10 Reasons to Take a Free Walking Tour in Europe
After arriving in a new city and checking into a hostel or other accommodation, I ask myself what to explore first. Walking through the city to get my bearings and find some great places to eat is usually at the top of my list. After that, I’ll usually try to find out which places I want to see and what buildings I would like to wander through. I used to look up many of these things online and spend way to much time on my laptop. Having traveled for a while, I found a much simpler and more fun way to accomplish all of these things, all while seeing the city. I attend a free walking tour. Here are 10 reasons to take a free walking tour in Europe.
See the city: One of the most obvious reasons to do a free walking tour is to see the city through the eyes of your guide, who will likely point out the most important landmarks and sites. The guide will often be able to provide a lot of information about when sites are open, how much they cost and whether some days are discounted or free. You can then explore the points that interest you most in greater depth after the tour.
Learn the History: Tour guides tend to know the history of the city and each major site. They’ll tell stories and quirky facts about each place that would be difficult to find out about on your own. The best guides are excellent storytellers and can explain in an hour or two what would take much longer to research on your own.
Local Culture: Funny stories, jokes, tales of eccentric locals from the past and even local dating habits will usually be shared in walking tours. Tour guides will also familiarize you with cultural aspects of why things have been designed in a certain way and many interesting facts that would be hard to pick up on your own.
Meet Travelers: It would be nearly impossible for me to count the number of friends I’ve made from various walking tours around Europe. If you attend a tour early in your stay, you might just make new friends to spend time with for your remaining days in the city. Some I even ended up traveling with for days or weeks after. Others I ended up Couchsurfing with in their home country. This is one of the main reasons I traveled to Haifa, Israel, to reconnect with a friend I met on a free food tour in Bulgaria. Walking tours make it very easy to make new friends.
Find Local Spots: When free walking tour guides say they’re available for more questions after the tour, they really mean it. Some of the best street food and budget restaurants I’ve found while traveling have been recommendations from free walking tour guides. In Kiev, Ukraine, my tour guide Slava even joined me for lunch at her favorite spot. In Belgrade and Vilnius I was introduced to small mom and pop local restaurants I never would have found on my own.
Find the Best Views: Many tours will take you to a lookout point or identify some of the best spots in the city for picture perfect photos. Tour guides always seem to know the best places to look out over their city.
Variety: Many larger cities offer specialties such as general city, old town, graveyard and even a free food tour. There really is something for everybody.
The tour is FREE (Though Tip if you Enjoy the Tour!): A majority of the time nearly everyone who starts a free walking tour stays until the end. There have only been a few times where I saw people who had to leave early or just decided the tour wasn’t for them. That said, tour guides make money only from tips. If you enjoy the tour, and I can almost guarantee that you will, please tip at least a few euros/dollars per hour.
Nothing to Lose: If you don’t enjoy the tour or if it’s too long and runs into your other plans, you can always let the guide know you need to leave. If you happen to leave, please just let the guide know so they don’t wait or search for you before moving on.
Learn About Other Events: Many free tours offer additional tours at a low cost. Some also run pub crawls in the evening, boat tours or day trip options outside of town. They also tend to offer discounts for anyone who attends their free walking tour. More than likely they will mention this but always feel free to ask them about other tour options as well.
Free Walking Tour Tips
- Finding a free walking tour in most major (and even a few very small) cities across Europe should be easy. Hostel staff and local Tourism & Information Centers should be able to provide you with details. You can also check out a listing by city over at Spotted by Locals.
- Tell the tour guide what you thought at the end and if they ask, share your recommendations. Tour guides generally want feedback and desire to do a good job. They’ll appreciate your thoughts and generally seem to be constantly improving their tours.
- Take note of any restaurants and favorite spots they recommend so that you can take advantage of them later.
- Stay in touch with any new friends you make. Perhaps even go grab lunch or make plans to meet up later.
- Review the tour online and share your thoughts.
Hopefully this information helps you to find and enjoy your next free walking tour in Europe! If you’re like me, you’ll be happy you attended one!