Taking city tours while travelling

I love city breaks but one of the things I find difficult is narrowing down my ‘to-do list’ while I’m there.

Most big cities have so much to see and do it becomes impossible to do it all. So unless you have weeks to spare and plenty of money you’re going to have to narrow down your choices and do a hell of a lot of research in order to figure out what to keep on your list.

You may have already noticed that I like to take tours when I travel in cities. I’ve taken a few during my current trip with Citadines and yesterday was one of the best with an e-bike tour around Berlin. I also took a Green Tour in Berlin and a food tour in Paris and they’ve been really fun ways to see the cities.

This often surprises people because they associate city tours with giant tour groups and a leader waving a flag. OK, there are some tours like that but there are a lot that are really good. So today I want to tell you why I take city tours and some suggestions to find a really good one.

8 reasons why I take city tours

Street art tour in Berlin
Street art tour in Berlin

1. You see so much more

There’s nothing worse than getting home after a city break and realising you missed the chance to see something really cool.

2. I’m lazy/busy/bad at planning

Please tell me I’m not alone here as I tell you the worst confession possible for a travel blogger!

A lot of the time I simply don’t have the time to research everything and plan everything to do in a city. On my first day in a new city I generally want to see all the main sights and attractions but this takes a lot of planning.

It’s so much easier when you have someone who shows you the quickest way to get places. They can show you some unique and interesting p

3. You discover unique places not known to tourists

Every city has its secrets and you often need to be ‘in the know’ to find out about them. If you can find them by Googling they’re no longer unusual so you really need to get friendly with someone ‘in the know’.

Or you could just take a tour.

A running tour in Ljubljana turned out to be a lot of fun
A running tour in Ljubljana turned out to be a lot of fun

4. It saves time

It’s not that I like to rush while I travel, I really don’t, but I have often wasted hours getting lost, walking in the wrong direction, looking for something that has closed down or by visiting an attraction that turns out to a boring tourist trap. Sometimes I only have a weekend in a city so I really don’t want to waste half a day aimlessly wandering around a boring neighbourhood.

5. I like having a guide

I know I could walk around with a guidebook in my hand as I read about interesting places as I pass them. But am I ever going to actually do this? No.

I really like having a guide who can tell me about places as I pass them.

6. They’re good for meeting people

If you’re travelling solo, a tour is a great place to meet people. The group often stays together after the tour and will go for drinks and food together.

Making friends during a foodie tour in Ljubljana
Making friends during a foodie tour in Ljubljana

7. You get to meet the locals

What better way to find out about the local culture then by spending the day with a local guide. You can also ask them for recommendations on places to eat and drink to get an insider’s opinion.

8. You can chill out guilt-free

OK, I don’t exactly feel guilty chilling out while I travel but if I’ve only got 3 days in a city I don’t want to waste too much time hanging out in coffee shops, shopping, snoozing in parks or having lazy lie-ins. But at the same time I am on holiday so I want to do them!

If I’m away for 4 days I might spend 2 days taking tours and then spend the rest of my time chilling out and strolling around, knowing I’ve seen the main sights.

Wine tour in Cyprus
A wine tour is always a good idea
As is a beer tour
As is a beer tour

8 tips for choosing a good tour

1. Size is everything!

Try to go for tours with 10 people or less. It’s worth paying extra for smaller groups.

2. Don’t take a coach tour

You’re better off watching a documentary.

You can beat a boat tour in Varanasi, India
You can beat a boat tour in Varanasi, India

3. They’re not always historical tours

Not a history buff? No, me either.

But there are so many types of tours to choose from. There are food tours, shopping tours, tours to parks, street art tours, bar tours, music tours, boat tours, ghost tours. So many tours!

A food tour in Paris
A food tour in Paris

4. Leave if you’re bored

A lot of tours aren’t particularly expensive at around €20 for 4 hours. I know that every penny counts while you’re travelling but if a tour is shit you might as well just leave. There’s no point wasting money AND wasting half a day too.

I left my tour while I was in Bologna because it was so boring. I also left a tour while I was in Berlin last year because it was raining and freezing cold – there was nothing wrong with the tour, I’m just a wimp with cold weather.

5. Free tours are always good

First of all, free tours aren’t really free as you’re expected to tip the guide a decent amount – and please don’t be the idiot who doesn’t tip. The reason ‘free tours’ are so good is because the guides rely on tips for their wage so they’ll do everything they can to get the best tip possible.

6. Travelling in a group

If you’re travelling with a group of friends (6 or more) you can probably enquire about having a private tour. You can then tell them exactly what you’re interested in and they can tailor the tour to what you want to see. The guide will have a set fee for a certain amount of hours and when you split it between the group it’s pretty affordable.

7. Bike tours are better than walking tours

Bike tours are always a good idea. You see so much more with half the effort.

I get a bit nervous with city traffic so I just stick close to the guide to avoid getting stranded at red lights or left behind.

Take some cash

You nearly always stop somewhere for a beer or coffee break and a snack. This is a great time to chat with your fellow travellers and quiz your guide.

An e-bike is even better
An e-bike is even better

8. Don’t book too many tours

Make sure you find the right balance between taking tours and exploring by yourself. Exploring without a guide is always so much fun, especially if you have plenty of time.

 Do you take city tours while you’re travelling?

TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (14)
  1. I agree tours have their benefits but I tend not to like city tours as I prefer to do things at my own pace and stop for coffees when and for as long as I want. Although your suggestion of two days of tours and two of rest would be the perfect solution to that!

  2. I am not a big fan of tours in general but you’re right, sometimes small (non bus for sure!) tours can be really enlightening. When I homestayed in Russia the homestay agency had a deal for a half-day walking tour of Moscow and St Peterburg (just us and a local) and these were brilliant – probably something I should look at more often. (And I want to try the ebike for sure!)

  3. I totally agree with everything you said. Especially when you travel solo, tours are a great way to meet other people. The amount of free tours available is amazing and they are really really good. Lately I also did a tapas tour in Madrid which was great because we went to places I didn’t know and ate tapas I would have never considered eating which were so tasty.

  4. I always forget that there’s more than just historical tours out there. love food but I’ve never taken a food tour – hopefully, that changes soon! I’ve never heard of sightrunning tours before, that seems amazing and a great way to fit in a workout while traveling. Great post!

  5. I’ve done a few tours in areas where public transport can be interesting. There may have been a bus involved but definitely not a massive coach! I think in big cities like LA, tours are a great way to see lots and perhaps figure out where you want to return to later in your trip to explore properly. In Seattle, I took a tour because I was feeling poorly and lazy! In New Zealand, a small group tour gave me the chance to visit places I couldn’t have gone by myself. The tours you’ve listed sound great!
    Rachel x

  6. I definitely agree free walking tours are the best, I did a regular one in Berlin in addition to an ‘alternative’ tour, where we learned about the city’s street art, how gentrification was changing life there etc… so interesting, and not something I would have found out myself!

    1. Yes, I definitely think it’s the huge coach tours that give them a bad reputation. I also think most travellers like to think of themselves as independent travellers who don’t need a tour guide – but when you’re short on time it just makes life so much easier!

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