Many cities that are popular with tourists have one or more companies that offer a free walking tour. These started in Europe and their popularity has caused other people to take up the idea across the globe including places in South America and Australia. Basically it involves a set meeting point and time (or times if there is more than 1 per day), usually the same every day. Anyone who wants to join can meet a guide there without signing up in advance. The guide then walks the group around the city, telling stories about each place and explaining what like is like and the history of the city. At the end, it is expected (but not 100% required) that you give a tip. The amount is up to you depending on the quality of the tour. It’s important to remember that sometimes these tours are the only source of income for the guides, so be generous if they do a great job.
I have always been a big fan of free walking tours despite the fact that it is one of the most touristic activities that you can do whilst travelling. I will always try to do one in a new city for a number of reasons:
1. It’s a great way to meet people. Walking tours are usually filled with all sorts of different people and chances are you are going to hit it off with some of them. If you are travelling alone this is a really good way to introduce yourself to people and meet others in the same situation. After the tour is over, quite often groups of people from the tour (sometimes the guide too!) will go and get something to eat or check out one of the recommended attractions and you can go with them too and come away with several new friends and contacts for your travel network.
2. It’s the quickest way to get a feel for a city. Walking tour guides will point out many of the best attractions and this will help you make a plan for what you want to do while you are here. They also tell you things you should be careful of and watch out for. Sometimes they even explain how public transport works and give practical advice for getting around. If you end up with a local guide it’s usually the best because they offer you their opinion on everything.
3. It’s an entertaining way to learn about the history of a city. It can be especially interesting if you are visiting different cities and hearing opposite sides of certain conflicts that have happened in the past. Having a charismatic guide passionately telling you about the history of their city with their own twist on the story and opinions is very different to reading about it online or in a guidebook.
4. Last but not least, It’s cheap. Compared to a prepaid tour you can save a lot of money if you are on a tight budget. It’s usually a win/win for you and the guide.
5. You can ask them questions about anything. They are eager to please because they want you to tip as much as possible so now is your chance to find out where to buy a new bucket hat or canoe or what you should wear to the nightclub you plan to visit later on.
You can usually find information about the walking tours displayed at your hostel. If not a quick search online will help you find the information you need.