In all my travels I’ve always struggled with orientating myself in a new city. Sure I’ve had maps, researched what I wanted to see and taken notes as best I can. The minute I’ve stepped into the street however all of that changes and I’ll look left or right and be immediately lost. For others that struggle with finding their way around a new city from day one there is a solution, take a free walking tour.
When I first arrived in Europe as a freshly dispensed traveller I was oblivious to free walking tours and had planned out my own adventures. My first day I got lost about a hundred times and while the experience was great I was frustrated not being able to find the museum or attraction I wanted. Luckily for you guys there are now free walking tours offered in all the major European cities like London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid etc and in lesser travelled places like Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius to name a few. Some of which that I have used are:
Taking a free tour helps to reduce the lost factor by walking you around many of the major landmarks in your chosen city so you can get you bearings. For the following days that you then spend in said city you will have enough of idea of where you have been to go and explore while still being able to find your way home. You’ll also be provided with some knowledge during the tour that would otherwise not be available as you explore with your map in one hand and camera in the other. Most tours run from around 2 to 4 hours with a break mid way to stop for a drink and rest your feet.
What separates free tours like this from the rest is that they run on tips. So while they aren’t technically free, you’ll pay much less than other organised tours. For this reason alone your tour guide is almost guaranteed to make sure you’ll enjoy the tour as their effort correlates to how much you may tip. There will be times when you need to suffer through some of their less than funny rehearsed jokes but that’s all part of the experience.
When it comes to the end of the tour your guide will stop to thank you and make a plea for any tips you may be willing to offer. As I travelled Europe taking various free walking tours by a number of companies I found the best way to tip was to base the amount on how well the guide performed. Where they informative, friendly, helpful, funny? The more of those box’s they ticked the more money they would get.
From my knowledge of how the companies work each guide is required to pay the company a set price per number of attendees on the tour. A figure that kept coming up when I travelled around Europe the first time was around the 2 euro per head mark. If you tipped the guide 5 euros they pay 2 to the company and get to keep the 3 for themselves a their pay check. If a tour was amazing I’d part with 10 euros, if it was average they’d get 5 and should the guide be terrible at their job I’d have left the tour early and gone back to getting lost (luckily that only ever happened once).
I’ve seen prices for other organised tours go for 30/50/100 euros which when backpacking or travelling on the cheap is never an option so even tipping just 10 bucks is a bargain for you.
A side benefit of taking a free walking tour is that you’ll often easily make new friends to travel with. Telling people at your hostel that you are looking to take one of these tours will often result in someone tagging along. Additionally the people taking the tour can become instant travel buddies providing your willing to strike up conversations with strangers. I took a free tour in Amsterdam and by the end of the tour I’d found new friends to explore the city with for the rest of the day.
In all I found that while I enjoyed just wandering a city and getting lost it was a lot more fun once I’d got my bearings on what was where. Taking a free walking tour helped me do that on the cheap and provided me with new travel buddies to explore with at the same time.
Have you taken a free walking tour in Europe or anywhere else in the world? I’d love it if you left a comment below telling me about your experience.
I did a free one in Amsterdam — you’re right, they’re amazing! As long as you have the right guide.
Nice one Candice. I did one in Amsterdam as well which was run by a local student. Turned out to be a great tour despite the pouring rain.
I love walking tours!
Sounds like a great way to get introduced to a new city.
Have you ever used the Big Apple Greeters on trips to NY?
Irene I’ve never been to NY before but sounds like I should look up the greeters when I get there, might be just my thing.
I’ve taken free walking tours in Jerusalem, Vatican City, Madrid and Porto and all were worth a 10 Euro tip, IMO. Our guide in Porto offered to take us to her favorite place for lunch after the tour and I appreciated getting the “local” experience. It was great. I highly recommend free tours.
That was one thing I forgot to mention in the post. Seeing as all guides are either students or expats living there all have great stories and are willing to show you places to eat or just go for a drink after the tour.
The two (2) free walking tours in Buenos Aires, Argentina are fantastic.
Ha, Candice, funny seeing you here. 😉
Thanks for the tips re the tours in Buenos Aires Julie. I’ve seen that while Europe seems to have a monopoly on free tours there are more and more popping up all over the place.
This is my number one first thing to do in European cities. I did have done Prague, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. You meet some great people and they usually do awesome pub crawls too, either that evening or the next day. Well worth it
Jaryd I also did the tours first thing if I could. As for the pub crawls well I had a bit of hit and miss luck with them but did manage to meet a bunch of great people along the way so in the end they worked out ok.
I didn’t even know they had options like that available. That definitely seems like a good tour to take though to give you some landmarks so you can generalize where you are. Do the guides tell you what they have to pay or did you ask?
Gabriel I found the tours a great way to see the landmarks. As for the costing yes I’d spoken to a couple of my guides along the way and asked them how it all worked.
Woops, sorry not what you have to pay but what they have to pay per head****
Thanks, I will do the Alternative London when I go, also if you have recommendations for Barcelona, Madrid, Pamplona, or Paris that would be great too 😀 Thanks!
Chanel I’d look up the new europe tours for Paris, Madrid and I believe Barcelona. I’ve not seen any tours offered in Pamplona but check with your hostel or hotel when you get there and you should find a brochure to help you out.
My hubby and I do a lot of free walking tours. They are a wonderful way to find your bearings and get a snap shot of the city – Then you can go back to further explore the parts of interest. I think we have done about 6 or 7 now; Love them!
Totally agree! I love free walking tours, though I’ve only been with Sandersman NewsEurope at London, Edinburg, Amsterdam and Paris. So far it has all been very positive experiences for me – great and informative guides.
I plan my walking tour on the first day that I arrive whenever possible, so that I get a great orientation of the city, where and how to get to the major landmarks.
Another great thing is that you can ask the guides anything! best restaurant, best pub, attractions that cannot be missed and those that aren’t that great and okay to give a miss.
I usually tip about 5 Euro as well, which in my opinion is extremely reasonable for a 3hour guided walk!
Great post, just came back from the Amsterdam – New Europe tour about an hour ago. I do them in every city I visit, great way to meet people too.
I really enjoyed free walking tours in Krakow and Warsaw – very informative and fun. Guides are very nice and enthusiastic. Highly recommended!
Free walking tour in Riga was also nice, but not as good as in Poland.