The best websites for...

finding expert local advice

By Fred Mawer


When you're travelling, the best advice is likely to come from a local person. Someone who lives in the place you're visiting should be pretty up to date on what's going on, have well-informed opinions on, say, the best pizza joint or the liveliest pub, and be the best source for getting you off the beaten tourist track.

 Konnos Beach near Protaras, Cyprus

Get off the beaten tourist track with local knowledge

So how do you find out what these locals have to say? You might think buying a guide book is the answer.

But in fact they can be written by people who don't live anywhere near the destinations they cover, and often their information can be out of date. 

So it's well worth looking at travel-oriented websites dedicated to providing advice from locals.

I've picked out a few of the best ones below, and also given some pointers on where to find a local guide to meet up with while you are away.

This professional outfit focuses just on the UK. It covers some four dozen parts of the country, from major cities such as Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol, to holiday areas such as the Lake District and the North Norfolk coast.

London is divided in to 12 regional sections. The website is easy to use and well designed, and many of the local authors are good, authoritative writers - a fair number are Rough Guides writers (Rough Guides' bosses are behind the website).

Cool Places review website screengrab

Well designed and authoritative: But Cool Places offers reviews that are perhaps too short and too numerous, says Fred

That said, I think the reviews of places to sleep, eat, drink and visit are too short and too numerous - I don't want to have to wade through reviews of 16 pubs and bars in Oxford to find the best ones.

Also, the information isn't always bang up to date: for example, it recommends Jones Restaurant and Café in St David's, but I know that the place is now called The Sound (and has been for some time).

"Locally informed, globally inspired" is the catchphrase of My Destination. It has grown rapidly over the past few years to cover, at the latest count, 88 destinations around the world.

Some, such as Barcelona and Barbados, are well trodden, others such as Kazakhstan and Panama less so. Locally informed, globally inspired, and covering 88 destinatinos worldwide. Pictured: Dubai Creek at sunset

The lowdown on Dubai? is 'locally informed, globally inspired'

For each destination, you'll find sometimes useful reviews of hotels, restaurants, bars and sights, with good search options and accompanying photos.

There are also up-to-date events listings, and I like the video introductions of the local experts.

However, it seems that the experts have a lot of control over their coverage, and this means the quality of the information varies considerably by destination. 

Spotted by Locals currently features 46 cities: 44 in Europe, plus New York and San Francisco.

In each city, carefully selected locals - or "spotters" - pick out their favourite spots, and describe them in enthusiastic detail.

spottedbylocals: In each of the 46 featured cities, selected locals - or

spottedbylocals: In each of the 46 featured cities, selected locals - or "spotters" - describe their favourite places in enthusiastic detail. Pictured: Amsterdam

The idea is that the spots enable you to experience Prague, or Madrid, or Amsterdam, like a local, and as the reviews have an engaging, first person tone, you really do feel you're getting inside info direct from the horse's mouth.

For example, one of the Prague spotters describes a public swimming pool with amazing views of the city, and suggests the best times to go to avoid the crowds.

Search options are poor - best use the maps - and there are no accommodation recommendations, though this makes sense, of course, given that the spotters are local so do not need to stay in hotels in their city.

In some parts of the world, locals - called greeters - will show you round their home town, city or region for free. How cool is that? This simple website will tell you where this is possible.

Currently, 47 destinations are listed, ranging from New York (the Big Apple Greeter programme is the best known) to Saigon and Zagreb to Kent, with links provided to the local greeters' websites.

Bear in mind that you normally need to book the services of a greeter a number of days, and sometimes, weeks ahead of your visit.

Leap Local connects travellers with independent, local guides (unlike volunteer greeters, you pay for their services).

Dozens of inspiring-sounding guides are featured on the website, including a storm chaser in north America, a tuk-tuk tour guide in Cambodia, and a mountain guide in Iceland.

There's a summary of what the guide offers, and usually customer reviews. You need to register to be able to view the contact details for the guides. 

And the winner is... - Although finding what you're looking for is not as easy as it should be, the spotters' reviews are generally excellent, and provide revealing local insights.


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