In this mobile world, you can arrive at a destination not speaking the language or not knowing a local, and still get the most out of wherever you are – if you know which apps to get. These are the apps that will give you the best bang for your buck during your limited time travelling!
Nightlife and travel apps haven’t quite reached global uniformity. One app won’t get you around the world just yet.
That means, in many cases, the app you need will be a local production only. Perhaps it’ll be useful in just one country, a single state, or even just one big city.
So, it is a good idea to find out which app is at the top of the ladder before you travel.
(We don’t just advocate walking around with your phone in front of you like a zombie, but it is not a bad idea just to see what is happening in the place you are at, even if purely to quell your FOMO).
New York City
In the Big Apple, both locals and tourists use Yelp. Yelp reviews can make or break a business in New York City, and restaurants and cafes will often ask you when you leave to put a friendly review on Yelp (seriously, one bar even gave me and some friends three shots and waited while we did it on our phones).
The Big Apple – in the spirit of American competition and capitalism – has great food and good drinks almost everywhere.
However, prices vary greatly so use Yelp to differentiate between the overpriced and the good deals.
The subway is the best, cheapest, and most interesting way to get around, and you need a subway app. Seriously, you need an app. Few stations have a timetable and even fewer have display screens, so get yourself a subway app to work out if you will be waiting five minutes or five hours – which might well be the case if there’s trackwork!
New Yorkers, famously, will help you, but day one will be much easier if you’re equipped with some tools.
If you have data on your phone (which is probably a must, there’s not enough open WiFi), CityMapper is a quality app for planning your route, and includes Subway timing.
Google Maps does a job but CityMapper has extras that make it truly the one app you can rely on.
If you have your phone but you’re offline, even just downloading a subway map in .PDF form to your phone is a trick.
There are only two maps per train car in the subway – and the maps are often obscured by mobs of people.
Nightlife and things to do
TripAdvisor is great for tourists – although used far less by locals – with travelling reviewers sharing what they found great, good, and avoid-at-all-costs.
Your NYC arsenal of apps isn’t complete without yplan. The app is more useful for locals that wish to find out about events and going-out once all the tourist attractions have been seen. Perfect for wanting to know about new things happening. If you’re planning a longer stay, this app will help keep you busy.
As Europe’s third most-visited city, Berlin is swamped with tourists. And Berliners – known for their unfriendliness – blame the tourists for everything from rent increases to hikes in beer prices, meaning that you might get yourself a frosty reception. (Not Paris frosty, it isn’t that bad, but still cold enough to make the city seem unfreundlich [unfriendly]).
Food, drinks and nightlife
The best app for Berlin is Tip Berlin, with Yelp running second at some touristy bars. Tip Berlin has plenty of English advice and useful information.
Typifying the cheap mentality that prevails in Germany’s capital (the city’s official mantra: Berlin ist Arm aber Sexy, which means ‘Berlin is poor but sexy’), many of the best bars, cafes and clubs only have a Facebook page, so Facebook is a handy app there.
One final thing to note about Berlin is that bars mostly have no WiFi – stickers saying ‘no f**king Wi-Fi: talk to each other’ are almost as popular as that above – so either sort out your data plan or load everything in the hotel.
With so many different options in the city, your best bet is to find something you like and ask the people working there. They won’t give you a bum steer.
And as someone who currently lives in Berlin, avoid Matrix Bar and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum at all costs. That’s a tip for free.
Again, Google Maps and CityMapper duke it out for the best how-do-I-get-there app. I use both interchangeably and without allegiance – CityMapper can be better for offline travel if you get stuck without data temporarily. Also, the free app from the city’s transport company BVG is good, but occasionally doubles or triples your journey time.
The biggest and most lively city in Israel has been comparatively drama free lately – if you want drama head to Jerusalem or Hebron in the West Bank – meaning traveller numbers have swelled in recent years.
Food and drink
TripAdvisor is a must in Tel Aviv, and is the most widely used app by western visitors. Americans love Tel Aviv and Israel, so you can always head to TripAdvisor for some up-to-date and accurate reviews in English.
Getting around, entertainment, and staying safe
Also, local app Chronus City is updated daily and takes you on guided tours in English, meaning you can make your own way through the city with some help from your smartphone. Another app – DigiTel – is not so much a travel app but an essential ‘news’ app, which sends personalised updates on the happenings in the city.
While Tel Aviv is far safer than anywhere 200 kilometres to the south, north and east (and west if you are not a good swimmer), there are still security concerns and locals check DigiTel frequently for updates. At the moment it is only available in Hebrew, but there are tentative plans to bring out an English version.
Furthermore, Tel Aviv has a city-wide free WiFi network, meaning you can always default back to the app when you forget the name of the place you were going (and if the WiFi isn’t working, then you probably aren’t in Tel Aviv anymore, which means you should totally walk back from whence you came).
Finally, every Israeli under 40 and most over it have a fluent command of English, so you can always ask for some tips – even if the tip is ‘what does this mean on DigiTel?’ or ‘what are those sirens for?’
Food and drink
For food and nightlife, TripAdvisor again gets a nod, while Urbanspoon’s coverage in London is good for a second opinion to figure out best food and opening times.
CityMapper and Google Maps are neck-and-neck for getting you where you need in London. The Tube and buses service the inner-parts of the city well, with Oyster or pay-and-pay VISA/Mastercard technology in place as well – although you might need to be careful with your overseas credit card.
CityMapper is used by an app-developer friend based in the city and he raves about it, which means it’s a pretty good shout. The hardest part about the Tube is knowing when to change and where to go, and CityMapper is easy to follow.
If you do get an Oyster card, grab an Oyster app to track your daily spending and to figure out when you’re travelling for free if you hit daily or weekly limits for multiple use of the systems.
The app du-jour on the streets of London for finding out what’s on is yplan, just as it is in NYC. Londoners use it to find out about what they can do on weekends and for entertainment. If you’ve seen the tourist spots, take a look to see what’s happening – markets, gigs, and much more.
In some more exotic tourist destinations, a good review could mean the difference between a great dinner and a bout of Bali Belly, so it is wise to get the lay of the land online before the land lays you on your back.
As the local infrastructure is poorer, there are few locally made apps and sites to follow. Instead, TripAdvisor and even Lonely Planet are your friends.
The downside is that a cafe with a good TripAdvisor review will have queues around the corner and a cafe without one will be empty, but there are usually other reasons for the good reviews.
Food, drinks and what’s on
TripAdvisor is the general app that gives you accurate insight into the best things to do, restaurants, and bars, pubs and hotels with its legion of travelling reviewers.
TripAdvisor isn’t the dominant force like Yelp is in the USA, so if you do need a second opinion, jump onto Urbanspoon which offers ratings, reviews, photos and menus. Anywhere highly rated will likely be good, but popular, so you may need to book ahead or be prepared to queue.
A hat-tip to Broadsheet here too – great for those who live in the city and want to know the next cool spot to try for a meal.
Getting around is well serviced by Google Maps in Sydney, while Melbourne has just jumped on board the Google train. The city has just (finally) updated Google with its public transport data, meaning you can now find out which tram to take using Google. There may be some kinks in the system in the early days.
In Sydney, TripView offers detailed timetable breakdowns, including real-time data on if your expected bus is early or late. Melbourne’s trams are demystified with TramTracker and a host of apps that do the same sort of thing.
Is there anything we missed? Did we get it wrong and there’s totally a better app for a city that we did not mention?