding all of Porto's polished postcard-perfect sites, it takes visitors past decrepit homes and crumbling shops. Started by three out-of-work architects who stuck around after the country was hit hard by the recession, The Worst Tours will show you the not-for-tourists sites and guides will tell stories about the old markets and abandoned buildings, helping you understand what's behind Europe's economic crisis. Learn about Porto's architecture, history, politics, and urbanism from a few people who are "OK with not being popular or cool or the best in anything, least of all touring."
Details: Tours are two to three hours and are free.
Insider Tip: Let your guide know which parts of the city you've already visited and what your interests are, and he or she will create a route that shows you things you haven't seen.
(Photo: Urban Adventures)
Gwana Music Tour, Essaouira, Morocco
New this spring, the Gnawa Music Experience tour gives you a unique encounter with one of Morocco's off-the-charts popular trends: trance-like Gnawa music and its acrobatic dance moves. You'll be introduced to the addictive music's Afro-Moroccan culture and customs in the medina, where musicians will be jamming. Then, you'll step inside hidden domains typically inaccessible to visitors: You'll go into the home of a dancer to see him perform, watch a troupe master play a traditional lute-like instrument in his private quarters, and visit a temple where sacred rituals drive out evil spirits.
Details: The evening tour costs around $100 and lasts two to three hours.
Insider Tip: Both men and women should dress with respect, covering everything from the shoulders to the knees. At the end of the tour, your guide can recommend places to go dancing where you'll hear Gnawa music fused with Western and Latin music.
(Photo: TripAdvisor LLC)
Hip-Hop Tour, New York, New York
With a legendary hip-hop artist as your guide, Hush Tours will give you a truly entertaining experience in the Bronx and Harlem, the birthplace of the culture. Here, people on the street might recognize and give shout-outs to the Hush Tours guides—Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, and others—as they delve into four aspects of hip-hop culture: DJing, MCing, B-boy and B-girl dancing, and graffiti artistry. You'll see the important landmarks and check out where Biggie, Nas, and Jay-Z grew up on this fun tour.
Details: Tours range from two hours ($32) to four hours ($75).
Insider Tip: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. At one point on the tour, you'll learn hip-hop moves and try them out on the streets.
Date-Night City Tour with a Photographer, Toronto, Canada
Nothing against snapping a selfie with your iPhone, but on LiveToronto's Date Night Tour, you'll get enviable pics (without your arm) for posting on Facebook or printing in a photo book. Depending on your interests (sports, architecture, music, etc.), your personal paparazzo will plan a walking route to hit Toronto's key sites and set up photo ops. As you explore downtown's icons and hidden gems, your photographer guide will share interesting details about each landmark while capturing everything from classic poses to silly shots. Choose your own adventure: You can include the Harbourfront, the base of the CN Tower, Osgoode Hall, Roundhouse Park, and others.
Details: The 60-minute private tour is $100 to $200 per couple and includes 50 fully edited digital photos, which will be delivered within 24 hours.
Insider Tip: Don't surprise your significant other with this date-night tour—there are too many things to consider beforehand (including hair, nails, and a second outfit or pair of shoes for another look). The company runs tours for families and corporate groups, too.
Longboarding Tour, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
You won't find this longboard tour through Vondelpark in your guidebook or officially operated by any local tour company. But check Vayable.com and there it is: Vondelsurfing, offered by a "semi-professional amateur" longboarder named Milan V. In the new sharing economy, websites like Vayable.com connect you with a vetted local guide. Here, Milan V. puts you on a long skateboard in the middle of Amsterdam's most popular park, hands you a rope, and pulls you behind a fixie bicycle for a couple of hours. It's a chance to see the park like a true hipster Amsterdammer, says Milan V., who has hosted beginners as well as seasoned longboarders.
Details: The two-hour tour is $24 and includes all gear, a drink, and photo/video of your ride.
Insider Tip: Vondelsurfing is fun in pairs of two, so you can switch and watch how the other is doing.
When it's time once again to put on your thinking cap, look to a city like Oxford for literary stimulation. This medieval university town has been home to many great writers who studied long hours, stopped for pints to relax, and bought pub fare for sustenance here. Come see where these masters of the English language spent much of their academic lives and walk amongst the town and gown of this historical city.
Play Bodleian Library: It's not surprising Oxford would have the second largest library in the U.K. Nor is it the least bit shocking it's housed in architecturally impressive buildings more than 500 years old. The Bodleian Library, whose stacks hold in excess of seven million volumes, is an outstanding resource for the written word. Guided tours give insight into both the massive collections and those literary folk who studied here, including Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis. The standard one-hour tour costs £2.50 per person (about $3.85 U.S. dollars; see XE.com for current conversion rates) and covers sights such as the Duke Humfrey's medieval library and the 17th-century Convocation House and Court.
