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.