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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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Tuesday 19th of November 2019
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Thursday 17th of December 2015
Why do you think tours have such a poor reputation? Is it because most people instantly think about umbrellas herding cattle?
Friday 18th of December 2015
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!
Tuesday 28th of October 2014
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!
Tuesday 7th of October 2014
I always go on the free city tour if the city has one. The people are locals and give you history as well as advice about the city. I don't think I've ever been on a bad free city tour!
TravRight.com | Taking city tours while travelling
Monday 6th of October 2014
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