City breaks are usually a short, simple way to see somewhere new, but it can be easy to get stuck in the rigmarole of ticking off tourist attractions and generic sightseeing excursions. So for those interested in delving a little deeper, it's worth seeking out the growing number of alternative city tours – offering ways to view a more “real” side to a destination, or experience sights that are off the radar for most visitors. Here are our chosen few.
From Pokémon to secret passageways: 5 of the best alternative city tours
Passage of time: New York City
View some of Manhattan’s most spectacular Art Deco architecture on a tour through the back streets of Midtown, led by a guide from the New York Obscura Society (atlasobscura.com). Midtown may be the city’s tourism heartland, but this tour offers an insight into some of its best-kept secrets, from luxurious public toilets to secret passageways that avoid the crowds. Even the most hardened urbanistas will gain a new perspective on the city that never sleeps. Next tour takes place 23 September; from $25pp (£19).
Then and now: Barcelona
Relish the opportunity to explore Barcelona’s gothic quarter, while also doing something good for those who now live in the area. Homelessness is a growing problem in the Spanish city; more than 3,000 people sleep rough on Barcelona's streets today. Hidden City Tours (hiddencitytours.com) trains and employs guides who are homeless, so they can utilise their extensive knowledge of the city while finding meaningful employment. Each tour traces a route personal to each guide, teaching you about the city's history as well as its everday realities. From €15pp (£12.50); under 12s go free.
Anime attraction: Tokyo
Addicted to Pokémon Go? Go straight to the source and head for Tokyo, where you can take a walking tour of the city’s anime shops (tokyowalkingtours.com). Covering classic Japanese anime such as Dragon Ball, Hello Kitty and Naruto, to name a few, this tour also offers the chance to visit the Pokémon Centre – where you can pick up official merch – as well as other specialist anime and manga stores. From 20,000 yen (£145) for groups of six.
Friday night lights: Berlin
Berlin is a fantastic destination – and even more thrilling after dark. Alternative Berlin’s Twilight Tour (alternativeberlin.com/tours/twilight-tour) offers you the chance to experience private parties, live music and night markets in lesser-known neighbourhoods, visiting secret spots on the fringes of the city. No specific itinerary exists for the tour as it changes from night to night, though you shouldn't expect it to be low-key: the company describes it as "not for the faint-hearted". From €20pp (£16); pre-booking essential; over-18s only.
Saddle up: Amsterdam
To experience Amsterdam properly, you need to live like a local – and that means getting on your bike. With itineraries taking in street markets, bookshops, outdoor festivals and much more, Alltournative (alltournative-amsterdam.com) organises various bike tours of the city, including one focused on street art, led by a resident graffiti artist. Some itineraries can be led by the visitors themselves – with no set schedule, you choose what you want to see. From €22pp (£18).