I had taken guided tours many times in past and they followed a standard procedure. We visit a destination, book a guide, pay the pre-defined fees and take a guided tour. So when I first heard about Free Walking Tours, that was something interesting and unheard of.
These tours are organized by tour companies but the way these tours operate is slightly different. As we all know nothing comes ‘free’ in this world :), so they are not technically free but they operate on the model of getting tips from the group members. You do not need to book in advance, just land up at a predefined starting point and register on the spot. You do not pay any fees in the beginning. Take the tour and if you are satisfied then pay the tip to the guide. If you didn’t like the tour then you can simply walk away. You only pay what your pocket allows as there is no set amount for tips.
Saving money is not the only reason to take tours. These are the best way to explore a new city. Firstly they will not take you in any bus but you walk along in a group on streets of the city. You get a chance to meet other travelers and have small talks with them. The guides are well-trained and know minute details about city. They will tell you the facts about city in a very entertaining way and thus keep you engaged.
a. Free Walking Tour in Prague
I took the tour with a company called Sandeman in Prague. They are considered as one of the best in Europe and the reviews from earlier travelers were not wrong. Our guide Declan was from Ireland and had settled in Prague many years back. His energy level was excellent and was very entertaining person. The tour started from town square and continued on the streets of Prague. Declan’s passion towards his work was commendable and he didn’t allow us to shift our focus from him.
Tour Starting Point
These tours do not get canceled even if it is raining. Coincidentally it was raining that day and I bought umbrella from a near by shop. It was a wonderful experience to have a guided tour in rains with every one holding an umbrella and walking along the streets of Prague. Alan first taught some words in Czech language and then briefed us about Czech culture. He knew each and every corner of Prague. While walking around he told about history of some of the buildings in the area and stories like how they survived during World War II.
The tour normally lasts for around 3 hours. There was a break in between for snacks and he stopped at a cafe where we could take rest. He did not insist on buying anything from there and it was up to us whether to buy anything or just relax. After break the tour continued through Jewish Quarter where he again told us detailed history of the place. The tour ended near a museum where we asked him more questions about Prague including vegetarian restaurants in nearby area. We thanked Alan for some great tips and headed to explore Prague further.
Tour Ends Here
b. Free Walking Tour in Budapest
We didn’t take the walking tour in Prague on our first day and we corrected our mistake in Budapest. The walking tour was the first thing that we did in Budapest. This time we took tour with United Europe Free Tours. Our guide was a girl named Anna and to be honest I was skeptical about quality of tour as she didn’t look an experienced guide like Alan. But I was proved wrong after some time as she was equally engaging when she started telling about history of Hungary. I liked the honesty with which she told history of Hungary. She was patriotic but not defensive about her country’s mistake and said Hungary had fought many wars in past and always ended up on wrong side.
The best part of the tour was walking across the bridge on Danube river on a windy afternoon. In the middle of bridge it felt very chilly with cold wind cutting across our faces and huge amount of water body below us. I had a long conversation with her along the route and it turned out she was a vegetarian herself. Now if a Hungarian can be vegetarian then I need not had to worry about finding veg food in Budapest.
We crossed the Bridge in Heavy Wind on Foot
She gave us some great tips like we should buy souvenirs from the local market which is located around 15 mins walk from center but will be relatively inexpensive than shops in tourist ares. Also she told about pastry shops in near by where we get special delicious local pastries. After the tour we know how we are going to spend rest of the time in Budapest.
Tour Ends Here
My first two experiences with free walking tours were very nice and I would recommend them to any one visiting Europe. Try to take these tours on your first day in a new city. You will get some excellent advises which will make your visit more interesting. I would definitely take these tours again if I visit a city which offers such tours. Would you ?