Drink Eagle and Child: Years before their books were adapted into blockbuster films, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would meet in this pub as part of a literary group known as "The Inklings." Rumor has it they even read from their works, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit. The "Bird and Baby," as it is affectionately called by locals, still caters to Oxford students discussing literature, but also welcomes anyone who wishes to pay their respects to the writers who once drank here. Grab a pint and take a peek at the memorabilia, which includes a plaque honoring the Inklings.
Shop Oxford Covered Market: Serving as a place to buy goods for more than 1,000 years, the Covered Market in the heart of Oxford will take you back to Olde England. After you've admired the stalls of colorful fruits and vegetables at the greengrocer's, stop at the Oxford Cheese Company for a wedge of farmhouse cheddar or have your shoes resoled at the Oxford Cobbler. It doesn't cost a thing to browse, and you could spend days sifting through the plethora of specialty items. When your feet need a rest, grab a quick baguette with artisan crisps (British for potato chips) at mortons@work for under £4 or head home with a bag of tea from Cardews of Oxford.
To search for flights and compare prices to London, which is home to Oxford’s nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.
When the clouds are gray, as is common in London, it's time to grab a bite to eat and take in a show. Well-known for its ample theater selections, Covent Garden can't be beat as a jumping-off point for a day or night on the town. This funky and fun district overflows with unique shops, coffee and tea houses, and theatrical performances, but you don't have to spend a pretty penny—even though the British pound is still worth somewhat more than U.S. dollar —to enjoy the sights.
Shop Covent Garden Market: This bustling two-story market located on the Piazza nearly topples over with homemade goods, fine fashions, tasty treats, U.K. souvenirs, and enough eye candy to make your head spin. Street performers entertain onlookers with juggling, magic, and music, while shopkeepers bid patrons welcome.
Eat Mon Plaisir: As the oldest French restaurant in London, this endearing brasserie, with its white exterior and red-and-blue lettering, has earned bragging rights as one of the best. Upon entering the dining area, you will encounter a pewter-topped bar, which was transported from a Lyonnais brothel to now give hungry souls a place to rest. The traditional country-French fare lives up to its reputation, with menu items such as beef casserole with a rich red wine sauce or medley of fish with chive butter sauce. And if you're in a hurry to catch a show, it's the greatest deal in town. For the pre-theater crowd, two- and three-course menus start at £13.50 (about $19.50 U.S. dollars; see XE.com for current exchange rates) and include a glass of wine with seatings between 5:45 and 7:00 p.m. on weekdays.
Play The Royal Opera House: Although this theater has gone through several transformations, the ground it stands on has been the scene of live performances for almost 300 years. Today, the lavishly decorated building, with an impressive glass dome and Greek columns, wows audiences with its opera, ballet, and dance productions. For half-price tickets, visit the box office several hours before a show. It may be risky, but spontaneity can pay off.
Admittedly, the chances of my inheriting a not-yet-discovered trust fund and trotting around the globe are slim-to-none. It’s sad but true. I have, however, thought that perhaps one day I would travel in Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class cabin and enjoy a lavish yet complimentary in-flight spa treatment by one of their trained “In-Flight Beauty Therapists.” Perhaps I’d elect for a “Handsome Hands” manicure or a “Back in the Clouds” upper back massage en route to London. What better way to rejuvenate at 30,000 feet?
Alas, dear reader, these dreams might be dashed. Virgin recently held a crisis meeting with all of its In-Flight Beauty Therapists to discuss the fate of these services. And a source who has had the privilege of flying Upper Class to the U.K. alerted me to an email he received that said the airline is “reviewing the future” of in-flight beauty.
Why? Apparently Sir Richard feels that expanded ground spa offerings at Virgin’s Clubhouse are much more valuable and appreciated services. Sure, it’s great to get your hair blown out by a Bumble and bumble stylist whilst awaiting your transatlantic voyage, but it lacks the cachet of saying you had your nails done en route to your destination. En route! That’s so much cooler! And the bragging rights, don’t even start!
Undoubtedly these cuts have more to do with rising fuel costs and the global credit crunch than passenger preferences. Just another example of the airlines’ need to cut corners. Unfortunately, I’d rather they cut cuticles.
The Wall Street Journal recently suggested that airlines actively seek celebrity passengers because they bring the carriers cachet that ordinary schmoes like you and me are dazzled by. So for an international superstar to be banned by an airline, he or she would have to do something pretty bad.
