View of Zagreb Cathedral from Plato Grad.
I don’t know what rock I’ve been living under but I’ve only recently discovered free walking tours! For someone who is constantly trying to find ways to either budget or save money when traveling, it seriously baffles me that it’s taken me this long.
My first taste of a free walking tour was in Brussels in November, and since then I’ve tried to find a free tour in every city I’ve been to since. So far, I’ve found and done one in Ljubljana, Zagreb and Amsterdam.
So what are free tours and are they actually free?
Free walking tours are as their name suggests a ‘free walking tour’. Typically, they last between two to three hours and give you an insight into the city and its history, as well as visiting the main tourist sites.
As to whether they are actually free, well that was my question too when I first read about them. But, essentially it’s true they are totally free. However, the guides do kindly ask and prompt for a donation or tip at the end of the tour but whether you actually want to and how much is entirely your decision.
To give you a rough idea of how much is appropriate, in Brussels I gave my guide €5. Considering I was by myself, I thought this was acceptable. Other people in my group, who were mostly couples or small groups, tipped between €10 and €20.
Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana.
How to find a free walking tour?
Now that I am aware they exist, it’s pretty clear that most major cities have various companies that offer free walking tours. Your best bet is to just google ‘free walking tour *insert city*’ and a bevy of links will appear. Or try this site.
Most companies will offer a basic free walking tour but will also have several other paid options as well. For example, in Amsterdam I went with a company called Sandemans and at the end of the tour we were given the option to book further tours such as a Red Light District Tour or a bike tour.
There are also companies out there that a work entirely for free and rely solely on donations and advertisements as income. This was true for the company I chose in Brussels, Viva Tours.
Free tours I’ve been on and recommend
Grand Place, Brussels.
As mentioned above, my free walking tour was operated by Viva Tours. I did the city centre tour and it lasted roughly two hours and covered most of the major attractions. My guide, Celine, was very well informed, entertaining and was easy to listen to. She even threw in some recommendations of her favourite cafes, bars and restaurants. Some of the sites we visited included Grand Place, Mont des Arts and my personal favourite, the €1 waffle street!
Viva Tours also offer two other free walking tours of the Sablon District and the European Quarter. As well as free tours in near by towns Brugges, Ghent and Antwerp. I had planned on doing the Brugges and Ghent tours the following day but due to a late train, I missed them both unfortunately.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam had a lot more options than Brussels did but we decided on Sandemans. Initially, I wasn’t impressed with Sandeman’s at all as they seemed very unorganised and unfriendly. And, despite the website stating bookings weren’t required for groups less than 10, we were unable to join the tour at 11am because it was full and had to return for the afternoon tour.
After the hassles earlier that morning, we actually really enjoyed the tour but I believe a lot of that came down to our guide, Remu. She was funny, insightful and incredibly knowledgable about the city. So much so, that when she announced that she would be taking the Red Light District Tour (a paid tour) later that evening, we signed up for it.
Something that made the Amsterdam tour a little different, was the fact that it was more of a historical recap as opposed to visits to the main attractions or buildings. So if you want to find out more about the history of Amsterdam, I’d definitely recommend it.
Butchers Bridge, Ljubljana.
Ljubljana was not a city I knew much about prior to the walking tour but the tour proved to be very educational and provided a great background on the city and its history. It lasted approximately two hours and we chose Ljubljana Free Tours. We visited a handful of the cities main sites like Dragon’s Bridge, the Cathedral and Preseren Square.
The company also offers a handful of other paid tours as well as private tours of the city. Some of these include the Communist tour and Medieval tour. If we had time, I would have loved to have done the Communist tour too.
St Mark’s Church, Zagreb.
Zagreb is one of the only larger cities in Croatia I had yet to visit so I was a little excited to explore the city and the free walking tour was great for doing just that. We chose to go with Free Spirit Tours and walked through parts of the city that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about.
The tour lasted about two hours and as well as visiting the main sites like the Cathedral, Old Town and Dolac Markets, it was also really informative about the history of Croatia and Zagreb as the capital.
They also offer several other paid walking tours including a war tour which explains the history of the former Yugoslavian state and the wars that ensued, and lighter tours like ‘Through the eyes of a local’ and even day trips to Plitzvice Lakes.
Other free tours
So far that’s all the free walking tours I’ve been on but don’t worry I plan to go on plenty more. Hoping to try out a tour of Venice and Verona shortly, so watch this space for an update.
In the meantime, if you’ve got some travel coming up and would like to find a free walking tour try your luck here.