Friday, 5 May 2017

Travelers on a tight budget are smart to consider a free walking tour to see a new city.

Most major cities (along with most second- and third-tier destinations) offer a variety of tours led by local guides. Taking a free walking tour is one of my favorite ways to get acquainted with a new destination. I usually do this within the first day or two of arriving and find that not only do I learn more about a city's history and culture, but I meet fun people along the way who have similar interests. Often the tour guides are excellent at explaining the relevance of a particular building, the history behind a city's neighborhood, and quirky facts I never would have known otherwise—usually with humor sprinkled in.

Here is my list of the 10 best in-person free tours. 

1. San Francisco City Guides Tour 

One of the most exciting ways to see the City by the Bay is to hop on a City Guides tour. Ever since the organization was founded in the late 1970s, it has offered tours nearly every day of the year free of charge. Guides are accredited and longtime San Francisco residents, and tourists have a variety of neighborhoods and themes (history/architecture, etc.) to choose from. 

2. Warsaw Free Walking Tour

Headed to Poland? You cannot go wrong with the Free Walking Tours in Warsaw. Tours are held every day (sometimes multiple times per day) and hosted by experienced guides. You can choose from the “Old Town Warsaw" tour, the “Warsaw at War" tour, the “Communist Warsaw" tour, and more. 

3. Prague's Royal Walk

The Royal Walk in Prague is a must do. You don't need to book a reservation, just show up at the meeting place listed online, enjoy a tour of Old Town Square, and learn details about the city's history. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours and includes a coffee break. 

4. Indie Singapore Walking Tour

Singapore is a fascinating city where travelers can easily get lost. Thankfully, Indie Singapore hosts free walking tours several days per week. Choose from the Chinatown tour on Tuesdays, the tour of the Bugis and Kampong Glam district on Wednesdays, or the Singapore River tour on Thursdays. Each one lasts about three hours. 

5. Free LA Tour

Los Angeles can be overwhelming for the first-time visitor. To get a lay of the land, sign up for a walking tour of Downtown Los Angeles or Hollywood with Free LA Tour. Each tour lasts two hours and is led by an expert guide. These tours are even great for locals as you are sure to learn things you never knew before.

6. Melbourne Free Walking Tours 

Melbourne, Australia, is a bustling metropolitan city filled with arts and culture. Learn more about it during a tour with I'm Free Walking Tours, offered every day at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Most people on these tours are incredibly friendly; you may meet a lifelong friend while walking the streets. 

7. Secrets of Portlandia 

Secrets of Portlandia is perhaps the most entertaining free tour on the planet. Its guide keeps tourists laughing for two hours straight as they snake their way through Contently 2 the streets of Portland, Oregon. Check online for dates and times. 

8. Real City Tours in Medellin, Colombia 

One of the best ways to see Medellin, Colombia, is to hop on a four-hour Real City Walking Tour. Guides lead groups through the city's downtown district and explain the history and culture of the region. Tours happen twice every weekday and once on Saturdays. Advance booking is required. 

9. Cape Town Free Walking Tours 

Cape Town is a fabulous city worth a tour, so head over to Greenmarket Square at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. or 4:20 p.m. every day to join Cape Town Free Walking Tours. Advance booking isn't necessary, just look for the green umbrellas. Each tour explores a different region—from the historic aspects of the city to District Six and more. 

10. Free Walks Buenos Aires 

Free Walks Buenos Aires offers complimentary walking tours through the city's Recoleta District at 10:30 a.m. or the City Center at 3 p.m. Advance booking isn't required – just show up and enjoy. 

Bonus: 5 Stellar Audio Tour Apps

Here are some of our favorite apps that offer audio tours of a variety of destinations. Most are free to download and offer in-app purchase options.

1. Download Detour for audio tours of cities including San Francisco, Austin, New York, Paris, London and Berlin. Several cities have more than one tour to choose from.

2. Field Trip, an app created by Google, offers travelers tours and specific points of interest in a variety of cities. Many recommendations are off-the-beaten path, places only known to locals, making a visit all the more unique.

3. Want more than a walking tour? Download Stray Boots, an app that offers fun scavenger hunts in several cities. You and your friends can do the hunt together and make it competitive.

4. Those visiting Europe should try the Cities Talking app, a service that provides Contently 3 audio tours of many major European hubs.

5. VoiceMap is an app that offers audio tours with stories specific to a city's history or culture. If you can't find a city on other apps, this is the one to try as there are several obscure destinations represented.

 Affordable Wanderlust is a BBVA Compass MoneyFit column about the intersection of travel and money written by San Francisco-based journalist Katie Morell. She welcomes questions and comments at katie.morell@gmail.com. 

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