Hanging out with a local is the best way to get perspective on a culture. A local ambassador can lead you on a street food tour or take you on an insightful saunter through a historic neighborhood. Or he or she can give you a quick primer on the metro works. But short of making friends in bars (eminently possible), how can you corral a local into spending time showing you around?
The Global Greeter Network was founded by Lynn Brooks and now has programs in France, Greece, Australia, Argentina, and more countries—although each is individually organized. There is also a host of other civic, private, and municipal city greeter programs, most of which are free of charge.
Here are just a few of the greeter programs on offer worldwide.
City of a Thousand Welcomes
This program pairs up visitors with local ambassadors, who’ll take you out for a pint (or a cup of tea) and teach you the ins and outs of the city. You can sign up on as short notice as two days. There’s also the Global Greeters program Dublin Greeters, launching in May.
Dine with the Dutch
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Get matched with a host family who will prepare dinner for you. Writer Chris Colin had dinner on a houseboat with a Dutch couple in his feature, “Going Dutch.” You can also try Mee in Mokum, which offers walking tours of the city center, the Jewish neighborhood of Jordaan, and many others. Walks in English or German go for €7.50 (Walks in Dutch are free).
Greeters Côte d’Ivoire
From the first Akwaba (“Welcome”), this greeter program aims to let visitors experience the West African country in all its glory. Unlike most other greeter programs, this one takes visitors to whatever city or region they want to explore. Sign up to meet a greeter two weeks in advance.
Inspired by Iceland
This campaign to promote the North Atlantic country abroad sees Icelanders post web invitations to visitors to experience local hospitality. Go for a ghost walk downtown, discuss poetry, or join a cave expedition. Even the prime minister got involved last year, inviting travelers to his house for homemade pancakes.
Like other Global Greeters programs, these two- to four-hour one-on-one sessions will pair you with Bruxellois who share your interests and who will teach you all about their favorite places in Brussels. Sign up two weeks in advance of your trip.
The Chi-Town program is one of the most diverse, offering two- to four-hour personalized, foodie- or history-themed tours of more than 25 neighborhoods, like Swedish Andersonville or the Hellenic outpost of Greektown. If you don’t have time to register 10 days in advance, there’s also an InstaGreeter option with last-minute hour-long walks around downtown.
Visitors are paired up with knowledgable city residents to help them discover what the Serbian capital has to offer them—be it Belgrade’s emerging designer fashion scene, quirky museums, or riverside parks. Sign up two weeks before arrival for a maximum of six people.
Photo courtesy of Chicago Greeter.