There is a Chinese saying that describes the mass market tour bus experience - 上车睡觉，下车尿尿. It loosely translates to - Get on the bus, sleep. Get off the bus, pee. In my opinion, that pretty much sums up how not to tour a city. You will probably go home with plenty of pictures of random sights and yet understand very little of local culture and tradition.
I think the best way to orient yourself to a new place while discovering the local culture is do it on the ground. Some like walking tours, but I prefer to do it via biking or jogging. Not only are you helping to keep the planet green, you also get some exercises in between.
How to tour a city on a bicycle - Most major cities tends to have small tourshops that offers bike tours. Simply go on www.tripadvisor.com to see which ones gets the best ratings and then email to book. The tour will tend to combine a introduction to the city along with having the history narrated to you from a knowledgeable guide. The pace is slow and the guides all go out of their way to make sure you are safe. You also tend to meet pretty cool open-minded individuals as well across the entire spectrum of ages. My favorite was a graffiti bike tour done in Buenos Aires where they took us around the city and showed us all the cool graffiti and explained their meaning. It was interesting to learn that street graffiti is considered public art and is protected by law in Buenos Aires, versus graffiti in the States where the street artist is breaking the law...
|A random graffiti of Mao in Buenos Aires? Yep|
How to tour a city while jogging - Unlike a bike tour, it is more rare to do a group jogging tour. But why would you? You have a lot more freedom to just select a route, map it on your iphone with the wifi from your hotel, and then just go. Along the way you can use the GPS function on your iphone to check if you are on the right track. (GPS doesn't require data or wifi, so it is free even when you are traveling). I'm usually running with my left hand holding my iphone, my right hand holding my camera (stopping along anything of interest to snap pictures), and some small bills and a credit card in my back zipped pocket of my running shorts. If you get lost, then just simply hail a taxi back. And guess what? I hate running! But it is really interesting to do it in a new city because you are constantly stimulated. My favorite spot so far has been running among the sexy people in the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches in Rio, Brazil, and through the ancient ruins of Bagan, Myanmar.
|Unbelievably beautiful running route in Myanmar|
|Probably the most interesting running route with lots of eye candy (for both sexes) on the beach in Rio...|
Any cool suggestions on where you have biked or jogged? Happy travels!