170915 St. Stephen's Basilica (2)

Free Walking Tours in Europe

Prior to arriving, I had found out about these free walking tours in the major cities that I would be going to and I had already sorted out which ones I wanted to participate in.  In the end, I did 5 of them in total and all of them ended up being a fantastic experience. 

The way it works is, you find out the time and meeting place of the tour and you just show up as you please.  All of the companies that run these tours have websites and list the information there, and they are very careful to point out that the tours will run rain or shine.  I ended up taking 2 of my tours during a torrential downpour.  It wasn’t always fun but the guides are very good at adapting and taking you to places with more cover to try and wait out the rain.  The guide will explain to you at the beginning of the tour that it is a free walking tour, but they are only able to keep the tours running from the tips that we provide, so at the end of the tour, you decide how much it is worth and pay according to what you feel is fair.

There is also a great deal of negativity online towards these types of tours.  Many people claim that because the guides that run these tours are not officially registered tour guides, they are taking away from official tourist companies.  Not being registered is also the reason that these tours never take you into any of the sights.

I don’t necessarily agree with these views at all.  I think it is a completely different type of business that doesn’t compete with organized tours at all.  The majority of the people who take these tours are solo travellers or backpackers who would not likely join an organized tour.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there were so many other solo travellers who took these tours and it turned out to be a nice way to meet fellow travellers.  Because these tours generally run on a “show up as you please” type of model, there may also be times where nobody shows up for the tour.  I saw this in Krakow on a rainy morning.

The guides are generally quite young and many are new graduates or university students.  As expected, the English proficiency of all of the guides was amazing.  They could fluently communicate very interesting information about the history and culture of their country and I felt that I came away with a much better understanding at the end of each tour. 

One thing to note is that all of the tours range from 2.5 to 3 hours long, but the amount of walking is actually very little.  It was a great deal of pausing and listening to the guide and in the end, I don’t even know if we even covered 3km on each of these tours.

I had a great time on each of my tours and I would highly recommend them.  I loved the flexibility of being able to show up when you are free, and also the flexibility of being able to decide how much the tour was worth to me.  I will definitely be joining more of these in the future.

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