Have you been on a Free Walking Tour ?? …. Whats the first thing you generally do when you arrive in a new city? It can be daunting, getting your bearings and understanding that weird new map your have never seen before! Of course you want to go out and see everything and anything, take in as much of the city as you possibly can – because inevitably you won’t have enough time, no matter how long you allow!
My most recent regret – I only flew to Barcelona in order to get to Madrid but 48 hours was no where near enough – Especially when I ended up being really sick!
This is why the first thing I do when I arrive in a city is look out for a Free Walking Tour! They are all the rage now and are the perfect introduction to a new and foreign place, normally including the top landmarks and sites while also giving you some killer in site into the history and culture of a new place…as well as the chance of meeting some new friends! And above all a good introduction to the city can really make your stay so much more worthwhile, its true what they say – first impressions count!
I mean … I still have my Amsterdam Confession, but at least the Walking tour gave the city a decent shot and I learnt so much!
The other upside is that you don’t have to book, you just turn up and if you don’t like the guide you don’t need to pay – simple as that ..No outrageously overpriced, pre-booked tours that you might not feel like going to at 8am or the guide is as dull as a cloudy winters day (sorry about the simile, clearly Europe is getting to me!) … Of course you should always tip them, I have never had a ‘bad’ guide and that is how they make their money but the amount you think they deserve is up to you!
Without a walking tour I would also never have know about Madrid’s Parque del Emir Mohamed I … I mean it’s not visually the most interesting but it’s what it stands for: the parks artists was inspired by Toledo and the idea of the three main religions being in harmony with one another. You have the Madrid Cathedral in the background, then the old arab city walls from Moorish times and in the foreground a fountain with the Star of David … Just really a beautiful place of peace and tranquility and perfect for reflection … Be sure to check it out when you are next in Spain!
Or without a Stockholm free walking tour I would never have learnt about Worlds Smallest Public Statue!
It seems these days like every Tom, Dick and Larry has their own Free Walking Tour set up, and I’m sure they are all good in their own respects but your time is precious – Don’t waste it on a bad guide, for this reason I always go with either the top Free Walking Tour on Trip Advisor for Europe, or normally when I am being lazy I just go with Sandemans New Europe Tours – Home of the famous FREE TOUR in 18 cities across Europe, the Middle East, and the US! I can whole heartedly recommend them having been on their tours in Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin and Madrid and never, ever had a complaint… I also like they run rain or shine, have multiple times per day AND they offer other paid walking tours…. This is great in places like Berlin where I really wanted to learn more about the Third Reich history that they had a specific tour for or in Prague where I had a amazing night out and made a bunch of friends on tour of Czech drinking culture.
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And without the Third Reich tour I am certain I would never have come across the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism which I talk about here.
My point here I guess is that Free Walking Tours are an incredible introduction to a city if you know nothing about it – But if you have a specific interest then its worth paying for a ‘premium’ walking tour tailored exactly to that. I can tell you my absolute 100% all time favourite walking tour was taken by Susan Rosenbaum of Enthusiastic Gourmet Walking Tours in NYC . Susan took us on her NY Nosh Food Tour which involved a stroll through the Jewish Lower East Side, ‘noshing’ on traditional foods, learning about Kosher food practices and Jewish holidays. We got to see how this area has held on to it’s “old-world” charm while emerging as a modern food destination, and Susan was an incredible guide and soul. This was over a year ago and I still smile when I think of her anecdotes, personality and just general good nature…I cannot wait to go back and try her China Town tour (coincidentally she also offers gift vouchers for her tours – I have brought some for visitors to NYC as presents who have raved about it …just think about it!).
And really with a city as big and as amazing as NYC you need to break it down into ‘bit’ size pieces!