At 11 o’clock on a Wednesday morning in Amsterdam’s red-light district, I’m getting strange looks. Unlike the other sleepy denizens of Europe’s sexiest tourist attraction—at this off-peak hour, I spot just a smattering of sightseers and one entrepreneur working her window—I’m dressed in workout gear and running, not strolling, up and down the infamous alleyways.
The truth is, I’m sightseeing too. I’m on a “sightjogging” tour with Tourist Run Amsterdam. On our eight-kilometre route, we check off most of the city’s must-sees (including the recently renovated Rijksmuseum and the bustling canals), even stopping to take pictures next to statues of Baruch Spinoza and Tante Leen. It’s my first trip to Amsterdam, and after a 90-minute run, I don’t just feel invigorated—I feel like I’ve learned my way around the city, too.
Business travellers know the conundrum of the frequent flyer: The glamour of far-flung locales is hard to enjoy when your schedule is a succession of nondescript hotels and conference rooms. And fitting in exercise—supposed to alleviate not just fatigue but jet lag, too—is a challenge when the snooze button’s so inviting and the hotel gym so uninspiring. Running tours are a multi-tasker’s dream: a way to pound the pavement, see the sights, meet a few locals and go home with a good answer to, “How was your trip?” Most tours cost around $40 (or $80 for a private run) and can be booked and paid for online. Your guide will often meet you at your hotel.
“The experience of discovering a country or city is more intense when it’s done in an active way,” says Paul Bierman of Tourist Run Amsterdam. Bierman founded the business five years ago with his partner, who works in IT. They came up with the idea while doing an endurance run (they’re both triathletes) and discussing their recent travel experiences. “It enables you to really absorb the atmosphere.”
And running tours are not just for the hard-core. “We design our group runs so they are for all levels,” says Michael Gazaleh, founder of City Running Tours. The company offers custom and themed excursions in 15 U.S. cities (jog past San Francisco’s sea lions, say, or up the “Rocky steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). “It’s not going to be an intimidating distance,” Gazaleh says. “If people are looking for a longer run or have a set schedule, we have personalized runs.”
On the same trip, I have about eight hours in Frankfurt, a city I’ve only ever seen from an airport window. So I book an hour-long tour with Tim Gondorf of Sightjogging Frankfurt, who meets me on the waterfront to show me the best of his city. We wind past the historic old town and modern skyscrapers, through the glossy pedestrian shopping street and a cluttered Saturday-morning market. But it’s when we cross the Main River and enter the hush of Frankfurt’s greenbelt that I’m most surprised by the diversity of the city core. Next visit, I think I’ll up the mileage.