Bet you didn’t know that free entertainment — free sightseeing tours no less — actually existed! Walking tours are one of the best ways to get to know the city you are visiting, get a little bit of exercise, meet some great people, and save some money! I’ve done several of them in cities across Europe, and I always enjoyed them.
There are two different types of these tours: Free, and not-quite-but-pretty-much-free. The free ones are a little rarer and are city-run initiatives with volunteers, while the not-quite-free ones operate on a tip basis with guides paid completely based on how well you think they did. Both of these types of tours are mostly walking, with plenty of stops at popular sites for the guide to spoil you with the rich history of the country you are visiting.
The free tours, also known as “greeters programs,” are run by greeters (rather than guides), who are people that just love their city so much that they want to share it with the world. Greeters will often show their audience places that mean something special to them and places that the travellers specifically ask for (within reason); they are not professional guides, and thus encourage a more informal tour. This program is offered in over twenty different cities around the world, and travellers are not expected to pay anything for it. In fact, greeters will often be offended if tips are offered.
The other type of walking tour, the not-quite-but-pretty-much-free, is based entirely on tips. If you enjoyed your tour, it is suggested to tip approximately $10-15 per person, but this is still far less than you would spend on any paid tour. It is in no way mandatory to tip, and most tour guides will not pressure you whatsoever. The tip does, however, encourage the guides to be even better than with other companies because they have no guaranteed income from tour fees. They love the city in which they live, and choose to accept an inconsistent salary in order to share this with the world.
The tour will typically be all walking, last about three hours, and take you to all of the main sights in the area. There are several companies that offer this type of tour, and they can be found almost anywhere in the world. Travellers are typically expected to show up at a predetermined place and time (typically two times per day, morning and afternoon), and tickets are not required unless you are with a large group. You can find out about these kinds of tours at your hostel front desk or online (through a simple internet search for a free walking tour in your city of choice). A few examples of these companies around the world are:
SANDEMANs New Europe
With free walking tours in fourteen different cities across Europe (including Amsterdam, Paris, and Jerusalem), these guides are recognizable by their red shirts, friendly attitudes and rich information. I’ve done a couple tours with these folks, and they are phenomenal.
Runner Bean Tours
With two free walking tours (one about Gaudí and one about the Old City), these guides aim to give a friendly, inside, and informed view on Barcelona. I did the Old City tour and it was super informative.
Discover Downtown Tours
With a tour leaving three times a week seasonally, these guides help you discover all the neat facts about Edmonton’s downtown core including where its oldest building is located and mysterious tales of a ghost horse.
Free Tours by Foot
With tours in three different American cities (New York, Philadelphia, and Washington), these guides have come together to teach history and entertain guests with creative tours.
With tours in both Toronto and Vancouver, these guides started their company as a way to have fun, work with other tour guides, and meet people from around the world.
Edinburgh Free Walking Tours
With a tour along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, these costumed guides aim to provide an entertaining and witty tour with photo stops along the way. I didn’t do the free tour with this company, but the paid Ghost Tour was great, and I imagine the free one would be just as awesome.