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Mural w przejściu podziemnym pod al. Niepodległości, Sopot (© magro_kr - flickr.com)
A growing number of guidebooks full of ideas for unusual tours of Polish cities can be found on the Internet. They will take you to forgotten districts and dark courtyards... Their motto is to give up the habits of a tourist and get to know the locals!

Housing estate murals vs. Wilanów

“There are, of course, many different city guidebooks advising us on where to go and what to see, what is important from the historical point of view or unique; still – in most cases – the set of places selected on the basis of such criteria is stereotypical and hardly ever surprising”, writes Wojciech Burszta in the introduction to one of the more unusual guides. Warsaw City Alive contains 33 subjective tours of the city. None of them will, however, take you to the Łazienki Park, the Royal Castle or the Palace of Culture. Instead, one of them tracks down the ugliest monuments in the capital, another – Fanatic Warsaw – is a review of wall writings by hardcore football fans, and We'll Get Off the Walls – of political slogans scribbled by anonymous rebels and fighters. The authors promise us to find out who the Warsaw bricoleurs are, where Marilyn Monroe is, and what Warsaw walls whisper about.

 

One of the first of such publications was the Spacerownik (Walking Tour Guidebook) to several Polish cities, published in book form or as a supplement to Gazeta Wyborcza daily. Each of them contained walking routes with points of interest, such as buildings, monuments, streets, and sites which give a view of the most beautiful city panoramas. The walk can start or stop anywhere. The guidebooks present interesting places we pass every day indifferently, based on the principle that the familiar is the least noticed and often turns out to be most exotic.

Best fries are at the Francuska Street

The authors of those imaginative guides are licensed guides, hotheads, and students with a creative approach to studying... They know the best milk bars, places for a romantic date, and ways to relax surrounded by nature in the middle of the metropolis. They run blogs, form informal groups, and organize open tours in a variety of forms, including photo-walking, Nordic walking, bike riding or vintage Fiat 125 driving.

 

A common passion has connected the volunteers who make up the Global Greeter Network – an association of people around the world who want to show visitors around their city as seen through their eyes. A “greeter” is like a local guide – a host who will give us a guided tour of their city for free.

Street games

One of the most popular attractions of Kraków is... a drive to Nowa Huta in a Trabant. This nostalgic journey back to the times of the People’s Republic of Poland, to the first socialist realism city in Poland, is given by Crazy Guides. Through the windows of the Trabant, nicknamed Honecker’s revenge, Nowa Huta buildings are more reminiscent of Italian Renaissance palaces than of coarse socialist architecture. The tour finishes at the Stylowa restaurant, which has not changed since the days of Comrade Gierek.
 

When we think of a guided tour, we immediately see a crowd in uniform-coloured t-shirts politely following a colourful umbrella. This is prehistory. Various cultural institutions and non-governmental organizations are now offering participation in street games, which combine an interactive tour, integration, and fun. “The nature of the programme is always tailored to the needs of participants. Tasks can focus, for example, on exploring tourist attractions or gaining historical or geographical information”, says Justyna Król, employee of the active tourism department at Orienteering.

 

Every year in Poznań, during the International Games Festival, we can bump into unique characters, from King Przemysl II, through Bishop Lubrański and Greater Poland Uprising fighters, to St. Nicholas. Thanks to animators wearing special make-up and dedicated props, street game participants experience the unique atmosphere of the game, and discover the city by solving puzzles hidden in public space.