History Here Travel App Turns Your Smartphone Into a Guidebook

Picture of a map with pins

The History Channel’s History Here travel app, free through iTunes, offers interactive guides on points of interest around the United States, with new sites added regularly.

A little confession: I tend to avoid tour groups when I travel. I prefer to blend into the crowd, assimilate among the locals, and see the sights at my own pace.

This does have a disadvantage, though, in that I often miss the historic stories, anecdotes, and overall background that a tour guide can provide. But a happy medium can be found in a host of new travel apps, where a guide (in a variety of forms) comes right to you via a smartphone app – so you won’t miss out on what’s around you, while still curating your own tour and setting your own schedule.

Let’s start with the History Channel’s History Here app:

The Pros

  • The travel app is useful if you need a little inspiration on what to do or see on a given trip. Use the location-targeting services or plug in a city or zip code, and an interactive map with flagged points of interest shows you what’s of interest nearby. You can zoom in or out on the map to accommodate sites along a leisurely stroll, on a day trip covering more mileage, or farther-flung excursions (up to 100 miles away from a given location). I used the travel app for an upcoming family beach vacation and now have a list of several sites I’d like to visit with my relatives, including a fort, a sports hall of fame, and a castle, all within a half-hour’s drive of our vacation rental.
  • It’s also good for tracking down the off-the-beaten path sites, especially in your own backyard. On checking it near my hometown of Boston, I discovered a tree descending from the famous Newton’s Apple Tree can be found on the campus of Babson College, not too far from my office – an easy excursion for lunch or a weekend afternoon picnic. I also learned about the site of Brook Farm, a former Transcendental utopian community in nearby West Roxbury. Without consulting the travel app, I would never have known about these places of interest right around the corner.
  • It’s great for the traveler on a budget (who doesn’t love free?), and with everything presented right on your smartphone, it’s a great way to see the sites without having to carry a bulky guidebook.

The Cons

  • If you’re looking for a point-by-point walking guide, this isn’t the app for you – it’s much more of a get inspired/see what’s around type of guide. (Stay tuned, though – I’ll be covering those types of travel apps in future columns!)
  • Recommendations are currently only offered for U.S. locations. I had hoped the app would have robust international offerings, as I often wish for the expertise of a guide during travels where I don’t speak the local language. After all, a historic plaque on a self-guided tour is only useful if it can be understood, and I had hoped this app would help bridge that gap. As of press time, it doesn’t.
  • In places where there are lots of historic sites, there naturally will be gaps in coverage, or places History Here doesn’t (yet) include. I would recommend using this app to supplement a few other guides, and not as the only guide used.

Which travel apps are your favorites? Is there an app you’d like me to review? Submit your suggestions by leaving a comment below!

Image: Gracey Stinson