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City officials in the south of Amsterdam had a problem. The Dutch capital gets millions of visitors a year – but few ventured south to explore their borough. The solution – an app that asks visitors to Take A Hike!

“The south of the city is never listed in the maps,” says developer Giovanni Maggini. “It’s not that it’s bad, it just doesn’t fit onto the map.”

Giovanni was in Amsterdam as a fellow for Code For Europe, which places developers in local authorities to work on solutions to civic problems. And the borough of Amsterdam-Zuid wanted something to attract more visitors.

“Take A Hike! was a solution to that problem,” Maggini explains. “We wanted to find a way to get tourists to leave well-worn paths – instead, the app tells you to explore the area.

“One of the things we learned during Code For Europe was that many people wanted to create their own tour app. So we thought we’d create one that could be used by different cities.”

Take A Hike! encourages people to “get lost” in the city by sending them on trails without telling them where they’re going next. They can pick up “rewards” that they can share on social media as they see the area’s sights, from the Olympic Stadium to kangaroos in Amstelpark.

Back at the town hall, Amsterdam-Zuid staff can update what’s on the app - and the rewards - with a web interface.

New life for old tourist guides

For Maggini, designer Ohyoon Kwon and developer Piotr Steininger – also Code For Europe fellows – it meant lots of exploring for themselves, and lots of research.

“We worked with a civil servant, who gave us ideas from paper guides,” he recalls.

“They had lots of booklets lying around and didn’t know how to deliver the information – we gave them a digital way of doing it.”

The app’s done its job in Amsterdam. A special version created for last year’s Amsterdam Urban Innovation Week was downloaded over 300 times over just two days, putting it into the Dutch iTunes App Store’s top 50.

Maggini and Kown have also released a “commercial” version, festiGo!, through their company Vierenvijftig (“54” in Dutch). It’s aimed at festival organisers, where the tourist routes have become events.

But the code behind Take A Hike! is available free for cities who want to bring new life to their neglected old tourist guides – or help newcomers get to grips with their new home town.

“If you want a cheap way to digitise your tourist routes, and get your area and surroundings known to people, that’s your way,” Maggini says.

“It’s about the hidden areas that not everyone knows about – you just need to step out a little bit.”

So where can you find if you step out with Take A Hike?

“There’s an old tram museum in the docklands area,” he says. “You can see old tramcars, and an old tram station. If you’re spending three or more days in Amsterdam

“There’s the Olympic Stadium, and parks that are less crowded – I love lying around in these green areas. Maybe tourists don’t appreciate them but they should!”

Take A Hike! is on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The Rijksmuseum at dawn by Sophie Villerot.