There would have to be a really good reason for me to miss out on free walking tours in the city I am traveling in. For instance, there aren’t any. That is justification enough for me to take a pass. Grave illness. There’s another reason. They charge money upfront. Um, well then stop calling yourself a free walking tour.
For those of you who don’t know the premise of the free walking tour craze that is starting to sweep the world, essentially a tour guide will take you around the city imparting knowledge and hopefully humor. At the end of the tour, they ask that you tip them what you thought the tour was worth. If they were a terrible guide, that might be nothing (I have never encountered this situation); if they were excellent, you can decide what they deserve. I have found this is the perfect way to get to know a city, especially as a solo backpacker on a budget. The tours are also a great way to make friends because there is plenty of time for idle chitchat during the walking portions between destinations.
As with most things, some free walking tours are better than others. After much deliberation, these four European cities host my favorite walking tours to date.
A lot of different companies run free walking tours in Barcelona. I had a fabulous experience with Runner Bean Tours. But how do you choose? Firstly, they not only offer a free tour around the Old City, but there is an option for a free Gaudi (a batshit crazy architect, in a good way) walking tour as well. And oh my Gaudi, I’m obsessed with Gaudi. Secondly, they have ridiculously good TripAdvisor reviews.
The old city walking tour was great and informative, yadda yadda yadda. But I really loved the Gaudi tour. It is expensive to visit all of the Gaudi houses, so I highly recommend taking this free tour first. You visit the outside of three Gaudi houses as well as the Sagrada Familia. You receive a ton of information about the architecture and what the inside is like, so you can make an educated decision about where you would like to spend your money. I ended up touring La Pedrera (Casa Mila) afterwards along with the Sagrada Familia. Like I said, I am obsessed; so worth it!
This free walking tour runs like a well oiled machine. It is obvious that they know what they are doing which is very refreshing. The guides were some of the most enthusiastic I had ever seen. My guide treated the tour as if it were a Broadway play and donned a mustache that Tom Selleck would be jealous of. Needless to say, it was very engaging, but also interesting and informative. In addition to the historical aspect, we learned about local cuisine, booze, and the nonsense that is the Hungarian language (meaning it is totally random and lacks any sort of linguistic connection to another modern language). Not to mention, Budapest is beautiful. And spoiler alert: Buda and Pest are two different places separated by a river. WHAT! I know, I had no clue. My only regret on this tour was that I did not snap a photo of my guide’s stache.
I liked the Lisbon free walking tours because, that’s right, there were options! They divided up the neighborhoods to give a more focused experience. There are morning and afternoon tours and three neighborhoods to choose from. All three tours don’t run at each of the times, so make sure you check the schedule ahead of time with a guide to ensure you don’t miss one of the tours you were hoping to attend (she says from experience). This tour company actually is partners with the company that ran free walking tours in many locations in Spain as well. You know they must be good if they are expanding! I went on two of the three free walking tours offered in Lisbon and I definitely learned a lot.
Firstly, having a guide is great motivation to get you up and down the hills of Lisbon. It is just not the same when you have to tell yourself to keep walking. Secondly, we made several pit stops for some goodies including a free sample of port wine as well as the option to purchase a shot of cherry liqueur as well as the famous custard tarts. You totally deserve these treats after all the hills.
Albania is still developing in terms of the standards of living in Europe. They were essentially cut off from the rest of the world, just like North Korea, until communism fell in 1990. That is extremely recent! The tour impressed me to no end because the company was founded by a local Albanian man with a passion for tourism. While he covered the history thoroughly, the personal stories are what set this tour apart! He recounted the first time he chewed gum, or bought Levi’s, or indulged in a Coke. He also had funny anecdotes explaining why Albanians are bad drivers, his words, not mine! The personal touch along with such a genuine guide, made this free walking tour extremely memorable for me.
33 thoughts on “The Best Free Walking Tours in Europe”
Thank you for the information on these tours. I’ve always wondered how they work and if they were worth it. I personally enjoy exploring a city myself but I do feel like Europe can be rather hard to plan for! This would be a terrific way to see the hot spots.
Of course! And one of my favorite parts is getting the inside scope from the guide of the best places to eat in a city! I have found some incredible restaurants that way!!
Free walking tours are usually the best tours I have found – perhaps as you say they only get paid a decent amount if it is good. I find walking tours (free or not) a great to get your bearings in a new city.
Totally agree! And I think we probably go in with no expectations so the outcome is usually better than anticipated!
Perfect timing! I am heading to Europe in just over a month and love walking tours. I am definitely going to two of these cities – Budapest and Tirana – so this has been a good insight into the tours. I hope I get the same guide in Tirana as you did. The personal stories give the tour so much more.
Oh perfect! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
Hmmm. So, I never imagined that walking tours would be any fun. But, I think you might have just changed my mind. Now I am curious to know if there is any such thing in South America!
I can’t speak for the rest of the continent, but there are definitely some in Colombia!
To be honest I never went to a free walking tour because I am always so excited for my travels that I am preparing everything before. Where to go, little historical facts etc. But I agree that its an amazing option for all those who just go with the flow :)
Definitely a great option, and I am always surprised by the number of “fun facts” I learn from the guides!
Ah, Europe! One of our dream trips! Walking around these cities is perfect; they are historically and culturally rich. Personally, we would love to walk around Barcelona, Spain considering that we, Filipinos, are once colonized by Spaniards. Going around Barcelona would be re-discovering our cultural identity. :)
The only time I was tempter to do a free walking tour was when I was in Bath, England, I had heard such wonderful things (but didn’t have time). You’ve inspired me to try them out.
Awesome! I’m sure you’ll have a great experience!
I believe that walking around a place can give you more beautiful memories than riding on a bus or car. A walking tour around Europe is like a dream tour where i can aimlessly walk around and look at the magic of Europe unfold in front of me.
I totally agree! I love using my legs to explore whenever I can!
Oh I can totally agree with you on Budapest!
I have to say that Tirana must be fascinating, apart from the bunker thing that is pretty scary to me, but must be a great city!
Tirana is super interesting! They even have an enormous bunker that they turned into an art museum
I absolutely love walking a city when I first visit. Spending this summer in Europe and can’t wait to try these out. Great information and lovely photos. Thanks for sharing!
Of course! Thanks for reading and have a great trip!!
Thank you so much for a great post. I love walking tours because they are a great free way to see the city. I loved Barcelona and thought this was a great way to explore some of Gaudi’s best architecture. Can’t wait to do the walking tour in Lisbon when I visit in November. Thanks!
You are going to love Lisbon!
I had NO idea that Budapest was actually Buda and Pest. I’ve never given walking tours a go, but this has definitely convinced me they’re worthwhile.
Awesome! I’m sure you won’t be disappointed
I love walking tours- such a great way to get an introduction to place. I do this all the time. Saving your post for the next time we’re in Europe.
Walking tours are great which is why I had some of my posts converted into walking tour apps. I think there is so much more to see when you walk than by bus.
Walking tour apps? That sounds super cool. And high tech!
I’ve actually never taken a walking tour but I’ve been reading more and more about them and would certainly consider one. I can see how it’s a great way to learn about a city while meeting other travelers.
They are becoming so popular! With so much good history!
This is what’s great about Europe! You can experience more of the place when you take a walk/stroll!
I love walking tours in Europe. I had taken one in Munich. I am definitely referring to your post when I visit Budapest and Barcelona. I don’t know when I will get to visit Albania though!
Awesome! The first thing I do in any new city is check and see if they have a free walking tour! Happy travels!
Comments are closed.