Why don’t you just switch off your smartphone and go out and do something less boring instead? Although with all due respect to the famous intro for children’s TV show Why Don’t You?, perhaps better advice for 2017 would be to keep your smartphone on – but seek out some apps that will get you out into the world.
Whether you’re spotting wildlife, blue plaques or Gruffalos; discovering new walking and biking trails; taking up geocaching or staring at the night skies, there are apps to help you get out into the fresh air for some activities.
1. Forest XPlorer (Android/iOS, free)
Released by the Forestry Commission, this app provides a guide to woods and forests across the UK. You’ll find directions to reach them, lists of forthcoming events, and details of their facilities, as well as maps of trails. Instagram galleries will whet your appetite for visits, too.
2. ViewRanger (Android/iOS, free + IAP)
Whether you’re hillwalking or delving through thickets, ViewRanger is one of the best collections of trail maps and guides for the UK. There are thousands of routes to browse and download, with impressive smartwatch features and an augmented-reality ability to identify local features.
A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood… But a growing number of families are doing that too, and using an official Gruffalo app for the task. It guides you to trails created in 26 forests across the UK, with animal facts and the ability to take virtual selfies with Julia Donaldson’s much-loved characters.
4. Blue Plaques of London (Android/iOS, free)
There are more than 900 blue plaques dotted around London, installed by English Heritage to celebrate the places where famous historical figures lived and worked – from John Constable in Hampstead or Sylvia Pankhurst in Chelsea, to Jimi Hendrix in Mayfair. This app tells you about plaques near your current location, lets you search for specific people, and points you towards guided walks.
5. Hover (Android/iOS, free)
Drones are increasingly affordable in 2017, but if you’re planning to take yours out for a fly, Hover is a useful tool to have on your smartphone. It shows weather data, plots no-fly zones, advises when it’s safe to fly, and logs your activity.
6. The Wildlife Trusts: Nature Finder (Android/iOS, free)
The Wildlife Trusts charity is the best source to turn to for information on the UK’s nature reserves. Its app has a catalogue of more than 2,000, helping you pinpoint places to visit, as well as listing events. You can also browse information on over 900 species and habitats, and the wildlife you might encounter.
7. Hoop (Android/iOS, free)
During any school holidays, Hoop could be a lifesaver for parents. It’s a database of things to do with kids: from babies to 11-year-olds. It’s a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities, with easy-to-use filters ensuring you quickly find appropriate ideas.
8. Mudder Lovers (iOS, free)
Tough Mudder – mud runs with obstacles – has become something of a craze, and you won’t be getting your phone out much while putting yourself to these endurance tests. That said, Mudder Lovers encourages just that – a fun way for “Mudder Lovers” to share their photos and experiences.
9. Star Walk 2 (Android, £0.99 / IOS, £2.99)
The original Star Walk remains one of the best apps for budding stargazers of all levels, but Star Walk 2 has added some excellent features for night-time jaunts. It will identify the location of stars, planets, meteors and nebulae, the International Space Station and comets. Point it at the sky and you’ll soon be marvelling at the cosmos.
10. Fishbrain (Android/iOS, free + IAP)
Described as a “social fishing forecast app”, Fishbrain wants to get you out with a rod, practising your angling skills. It’s partly a social log of your catches, but it taps into its users’ data to show you where fishing is currently going well, guiding you to the locations where you’ll have the best chances.
11. 50 Things (Android/iOS, free)
While the National Trust’s main app is a guide to its 500-plus sites across the country, this a more focused collection of “50 things to do before you’re 11 and three quarters” – from making a home for a wild animals, to swimming in the sea. Parents will find some good ideas, too. Mixed reviews reflect past problems users have had logging in, but the idea behind this is sound.
12. Strava Running and Cycling (Android/iOS, free + IAP)
Strava is part activity-tracking app, helping you to log your jogs and cycling jaunts, and see how your speed is (hopefully) improving over time. But the features that will get you out and about are its social elements, including “clubs” to connect you with people who share your exercise interests.
13. Cachly (iOS, £4.99)
The notion of exploring the local environment, guided by GPS, to look for hidden stashes has been a slow but steady burner. While the app Geocaching is many people’s first port of call for this contemporary version of the treasure hunt, Cachly’s rave reviews are testament its quality, with features for experienced geocachers and newcomers alike.
14. The Dog Spot Beach Guide (iOS, free)
Dogs might not be too fussy about what beaches they’ll have fun on, but their owners are another story. The Dog Spot Beach Guide does exactly what its title says: provides a browsable database of dog-friendly beaches around the UK. It will even pull in a weather forecast so you can plan to keep your pooch dry.
15. Ramp Map: World Skatepark Map (iOS, free)
This shows a host of skateparks around the world, with GPS positions for 9,000 sites on one map. It’s an excellent digital bucket-list for skateboarders: you can filter the selection according to your needs, receive alerts when you’re near a park, get directions and check the weather forecast.
16. Hill Lists (iOS, £1.99)
If you like to collect hills that you’ve climbed up, Hill Lists covers nearly 7,500 in the UK and Ireland, providing a plethora of ways to sort, search and track your ascents for posterity, as well as accessing weather forecasts.
17. Ingress (Android/iOS, free + IAP)
You surely know all about Pokémon Go by now, but its developer Niantic first made its name with Ingress. It’s a location-based game with a deep science-fiction story wrapped around your real-world wanderings. And like its monster follow-up, the gameplay really does get you walking more and exploring new places.
18. Windy (Android/iOS, free + IAP)
If you love getting the wind in your hair, Windy should be a boon. Aimed at kite-flyers, surfers, paragliders and other lovers of wind-assisted activities, it shows animated wind maps, as well as waves and tides.
If you would like to go camping, but are unsure of the best sites on which to pitch your tent, Campr could set your mind at ease. It offers guides to campsites in various counties in the UK, with reviews, videos and photos to show what they’re like. A very useful advance-planning app.
20. Parkour Training (Android, free)
You can come to a sticky end running up walls and leaping from building to building, so if you want to get into parkour, you’ll need some training. This app offers video tutorials, from essential-strength training to specific parkour tricks.
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