The Best City Apps for Traveling (and How to Find Them)

subway app on iPad

In the age of the smartphone, there’s an app for everything: things you need and those you don’t (do you really need the mulletizer?). Though some apps are silly, it makes sense to use this technology for good: to make traveling easier.

There are two types of travel apps: those that you use to plan your trip and those that you use while you’re traveling. We’ve covered some of the most effective trip planning apps, but here are the best ways to not only find city-specific apps, but also some of the best apps that we’ve used.

Before You Go:

Before you leave your home country, ask yourself a few questions so that you can have an app happy holiday.

Q: Will I have Wi-Fi?

This question and the resulting answer are very important. Downloading a bunch of apps that depend on Wi-Fi for their usability won’t do you much good if you won’t have internet access.

The good news: not all city and country-specific apps rely on Wi-Fi. If you know that internet connectivity might be an issue, download the offline information before you go, saving you from having to pay for Wi-Fi or data when you’re traveling.

Q: What apps do you find useful when you’re at home?

Many of the apps that you turn to in your hometown might be available for other cities and countries. For example, Yelp is popular in many cities around the world. If you trust the reviews in Atlanta, chances are you’ll be happy with the results in Amsterdam.

Q: What sort of information am I most likely to use an app for?

Knowing what information you need will narrow down your search and help you decide if you want to spend money on a certain app. If you only trust Rough Guide when you travel and don’t want to carry the guidebook, spending the $1.99 for the Rough Guide Rome app is worth it. If you like the idea of a fancy schmancy translator app but realize that on every other trip you’ve been the arm-waving, charades-playing type of traveler, save your money and your phone’s storage space. Having the app but never using it, won’t help you when you travel.

How to Find City-Specific Apps

  • Do a search in your app store (Android or Google) for the city or country. While you’ll get some misses, you’ll also see a wide range of potential travel guides as well as getting a feel for what’s popular in that area. For example, I typed in “Barcelona” and saw seven football (soccer in the USA) apps within the first 20 results.
  • Think about what you’re going to do when you’re in a city and search for that in the app store. For example, I want to sit in a café in Paris and sip great coffee while watching the people stroll by. I search “coffee Paris” in the app store. The Coffee(In)Touch app shows me independent coffee shops near me and indicates whether they’re open or closed at the time of my search.
  • See if your home country apps have international versions. For example, WeHostels now supports different currencies and languages. Now you can budget for your Paris hostel in Euros, making your trip budget seamless.

Best City-Specific Apps

Now that you’ve spent several minutes soul searching and reviewing your data plans, we’re down to the nitty gritty: the best city specific apps.*

Multi-City Apps

ShopIkon: Shopping guides for New York, London, Berlin, Barcelona, Vienna, and Paris with San Francisco coming soon. Featuring unique stores that really give a city its flavor, this app can serve as a travel guide on its own.

Wallpaper* City Guides: Available for iOS ($2.99 US), these guides are available for more than 60 cities including Amsterdam, Zurich, Paris, London and more. Create itineraries to share with friends and content that goes beyond the regular guidebook. Wallpaper* City Guides are slick and stylish.

DK Eyewitness Travel Top Ten City Apps: Instead of getting bogged down in tons of info, these apps give you just the best in easy to digest bites. For example, if you only have an hour in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the app will list the top 10 pieces you need to see.

TimeOut: Ubiquitous in major cities, if you can’t get a hold of the TimeOut Magazine, the app is a close second for the best venues and events in a city. Bonus: guides are available offline. Available for Berlin, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, London, Manchester, New York, Paris, Sydney, Zagreb and more.

City-Specific Apps

ROME

  • Rome2Go: With offline maps, lots of contents and local tips, these free apps are worth a download for the offline maps alone. 2Go guides available for Paris, London, New York and some other major European cities as well.
  • EAT Rome: Check out the EAT app for Rome. Written by food critic Elizabeth Minchilli, these apps will lead you to the best restaurants, bakeries and coffee bars. Offline content is available; EAT app available for Venice and Florence as well.
  • Hidden Rome: Pricey, but if you’re into unusual sights and sites (out-of-the-way crypts, anyone?), this is the app for you with more than 70 places to visit listed and a handy metro map to get you there.
  • The Pope App: When in Rome, do as the Romans do and use this app to keep track of what the Pope is up to and get alerts for papal events.

PARIS

  • Paris M&M: A free full guide to Paris museums and monuments with human-written descriptions (not just pulled from Wikipedia) and tons of useful information also available offline.
  • J’aime Paris: A guide to free and frugal Paris, with listings of festivals, tours and events that are free and frugal (I was impressed with the listings for bike tours and free ice skating in the winter).
  • Paris Pastry: A listing of Paris’s best pastry, chocolate and candy stores by acclaimed pastry chef David Lebovitz. Parisians love their pastries—now you can, too. Free version available.
  • Meet Me at Pere Lachaise: Pere Lachaise is one of the most famous–and hard to navigate–cemeteries in the world. This app has a guided map and an audio guide so you don’t have to worry about missing Jim Morrison’s grave again.

LONDON

Note: Since London hosted the summer Olympics in 2012, there are now a plethora of apps for visiting London. Almost every museum has a fabulous app (that might make visiting a moot point, in some cases) and lots of other fun apps have popped up. These are just a few to get you started.

  • Street Art London: Locate street art, filter by artist and learn more about the artists that display their art on the streets of London.
  • London Pub Crawls: Lite (free) version includes five great pub walks with four pubs per walk. It’s a great way to explore the city through its pub culture.
  • Streetmuseum: Utilizing images from the Museum of London, use your phone to transport yourself into the past. Either use GPS or pick a location to see London’s past superimposed on the present.
  • London Bus Checker: Gives you live information on when the next bus will arrive; also lets you scan nearby stops for approaching buses so that you can figure out an alternate route.
  • London: Free & Budget: London can be notoriously expensive and, though this app will cost you, it will pay for itself by helping you locate your nearest decent eat for under £10 and tell you about free gigs and exhibitions. If your GPS is enabled, it will even calculate taxi fare from your current location.

*Disclaimer: App choosing can be a personal thing. One app does not fit all travelers. Please choose and use your apps carefully.

What are your favorite city specific apps?

Image: MTAPhotos via Flickr

About Katie Coakley

Katie Coakley received her first passport when she was five and she's been traveling ever since. You'll find her on the Forgotten Coast of Florida or high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado when she's not glacier climbing in Iceland, diving in Borneo or riding the rails in Vietnam. Follow her adventures online at Katie on the Map.

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  • http://www.tripmark.com/travel-guide Travel Guides

    Great work..