I am a fan of walking. I think it is one of the best way to absorb a place as it gives you the slow pace to understand a new place. I am also a fan of (good) free things, come on admit it, you do too right? So when I discovered free walking tours in Europe I was of course over the moon. Free walking tours are a good way to give you a little introduction of a new place and also they point you to the popular places within that place. It is also a great way to make new friends.
I love taking free walking tours because most of the time their guides are easy to talk to and they are passionate about their city. Most of these tour operators that give out free walking tour also offer other tours that are more specific so the free walking tours are almost like a sample of their other services.
Free walking tour means that you don’t have to sign up for them, all you need to do is show up at the appointed time and place then look for the tour. It is easy to spot them as they usually have a flag or banner or a brightly coloured shirt. Most of the guides are young people who have a great passion for the place they live in and want to introduce it to tourists. In these free tours I usually give tips as I know these guides are making a lot of effort, and the tips are really up to you.
When I roamed around Europe during my stay there, I had the chance to take some free walking tours in some countries. As a student back then who couldn’t afford fancy tours, I was really pleased that these tours existed! Here are some of the best ones I have taken
The first free walking tour that I have ever taken was in Berlin. Sandemans New Europe Berlin is the name of the tour operator and I remember meeting up near Brandenburg Gate. It was quite a crowd since it was summer, so they split us into several groups. My tour guide was an Australian who fell in love with Berlin so he decided to stay (I can totally get why!). He was enthusiastic and was super friendly when we asked him about other things to see in Berlin. I think there are other free walking tours in Berlin so you might want to check them out too. The walk was around 2.5 hours and covered quite a lot of places including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. I love the fact that the guide was so insightful about Berlin, definitely recommended for those who are a first timer in Berlin.
When I first moved to Bucharest, I didn’t have a clue at all about the city. So one of my friends who also just moved to Bucharest invited me to do some free walking tour. Of course I agreed to his idea. The tour is ran by Guided Bucharest and I got a lively girl as my guide that day. We met at Unirii Square Park and walked towards the old city centre as she explained about the history of Romania, including the famous Vlad the Impaler and the era of communism. My favourite places were the amazing Stravropoleos church, Union Square and also Manuc’s Inn – later during my stay in Bucharest I had the chance to eat at Manuc’s Inn and was in love with the food there! They run the tour twice a day, every 10.30 and 18.00 – rain or shine!
Lisbon & Porto, Portugal
While in Portugal I discovered a tour operator called Pancho Tours that gives out free walking tour. Immediately I was drawn to my local guide in Lisbon as he excitedly explained all kinds of things about his city. Pancho Tours offers two areas for the free walking tours, Alfama and Bairro Alto. This is definitely a win for those who are staying for quite a long time in Lisbon and wants to get to know both area. Unfortunately I could only do the Bairro Alto tour. We met at the insanely gorgeous Rossio square and from there we tackled places like Rossio, Baxia, Elevador de Bica and Carmo.
In Porto, my local guide was just as knowledgeable as the one in Lisbon. He told us many interesting facts about Porto and we visited some of the most amazing places, including my personal favourite, the fishermen’s houses which goes through small aisles and gorgeous houses. The guide was friendly (and cute!) that he didn’t mind when I asked him about places to find street arts. They have FOUR free tours per day which cover different things : 10.00 Morning, 11.30 Late Morning, 14.00 After Lunch and 16.30 Sunset – so take your pick!
By the way Pancho Tours are also available in other Spanish cities : Seville, Malaga, Cadiz and Granada – I will certainly be using them again when I finally get the chance to visit those places!
Krakow & Warsaw, Poland
The company that does free walking tour in Krakow and Warsaw is called Free Walking Tour – quite easy! In Krakow they have two types, the old town tour (10.00 and 15.30) and the Jewish Krakow (11.00 and 15.00). They also run the tours in two languages, English and Spanish. I took the old town tour and so we met at in front of St Mary’s church in the old town. The tour was very insightful, I especially loved the trip to the Wawel Castle and the guide explained many stories about the castle and the king who used to live there. I also loved the fairytale stories he gave, like the dragon who lived at the castle, it sounded all too surreal but then again Krakow is that magical!
With the same company, I took a free tour in Warsaw too. There are 4 options of free tours in Warsaw: old town Warsaw, Jewish Warsaw, Communist Warsaw and Alternative Warsaw – pretty awesome lists for something given for free. The old town Warsaw (12.00 and 18.00) and Jewish Warsaw (16.00) run everyday, while the other two run every other day and you have to check the schedule. It was a pretty decent tour, I thought the guide was very knowledgeable but I found her a little bit more serious than the Krakow guide. They also have the tour in Spanish. Definitely recommended though if you want to know the history of Warsaw, which is very interesting I must say.
It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed when travelling in a big city like Budapest. This is when free walking tours come to the rescue. Out of all the walking tours that I have done, I have to admit that this one didn’t excite me much until the end. However I did get a lot of history from the city. I remember my guide explaining how the Hungarian people were actually of Asian origin but with time their physical appearance changed. I was also particularly interested when we got to Buda and my guide pointed out Ruszwurm café, which was my absolute favourite café while I was staying in Budapest. At the end of the trip she also took us to very cheap and hidden restaurant to have lunch.
Have you ever been to a free walking tour? Which one is your favourite?