Best iPhone Tour Apps
Get an iPad, just by walking Boston’s Freedom Trail and taking pictures.
This isn’t some spam come-on. Just fire up the iPhone app SCVNGR, which includes hundreds of treks across the U.S. The app’s location-based challenges can earn users on-the-spot rewards like free coffee, or points toward bigger prizes (like that iPad).
SCVNGR is just one of some 14,400 travel apps available to iPhone users that make it fun to wander around not-so-aimlessly. Using GPS technology, tour-based apps sense where you are and tell you what’s around, so you’re not restricted to predefined routes, like those found in guidebooks. Other apps are useful in museums, where you won’t have to fight guests to read wall descriptions or pay for audio guides.
Of course, apps update more often than books and are less cumbersome. They’re also often more affordable than books—or, in many cases, free. And there’s the added bonus of not having your nose buried in a guidebook, which helps you avoid looking like a tourist.
Everytrail, one of the iPhone’s noteworthy travel apps, covers 400,000 outdoor trails around the world. Produced by professional writers and photographers, it also features user-created trips, which can be equally as reliable. “The community monitors and ranks the trips,” says Everytrail VP Katherine Bose. “People do their best when their name’s on it.” You can create your own trip as well and, with a touch of a button on your iPhone, share it on Facebook. It’s like an easy-to-distribute, interactive scrapbook.
You can also find iPhone tour apps that have oldfangled roots, like Sunday Drive, which sprang from a local newspaper column recommending leisurely scenic road trip routes in southern California. “I’ve always been a driving enthusiast,” says column writer and app creator Jason D. Scott, who turned his passion into not only a job but also a source of inexpensive family outings. “Now I love to take my three- and four-year-old kids on weekend drives.”
Combining technological innovation, GPS, and creativity with great, often expert, content, iPhone tour apps make exploring the unknown easier and more fun than ever.
Unconventional neighborhood tours show the way a hip resident sees Paris and New York. Expect to stop anywhere from cafés and museums to falafel shops and indie concert venues. Download a tour of Hasidic Brooklyn—there are separate ones for men and women. And, for those 18 years and older, French actress and model Lou Doillon narrates a story that leads you through the famously seedy Pigalle neighborhood in Paris.
Cost: $5.99. (The free versions include only the first two stops along a tour.)
It Happened Here
Whereas most tours recommend paths to follow, this app follows you. Currently available only for Washington, DC (other cities are scheduled to be released later this year), it senses where you are and reveals interesting location-based trivia. The parking lot you’re in might just be the one where Deep Throat rendezvoused at 2 a.m. with Washington Post reporters to discuss Watergate.
If you like the Europe travel expert’s guidebooks, try one of his six site-specific tours for Paris and Rome complete with audio, video, and text. Discreetly check artist overviews to impress your companions at Musée d’Orsay, and listen to Steves recount Versailles’ history as you wander the magnificent grounds. Before heading to the Louvre—where it’s humanly impossible to see everything—download his tour app, which points you to the major not-to-miss works, like Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.
Cost: $2.99 each.
This app senses which U.S. city you’re in—there are 150 included so far—and points you to nearby treks, from the Boston Freedom Trail to lesser-known routes. The catch? As you move along, you’re asked to complete fun challenges, like “write a description of how spicy your food is” or “snap a picture of the Liberty Bell,” leaving you with digital “souvenirs” for your memory bank. As reward, you can also unlock on-the-spot treasures like discounted ice cream cones, or collect points toward bigger prizes such as an iPad.
This rapidly expanding database of leisurely drives—in eight states so far—highlights various routes throughout the country. The GPS locates drives near you, gives you detailed directions, and highlights points of interest (with pictures and text) along the way. You’ll discover even more than a new road: the Ojai Moon drive (around Ojai, CA) starts at Old Creek Winery, suggests a hiking trail overlooking the city’s valley, and ends near Boccali’s Restaurant, where you can dine alfresco under ancient oak trees and watch Ojai’s famous pink sunset.
Most comments about GPS-based Wikihood—which compiles Wikipedia pages about the area you’re in—go something like: “I didn’t think it was possible to learn anything new about where I live...but this proved me wrong!” Follow one of its tours and you might uncover a private museum or a tiny theater just around the corner. Pages are sorted by distance and can be mapped, or you can scroll through results by images.
Downtown nightlife, Times Square, the Theater District: most New York guides highlight the city’s hustle and bustle; this app does the opposite. Tour the city’s various neighborhoods to find hidden refuges close by, thanks to GPS, or sort through categories like Secret Escapes and Day Spas. One of the suggestions under Waterfront Retreats is a free kayak rental on the Hudson River. (Many longtime New Yorkers haven’t even done this!)
Check into any spot around the world on your phone (once you’re there), and scroll through nearby trips. Thirsty and in Louisville? Check in and find a tour of the best local pubs. Or create your own tour to share. You can also pick up virtual items (digital souvenirs) “left” by other users that may be redeemable for real-life prizes such as invites to movie screenings.
Launched by a Palo Alto outdoorsman, this GPS-based app features more than 400,000 outdoor paths around the world, from Barcelona to Los Angeles and beyond. Choose between guides created by professional writers and free user-generated tours. Nearby points of interest are illustrated (like an idyllic vista) with photos and background info. You can also track your own trips: the GPS monitors where you go and maps your path. And you can add photos and video to share online with other users.
Cost: Free for user-generated guides; $1.99 professional guide; $3.99 Everytrail Pro (includes extras).
Less a structured tour and more a guide to the hippest hot spots—all carefully selected by its editors—this app reveals the best experiences in 13 destinations around the world, including Cape Town and Miami. Since what’s new, cool, and clandestine is constantly evolving—whether it’s the sexiest hotel bar or an under-the-radar museum—new listings are added every 24 hours and can be downloaded for offline use. The slickly designed tours also contain events like concerts and outdoor film festivals.