I’ve been taking free walking tours in Europe for years. It’s usually one of the first things I do when I arrive in a new city. In my experience, free tours are almost always great.
There have been one or two occasions when I had to abandon a free tour (very discreetly) shortly after it started when it was clear that the guide was going to bore me to death…
But that happens very rarely. The guides on free walking tours are normally well-trained professionals who know just how to make the tour enjoyable for everyone. While not all cities have a free tour, most of them do, and some even have more than one.
To join a free tour, you can show up at the meeting point and look for the guide, who would usually wear a t-shirt or hold an umbrella with the words “free tour”. I have found in recent years that more and more tours require you to register in advance for the tour, rather than just show up.
This helps the tour operator in evaluating how many people will attend. Sometimes, especially in popular European cities like Madrid or Prague, way too many people turn up and they have to split into two groups. So reserving your place online in advance is always a good idea.
Why take a free city tour
Free walking tours will help you save money when you travel on a budget, especially if you want to go to some of the more expensive cities in Europe.
But that’s not the only reason to take them. It’s always a good idea to take the general walking tour on your first or second day in a new city.
That’s the tour that tells you about the history, the most important attractions and monuments, local traditions and the like. After taking that general introductory tour, you’ll find that while walking around the city you can easily put things you see in context.
During the tour, guides often share local tips, like where to find the best local dish or where to go for the best views of the city. After the tour, it’s quite common for the guide to hang around to answer questions from the group.
You can ask just about anything – from how to use the public transport system to where to go shopping for shoes. I often ask about special events or festivals that only locals know about.
Guides are always happy to share their insider tips and that is priceless information that you might not find anywhere else.
How are free tours free?
At the beginning of a free tour, the guide will ask the participants if they are familiar with the concept of a free tour, and then go on to explain that free tours are tip-based. You pay as much as you want or as much as you think the tour was worth. That’s why the guide will make every effort to entertain you and make you enjoy the tour. That’s also one of the reasons that free tours are so popular. It’s not just about the money. After you take a few free tours you’ll realise that the guides are professional and know how to make even the most mundane historical fact interesting.
Not everything you see or hear on the tour will interest you, obviously, so it’s the guide’s job to keep you entertained. I’m never surprised to find that the tour guide is actually an actor or an acting student. It takes a certain set of skills to be able to stand in front of a group of strangers and actually engage them for a couple of hours. Another thing that some tour guides will tell you at the beginning of the tour is that this is actually their job. It’s not a hobby and they’re not volunteers. They treat it as a profession and in some countries, they need to get a licence to guide tours.
Guides learn all there is to learn about the city and they often do more than one tour per day. For many, it is their main source of income.
How much to tip on free walking tours?
On most free tours, €10 is considered a decent tip. Sometimes you will feel you want to tip more than that, so do.
If you’re on a tight budget, you might tip €5 and I’ve seen people who apologised while doing that, but the guides have always been very graceful about it. When you decide what to tip, take into account the guide’s knowledge, the valuable local tips, the guide’s performance, how much you actually learned on the tour and how much you enjoyed it. The tipping is sometimes done in such a way that the guide cannot see how much you tip, for example when everybody puts the money into a hat. You can also shake the guide’s hand and give them the money directly.
What types of free tours are there?
The most common free tour is a general walking tour that includes sightseeing, history and a bit of culture (like typical food and drinks, some words in the local language or even some songs!) As I said, you want to take that tour on your first or second day in the city. Then there are also free tours that focus on a theme. These are also tip-based and led by professional guides with specialised knowledge. Some examples would be a free street art tour, a free WWII history tour or a free tour of a certain part of the city, e.g. an Old Town or New Town tour. Other than walking tours, you might also find free bike tours in some cities. These can be good fun as well. The main advantage of a bike tour is that you can travel around the city much faster and cover more parts of it.
The best Free Walking Tours in Europe
There are countless guidebooks with tips and recommendations for any type of trip to Europe, and any type of traveller. These guidebooks are great for learning about history and culture, but they won’t tell you about Europe’s insider tips. Free walking tours are a fantastic way to discover Europe, and you’ll find a free city walking tour in every European city.
Wear comfortable shoes, because we are leaving on a journey to the best free walking tours in Europe.
1. Prague Best Free City Walking Tour
An English-speaking guide will meet you at Ananas hostel in the Old town for 2.5 hours walking tour around Prague. You will start the walking tour in the famous Old Town square, continue to the iconic Charles Bridge. From the tourist centre to the city’s best spots for lunch and drinks, Prague’s do’s and do not’s, you will finish the trip with tons of recommendations and stories you’ll never read about in guidebooks.
