The concept of joining a walking tour where there is no set charge and tourists show their appreciation by leaving a tip is becoming increasingly popular across Europe and the globe. A growth in budget-conscious travel, an increase in savvy travel guides, and the ease of word-of-mouth and internet marketing is helping drive the trend.
For the tourist, it’s quite simple: check the tour company’s website to find the daily meet up place; sign up; take the tour alongside anyone else who shows up; and then leave a tip at the end (knowing in advance that “free” is loosely employed as a marketing tactic and you are expected to part ways with more than a handshake). For the guide, it can be surprisingly lucrative on a good day and favorable reviews are pushing the best ones up the ranks on peer-to-peer review sites such as TripAdvisor.
Here are five reasons to consider a free walking tour on your next trip:
1. You can an up-close and exclusive view of the city
One of the most prominent benefits of joining a walking tour is how it allows the individual to really experience a new destination, as much as a tourist can, within a few hours. Partaking on a walking tour allows you to feel your surroundings, and walk the same streets and paths the locals do. In fact, in some cities, like Prague, walking tours are the only way to see some historical sites.
A good guide will be able to explain the local culture and traditions and give you other local insights, showing you off-the-beaten-path spots, historic buildings and monuments, eat from street vendors, and see the people. This can speak volumes about lifestyle, culture, and diversity.
2. You’ll get local recommendations
The beauty of taking a walking tour is not only do you have an opportunity to gain more knowledge of an area, but also knowledge that could extend further into helping you plan your trip. Tour guides usually know a lot about the city and are happy to provide local recommendations. Surely you can still ask a stranger where to find some good tapas for example, but there is no guarantee they will be interested in, or qualified to, help you. And there are some cities where your questions may be especially sensitive (our Amsterdam walking tour guides have heard everything)! So ask your guide for recommendations!
You can really get so much more value for your money by taking the time to get to know your guide and pick their brain a little. Chances are they have some good ideas and recommendations. And if you have a question about an area, it’s always nice to have a face to face discussion rather than just pulling out your phone and searching Google. Use the allotted time to your advantage. Take note of any restaurants and favorite spots they recommend so that you can take advantage of them later.
3. Value for money
On a regular tour where you pay at least 20 £/$/€ per person, the tour guide is employed as part of the company and automatically expects compensation from his/her company for the work they carry out. At the end of a free walking tour, you are usually invited by the tour guide to leave a voluntary donation, which hopefully reflects your satisfaction with the service. This means that each tour done this way will be to the highest standards, as the guide will try their best to create the same great experience every time in order to get paid. Feel free to share with the tour guide what you thought at the end and if they ask, share your recommendations. Tour guides usually want feedback and wish to do a good job. They’ll appreciate your opinion and commonly try to apply your feedback to improve their tours.
4. It’s an enjoyable way to meet people
Joining a walking tour is a great way to meet fellow travelers. For many, travelling solo is an exciting adventure with a great sense of freedom. But occasionally it can also get lonely. If you join a tour earlier in your stay, you may just make a new friend to spend time with for the remainder of your trip in the city. The fact that you are joining a group with a common language also creates familiarity, especially when travelling in a foreign country.