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10 Unique City Tours Around the World

Posted May 5, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Magic Bus)

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.

 

(Photo: Bats Over Congress Avenue Bridge via Shutterstock)

Never Unpack Your Travel Items

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.

 

(Photo: Magic Bus San Francisco Tour)

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.

 

(Photo: Berlinagenten)

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.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

'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.

 

(Photo: LiveToronto)

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.

 

(Photo: Vondelsurfing)

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.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Truly Unique City Tours Around the World.

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Dance Among the Tulips in Lisse, Netherlands

Posted August 20, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Lisse With rainbow-colored fields of blossoming tulips surrounding the city, Lisse, Netherlands, is an ideal place to be in the spring. However, you don't have to spend a fortune to appreciate the beauty of the season. Here, you can walk among the flowers at Keukenhof, dine and dance the night away at a nearby restaurant, and stay at a hotel close to it all.

Play
Keukenhof: Spring puts its best colors forward at Keukenhof, one of the world's largest flower gardens, where millions of bulbs blossom into a kaleidoscope of flora everywhere you turn. Try your green thumb at the Inspirational Gardens, where you're encouraged to grow your own tulips at home. The flower shows are a particularly special treat, as blooms from across the country are put on display and change weekly. You can also purchase bulbs and freshly cut flowers from several sellers at the park. Entrance costs €14.50 (about $18 U.S.; check XE.com for current exchange rates).

Eat
Restaurant De Nachtegaal: Located in the Golden Tulip Hotel, Restaurant De Nachtegaal offers a varied menu that changes on a whim.  From Monday through Friday, you can enjoy an array of different dishes at the lunch buffet. On Saturday nights, the chef prepares a special three-course prix fixe menu, and you may find yourself dancing in between courses as live music fills the air.

Stay
Hotel de Duif: The Hotel de Duif's rooms may not be fancy, but the location and price can't be beat. Situated in the center of town, not far from the fields of bulbs, you'll be able to sit on the patio and smell the flowers. The hotel's standard rooms come equipped with a shower and color TV, while the suites offer kitchenettes.

To search for flights and compare prices to Amsterdam, which is home to Lisse’s closest international airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: HollandInformationStore.net)

Dance Among the Tulips in Lisse, Netherlands

Posted February 8, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Lisse With rainbow-colored fields of blossoming tulips surrounding the city, Lisse, Netherlands, is an ideal place to be in the spring. However, you don't have to spend a fortune to appreciate the beauty of the season. Here, you can walk among the flowers at Keukenhof, dine and dance the night away at a nearby restaurant, and stay at a hotel close to it all.

Play
Keukenhof
: Spring puts its best colors forward at Keukenhof, one of the world's largest flower gardens, where millions of bulbs blossom into a kaleidoscope of flora everywhere you turn. Try your green thumb at the Inspirational Gardens, where you're encouraged to grow your own tulips at home. The flower shows are a particularly special treat, as blooms from across the country are put on display and change weekly. You can also purchase bulbs and freshly-cut flowers from several sellers at the park. Entrance costs €14 (about $19 U.S.; check XE.com for current exchange rates).

Eat
Restaurant De Nachtegaal
(Dutch only): Located in the Golden Tulip Hotel, Restaurant De Nachtegaal offers a varied menu that changes on a whim. Most of the time, you can order a la carte items for dinner or a three-course prix fixe. From Monday through Friday, you can enjoy an array of different dishes at the lunch buffet. On Saturday nights, the chef prepares a special three-course prix fixe menu and you may find yourself dancing in between courses as live music fills the air.

Stay
Hotel de Duif
: The Hotel de Duif's rooms may not be fancy, but the location and price can't be beat. Situated in the center of town, not far from the fields of bulbs, you'll be able to sit on the patio and smell the flowers. The hotel's standard rooms come equipped with a shower and cable TV, while the suites offer kitchenettes. Prices start at €49 per night.

To search for flights and compare prices to Amsterdam, the nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: HollandInformationStore.net)

Dance Among the Tulips in Lisse, Netherlands

Posted April 13, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Netherlands-ManInTulipField With rainbow-colored fields of blossoming tulips surrounding the city, Lisse, Netherlands, is an ideal place to be in the spring. However, you don't have to spend a fortune to appreciate the beauty of the season. Here, you can walk among the flowers at Keukenhof, dine and dance the night away at a nearby restaurant, and stay at a hotel close to it all.

Play
Keukenhof: Spring puts its best colors forward at Keukenhof, one of the world's largest flower gardens, where millions of bulbs blossom into a kaleidoscope of flora everywhere you turn. Try your green thumb at the Inspirational Gardens, where you're encouraged to grow your own tulips at home. The flower shows are a particularly special treat, as blooms from across the country are put on display and change weekly. You can also purchase bulbs and freshly cut flowers from several sellers at the park. Entrance costs €13.50 (about $18 U.S.; check XE.com for current exchange rates).

Eat
Restaurant De Nachtegaal: Located in the Golden Tulip Hotel, Restaurant De Nachtegaal offers a varied menu that changes on a whim. Most of the time, you can order a la carte items for dinner starting at €16.50, or a three-course prix fixe for €30. From Monday through Friday, you can enjoy an array of different dishes at the lunch buffet. On Saturday nights, the chef prepares a special three-course prix fixe menu for €25, and you may find yourself dancing in between courses as live music fills the air.

Stay
Hotel de Duif: The Hotel de Duif's rooms may not be fancy, but the location and price can't be beat. Situated in the center of town, not far from the fields of bulbs, you'll be able to sit on the patio and smell the flowers. The hotel's standard rooms come equipped with a shower and color TV, while the suites offer kitchenettes. Prices start at €75 per night.

To search for flights and compare prices to Amsterdam, which is home to Lisse’s closest international airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: HollandInformationStore.net)

Sweet Dreams Fulfilled in Amsterdam

Posted March 9, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Chocolate3-DEF Take in the sights and smells of Amsterdam's sweeter side with a dynamic chocolate shop and an array of pancake flavors. And the sugary goodness continues as the scent of cakes and confections lulls you to sleep.

Shop
Puccini Bomboni: Charlie would abandon the Chocolate Factory without a second thought for Puccini Bomboni's inventive chocolates. Think tamarind, thyme, ginger, and fig. Everything is handmade on the spot, and people claim to be drawn in off the street by the scent of melted cocoa and spices. Browse the unique pyramid-style display of chocolates, and sample the liqueur-filled and herb-flavored treats.

Eat
The Pancake Bakery: When the griddle gets hot, the Pancake Bakery gets hopping, with more than 75 different kinds of pannekoeken (a combination crepe and an American pancake), including international flavors such as Greenlandic, Egyptian, and French. For the more traditional Dutch-style taste, you can pick from a range of sweet and savory toppings such as apple and Grand Marnier, bacon and cheese, and raisins in brandy.

Stay
Cake Under My Pillow: Whoever coined the term "sweet dreams" must've stayed at the Cake Under My Pillow. Here, the scent of cakes, pies, and confections literally drifts through your window each morning, as there's a bakery and cafe beneath the B&B. You will find free coffee and tea service in the upstairs kitchen throughout your stay.

To search for flights and compare prices to Amsterdam, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Sebastian Duda/iStockphoto.com)


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