Thursday, December 15, 2022

Free walking tours offer value and a terrific way to know a city quickly

Luiz, our fine Brazilian born guide in Porto, Portugal, took us around the city to its hidden corners
as well as exploring its famous bridges, squares and plazas. He was lively, smart and well tipped. 


A free walking tour is a great way to get a sampling of how people live.
 Note patio plants and laundry drying. Few Europeans have clothes dryers.



This lively Portuguese guide is a singer, art history major and
a wonderful ambassador for her country and her native Lisbon
WALKING TOURS are a wonderful way to get a quick fix on a new place.
They're growing in popularity around the world. We've tried a dozen of them in seven countries, and enjoyed three more on this latest foray which concentrated on southern Europe.
The enticement of a "free tour" is appealing to many travelers, when a group tour booked through a cruise line or travel agency averages $50 to $100-plus per person, depending on the length. Private tours for a couple can surpass several hundred dollars.  So for adventuresome folks such as the two of us, and people trying to avoid breaking the bank, a "free" tour is a fine alternative.

This shop window was a photo stop on a Barcelona free tour
WE APPRECIATE the fact that the guides are always articulate, well educated and have a sense of humor. They're helpful and eager to give 
directions, pointers and advice on ATM machines, shopping and dining.
"Free" tours are not really free if you have a conscience. You'll want to tip at least $12 or $15 per person -- about the same equivalent in Euros. That's not much for a two or three-hour crash course in history, art, architecture, music, food, hotels, 
parks and gardens.
"Free" walking tours started in Berlin in 2004 and have spread to over 40 
cities around the world, including nearly every major tourist destination in Europe (Barcelona has several of the best), in most major U.S. cities,
such as New York and Los Angeles, in South American capitals, and in Asia, where free tours are offered in Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, Istanbul, Shanghai and Dubai. They're not a passing fad from the on-line reviews and international enthusiasm. Free tours are here to stay.

OF THE MANY ways we explore a new city, we find a free tour combined with a half-day "hop on and hop off" bus tour make a perfect introduction to a new town. We even repeat this pattern in cities we've visited multiple times -- such as Barcelona, Paris and Amsterdam.
For a quick fix on a new place, nothing beats a free walking tour. The tours usually start in a central, well known part of the town --
A tour in Victoria, B.C., pointed out this unique
tea shop where we returned on our own next day.

Dam Square in Amsterdam or San Marco Piazza in Venice, for instance.
From there, you set off to visit landmarks and get tips on history: battles, marriages, mutinies and more.  You listen to enthusiastic, well educated guides share facts and myths about the town they love and often grew up in. You find places you'd like to revisit -- so you can easily do so.
You set off on a lively tour of discovery, finding 
The Colosseum in Rome is a stop of most free walking tours.

A free tour in Tuscany included a wine cellar
tour with optional wine tasting for a small fee.

hidden gems only locals know. Be prepared to walk fast: free tours cover a lot of ground, enriching perceptions of a city in a few busy hours. 
FREE TOURS are one way savvy travelers see the world. From booking a packaged tour months in advance with travel guru Rick Steves, to picking up a half-day tour the night before, travelers find myriad options to tour -- from buses to bicycles, rickshaws to Segways. While each mode has its advantages, we prefer a walking tour.
The main reason is because the worry and strain are removed. You're with a trusted guide, you walk with others, you feel safe while being informed.
You also get gentle exercise -- and tips on ways to make up for that at local eateries, ice cream shops, bakeries and specialty restaurants.
You get more bang for your buck -- while meeting other travelers.  We've made friends on walking tours and contacts with people we've traveled with again.   We've also noticed that single travelers like walking tours because they make connections with other people and find the trip less lonely.
Language is never a problem, either.
We speak Berlitz French, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese, but we've always found English speaking guides in the reservation process.
You'll also see an option for free tours in the local language -- so if you're daring, give that a try. (We've taken French speaking tours in Paris and fared well with our college French.)
We've never met a European guide who didn't speak fluent English. Our "Freedam" tour guide in Amsterdam was fluent in several languages, including his native Italian.

A lively history buff and art major guide (in far
right corner) was our excellent free tour host for
a free tour in Lisbon. (Cookie and Keller behind her.)

TO PREPARE, we share a backpack to take a light jacket or sweater, a couple bottles of water, protein bars, hats and sun screens. We try to get a good night's sleep before a tour because you'll get a workout. The guides try to cover optimum ground in three or four hours. The routes are efficiently planned to include major sights, learn about the history and culture, with time for questions and stops for quick shopping if you ask. The group may go ahead, but the guide will tell you where to meet next.
 All our guides have been helpful in showing us where to find a rest room or grab a quick snack if we've forgotten to bring one.
They're either natives of the city or have lived there long enough to be considered so. They've done copious research, visited museums and galleries, know who's playing at the concert halls and share anecdotes along with bits of history. Our guides have been jovial and fun to listen to, with a sense of humor and a knack for answering questions with precision.
That's why tipping is important. These guides work hard to give us an enriching experience, with courtesy, patience and insider tips. We've even had guides make dinner and show reservations for us and take us to an ATM that didn't charge an exorbitant processing fee.
SO DON'T forget to tip. And tell your friends.;; 

A pair of brilliant actors -- Bryan Banville and Luke Harvey
Jacobs -- bring "The Mystery of Irma Vep" to San Diego.
BEST BET: I first saw (and loved) "The Mystery of Irma Vep" in 1985 in New York City. Charles Ludlam's witty, wacky, fast-paced comedy is alive and well at San Diego's Diversionary Theatre through Dec. 24. It's worth a trip to southern California for the holiday cheer and laughter it provides. Two accomplished actors -- Bryan Banville and Luke Harvey Jacobs -- play a string of over-the-top characters in this crazy parody of Victorian Gothic themes and Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca." Think farce, exaggerated facial expressions, split-second costume changes and clever staging. Mix it up with a peg leg, a wolf, a vampire and audience participation for a hefty helping of queer, high-camp humor deftly directed by Matt M Morrow and Allison Spratt Pearce. More fun than a sleigh ride, sing-along or Santa visit. Put this in your Christmas stocking and don your gay apparel . 619 220-0097.

Famed Portuguese actor Joao Reis narrates a beautiful
music, light, energy and color show called "Spiritus." 
UP NEXT: Immersive shows are the trend -- from "Nutcracker" and the life of Vincent Van Gogh in Las Vegas to a thrilling multi-media show in Portugal celebrating classical music, nature and the world of the spirit. It's called "Spiritus," and it should put you in the spirit for the holidays. Everything is aglow and over the top with lights, and  wonder at Clerigos Church, the famed Portuguese house of worship with its iconic tower. We share an insider's look at this inventive multi-media show in a beautiful sanctuary. So beam yourself to Porto and fasten your multi-media seatbelts as we share a trendy, immersive show with full lights, visuals and more. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the performing arts, nature, family and more:



  1. Free tours are a good deal. Smart guides, lots of history, usually small groups. Good rundown.

  2. We discovered free tours in Spain and we're delighted with the knowledge of our guides. Mostly grad students, art and history majors. Important to tip well as you say.

  3. Georgia Tour SeekersDecember 19, 2022 at 1:43 PM

    What a great ideam we didn't know and will use-- and tip well. Thanks.

  4. Loved the tour story and praise for "Irma Vep." Hope you do a full feature on Diversionary.