Getting to know a city is best done on foot, and you’ll discover even more in the company of a good guide.
Top ten: Walking tours
Even Londoners sign up for Mary and David Tucker's walking tours which explore "concealed courts and alleys that are keyholes into London's past". The guides are all fully-trained Blue Badge holders and include several professional actors and barristers who know how to tell a good story. The guides specialise in particular areas, ranging from history-focused tours of Old Westminster, Greenwich, Hampstead or literary Bloomsbury to the London haunts of The Beatles and Harry Potter.
A two-hour walk costs £8 (Dh46) per person and there's no advance booking involved. Just turn up at the relevant tube station at the appointed hour. Or you can work with the company to create a private tailor-made walk: £120 (Dh688) for two hours for up to 12 people.
• Visit www.walks.com (00 44 207 624 3978)
An Istanbul native, Arzu Tutuk set up her own private walking tours 13 years ago after living in the UK for several years. Her half- and full-day walks offer a real insight into the city's long cultural history.
All the walks are tailor-made and poke around forgotten corners of the old city as well as taking in the main sights. Above all, Arzu's tours are entertaining and she has that rare skill of bringing places to life so visitors see them through the eyes of those who once lived there. As well as classic tours taking in the Golden Horn, Byzantine and Ottoman Istanbul, Arzu offers more specialist options. These include a "Step on Asia" day taking in smart residential districts, the city's highest viewpoint and its most elegant Ottoman palace, the Beylerbeyi. There are also day trips to the Princes' Islands, an hour's sail from the old city, where ancient monasteries and Ottoman mansions sit in pine groves and you walk along wild cliff tops that swoop down to sandy coves. A four-hour tour costs US$200 (Dh735); eight hours for $300.
• Visit www.walksinistanbul.com (00 90 533 382 6047)
Native New Yorker Lina Viviano is a registered tour guide with a degree in American politics from Harvard. She's been running her own company, Gotham Walking Tours, in Manhattan and Brooklyn for the past 20 years. A friendly, funny and insightful storyteller, her tours are much more than walking history lectures and include visits to places you'd never find on your own. Above all she loves food, so sampling local specialities is an intrinsic part of the day. All the tours are private and tailored to suit customers' interests. They range from a full-day "Big Apple Sampler" walking, subwaying and snacking around Manhattan, to a Greenwich Village Eating Tour and a trot round Historic Harlem.
Prices range from $199 (Dh731) for a two-hour tour to $695 (Dh2,553) for the Big Apple Sampler day out. With enough notice, Lina can usually find another couple to help share the cost.
• Visit www.walkingnyctours.com (001 646 645 5782)
Peter and Oriel Caine run Paris Walks, which offers more than 100 themed walks in and around the city. Their classic two-hour strolls around central Paris concentrate on a particular quartier or pursue a popular theme such as the French Revolution, Old Les Halles Market or Hemingway's Paris. There's no advance booking; simply turn up with €12 (Dh59) at the Metro station listed on the website schedule.
All the guides are native English speakers (Brits or Americans), most of them university graduates who have lived in the city for many years and know how to entertain.
There are also regular Chocolate Tours visiting the workshops of master chocolatiers - and sampling the produce. For fashionistas, the Paris Fashion Walk visits top designers' boutiques as well as vintage shops and one that sells only little black dresses. These walks cost €20-25 (Dh98-Dh122) per person.
Private tours can also be arranged, particularly useful if you want to concentrate on the Louvre, the Père Lachaise Cemetery or take a family walk with younger children. These two-hour tailored tours cost €160 (Dh787).
• Visit www.paris-walks.com (00 331 4809 2140)
Thirty-year-old Ahmed Seddik studied Egyptology at the American University of Cairo. An erudite, eloquent and engaging freelance guide, he makes even the history of bilharzia seem interesting. A frequent translator for foreign journalists, he is also in demand from both expats and Egyptian parents who love his child-friendly tours by camel of the Pyramids. Newcomers to the capital should book his guided lecture about the King Tut Treasure in the Egyptian Museum, followed by a walking tour of Islamic Cairo and the mile-long Muizz li-Din Allah Street, named after the Fatamid caliph who conquered Egypt in the 10th century, and which spans a millennia's worth of recently-restored mosques, sabils, Ottoman palaces and other monuments.
Ahmed charges from $26 (Dh95) per person for groups and $150 (Dh551) per day for private guided tours.
• Contact email@example.com (00 20 10 676 8269)
When Rose Magers, an Australian, came to study law in Florence she was appalled at the poor standard of tour guiding in the city. Together with her theatrical Italian husband, she set up Artviva, which organises highly entertaining walking tours for small groups led by art experts who are native English speakers.
As well as street walks telling the history of Florence through its monuments and murals, there are daily gallery tours including “Masterpieces of the Uffizi”, “The Original David Tour” and an unusual guided stroll through the city’s gardens and fountains. Expect to pay around €25-35 (Dh123-172) per person for a three-hour walk. ArtViva can also arrange private tours including visits to artisan studios and a variety of “exclusive experiences” such as an irreverent look at the city’s history led by a count from one of Florence’s oldest families followed by a drink at his palazzo on the bank of the River Arno. A similar programme of walks and exclusive gallery visits is also offered in Venice and Rome, including private after-hours Vatican tours.
• Visit www.italy.artviva.com (00 39 055 264 5033)
Walk Hong Kong, run by retired banker Marco Foehn and photographer Jackie Peers, uses British residents for many of its themed tours. Hong Kong has a surprising amount of open countryside offering superb walking: the strenuous MacLehose Trail in the New Territories, a circuit of Lamma Island, or a panoramic five-hour walk across the top of Hong Kong Island on the Dragon’s Back Trail. These day-long hikes cost HK$500 per person (Dh236) in a small group.
The company also offers guided pavement walks around Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, plus a choice of themed days out: birdwatching in the Mai Po wetlands, exploring Second World War battlefields, photography in the backstreets of Kowloon and guided shopping excursions. There’s even a walk focusing on haberdashery.
Families are not forgotten. Dedicated tours include visits to the bird and goldfish markets, walks through shady parks and up to spectacular viewpoints. As well as group walks there are private bespoke options: a guided day costs HK$3,000 (Dh1,417) for up to eight people.
• Visit www.walkhongkong.com (00 852 9187 8641)
Surekha Narain runs Delhi Metro Walks and is passionate about her birthplace. She can obtain access to the Old City’s private mansions and parts of the Red Fort not open to the public, and has permission from Delhi University to visit the former Viceregal Lodge and Old Secretariat.
Surekha brings the city’s 1,000-year history to life with her infectious enthusiasm and the help of old photographs and maps. She doesn’t ignore the present either, introducing visitors to delicious street food and good-value shops. She can also tailor tours to focus on a special interest such as textiles, gardens (Delhi is famous for its huge collection of exotic trees), stepwells and spiritual sites.
The opening of the clean, efficient Metro has made it possible for Surekha to introduce off-beat walks including a tour of Mehrauli in south Delhi, the first of the capital’s seven cities and now a wonderful mixture of quiet residential lanes, ancient ruins and Mughal-era pleasure gardens.
At weekends, Surekha organises two-hour walks for groups of up to 15 people which cost $14 (Dh51) per person. Otherwise, all walks are private and tailor-made to suit.
• Visit www.delhimetrowalks.com (00 91 9811 330 098)