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Tour guides’ picks: 10 city sights you mustn't miss
The people who know the world's biggest cities inside out reveal their favorite spots
You might assume you’ve seen a city’s best sights when you've ticked off all the stops on a bus tour. But what things do the locals love best?
We asked 10 insider guides in 10 world-class cities to tell us about their favorite places.
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1. Miami: Casa Casuarina
Your Miami guide is:
Tara Solomon, Discovery Miami Beach self-guided tours; www.discoverymiamibeach.com
“Casa Casuarina, the former home of Gianni Versace, is one of Miami's most magical places and my favorite spot on our Discovery Miami Beach tour,” says Tara Solomon of Discovery Miami Beach self-guided tours.
“It was where the iconic designer, his sister Donatella and their family members stayed when they came to Miami during the 1990s.
“The 35-roomOcean Drive estate was the site of glamorous parties for privileged locals and high-profile friends from out of town including Madonna, Sly Stallone, the photographer Bruce Weber and a then-new on the scene Jennifer Lopez.
“When Versace first saw the mansion in 1992 -- it was built in 1930 -- it was a dilapidated collection of 30 individual apartments. He purchased the property, along with the Art Deco hotel next door, and turned it into a flamboyantly appointed neoclassical house by the ocean which he visited until his murder in 1997.
“The most glorious feature is the open-air courtyard with its mosaic pool lined with red, gold, blue, silver and green tiles imported from Milan. Based on the pattern of a Versace silk scarf, it took US$1.5 million to create and 50 artisans a year to complete.”
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2. Tokyo: Rikugien Garden
Your Tokyo guide is:
Rie Suenaga, Tokyo Tours; www.thebackstreetguides.com
“Near to where I grew up in Tokyo, there is this truly beautiful traditional Japanese garden called Rikugien,” says Rie Suenaga of Tokyo Tours. “Very few tourists visit it, I guess because they do not know it's there.
“I often try to include it on my private tours of Tokyo; it's good for visitors to realize Tokyo is not all concrete, high-rise buildings and busy streets. I love that side of Tokyo. The suburbs there have many small and relaxing parks like this, but Rikugien was built in the Edo period and I think it's the best.
“The park is great to visit at any time of year and I always recommend finding the little tea house on the far side of the lake. For ¥500 (US$6.50) you get a real Japanese green tea, (just ask for macha), served with a traditional wagashi, (sweet cake).
“The park entrance, (¥300), is about five minutes walk from Komagome station which is right at the top of the JR Yamanote line -- the most useful train line for tourists as they announce the stations in English.”
3. New York: Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO
Your New York guide is:
Matt Levy, The Levys' Unique New York; www.levysuniqueny.com
“Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is the most extraordinary thing to do in the city,” says native Brooklynite and licensed NYC Tour Guide Matt Levy.
“It’s a work of art, with 19th-century architectural history, civic pride and civil engineering. Only a mile and a third, the stroll from Manhattan to Brooklyn will give you stunning views of the Manhattan skyline as well as glimpses of New York City’s best borough -- Brooklyn.
“Bear to the left over the bridge, head down the stairs and stroll along the picturesque cobblestone streets into DUMBO -- Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Brooklyn's former industrial district has become a boutique- and gallery-filled neighborhood well worth a visit.
“Grab a sandwich at La Bagel Delight on Front Street and head towards Brooklyn Bridge Park and Jane's Carousel, hand restored and housed in an architecture gem of a jewel box designed by Jean Nouvel, sitting right on the Brooklyn waterfront.”
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4. Vienna: The MQ
Your Vienna guide is:
Alexa Brauner; www.alexabrauner.at
“One of my favorite places in Vienna is the Musuems Quartier, known locally as the MQ, because of its variety of art, entertainment and culinary delights,” says Alexa Brauner, tour guide.
“I like the Leopold Museum for showing what Vienna was like around 1900 (the foundation for whatViennais nowadays), MUMOK (the Museum of Modern Art) for 20th and 21st century work, and the Kunsthalle Wien for producing thrilling contemporary art exhibitions. If I was a child I would also love to visit the Zoom Children’s Museum.
“Of the MQ restaurants I particular like Café Halle; it’s trendy and urban with decent, reasonably priced food and they have good music. If I feel like Schnitzel I go to Glacis Beisl, where modern architecture meets traditional Viennese cuisine.
“In summer, when you can enjoy ginger lemonade sitting outside on the benches, I enjoy the modern dance performances in the Halle G at the heart of the MQ. Later in the year I enjoy my first winter Punsch in the courtyard before ice curling starts in December.
“The MQ offers me more than any other location inVienna.”
