5 best guided city walks
Going it alone is one of the great things about travel, but sometimes it pays to have someone showing you the way.
Guided city walks have a way of revealing a city’s secrets, unearthing curious facts about seemingly insignificant doorways, cobblestones and architraves. The site of famous speeches, origins of a public riot, a thoroughfare of a midnight horse ride that changed history forever… guided tours translate the grit and grime of a landscape into the events that shape a city today.
From the dark alleys of Dickens’ London to the ornately decorated facades of Brussels, discovering a city on foot couples exercise, adventure and discovery – a winning formula for a memorable city stay.
1. St Petersburg
The town built on a swamp has risen into the grand city of today, shaped largely by the vision of Peter the Great. With a distinct European flavour present in its Baroque architecture and crisscrossing canals, it’s a beautiful city to take in on a walking tour that leads you through its charming back streets, marketplaces and old apartment buildings.
Choose your adventure and discover St Petersburg from different perspectives, exploring landmarks symbolising the city’s role in the Russian Revolution, stumbling upon grand Imperial legacies, and discovering the old haunts of one of its most infamous citizens, Grigori Rasputin.
Visiting St Petersburg during its White Night revelry is a magic time, when for a few brief weeks the night sky radiates a luminous pearly glow. Peaking in June, you’ll find festivals, concerts and all-night parties embracing the unsetting sun.
The Art Nouveau movement centres on organic, free flowing design inspired by nature. It flourished in Brussels in the late 19th century as a reaction to the frenzy of industrialization, and this European city is now blessed with hundreds of beautiful Art Nouveau places of interest to discover, championed by architects Victor Horta and Paul Hankar.
The striking Autrique House is the very first building designed by Horta and an excellent starting off point. The Solvay Library, Hannon House and Horta Museum are all magnificent examples of the movement’s fluid, stylized lines. For those looking to maximise their time in the city, Art Nouveau city bike tours also run, taking in a much wider area and some of the lesser-known local treasures.
A city with a rebellious history, the streets of Boston echo a past of protests, violence and uprisings. From the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770 to the Great Celtics Riot of 2008, the ghosts of former grievances are present everywhere and it’s a journey through history to walk around discovering them.
Whether you join a guided tour or follow the city’s famous Freedom Trail that takes in 16 key sites across two and a half centuries, you’ll be rewarded with a rich exploration through some of the most significant events in America’s history. One of these in particular has been the source of much interest – Paul Revere’s midnight ride to Lexington to warn colonists that the British were on the attack. Dramatised into a famous poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the original journey he took in 1775 can be retraced as part of a guided bicycle tour.
Discovering Kyoto on foot is a journey back in time. Japan’s former capital is awash with the traditions, rituals and practices of days gone by and a guided tour is one of the simplest ways to appreciate the city of peace and tranquility.
Meander along the Philosopher’s Walk, a pretty stone walking path that follows a cherry-tree lined canal between the neighbourhoods of Nanzenji and Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). Find the best spots in Gion for a chance to glimpse geisha as they flit to and from appointments, and get a local’s insight into where to enjoy kaiseki ryori, a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. A guided tour will help you appreciate the Japanese reverence for the changing seasons and understand the zen philosophy and how it translates into daily life.
Explore the life and literature of one of England’s greatest novelists with a guided tour of Charles Dickens’ London. With its notorious neighbourhoods and bustling back streets forming the blueprint for many of the great writer’s most famous works, a walk through London reveals places that have changed little since his time of writing.
Walk the same streets characters from Oliver Twist or David Copperfield trod, or stop in at ale houses and old taverns where the likes of Fagin or Mr Pickwick would have imbibed a few. Weaving in places of interest around Dickens’ early years when he would wander the city, absorbing all its sights and sounds, you can appreciate what caught his eye and sparked ideas for some of his timeless stories.