10 of the best alternative city tours in Europe
Instagram has fuelled our lust for instant travel photos, but this tour draws on actual cameras, arming walkers with a vintage Polaroid camera and a pack of film as you snap away in the Polish capital. The three-hour tour starts by meeting in the old town square and makes its way through some of the city’s key sites: the Royal Castle, the Presidential Palace, the University of Warsaw Library and its roof gardens and the Świętokrzyski bridge. Led by a local guide – and also running in Vienna and Graz – the tour price includes camera loan and a pack of colour film from the Impossible Project: the company that took over Polaroid when it ceased production of instant film in 2008.
• €59, polawalk.com
Ijburg architecture, Amsterdam
Amsterdam may be best known for its picturesque canalways, but one of the most interesting areas of the city, right now – from an urban development perspective, at least – is Ijburg. This is a collection of manmade islands just east of the city, which is currently being developed into a progressive new residential district. Led by a tour company specialising in architecture tours around the Netherlands (it’s worth checking out the other tours on offer, including those exploring the city bybike, or boat), the Ijburg tour talks you through the “laboratory for new forms of living” that the area has become, with a fascinating range of housing projects created by renowned architecture firms. All walks are led by architects.
• All tours are private and custom-made, for details and rates firstname.lastname@example.org, architecturetours.nl
Walk the financial crash, Reykjavik
The Blue Lagoon trip can wait … One of the most dramatic events to happen in Iceland’s history (apart from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption) was the catastrophic collapse of all three of the country’s banks in 2008 – the third largest bankruptcy in history, which caused knock on effects around the world. The crash tour (which covers a similar subject matter to London’s own Occupy Tours) is led by historian and business journalist Magnús Sveinn Helgason and explores sites that played a role in the crash, explanations of what caused it and what happened to those responsible, and the story of the “pots and pans” revolution: when thousands took to the streets in protest.
• £22, tour last around 2 hours 30 minutes, citywalk.is
Millennium tour, Stockholm
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy – including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – is among the most popular book series in the world, so you’ve probably heard of them, or at least watched the film adaptations. However, this isn’t a literary tour for bookish types, rather a chance to put yourself in the footsteps of the series’ Scandi-noir characters. The two-hour walk, run by the City Museum, takes fans through the Södermalm neighbourhood, passing the home of the fictional journalist Mikael Blomkvist, the office of Millennium magazine where he works, past Lisbeth Salander’s apartment, as well as other locations mentioned in the books and films. The plot is put into a wider context, as you learn about the dynamics of contemporary Stockholm and the areas that form the backdrop to the action.
• £11.50, tour last around two hours, stadsmuseet.stockholm.se
Zemun and New Belgrade bike tour
This tour explores the urban geography of the Serbian capital with a walk through the Zemun and New Belgrade districts on the left bank of the Sava river. New Belgrade was constructed as a socialist mega-project, with the aim of being the perfect city. The tour also takes in the Millenial Tower and Zemun Park, which was once the border crossing of the Turkish and Austrian empires. It concludes with a stop in the Savamala district, a neighbourhood now known as an art and design quarter, though it is also in the midst of its own controversial riverside development plan, which carries echoes of the city’s past, grandiose urban projects. Still in Belgrade, which runs the tour, also offers walks through Savamala and Dorcol as well – taking in galleries, street art and clubs.
• €13 for a group tour, €25 for an individual, tours last 3 hours, stillinbelgrade.com
Secret Zagreb tours and quests
The creative tour company behind these journeys of discovery offers more than just the usual guided walks. Visitors can go on anything from a steampunk-inspired trip into Croatia’s science history to a tour through the serene woods on the Medvednica mountain outside of the city, where there are visits to peaceful pilgrimage spots and abandoned second world war bunkers. That’s just the tours: Secret Zagreb also run “quests” that explore the city while guests complete challenges and missions, such as the Witch Hunt quest, where you learn about the history of city’s witch trials, before a scavenger hunt around the upper town area, solving riddles along the way.
• €10pp for scheduled tours, €95 for quest with team of 2-6 people, secret-zagreb.com
Falls Road mural tours, Belfast
Coiste Irish political tours are among the best ways a visitor can learn about how the city’s recent turbulent history has shaped it. Led by political ex-prisoners from the republican community, the tour provides a personal oral history of the Troubles as well as an attempt at explaining its broader context. There are several tours on offer, but one of the most popular is a three-hour walk through west Belfast, passing the murals painted along Falls Road and ending at Milltown Cemetery, where three of the republicans who died during the 1981 hunger strikes are buried. There’s a chance to discuss what you’ve learned – over a pint – at the end of the tour.
• £10pp, coiste.ie
Culinary backstreets, Lisbon
Culinary backstreets offer in depth, specialist foodie tours in cities from Athens to Shanghai. In the Portuguese capital, known for its delicious fresh seafood, expertly cured meats and red wine, the company offers a walk that takes in what is, essentially, three and a half hours of gourmet grazing. Starting in the city’s vibrant food market, the Mercado da Ribeira, there are insights into the raw ingredients that make up the city’s cuisines and the chance to sample plenty of produce, too. From there you’ll stop by everywhere from neighbourhood canteens and a family-run grocery store, finishing at a local pastelaria with a glass of sour cherry liqueur, before you presumably spend the rest of the day in a peaceful slumber.
• From €86, includes all food and drink, walks last around three and a half hours,culinarybackstreets.com
L’Alternative Urbaine, Paris
Founded to encourage professional and social inclusion in the city, L’Alternative Urbaine uses the structure of the city tour business as a means to train and support people who have been struggling with long-term unemployment or homelessness. The result is friendly tours of the Paris neighbourhoods that usually go less explored by tourists, such as a walk through “the java suburbs” in the 10th arrondissement, or a walk around the 13th, learning about the lives of factory workers who lived in the formerly industrial areas of the Faubourg Saint-Marcel and Butte aux Cailles.
• Payment by donation, tours last around 1 hour 30 minutes and are in French, on Facebook
Erotica tours, Barcelona
Thanks to a collaboration with specialist tour company Trip4Real and feminist porn director Erika Lust it is possible to get closer to the stars of the Swedish filmmaker’s work with a series of tours of Barcelona, where she is based.Launched last October, these tours include exploring the city’s most popular aperitif on a vermouth tasting tour with erotic actor Bel Gris; a Catalan food tasting trip with another one of Lust’s stars, Marc Morato; and acrobatics lessons with another actor, Julia Roca, who will educate you in the Catalan history of castellers, or human towers. _ The guardian