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The 9 best apps for exploring cities

How to get around—and see—the city with fresh eyes

An illustration of a hand holding a phone in front of a row of buildings in a city. Shutterstock

There might be an app for everything these days, but the sheer volume of choices means that it can be hard to decipher which apps are actually useful. To help you figure out the must-download apps for urbanites, we’ve researched a slew of options and curated this list of nine.

Some apps help cyclists get from point A to B efficiently, while others reveal hidden recommendations from in-the-know neighborhood experts. We’ve also included the best all-around transit apps, and even one that showcases urban running routes.

All of the apps listed here will get you out and exploring, whether as a long-time local or a visitor looking to go beyond the beaten path. And if you need even more tech intel, don’t miss our roundups of the best apartment rental apps and renovations apps you should know for your next project.

Have an app you love? Let us know in the comments.

Bike Citizens

The handlebars of a bicycle. Attached to the handlebars in a holder is a mobile phone. On the mobile phone screen is a map. Courtesy of Bremen Tourism

Specifically designed for cyclists in urban areas, the Bike Citizens app lets you pick routes based on whether you want a leisurely, fast, or convenient route, and also takes into account what type of bicycle you’re riding. It’s also on a mission to make bicycling routes safer and has launched campaigns in some cities—like Brussels—that help identify dangerous spots and traffic bottlenecks. Although coverage is more comprehensive in Europe, Bike Citizens is available in most big cities in the U.S.

Insider tip: Download the map material so you don’t need an internet connection to navigate.

On-the-go: Bike Citizens is available on Android and iOS.

Citymapper

Three mobile phone screens displaying the Citymapper app.
A popular transit app, Citymapper.

Probably the best-rated transit app on the web, Citymapper gives you A-to-B trip planning with accurate estimated arrival times. It searches all transit modes—like subway, bus, rail, ferry, bike/car sharing, Uber—and lets you compare your options in real time. It also gives you step-by-step directions for finding your route, and many metro maps are available offline. Citymapper is currently in an array of international cities and the biggest cities in the U.S.: NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, and Seattle.

Insider tip: Set up alerts on the routes you frequent so you know when lines are disrupted.

On-the-go: Available on iOS and Android.

Moovit

The Moovit app.
A screen in the Moovit app.

Another well-reviewed transit app, Moovit is a popular choice thanks to its sheer size: It covers 1,200 cities in more than 70 countries. It allows you to choose the best route based on arrival times, schedules, and transit mode, and then navigates you to where you need to be with live directions.

Insider tip: Don’t underestimate the power of your city’s bike share. Moovit lets you see how many bikes are left to rent at particular stations.

On-the-go: Available on Android and iOS and at http://moovitapp.com

Nearify

Screens in the Nearify app.
Nearify lets you see events located near you.

Need something to do in your favorite city? The Nearify app searches 20 million events worldwide to find out what’s happening near you. You can browse events based on interests, add favorite artists or venues, see what’s trending, and set up alerts so you never miss an outing.

Insider Tip: Nearify shows you how close you are to an event and will even give you directions.

On-the-go: Get it on iOS and Android.

RunGo

Mobile phones with the RunGo app on their screens.
A screenshot of RunGo.

Billed as an app for runners who also like to travel, RunGo uses turn-by-turn voice navigation for thousands of running routes, races, and city tours. You can also create your own running route. Like other running apps, RunGo tracks and logs your running stats, but the real difference here is the ability to show up in an unfamiliar city, find a running route, and access easy voice navigation.

Insider tip: Download routes in advance so you can explore a new city without using data.

On-the-go: It’s available for Android and iOS.

Sidekix

Mobile phones displaying the Sidekix app.
Sidekix, an app that’s been called Waze for walkers.

Calling itself an app that promotes “urban discovery on the go,” Sidekix is a navigation app that chooses walking routes based on what you want to do and see along the way. You can tailor your route to your needs and build and save routes to share with your friends. This is an ideal app to help you explore things off the main tourist spots.

Insider tip: You can share your location with friends and send your route directly to them.

On-the-go: Sidekix is available on Android and iOS.

Spotted by Locals

A screen in the Spotted by Locals app.
A screenshot of Spotted by Locals.

If you’re looking to get off the beaten path and avoid the tourist traps, try Spotted by Locals. With guides for 67 cities, Spotted by Locals gives you handpicked insights and favorites from people that live in the cities they talk about. You can expect lots of hidden gems and in-the-know recommendations, but beware that each city guide costs $3.99—though that’s cheap compared to a paperback travel guide.

Insider tip: The app can also be used 100 percent offline with detailed full city maps, no internet required.

On-the-go: Spotted by Locals is available on Android and iOS.

Streetography

Screens in the Streetography app.
The images seen on Streetography.

If you’re visually inspired and want to scope out potential neighborhoods and streets, Streetography could be the app for you. The app overlaps maps with curated, high-quality user-generated photos that aim to give you a taste of the local flavor of each block, neighborhood, or city. This is a refreshing way to explore neighborhoods.

Insider tip: You can also filter photos by recency or photographer.

On-the-go: Streetography is available on Android and iOS.

Walc

Screens in the Walc app.
Walc helps you navigate by landmarks.

Despite still being in beta, the award-winning Walc looks promising. Google Maps and other navigation tools rely on north-south directions or warnings like “bear left in 1,000 feet” to get people around cities. Walc uses landmarks to guide the way—essentially providing directions based on what you can see—which is great if “turn right at the park” sounds more up your alley. You can also tap a category (coffee, food, shopping, buildings, etc.) and see what’s walkable around you.

Insider tip: Sign up on the Walc website to be the first to know when the full app rolls out.

On-the-go: The beta version is currently available on iOS and Android.