Urban Explorers: Social Clubs to Connect With Locals

Cities revealed through runs, sketching sessions, and the eyes of locals.

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The Bombay Hash Harriers are a chapter of this worldwide group of runners known for oddball traditions. Getting “Iced” is one such ritual which involves sitting on a slab of ice and chugging away pints of beer. Photo: Parikshit Rao

Whether travelling solo or in a group, these international social clubs and communities offer like-minded individuals a chance to connect with each other and locals, whichever part of the globe they may be in.

Runners United

Having a good time is high on the agenda of the Hash House Harriers. In fact, by their own description, they are “a drinking club with a running problem.” The Harriers started in 1938 when a group of homesick British officers in Malaysia, wanted to get a spot of exercise, socialize, and enjoy a couple of beers, all at the same time. They put together the hash run which was a crazy combination of the traditional British game of hare and hounds, and a pub crawl. In the modern-day version, the club organizes runs in which groups of runners called the hares follow clues, maps, or trails laid out by another group called the hounds. Each club makes up its own rules, but what remains consistent is the commitment to fitness while “satisfying the thirst generated through exercise in…beer.” The runs or hashes can meander from one bar to the next, or they can be a round of the city’s historical monuments, followed by a binge at a local pub. Hashers are easily identified as a ragtag group of runners in oddball costumes with pints in hand. There are different kinds of runs to choose from depending on your interest and most big cities have a chapter or affiliation. The local Facebook page or website puts up this information in advance and many of the events are scheduled on a weekend. Numerous clubs are listed on www.worldharrierorganization.com. For others, a simple Google search of “hash harrier” followed by the city name will throw up options.

Another global running club is the Front Runners. This club draws its name from LGBT icon Patricia Nell Warren’s 1974 novel, The Front Runner, and is targeted at the LGBT community although it is open to all. With affiliations across the globe, it is as much about walking and running as it is about socializing, and discussing issues related to the community. Special events are held during annual Pride parades which are announced on the website www.frontrunners.org.

Big Draw

Urban Sketchers Illustration

Urban Sketchers’ motto of “showing the world one drawing at a time” allows artists and art enthusiasts to travel slow and focus on the details in places new and old. Photo: Eastnine Inc./Getty Images

Urban Sketchers believes in learning about the world one squiggle or brushstroke at a time. The international community of artists and art lovers has chapters in numerous cities across continents. It aims to connect locals and travellers who wish to draw on location and see neighbourhoods in a different light and shade. Most chapters organise regular Sketchwalks, where anybody from amateur doodlers to skilled artists can sign up and sketch away at designated sites. Urban Sketchers’ moderators are a motley group of architects, designers, and artists who also conduct a few open-for-all workshops every year. Some of them add interesting twists to the experience; a recent workshop in Lisbon, Portugal, for instance, invited people to sketch panoramic city views using twigs and Chinese ink. For travellers, joining Urban Sketchers means getting to know old neighbourhoods intimately, swapping stories, and hanging out with cool artists and locals. There’s no better souvenir than freezing the sweeping piazzas of Milan or old, paper lantern-lit bylanes of Singapore in a sketchbook, rendered in watercolour (www.urbansketchers.org).

The Glocal App

Sightseeing Locals

Sightseeing with a local offers alternative experiences like a spectacular city view from an unknown rooftop, or a drink at a character-filled neighbourhood dive. Photo: Lothar Knopp/Moment/Getty Images

Get under the skin of a new city by hanging out with locals and discovering their favourite haunts. The website Showaround connects the curious traveller, who wants to go beyond the regular guidebook, with locals who act as guides for an hourly fee, though some also offer their services free. The network includes company-verified guides in over 2,500 cities in 166 countries, who tailor city tours depending on the traveller’s interests. From the buzziest bars in Barcelona to alternative experiences in Paris, Showaround locals promise a unique travel experience (www.showaround.com and on Facebook; free app on iOS).

Appeared in the June 2016 as “Super Groupers”.




  • Diya Kohli is the former Senior Associate Editor at National Geograpic Traveller India. She loves the many stories of big old cities. For her, the best kind of travel experience involves long rambling walks through labyrinthine lanes with plenty of food stops along the way.

  • Kareena Gianani is the former Commissioning Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns and collecting owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes.


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