It was in Europe that I discovered the ‘Free’ walking tours. These walking tours have been my favorite pass time this entire Europe trip. Europe has several wonderful cities in the continent with a huge number of stories to tell, monuments to show, and a history that goes back several centuries. While one can visit the monuments, look at them, take photos and pass on to the next sight to repeat, a tour is something that provides a bounty of information often designed to entertain as much as it is to inform.
And the big question…Free? Well, almost. The ‘Free’ walking tours, are free if you want them to be. But ofcourse, it is only decent that you tip or pay someone who has put an effort into designing and researching the tour, and spending the next 3-4 hours of their time on sharing their knowledge with you. How much you pay is upto you though. Fair deal huh!
What do the walking tours cover?
The tour covers key highlights of the city that can be covered in the vicinity of the area that can be covered on foot usually in a radius of 2-3 kms. Usually in the general overview tours, the old part of the city, the most touristy locations and places of key historical importance are covered. The tour normally finishes close to where it starts or the guide tells you how to get to where you started off or wherever else you may want to go to.
While the general tours are a fabulous way to get oriented to the city very quickly, the more indepth tours are even more interesting and I would highly recommend these depending on your interest. Each company can do their own versions of different types of tours. For example, in Paris there are Art tours of the Montmarte district which housed several famous artists, there were tours to the Prague castle, the Berlin alternate tours provided a peek into the street art and creative projects at work. These indepth tours are also quite reasonably priced and companies such as Sandeman tours are excellent operators to choose. Then there are other tours such as bike tours or Segway tours which could cover greater distances and show similar attractions around town. There are pubcrawls in every city that promise to take you to the most exciting party places in town for a fee.
What do the tour guides tell you?
These tours are not necessarily purely gyan or knowledge sessions that you might envisage. Run by a bunch of enthusiastic young people, often not always from the same city where they are conducting tours, the guides are certified, well educated and passionate about their work and city.
As the tour guide takes you to each point, he or she tells you the story behind the point. A lot of these stories are told with great animation and emotion and it is quite a performance indeed. Stories of kings, betrayals, crucifications, torture, resurrections, superstitions are all told with greatest relish and the power of storytelling keeps the audience engaged. The tour guide also shatters myths and tells you what is now touristy was never the norm! For example, my tour guide told me that ‘Trdelnik’ which is crisp bread and sugared was never Czech but is Hungarian although it is touted as a Czech delicacy everywhere. The guide at Berlin showed us the bunker where Hitler committed suicide..and it was under a mere parking lot! The tour guide also points out famous places to eat, where certain movies were shot, famous personalities of the country and the city, history of the city, political situation of the country and a lot more!
Duration of the walking tour
Be prepared to walk for long though! In the 3 hours of the tour, you can expect a 10 minute break somewhere in between but the rest of it can be quite tiring if you aren’t prepared for it! Sometimes, the tours also take you by public transport depending on the theme of the tour, but largely, most ground is covered walking.
Where to find details of the walking tours?
- Look out for umbrellas beckoning you to join walking tours at key tourist locations
- Check online
- If you are staying in a hostel, check if the tour operators begin at the hostel as well. There could be additional discounts also in certain hostels or hotels, so be sure you avail them!
- My personal favorite are the Sandeman tours. Check them out online!
A complete must do, one should always check out the ‘Free’ walking tours before attempting any exploration of the city!