Pretty much the first thing we do when researching a destination is find out what local history walks are available and book one for the first day or two of our stay.
Pork Belly likes to make sure the route includes a few stops at cafés, ice-cream shops and local restaurants. I’m more interested in the houses and who lived in them!
Whatever your personal focus, there’s no better way to get to know a place than take a walk through its history. Whether you choose a history walk with a guide or prefer to do it yourself with a book, leaflet or downloadable audio guide it’s a great way to get under the skin of a place.
- Firstly it gets you orientated to the lie of the land, how the streets are laid out and where the main points of interest are. Mass transit subways are a great way to get around but they don’t give you a feel for where everything is.
- Secondly it gives you a chance to people watch – see where the locals go to eat, find out what times the streets are too crowded to move and, for the photographers among you, the moment when the light hits that iconic landmark at just the right angle.
Finally – and most importantly – you learn about the past; its people, how the place was shaped and a little of what to expect today.
How to find a history walk
Easy. Just Google it!
Well yes, but if you want to be sure of the best we recommend a more measured approach.
In the UK start with the Blue Badge Guides
The Guild of Tourist Guides is the professional association for Blue Badge Tourist Guides with around 800 full members and a network of regional and local associations. Their guides are well trained, know their stuff and many speak several languages.
Blue Badge Guide tours usually charge a fee, particularly if translation is required.
In the USA you won’t go far wrong with the Park Ranger Service.
Of course Rangers are synonymous with exploring the wide open spaces of the famous national parks like Yellowstone and The Grand Canyon, but they also offer guided tours in cities, small towns and pretty much anywhere where humans have stood for longer than a few seconds.
They have over 5,000 self-guided walking tours listed on their site and plenty of resources to help you plan your trip. Along with park staff, volunteers aim for a high level of historical authenticity. Like this guide wearing the 1775 King’s Army Regular uniform at North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts USA.
And there are hundreds of paid-for guided walks, focusing on almost every interest imaginable from art and architecture to local delicacies.
Where should your history walk begin?
Wherever you’re heading, the local Tourist Information Centre is a must. You can usually access leaflets and guides in advance and make reservations for free or donation-only guided history walks.
If you haven’t had time to research before you arrive then simply ask. Ask at the tourist office for a free map, ask your hotel receptionist or Air BnB host, ask bus drivers, traders and passers by.
It’s often these chance encounters that lead you to some of the rarest and strangest history walks you’ll ever take.
Over the years we’ve pounded the streets of many a town and city, mapping out the past and learning snippets of history, rumour and myth, listening to tall tales and even some down-right lies.
Here we share the best historical walks we’ve found and we’ll keep adding more as we continue to explore our world.
History walks in UK
Use the path markers to uncover the city’s Roman past and its ancient walls.
More of a do-it-yourself walk, we used a local history book and Google maps to make our way to all of Mad Jack’s structures.
Brighton Seaside Stories
An audio guided walk from QueensPark Books based on local people’s memories.
Unguided and random walk along Brighton’s seafront. A stroll through history that takes you one and a half miles and more than 100years.
Brighton Tomb Trail
Order the leaflet or wander at will through the Victorian memorials of the city’s Extra Mural Cemetery.
Secret Gardens of London
There are dozens of London history walks but this is one of our own taking you on a 2 mile stroll visiting some of the capital’s hidden green spaces.
7 unmissable things in Bath
The free Mayor’s guided tour takes in most of the city’s famous places and leaves you plenty of time to return and discover more for yourself.
History walks in Europe
Snapshots of Prague
Without our guided history walk we’d have missed some of Prague’s oddest sights. Like the one above of the upside-down statue by David Cerný of King Wenceslas riding a dead horse.
There are some free walks around Venice but we took a small-group tour of the city’s main sites with LivItaly.
You’ll need a head for heights for this walk around the fortified walls of Cittadella. 15 metres high they circle the entire town and there’s a very nice museum at the half-way point.
History walks in USA
Boston Freedom Trail
A map, a brick line and strategically placed street medallions will take you on a complete circuit of Boston’s most iconic landmarks.
Ghosts and Gravestones, Boston
Not strictly a walk as the Trolley of Terror takes you to most of the spooky sites, but there’s plenty of history, haunting tales and graveyards to enjoy
Old North Bridge to Concord
Mainly self-guided with information boards, but Rangers, some in costume, are on hand at key points to tell you more. Don’t miss the talks and demos of colonial uniforms and weapons.
Witch City, Salem
Probably the most moving history walk we have experienced so far – a free tour of the key sites where the sad and sorry tale of the Witch Trials is told.
Does your hometown have a local history walk?
Have you done it?
Did you learn anything new?
All photographs © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk