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mar 08 2011

Tours led by the homeless

London Bridge ((Courtesy jimmyharris/Flickr)

There are many ways to tour a citybike tours, duck tours, Segway tours (though after Segway's CEO plunged off a cliff to his death riding a Segway, I'm no longer sure that would be my first choice), self-guided auditory tours, tours led by historical figures…the list goes on. The advent of the internet and the ubiquitous smart phone apps (yes, there's an app for that), brought us the virtual tour. Virtual tours, such as the Google Art Project and interactive maps, let you tour museums, cities, and even Disney World from the comfort of your home.

While I enjoy traditional tours as much as the next person, I'm always looking for a new (and cheap) way to see a city; something that allows me to view an area with a completely fresh set of eyes. So when I read about the Sock Mob Events' "Unseen Tours" and their unconventional tour guides, I was immediately intrigued.

The London-based tour company offers four walking tours of the city. What sets these tours apart from other London offerings? They are led by trained homeless guides. That's right, guides who don't just know the city, but have experienced it from a completely different perspective than your average Londoner.

Born from The Sock Mob, a volunteer network that seeks to engage with the homeless community and overcome stigmas associated with homelessness, Unseen Tours offers guided tours to popular London sites such as the London Bridge, and Old Street. The tours aim to provide visitors with an "unseen" look at London. Guides provide both historical information about the areas, as well as personal insights about the city gleaned from years of living on the streets.

Tours cost £5 or £8, depending on your circumstances, and the majority of the proceeds is given to the guides. You can book tours in advance, or show up spontaneously—just look for the cardboard sign with the words Unseen Tours on it (very fitting).

What do you think? Is this something you'd like to see in your city? Who (or what), in your opinion, makes the best tour guide?

Madeline Grimes

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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