Time flies. It is hard to believe that it has been well over a year since my last “annual” review of travel websites.
I remember when gathering information about a destination required pouring over guide books in bookstores to find just the right one and writing to local, state, and national tourist bureaus for literature. Now, it seems there is an infinite amount of information about anywhere you might want to travel as well as easy access to user reviews and assistance on sites such as Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic.
For this column, I am going to focus on online guides and armchair travel.
At traditional guidebook sites such as Lonely Planet and Rick Steves, in addition to free information, you can purchase and download select chapters of their guidebooks. On recent trips, I found it very convenient to just download those chapters relevant to the cities I would visit. I was able to read them on my computer and then transfer them to my iPad mini to take along on my travels… that saved a lot of space and weight in my luggage!
Rick Steves also offers free downloads of his radio podcasts as well as some guided tours. To listen to them via computer, you need to download through iTunes. Transfer to any mp3 player including a smart phone or iPad and take them along. Listening to the radio shows helps give a good feel for a destination as well as picking up information about some don’t miss experiences. I found that listening to his audio tour of the Uffizi in Florence was helpful prior to visiting that wonderful gallery.
One site that I recently discovered and used a lot on our last trip was inyourpocket.com which features what they call “essential” city guides. Highlighting 75 European cities, they are chock full of information about not only major cities, but also many lesser known such as Lisburn in Ireland or Budva in Montenegro. They are written by locals and reviewed frequently for accuracy. Each guide has a description of an area, arrival information and cultural notes, as well as extensive lists of events, hotels, restaurants, cafes, sights, shopping, nightlife, transportation, street food, markets and side trips. The website also has some user comments.
I can’t sayenough good things about this site. You can spend hours researching a destination, searching for information or, as I did, download a PDF version of the guides. I saved them on my iPad mini and found it helpful to review the guide each evening before exploring a different locale. We used them for some restaurants and found the recommendations to be quite accurate.
Although many of us are years removed from staying in hostels, hostelworld.com website features some very useful information. There are videos of different destinations, a great number of podcasts, local information about cities including what not to miss, upcoming events and suggested day trips. Their guides can also be downloaded and saved as PDFs.
Tripomatic.com features cities world wide with reviews of various activities. Select those activities or sights in which you are interested and Tripomatic will plan an itinerary for you. They also have one to four day template itineraries for some cities with all the “must see” attractions. If you are a fan, there are even suggested “Game of Thrones” itineraries.
Unlike.net online city guides emphasize activities, hotels, restaurants, and attractions off the beaten path. It takes some searching on the site, but you can find unique off the tourist route suggestions.
Stayboots.com is an unusual site. With just a limited number of cities at this point, most in the United States as well as an accompanying app for smart phones and digital pads, you can purchase guided tours of specific sections of a city. The two to three hour interactive walking tours are kind of a scavenger hunt. By presenting different challenges such as asking you to find things, take a silly photo, answer a trivia question, you learn about the area. In San Diego, for example, there are tours of Balboa Park, Old Town, or the Gaslamp Quarter. Seattle features tours of Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, Capital Hill, and the Seattle Art Museum.
Another recent discovery with a wealth of information is worldsiteguides.com which has written, video, and audio guides to more than 100 historical sites worldwide. The audio guides can be downloaded as mp3s. There is also an interactive world atlas to help identify those sites for which there are guides.
For nature enthusiasts, naturevalleytrailview.com has Google Street View type of information for hikingtrails in some of our national parks. Right now, they are limited to only four parks, but hope to expand in the future. Besides offering topographical maps, and very specific information about hiking trails, each park has a 360? view of the trails which leads me to the topic of armchair travel sites.
Italy is full of wonderful panoramic locales and 360tuscany.net and 360amalfi.net can bring many of them onto your computer screen. Each 360? view or slideshow has accompanying information for a variety of places throughout Tuscany, Amalfi coast, Sardinia, and Rome. Look for the links to all the locations at the bottom of the page. I could watch these sites for hours, reliving wonderful travels to Italy.
Mapcrunch.com highlights some of the most picturesque locations from Google Street Views. Enter browsing criteria (continent, country) or select a tour with a new location every few seconds or gallery with Views of the Day. What you will see is not necessarily the top tourist attractions, but rather what it looks like traveling along a road in a particular location. A recent View of the Day was in Budapest across the Chain Bridge and I was able to see the apartment in which we once stayed. My husband enjoyed the elephants along the road in Botswana.
A great substitute for playing Solitaire or just to pass the time is safestyle-windows.co.uk/secret-door. Click on the lion’s head door knocker and be transported to random places. Click wherever you see a circle, square, or arrow to move around the location. Want to go somewhere else? Click on the lion’s head on the left hand side. The site doesn’t always give a location and you can’t request a specific location. But, it’s a great time waster!
Airpano.com offers high resolution of 3D aerial panoramas of locations such as the Great Barrier Reef, along with descriptors of what you are seeing. Google Maps offers photo tours. Type in a location such as the Colosseum in Rome, click on the photo in the left column, and you will be presented with a slideshow from that location.
Museums all over the world offer virtual tours. Try the Smithsonian’s website, or those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, or the British Museum. At coudal.com/moom, there is a “museum” of online museums.