Ah the walking tour. If you’re anything like me you’re probably thinking that a walking tour equals an umbrella wielding guide in an old colored woolen jacket trying to coral a gaggle of foreign tourists down the street while shouting “this way! this way!”.
Well, walking tours have started to get a bit of a face lift, and are really worth using to your advantage. I know there are plenty of free apps out there that provide maps and walking tour information, but when visiting a foreign country, my husband and I like being social. We like meeting new people and talking with inevitably the local who is leading the tour. Tour guides are full of local knowledge and always provide recommendations that are off the beaten the path.
My main disclaimer here is that not all travel destinations will offer or even need a walking tour, but if you’re in a city, there’s a fair chance you can find a ton that fit your taste and requirements.
So why walking tours? They are a great way to get acclimated to a new city, as well as find new areas, restaurants, sample local fare, and get really great tidbits. When we touched down in Sydney, Australia, the first thing we did (after we showered, changed, and face-timed my parents) was a walking tour…and it was free! For three hours twelve of us explored Sydney with an incredible guide during the I’m Free Walking Tour. The tour hit on all the sweet spots, and as someone who loves ice cream, the tour guide gave us a fantastic gelato recommendation (the Robert Brownie Jr was to die for!). Since a walking tour is just a taste, my husband and I were able to identify areas of the city or landmarks we wanted to explore further, and were thrilled that we were able to spend our first day staring at the Sydney Opera House. Granted – we had a whole week to explore Sydney, but what should you do if you’ve got only 24 hours to spare and are moving on to some place new?
We have also been in that situation* and there are many paid tours out there that focus on culture immersion (predominantly around food and wine). I also find this to be an incredible way to see hole in the wall little spots and find out what the heck this place you’ve decided to visit is all about. My husband and I put that to the test in Lisbon, Portugal, where we only had about a day and a half to really explore the city. As a result – we chose a half day walking tour with Inside Lisbon that involved stops at local pastry shops, butcheries, wine and cheese shops, and Ginjhina bars littered throughout. We also learned about the city’s history as it related to the Moor’s, and were taken to so many different neighborhoods along the way, including a ferry ride to a great seaside restaurant for lunch. While I’d like to think we would have ambled in for a shot of ginjhina on our own, knowing the backstory really made us feel like one of the locals.
So while we love a walking tour, they’re not for everyone, and they’re not always available. However, they offer a great opportunity to help you not only acclimate yourself to a city, but immerse yourself in it, even if you only have 24 hours or so to enjoy it. Personally, I’m looking forward to our next tour – a walking food tour of Italy. Stay tuned for that!
*Note: we also went on a walking tour in Seville, Spain, separate post on that later!