Enter Naomi Campbell. The 38-year old supermodel (who may be demoted to simply "model" after her latest escapade) was arrested at London's Heathrow airport, where she was due to catch a British Airways flight to Los Angeles. When BA employees were unable to locate a missing bag of Miss Campell's, she allegedly "flew into a rage" and wound up spitting at one of the police officers who were trying to detain her. I guess if you're going to be spat at by someone, you could do worse than a supermodel, but saliva is saliva and laws are laws, so Campbell got dragged off by the cops.
Perhaps one isolated "babe behaving badly" incident might have been overlooked by British Airways, but the leggy Campbell has a history of violence:
Throwing a telephone at an assistant
Beating an assistant with a BlackBerry.
Assault on an Italian actress.
Another instance of battering an employee with a cell phone.
I'd say British Airways should be relieved to get out of the transporting-Naomi-Campbell business with no actual bloodshed.
If you're a traveler like me, your typical vacation will include a trip up to a scenic lookout where you're likely to have the best view of the place you're visiting. And if you're a big wuss like me, as soon as you get to the most scenic vantage point, your knees will start wobbling and you'll grip the handrail with vise-like intensity/strength, thinking, "I could've gotten this view from a postcard in the lobby!" For those of you who like the idea (if not necessarily the reality) of a great view, I've put together the following list of 10 attractions, each of which is extremely nosebleed-friendly.
10. The CN Tower
The CN Tower is 553 meters tall, which is a Canadian way of saying 1,815 feet off the ground. Technically, it's the "tallest free-standing structure on land," but that just means it's not a place where people live or work. Which is just fine by me, because I have absolutely no interest in living or working anyplace higher than my third-floor bedroom or fourth-floor office. The CN Tower was completed in 1973 and is used primarily for TV and radio broadcasts, as well as tourism. Fans of 1940s music will be dismayed to learn that there is no AM antenna on the Tower.
9. The Jungfraujoch Railway Station
What do you get when you cross the Swiss Alps with Europe's love of passenger trains? The Jungfraujoch railway station, which is 11,333 feet above sea level. Okay, that's not much of a joke, but the Swiss aren't known for their sense of humor (kidding!). So once you've made this hair-raising train trip to the top of the world, what can you do besides gorging on Swiss chocolate and fondue? How about checking out an Ice Palace or a ski and snowboard park that's only open in the summer?
om nom nom
8. Mt. Kilimanjaro
For number eight, let's take this a notch higher. It's true that Mt. Kilimanjaro makes the Alps look puny. But with a summit of 19,340 feet, Africa's tallest peak is actually accessible enough for real people to climb, sans oxygen tanks. Of course that's not to say it's an easy task, especially if you're the type who favors the escalator to the stairs.
Floor 5895: Neon hiking gear and ridiculous hats
7. London Eye
Coming back a little closer to earth, the London Eye is essentially a big ol' Ferris wheel. If that doesn't wow you, consider that the 443-foot-tall ride was the tallest of its kind when it opened in 2000. If you want to make your visit more upscale, you can purchase a glass of Champagne for an additional £30. I think I'll pass on the pricey drink. I'll be happy just to hold down my lunch while in one of the pods.
6. Singapore Flyer
With about 100 more vertical feet than the London Eye, The Singapore Flyer took the role of world's highest Ferris wheel when it opened this month. One of the coolest things about the Flyer is its taxi-driver promotion, which currently awards all cabbies a free ride. I guess the idea is they'll be so taken with their trip that they won't be able to stop talking up the attraction to their customers. I'm assuming they're not trying to recruit the drivers to be "pod pilots." Just one warning to those who do take the Flyer: Don't write your name in your cabin. They're not big fans of graffiti in Singapore.
Never Forget: Michael P. Fay
5. The Top of the Rock
The Empire State Building is great, but it's soooo 20th century. For the latest in Big Apple views, you gotta hit the Top of the Rock. The "Rock" in question is Rockefeller Center, and while its 850-foot-high observation deck doesn't reach the Empire State Building's height, , this deck affords a much better view of the ESB than you'll get when you're standing on the building itself. Oh, and our sister site TripAdvisor's users rank the Top of the Rock number one of 1,296 New York City attractions. 'Nuff said.
Hey, is that Tina Fey? Let's not forget her either.
4. La Paz
Just about any spot in La Paz, Bolivia, the world's highest capital city, can make the most grounded person feel as if his head is in the clouds. At 11,942 feet in elevation, La Paz is an attraction in itself. If you go, make sure you're prepared for the altitude. You can take a medicine such as Diamox, or just chew some coca leaves like the locals. La Paz's Museum of the Coca Plant is the place to learn more about the coca leaf and all its interesting uses.
im in ur bolivia sniffin ur cokez
3. The Edge
It might be in Melbourne, Australia, but there is nothing "Down Under" about The Edge, a glass cube that juts out of the Eureka Tower, which at 975 feet is the world's tallest residential building. The worst … er, best part of it all is that The Edge doesn't just sit there like all the other observation decks. No, you get in and it physically moves outward until you're hanging out with nothing between you and a long fall but some chintzy glass panel.
