The first thing I check when planning a trip is whether there are free walking tours or not. Below you’ll find all the information you need to know about free walking tours and why I love them so much.
What is a free walking tour?
A free walking tour is a hike led by a guide that usually cruises through the major tourist attractions of the city. It usually lasts between 2 and 3 hours. The guides will dive into the history, landmarks, traditions of that place. They are really nice and talented people who not only know a lot about the places but are also very funny and will make the tour really enjoyable.
I think of free tours as a tl;dr version of the city landmarks. I generally take them on my first day over there (or the day after if I arrive late afternoon or evening) so that I can make a list of places I want to take a closer look at. As a bonus, the guides usually know the best places where you can try the local cuisine.
How to find a free walking tour
The first thing to do is search Google for free walking tours in X city. After filtering the results, look them up on Trip Advisor and Facebook. There you can see reviews from people who went on that walking tour. If the average reviews are good and the subject of the walking tour is interesting for me, I book a place.
How it works
You find the timetable for the walking tour online. You then go at the meeting point. There you will meet the guides and a lot of tourists. No matter what the weather is like, they will be there.
There is usually more than one guide, so if the group of tourists is big, they split it into smaller groups. Each smaller group gets a guide. Don’t fret, all of the guides are really, really nice and they will all give you the same piece of information. Of course, each one in their unique way.
They will walk you through the tour from the beginning explaining all the organizational details: what you will visit, how long the tour will take, where the tour ends, if they are going to take breaks during the tour, what to do if you wanna leave the tour and so on, what information they will provide during the tour and how the free walking tour tipping works. During the tour, you won’t be able to visit museums.
When is the free walking tour suitable
The free walking tour is suitable in a lot of situations. It is said to be perfect if you’re in a hurry and you want to get a big picture of the city.
I’d say it’s suitable if you didn’t have time to plan ahead or to read something about the places you are visiting. Also, if you want to meet new people and engage in interesting conversations.
Is it really free
It’s a free walking tour, so you don’t have to pay anything at the beginning of the tour. The guides are not volunteers though. They work on tips, so at the end of the tour, tourists tip them the amount of money that they find appropriate. When sizing the tip I think you should use your best judgement, but if you really really really need help on this one, I tip between 5 and 20 euros based on how much I enjoyed the tour.
My experience with walking tours so far
2 walking tours in Budapest, one in Prague, 3 in Barcelona, one in Bratislava, one in Rome, one in Vatican, two in Berlin, one in Athens, 3 in Amsterdam, one in Bruxelles.
And I am having troubles when I try to rank the guides. That’s how good they were.
Sometimes you may feel that you only get the tip of the iceberg after the walking tour. That’s why I like to get back to some landmarks. Either because I want to see something in more detail or I want to visit museums. But it was very valuable that I already knew something about that place, how to find it, the easiest way to get there and so on.
Behind the walking tour experience
Among the nice things about the free walking tours is the fact that you get to know the guides and their story – how they fell in love with that place, what interesting stories they know, how they decided to live there.
I met people who moved abroad because they found the love of their lives, or they met a greek god and decided to move to Athens and mary said god. It’s amazing to get to know their life stories and also see the city through the eyes of someone who loves it. So, so far I went on tours with archaeologists, computer science students, mothers and fathers, a former Broadway actor and much more.
We are usually very friendly with the guide and engage in conversations about a lot of subjects. This is part of the joy of travelling. We even went to grab a beer after the tour with one of the guides.
Don’t forget to share your experience
As the guides encourage you at the end of the tour, don’t forget to share your experience on TripAdvisor or Facebook. Write a review about the tour – what you liked, points to improve, how it made you feel etc. In this way, you’ll help the guides to become better at what they do. Not to mention that you will help the tourists like you, who are looking for a nice way of spending the day while they travel.