Keen to live like a local on your city break? Or to discover hidden treasures closer to home? Allow these clever apps for city exploring to be your guide.

No one, but no one, likes milling about on their longed for city break, wracked with crippling anxiety about where the latest hotspot is, and wondering what they might be missing out on. Neither are we the greatest fans of squinting at complicated maps in locations we’ve just landed in – or, indeed, discovering, just as we’re about to move out of an area, that there’s a beautiful walk or a gorgeously peaceful little known enclave on the doorstep that we never knew about before.

Enter, then, these clever apps, which share local knowledge at the click of a download. Here’s our choice of the digital guides to keep in your back pocket.

If apps were people, we’d be friends with this one. Through its user-generated content, it gives useful ideas and personal reflections on experiences – while never displaying the merest hint of a bossy tendency. GoBe! lets you save your experiences – things that are the stuff of your daily life perhaps, or interesting or quirky moments that you stumble across – and share them with others if you like (though the privacy settings are such that sharing isn’t imperative; you can save them just for you if you prefer). The app becomes, then, a library of ideas so you never forget something you once found inspiring in a particular spot and can always return to it with ease.

We find GoBe! especially useful when rocking up in a new city – or, indeed, for those moments you decide to discover new things in your own hometown – and search for tips shared by other users in your current location. There is no ‘like’ button here, it’s no popularity contest; just a really nice community of people sharing stuff they think others might like. It’s also pretty intuitive, only allowing you to be ‘friends’ with people that you share genuine interests with, though you can still see all ‘public’ tips. It’s a great new kid on the AppStore block, and with every new user, it becomes even better. Go, check it out.

Spotted By Locals
This app is brilliant for getting the inside scoop on whatever city you’re in (well most; it has intel on 70 metropolises, which is enough to be starting with). Its promotional video features a man standing in the middle of the Acropolis, ticking the site of his must-see list (other items on which are ‘Eiffel Tower’ and ‘Statute of Liberty), with a caption which reads: ‘Ninety-nine per cent of tourists visit the Acropolis. Only one per cent visit the local favourites’.

Well, ever since our gap year, we’ve been snobbishly allergic to looking like a tourist in any given situation – even when a tourist is inarguably what we are – and have occasionally eschewed guidebooks in horror of not blending in like a local, wherever we are. Now, thanks to this cool app, we can put the folly of youth behind us, stop getting lost minus guidebook and get stuck into the local way of life, without having to pretend. Founded in Amsterdam, it has exponentially grown since then, thanks to its winning formula of only sharing tips posted by locals who speak the language (i.e. it does what it says on the tin). We’re never going anywhere without it again. Top tip? You can even use while offline, with detailed city maps. Genius.

This one is music to our ears. If there exists a specific dyslexia that applies to map reading, then we undoubtedly have it to a reasonably advanced degree. So imagine our delight upon discovering Walc, an app that guides you round cities using visual cues.

Want to get to the Albert Hall from the Cromwell Road? Walc won’t tell you to veer east or bear left in a 1000 feet; instead it will instruct its user to take the turning by the Natural History Museum. Cafes, buildings and any form of landmark become the signposts by which you navigate your way round a city. You can also tap a category such as ‘food’, ‘shopping’, ‘buildings’ amongst others, and it will tell you what is within walking distance from your location. Arguments over directions, be gone! We feel like this one was made for us.

Go Jauntly
As proponents of the humble walk (it beats hours slogging it out in the gym, that’s for sure), we love this app, which is in fact just as useful in the country as it is in the city. Walking not only does wonders for your health, but as the good people at Go Jauntly know, it lifts the spirits too – and it’s not just the endorphins, but getting out in the fresh air and seeing something inspiring that helps improve our mental health.

Founded by Hanna Sutch (chief walker-and-talker) and Steve Johnson (chief explorer), both city dwellers who love nature and lament the hours they spend stuck at a desk, the duo launched the app borne of their frustration at not being able to discover new places to explore on their doorsteps, especially with kids in-tow. By downloading the app, you can follow walks by people in your area or, indeed, create your own. This is a lovely community app for sharing opportunities to get and swallow deep lungfuls of fresh air in unknown spots, nearby and beyond.

Foursquare City Guide
A stalwart contender, but one that cannot be overlooked on account of its sheer cleverness. Foursquare City Guide, developed by Foursquare Labs Inc, is a search-and-discovery app that gives users bespoke recommendations based on both their location and their browsing history.

Launched in 2008, for a time, it even had a social media element that allowed friends to see your check-ins, but its latest version has scrapped that function and we’re glad. As it stands, it is a simple local search facility that encompasses shopping, eating, drinking and shares user-generated reviews of what is on offer in the local area. Like TripAdvisor but on-the-go and in tune with your interests. Foursquare is never not useful.


Cities Talking

Nancy Alsop
November 2019