5. London: Spitalfields
“For me, Spitalfields in the East End sums up what makes London such an amazing city, an exciting contemporary vibe superimposed on layers of history,” says Gavin Webb, a London Blue Badge tour guide.
“The area’s immigrant heritage is revealed by a stroll through its architecture, from the old Jewish Soup Kitchen to rows of 18th century Huguenot silk-weaver’s houses. Turn the corner and your senses are accosted by Banglatown, with the scent of curry and the sparkle of saris in shop windows.
“Creative types have also moved in; peer down an alley and you are bound to spot an artist’s studio or a boutique selling cutting-edge clothes. There is a thriving general market, a magnificent church and lots of places to eat, including a great chocolate shop.”
Your London guide is:
Gavin Webb, London Blue Badge Tour Guide; www.tourguideoflondon.com
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6. Rio de Janeiro: The Selaron Steps
Your Rio guide is:
H.J. “Jim” Campbell; www.localguiding.com
“These tiled steps, which connect downtown with the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa, are a real gem which can’t possibly be reached by tour buses,” says Jim Campbell, a Rio resident and guide.
“They are the work of Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, who’s now been made an honorary citizen of Rio de Janeiro. He has assembled tiles from nearly every corner of the planet to make them, and proudly says his work will never be finished.”
7. Agra: Luhar Gali Bazaar
Your Agra guide is:
Rajeev Sikarwar; www.localguiding.com
“Tourists to Agra are so awed by the beauty of the Taj Mahal, they often never look any further around them,” says Rajeev Sikarwar, an Agra local and guide.
“But Luhar Gali, which means blacksmiths’ alley, is an archaic, busy market catering mainly to women close to another World Heritage site, Agra Fort.
“This market, which has been here for at least 300 years, contains small kiosks filled with shining objects like bindis, bangles, anklets and other decorative items. Nearby is the Rawatpara spice market, another visual delight showcasing the India which is busy and congested, but also surprisingly smooth-running.”
8. Stockholm: Sodermalm
Your Stockholm guide is:
Elisabeth Daude; firstname.lastname@example.org
“Stockholm's best feature is the presence of water everywhere, and I love to walk up to two of the city’s highest locations on the southern Island, Södermalm, to enjoy the views,” says Elisabeth Daude.
“A spot rarely visited by people from out of town is Fåfängan, or The Vanity, located on the eastern edge of Södermalm. It requires a bit of effort to reach, but you are rewarded with an excellent view of the waterways of Stockholm on the Baltic Sea side.
“It’s best to visit Fafangan in the morning when the sun lights up the Old Town.
“In the afternoon be sure to visit Monteliusvägen on the western side of Södermalm. From this narrow pathway you will get a great view of Lake Mälar.
“Bring your own picnic and sit at one of the tables or continue on to one of the many trendy little cafés in the cobble-stoned streets of the Mariaberget area.”
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9. Istanbul: Istiklal Street
Your Istanbul guide is:
Peter Sommer, city and archaeological tour guide; www.petersommer.com
“This street for me is where you feel the heart of young, dynamic Istanbul growing and beating,” says Peter Sommer, a city and archaeological tour guide in Istanbul.
“Most people visiting stay around Sultanahmet, the old city encircled by world famous monuments, but head across the Golden Horn, and you’ll discover a very different side of Istanbul.
“Istiklal Caddesi is the place I go to soak up the city’s energy; it’s my favorite street in the metropolis. A long, wide, pedestrianized avenue lined with bars, restaurants and neo-classical consulates, it’s packed from dawn to dusk with local promenaders, from old men with their grandchildren to glamorous girls and uniformed soldiers holding hands.
“An antique tram heads up and down the street every so often, its bell ringing, but I prefer to stroll, savoring the smells coming from the tiny shops and stands selling pastries and kebabs.”
10. Toronto: St. Lawrence Farmer’s Market
Your Toronto guide is:
Bruce Bell, Toronto historian and tour guide; www.brucebelltours.ca
“One of my favorite places to go on a weekend in Toronto is St. Lawrence Farmer’s Market, where farmers from all over southern Ontario have been selling their goods for over 200 years,” says Bruce Bell,Toronto historian and tour guide.
“It’s filled with local history, as well as fresh meat, fruit, vegetables, poultry and baked goods -- don’t miss the gooey butter tarts from St. Catherine’s Bakery.
“The market opens at 5 a.m. every Saturday, and it’s the place where many of Toronto’s top chefs go to get a jump on their competition. It’s at 95 Front Street East in downtown and stays open till 3 p.m. for food, then on Sunday becomes an antiques market.”
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