When I arrive in a new place, I always have the urge to explore it. It could be the history, urban legends, or foods of the city. Sometimes, trying to read everything to know the story of such places is too much work. Nevertheless, paying for a guided tour is often not affordable by (or simply not a priority of) travelers on minimum budget. One big solution for people like me: free (walking) tour! (Bless you who started this and make it available in various places!)
Those who are not familiar must be wondering how ‘free’ a ‘free’ walking tour is. It means the tour itself is free, yet you are encouraged to tip the guide (remember, the guides don’t do free walking tour out of charity. It’s actually their source of living!) The amount of the tip depends on you. If the guide is really good — on the terms that the explanation is compelling, hospitality, recommendations, etc; I will usually tip more though still within my budget.
Finding them is quite easy. Usually they are equipped with colorful umbrellas and/or jackets. They can be found in noticeable touristy places (squares, monuments, etc.)
I am summarizing my favorite walking tours (in no particular order) below. I put the website as I can because sometimes the information about free walking tour can be found in the hostels.
- Hanoi Kids – Hanoi, Vietnam
My first encounter with free walking tour is in Hanoi. The activity is operated by Hanoi Kids, a non-profit organization. It is based on donation (could be given through their website here). Hanoi Kids is not really a walking tour. We can choose what places we want to visit. What means of transportation we want to use. Where we want to eat. Hanoi Kids is not a usual free walking tour. It is more like a private tour.
The idea is spending times with Vietnamese students who are also the guides throughout the tour. They will pick you up in your hotel. Together, you will proceed to the sites you have chosen. You can also modify it yourself so long as you communicate it with the guides. 😀 They tell the history and legends of the places in Hanoi. The tour itself is very valuable because you get the chance to see Hanoi from local perspective.
Our guides were Nắng Lạnh and Bùi Trí Dũng. They helped us a lot! Especially to know the normal price in Hanoi. They also brought us to local restaurants and recommended the foods! I really had a good time!
- Extravaganza Free Tour – Prague, Czech Republic
My grumpy friends and I joined Prague’s free tour on the last day of 2014. It was winter. A little bit wet. Nevertheless it was still so much fun! Probably, it is the most comprehensive Prague walking tour. Our guide, Clara, was so energetic and interactive! She also told us ‘secret menu’ that we can order in the local restaurants. 😉 We spent three hours enjoying Clara’s explanation about Prague’s Old Town, its infamous Charles Bridge, Castle and many more! You will see the black dark story (or history?) of Prague despite its now reputation as one of the most romantic city in Europe. I will not spill them for you. 😀 The good thing about this tour is that it has a break in the middle of the tour. Therefore, if you miss the first part, you can still definitely go for the second part.
- Graffiti Walking Tour – Berlin, Germany
I felt so hipster for joining this tour in Berlin! It was different from the usual walking tour as its highlight is Berlin’s graffiti. Graffiti is part of Berlin and the tour operator understands it! Our guide, an Australian living in Berlin, provided us with explanation about the story behind Berlin’s graffiti. Through the tour, I found out how the artists avoid being jailed for drawing a graffiti; the artists persistence in ‘preserving’ their works from being removed by the authorities; the characteristics of the works of some (such as scratches of ‘6’s); and even how valuable a graffiti can be (because there is part of a wall with graffiti was stolen and sold!) This tour is so alternative that it gives people new perspective!
- Jack the Ripper Tour – London, England
I joined several walking tour in London because this city is so big that one walking tour is not enough! My favorite of all is this Jack the Ripper Tour. If you are a fan of thriller or horror movies, you will like this tour! You will explore East London’s White Chapel area in the evening (so you get the feeling, of course!) Instead of magnificent buildings, you will see houses and small alleys. The guide will then tell you story on the spot where Jack did his action. There will also be explanation of how the killing was done and the typical victims.
- New Amsterdam Tour – Amsterdam, Netherlands
I only had one day in Amsterdam, so I joined Amsterdam’s free walking tour to get overview of the Netherlands’ capital. The meeting point was at the National Monument, 10-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal. Our guide was a funny Dutch guy. We started from the monument itself and ended the tour in the Jordaan District. It was a tour about Dutch history, habits and arts. Through this three-hour tour, you will know that Amsterdam is not limited to weeds and prostitutions. 😀
Also, after the tour you can head directly to Anne Frank’s house as the last stop was close by and by evening there is fewer crowds.
Although free walking tour is popular, it is not available in every city. In substitute, you can hire an audio guide from the tourist office for little amount of money and do the walking tour by yourself. I did it in Trieste, and it was not less fun!