10 reasons why free tours are best for exploring a city in a short time

For a few years, the first thing I do when I visit a city and have at least half a day to spend, are free tours. I still hear people looking me with perplexion when I mention free tours – some hear about them for the first time, others look with distrust when ‘free’ is mentioned”: “Do they try to sell you something on the tour”? “Do you feel safe joining a stranger?

Here are ten reasons why you shouldn’t hesitate joining a free tour.

1. Tours are always done by locals

If not locals from their birth, these are people who have been into the city for a long time, who’ve explored every corner in it, have passion and desire to share the story of their place with people who are visiting.

These usually are people who travel themselves and who can figure out how to tell history, information about attractions and curious facts in a simple, enticing and efficient way.

 

2. No need to sign up, join if your schedule permits

When you are visiting a place for a short time and want to see and do as much as you can, sometimes plans change in the last minute – you have a time slot open or taken. So, you can decide to join a Free tour or not in the very last minute.

They usually have fixed hours for making the tour – once or twice a day (usually morning and afternoon). And they do it no matter the weather, day of the week, etc. So, just show up at the time of the tour, and you are in!

The statues in this garden in front of Madrid Royal Palace has a special story and you’ll hear it at Madrid Free Tour.

 

3. You can join and leave any time

So, one day you can do half the tour, the next day – the other half. Just ask the guide what time you should show up and when to complete your tour.

 

4. Within 2-3 hours you see the major attractions

For big cities, the free tour may also replace your daily exercising 🙂 The guides are making their best effort to take you to all major attractions, which means walking fast and a lot 🙂 But, you see a whole lot within these 2-3 hours when the guides literally don’t stop talking – they tell the story of the attractions you visit + what you see on the way to those attractions + keep answering questions from the group. Sometimes I wonder how they manage.

Brasov Romania free tour

At Brasov free tour you climb up to the White tower to hear the history of the tower and get a bird-eye view to the city.

 

5. Get the basics, enter the attractions per your liking

The tours get you to all major sights, but you don’t enter them. After the tour, you can spend as much time as you want in the attractions you have deeper interest in.

 

6. Get extra info about places to have a drink or try the local cuisine

I very much like the opportunity to ask questions and get a reply from a local. From history questions to affordable places to taste local cuisine to what you may visit in the vicinity of the city. No need to browse forums, check tripadvisor and lose time.

Sometimes (Madrid free tour, for example) the tours have a stop for rest/coffee/tea and this is a great time to ask questions. But you can always ask questions during the tour and after it.

 

7. You learn curious stories from the history or contemporary life of the city

This is one of the top reasons why I truly enjoy these tours. With some effort and time, you can certainly find the key facts about the city attractions. But you will never hear those curious stories that only locals can tell.

Bucharest free tour

Bucharest free tour. We are told that the reason you can see churches like this, completely surrounded by big apartment blocks, is communists wanted to hide all religious buildings in the city without actually destroying them.


 

One of the stories I really enjoyed was about the statue of King Philip on Plaza Mayor in Madrid. The statue shows the king mounted on a horse. A few centuries ago, the mouse of the horse started giving out a really bad smell. Everyone thought the statue was cursed until they found dead pigeons in the horse’s belly (they entered through the horse’s mouth and couldn’t find their way out).

The stinking horse, Plaza Mayor, Madrid


 

8. The tours are free, but you are welcomed to donate a small amount

The tours are usually done by NGOs and your guides are volunteers. So, if you like what they tell you, you can donate them as much or as little as you want. This of course motivates the guide to be as well-informed and helpful as possible.

 

9. You can join extra paid tours on different topics

Lots of free tours also have some options for special, paid tours. They could be a bar tour, local cuisine tour, private tours for families, etc. These are great options since, for the bar/cuisine tours, for example, they negotiate special deals with the places you visit. So, you get the most within a short time and modest price.

In this aspect, if you plan visiting with small kids, definitely a private tour would be the better option. There’s no way small kids can be kept interested for 2-3 hours on end. The private guide will walk you at your own pace and might shape the tour so it includes places of interest for kids too.

 

10. You get to know cool people who like to travel, just like yourself!

The tours get attended by many people, mostly young by soul and travellers at heart. It’s great to get to know each other, along with where you’ve traveled, what you’ve seen, what you plan next. This, along with all information and sights you take on the tour, makes it such a rewarding, enriching and memorable experience!

And, after the tour, I can guarantee you will have a different attitude to the city you’ve visited, you will feel it close, so much more interesting and attractive!

How you can find the free tour in some city? Google ‘free tour city_name’ or check Tripadvisor. Some cities have more than one free tour. In such cases I usually check Tripadvisor and based on the reviews, decide which free tour I want to join.

Happy city sightseeing! And, if you’ve already joined free city tours, I’ll appreciate sharing your experience in the comments.

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