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The Best Way to See a City? Audio Guides

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Consider the tourist. The oft-stigmatized identity is more a temporary mindset than it is a permanent condition, assumed with the intent of experiencing foreign cultures and ideas. Yet while many strive to discover something new when traveling, few desire to be flagged as an outsider. The easiest way to adopt the guise of a local is to don the one accessory that pervades every major city across the globe and grants instant insouciance: headphones.

Because while nothing screams “tourist” like a guidebook, nothing says “local” like a pair of earbuds — and no one has to know that it’s a pre-recorded tour, not music, flowing through them. Better yet, today’s most worthwhile tours are more akin to conversations than dry textbook excerpts, laden with insider tips and personal narratives that take you off the main square and down streets where only a local would know to go. Here are four worth plugging in to.


Best for Staycationers. Taking the form of personal narratives, Detour brings you off the beaten path, through up-and-coming neighborhoods and inside noteworthy buildings. Using location-aware GPS tracking, the app modifies audio scripts in order to speak to whatever site is in your line of vision, or lies just ahead. Most tours will recommend food and drink stops, and all can be synced across multiple devices to allow for makeshift group tours.

Locations: San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, with six more major cities on the way
GPS Integration? yes
Price per Tour: $4.99+

Just Ahead

Best for Roadtripping. Given that each U.S. National Park can span thousands upon thousands of acres, driving is often the best way to see as much as possible. But gawking at a stunning geologic formation with zero knowledge of what you’re looking at, exactly, can feel like a fruitless venture. With location-aware, GPS-based narratives, Just Ahead solves that issue, auto-playing stories as you approach particular sites and suggesting nearby hikes and turns to make on roadways.

Locations: virtually every major U.S. National Park
GPS Integration? yes
Price per Tour: $14.99+


Best for Seeing a City Like a Local. With GPS-guided and offline audio tours (for those without international data plans), TripScout’s tours meander through both main squares and quiet side streets, recommending local restaurants and shops, and allowing users to flag specific sites and locations for future reference.

Locations: more than three dozen cities across the globe
GPS Integration? yes
Price per Tour: $2.99+

Rick Steves Audio Europe

Best for the Old-School Tourist. What Rick Steves’s self-guided walking tours lack in 21st-century technology, they make up for in scope. Pulling from its namesake travel expert’s decades of television and radio programming, Audio Europe houses an ever-growing roster of city walks, museum tours and interviews with notable residents in both major and minor cities. While there’s no GPS integration, a map accompanies each tour for directional guidance.

Locations: an ever-growing list of major (and minor) cities spanning Europe
GPS Integration? no
Price per Tour: free

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Emily Singer

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