Why I Love Free City Tours

Who has two thumbs and absolutely sucks at making travel plans?

This girl.

This is not new news, and it’s something that Cory has thankfully taken in stride. Together, we decide on where to go. I often book the plane tickets. And then Cory usually takes the reigns, filling out most of the details of how we’ll spend our time in our destination.

On our recent trip to Spain, we had a great time in Madrid, our first city stop on our three-week holiday. We filled our days at the occasional museum and pop-up holiday festivities, walking the streets and discovering what the city had to offer completely on our own.

But when we reached Seville, the first thing Cory penciled into our schedule was a free city tour.

I’d heard of free city tours before, but prior to Seville, I’d never taken one.

The idea is this: While some tour companies charge people to sign up and take a tour, free city tours turn the idea on its head. The people who run these tours do not charge anything at all. Instead, these tours, which I’ve found to be anywhere from one-and-a-half to three hours long, are completely open and available to anyone who wants to take them.

At the end of the tour, participants are free to tip the tour guide whatever they feel the experience was worth.

free tour london

This business plan is brilliant. Consider this: How many people would normally sign up for these tours without knowing what they’re getting into? One bad tour can burn you, and people are gun shy. I get it. I’ve been there.

But on a free tour, you really don’t have much to lose besides a couple hours of time. And tour guides have an incentive for making sure you enjoy what they have to offer. Giving a lackluster tour will also waste their time, plus it leaves them without any financial reward.

Our first free city tour in Seville was nothing short of stellar. Our guide was incredibly well-versed about the city, and she spun an informative, interesting story about Seville while offering suggestions on other things to do and see during our stay while noting those things worth skipping. At the end of our experience, we were free to tip … or not.

And so our love of the free city tour was born. 

From there, we signed up for a free city tour in Barcelona. In London, we found a company that offered several such tours, so we hopped on ones that hit highlights of West London, Jack the Ripper and street art in East London. We also took a free city tour in Oxford.

And I spent my first of three touristy days in Munich, Germany, on an incredibly insightful free city tour.

Every tour guide we’ve had has been very different from all the others. They have been locals or transplants who have an in-depth knowledge about and passion for the city. The tours always hit the highlights while providing a brief but thorough historical and cultural background of the city. Some tour guides want to get to know the people taking their tours; others tend to stick more to a script. Every single tour guide has gladly answered questions on the go and appeared to be genuinely excited about their jobs.

Every free tour we’ve been on has been completely worth our time, and we were more than happy to tip at the end. Without the obligation-free condition, though, I don’t know that we ever would have sprung for our very first city tour.

Why do I love them? 

Besides the obvious answer of being FREE except for a tip at the end, I’m a fan because they:

  • Provide context for many of the other things we’ll likely do in the city.
  • Help us decide what other sites and experiences are worth paying for upfront.
  • Point out things we didn’t even know to think about or ask.
  • Help us understand how the city is laid out so we can find our way around later.

Like I said, it really is a brilliant business model. In fact, it’s a model I’d like to see more attractions like museums adopt. I’m usually quite hesitant and very picky about the museums I’ll visit because of the price tag, but if I had the option to visit and then decide how much I found the experience worth, I’d feel more inclined to visit and pay, as I’m sure many people would be.

I know free tours have been around for awhile now. We may be late to discover them but I’m thrilled we have, and I have no doubt they’ll play into many of our city breaks going forward.

In fact, if a city has a free tour, it’s now likely to be the very first thing we do when we reach a new destination. 

I’m curious: Have you ever taken a free tour? If so, where at and how was your experience?

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