When we arrive in a new city, a walking tour is a great way to get introduced to the city and get oriented to special sights. Paid walking tours are available in most cities and can cost from $5 to $15 per person. In many places we are able to find free walking tours. There are two basic types of free walking tours.
One variety is offered by the local tourist office or by a volunteer group. In the city of Bath, England, the local tourist office has regularly scheduled free tours that you can join by simply showing up at the designated spot. In Lyon, France, a local “greeters” group will arrange an essentially personalized walking tour. You simply contact them by email ahead of time and they will assign a greeter to you who would then set up a time and location for your tour. Before we began, she asked us what would be of most interest for us to see then customized her tour accordingly. By contrast, in Oxford, England, the tourist office charged $15 per person for their tours. They also charged $2.25 for a simple city guide that almost all tourist offices give away free.
The other general type of free walking tours are offered by independent organizations. These tours are “free” in that you are not required to pay any fee in order to participate in the tour but the guides let you know that at the conclusion of the tour, you may “tip” the guide based upon the value you gained from the tour. There is no requirement to pay. This essentially turns the traditional model upside down. When you are asked to pay up front your expectations have been established for the value of the tour. If it doesn’t measure up then you may be disappointed. Conversely, when you can enjoy the tour first and then pay according to the quality of the tour and the value you gained from it, you have a better feeling about the outcome.
For either type of tour we have found them to be of a generally high quality with lively and engaging tour guides. The size of the group has ranged from just the two of us, essentially a private tour, up to 20 or 25 people and generally last from 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Before arriving in a new city, a simple internet search for “free walking tour” will turn up viable options to choose from. We have found these tours fairly widely available in Latin America and in Europe. I don’t think they are as common in the US although we did find a tip based free walking tour in Seattle.
Next time you travel to a new destination, give it a try.