Destination Wednesday: 6 Special City Tours

This is not the best way to see a city. The best way to see a city is close up, ideally on a city tour.
This is not the best way to see a city. The best way to see a city is close up, ideally on a city tour.

By Ariana Arghandewal

Taking a guided tour is a great way to explore and learn about a new city. These tours typically involve getting on a bus or walking around a city while a guide explains the historical significance of various landmarks.

If you crave something a little less run-of-the-mill, your time has come. Many tour companies now offer city tours that are a distinct departure from the old norm. If you find yourself wanting to see a different side of even a familiar place, consider these:

Dialogue in the Dark, Hong Kong. Big cities can be tough for anyone to navigate, but can you imagine what it’s like for the blind? Hong Kong’s Dialogue in the Dark offers travelers a chance to experience life as a visually impaired person through a one-hour tour in their complex. Visually impaired tour guides help visitors navigate and adjust to a series of rooms meant to simulate real-life conditions. Do a quick search on this tour and you’ll find reviews describing the experience nothing short of enlightening and life-changing.

Slum Tours. Find out how the less fortunate live by taking a tour of some of the world’s poorest urban neighborhoods. While there’s been a great deal of debate (especially during last year’s World Cup in Brazil) about whether slum tours are patronizing or enlightening, there’s no denying the economic impact, which is largely positive. Tour companies like Reality Tours, which offers guided excursions into the slums of Mumbai, hire guides from the slums themselves and claim to reinvest 80 percent of profits into the community.

Tours Offered by the Homeless. For a unique twist on the London walking tour, check out Unseen Tours, a series of guided tours offered by homeless or formerly homeless residents of the city. Visitors can tour Brick Lane, Camden, Covent Garden, London Bridge, or Shoreditch, and see the city from a local’s perspective while providing jobs for and improving the lives of London’s less fortunate.

Chicago Mob Tour. Chicago’s famous Untouchable Tour gives visitors a look inside the history of Chicago’s organized crime scene. Given by tour guides dressed like wise guys (who also stay in character the entire time), the tour includes stops around Chicago’s old brothels, gambling dens, and famous “hit” sites. While the topic sounds dark, the highly personable guides manage to keep things light and fun. Pair it up with a Sopranos tour of New York and New Jersey and the Vegas Mob Tour and you’ll never look at a violin case the same way again. And since the subject is crime, we can’t leave out London’s famous Jack the Ripper tour, bookended neatly by a Sherlock Holmes tour of haunts real and fictional.

Hip-Hop Look at New York. For hip-hop fans, Hush Tours offers a series of guided tours throughout New York that provide insight into the city’s music scene. While hip-hop is the main focus, some of the tours include a history of jazz and gospel music as well. Tour participants can expect to be guided through important landmarks and meet a variety of artists (some well-known and others up-and-coming). If music isn’t your thing, the company also offers street-dance tours as well as a guided tour of the city’s graffiti and underground art movement. If this sounds good to you, there’s also the Haight-Ashbury walking tour in San Francisco, the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour, the Original Soho Punk-Rock Tour, and more Beatles Magical Mystery Tours than you can shake a stick at.

Haunted Tours. These might be the most popular themed city tours. In addition to tours of the bigger, more haunted cities (including Las Vegas!), you can also go on ghost tours of Galveston, San Diego, Savannah, St. Augustine, and Key West, enabling you to get a little sun-‘n’-fun during the day and some spooking at night. Want to double up on the spooky factor? Take one on Halloween.

What’s your favorite off-the-wall city tour? Let us know in the Comments section.

Ariana Arghandewal is the creator of http://www.pointchaser.com, a fun and informative look at travel deals across the internet and around the world.