Hello, Hello. I'm at a place called Vertigo.
2. Taipei 101
The Taipei 101 is currently the world's tallest building at a height of 1,670 feet, though the Burj Dubai is set to overtake that record when it officially opens. At that height, I'm really not interested in which one is taller, but rather how the hell I can get down safely. What I think is coolest about the 101 is not just its height, but how big it is relative to the buildings around it. It's as if former NBA big man Manute Bol decided to show up and play pickup hoops with you and your friends. Basically, the Taipei 101 doesn't care about its neighboring skyscrapers—it's going to dunk on their asses.
Manute enlarged to show texture.
1. Insanity, the Ride
Which brings us to number one. Yes, Insanity, the Ride, at Las Vegas' Stratosphere, is not only the most vertigo-inducing attraction in the world, it's probably the most wetting-your-pants/barfing-your-guts-out one as well. The casino-hotel stands 1,149 feet above The Strip, which is what you'll be gaping down at as you are spun at three-Gs by a "massive mechanical arm" extended 64 feet out from the building. I can barely even look at the picture below without feeling queasy.
Serving suggestion, some assembly required, ManuteBucketTM not included.
A man has apparently been living in London’sGatwick Airport for the better part of the past three years, despite several forced removals and brief imprisonments during that time. Anthony Delaney, out of work for several years after losing his job as a chef, ate, slept, showered, and generally passed the time at Gatwick, always returning after his occasional departures (both to the local jail and the unemployment office to collect his checks).
Personally, I didn’t initially see any harm in an individual, clearly in desperate and dire straits, shacking up in an airport. There’s plenty of food (overpriced, low-quality fast food mostly, but I digress), bathroom facilities, even showers, apparently. It’s a public place, so why not?
Then I thought—ah, security. I’m assuming Delaney spent most of his time outside the security checkpoints in the general ticketing and waiting area, and didn’t often venture into the boarding areas. But still, the possibility of a rogue airport resident infiltrating security probably makes a few people nervous, even though a homeless chef hardly seems like a clear and present danger.
Disregarding these legitimate concerns, I do have to applaud Delaney for his resourcefulness. He found the one place where food, clothing, shelter, bathing facilities, and even nonstop entertainment are housed under one roof. If I ever open my checking account and find myself a little light, I know where I’m heading. I mean, if Tom Hanks can pull it off...
flagship carrier, British Airways, has been named a top-tier partner for London's 2012 summer Olympics. Which makes me
wonder, will the airline's involvement go beyond providing transportation and
getting good PR in return?
I hope so. Because the possibilities are tantalizing. For
starters, commercial aircraft are perfect venues for several events,
particularly those of the track-and-field variety. I'm thinking the 100-meter
dash would work well on a BA 747, which has those two long aisles
on either side of the middle seats. One world-class sprinter could line up at
the back of each aisle and at the sound of the gun (which would have to pass
through security, wouldn't it?), they'd race from the worst coach seat by the
lavatory to the best flat-bed first-class accommodations—in under 10
seconds. Of course, all of the seats would be filled with Olympic spectators,
cheering on the runners as they breezed by.
I'm thinking certain jumping events are well suited to
British Airways' fleet. And while the long jump is a good fit for onboard
entertainment, the high jump brings up overhead space limitations and the pole
vault is simply out of the question. But I have to draw the line at anything
involving heavy or sharp objects being thrown, such as a javelin, shot put, or
discus. With fans literally in the field of play, the liability issues are too
numerous to mention.
I know we're already straying a bit from standard Olympic
fare, but since we're being theoretical, perhaps we could "think outside
the plane"? It's all well and good to have weightlifters at the games, but
British Airways could sponsor a real test of strength by asking athletes to
compete in a plane pull. After all, this guy did it to get into the Guinness
World Records, and he doesn't even look that big.
Looking something like a misshapen disco
ball—perhaps after being sat on by a Hairspray-sized John Travolta,
after trying to squeeze into his Saturday Night Fever white
suit—British Airways' digital sculpture, Cloud, is
now installed in Terminal 5 of London's Heathrow airport.
The artists, called Troika, were inspired by the
"flip-dots" used in the '70s and '80s to make signs in train stations
and airports. They were so inspired by these dots that they took 4,638 of them
and wired each of them to a computer, which controls their movements and as you
can see in this video of Cloud, creates all sorts of trippy (pun intended)
travel sounds and movements.
Cloud may not be quite enough of a spectacle to cause a
massive uptick in British Airways flight sales, but can you think of a better
way to spend your time while stuck in an airport?