Prague’s free city walking tour is one of the best walking tours in Europe, because of the special guide. You’ll leave the tour excited to discover Prague, and with a great list of restaurants that offer affordable lunch menus. In addition, you will learn about bar-hopping for the best Czech craft beer, and the best views of stunning Prague.
2. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam’s free walking tour, also known as FreeDam city walking tour, is all about discovering and enjoying the most liberal city in Europe. The tour departs daily from the meeting point at the Exchange Stock for a 3-hour walking tour, from Old Amsterdam’s legends to the modern and trendy Amsterdam’s stories.
During these 3 fun hours, you’ll meet travellers from around the world and learn about Amsterdam’s liberal drug policy, red lights district, politics, and history from the guides’ amusing stories. In addition, on free walking tours, you can get insider tips from the guide on the best day-trips from Amsterdam and across Europe.
3. Berlin Best Free City Walking Tour
Berlin’s original free walking city tour is the best way to discover the city’s history, landmarks, and highlights in a couple of hours. It’s a great introductory walking tour to one of the hippest cities in Germany, with a rich history, and politics.
In addition to historic highlights, Berlin offers different tours that will show Berlin from various angles; artistic, foodie, or drinks centered. in the Original Berlin free city walking tour, you’ll visit 6 of the main landmarks in Berlin, and hear about the stories behind Berlin’s wall and culture.
Berlin’s original free city walking tour leaves twice a day, from the meeting point at “Die Bude”. The guide will be waiting in an Original free walking tour Berlin t-shirt and would be happy to recommend the best party venues in the city, and how to travel from Berlin to other great cities in Germany and national reserves.
4. Venice, Italy
Venice is one of the smallest cities in Italy. Nonetheless, it’s very easy to go lost when you are wandering around in its narrow alleys and breathtaking architecture. Venice’s free city walking tour will lead you through the history, culture, art, and architecture on a 2.5 hours tour. The passionate guide Simona will tell you all about the city, cuisine, and spots for romance.
The highlight of Venice’s free walking tour is Simona, the guide, and the fun atmosphere. Regardless of rain, the number of people, you will have a fabulous time and get loads of recommendations for Italian food and Eprol drinks in Venice.
5. Paris Best Free City Walking Tour
Paris is one of the most tourist cities in Europe, not to mention in the world. When the Eiffel Tower and the Avenue des Champs-Elysees is are crowded with tourists, it’s hard to enjoy the magic of the city’s iconic sites. But, on a free walking tour, your guide will ensure you’ll get the best of these landmarks, and many more in a unique styled tour.
Paris is home to many hidden gems, thus the number of free walking tours is endless. There are day and night tours, tours for every neighbourhood, culinary and art tours. However, the best free city walking tour in Paris is the hidden gems and secret Paris tour. The guide will take you through hidden passages of the Louvre, buildings to secret photo spots, away from the crowds and into the Parisien’s heart.
6. Zurich Chocolate Free Walking City Tour
In addition to the great and fun guide, Zurich’s best free city walking tour is culinary heaven. Why walk through the old town and Zurich highlights in the traditional style, when you can spice it up with divine Swiss chocolate. Taste truffles, learn about cocoa extraction and visit the best chocolatiers in Europe as you admire Lindenhof and Grossmunster church.
Zurich’s free walking tour is 2 hours long and departs every Saturday from Paradeplatz, and there’s no need to register.
7. Vienna, Austria
The best way to get started with exploring Vienna is on the Welcome to Vienna free city walking tour. In approximately 2 hours you’ll get a short history of Vienna and its main landmarks, where you can taste Viennese cuisine for lunch from Marina, one of the best guides in Vienna.
Twice a day, the guide will be waiting for you at Albertina square for a historic tour around Vienna.
8. Bruges – Legends of Bruges
There are quite a few options for free walking tours in Bruges. SANDEMANs New Europe Tours even do a day trip from Brussels if you don’t want to stay overnight. Although I highly suggest you do because I love this city!
However, of all the tours, the free walking tour with Legends of Bruges is my favourite. Most of the guides are young locals who have a fantastic way of making history come alive. They also have fantastic tips on where to eat and drink in the city. That is, if you don’t want to pay to take their beer tasting class at The Bauhaus Hostel. Although again, I highly suggest you do!
9. Budapest – Free Walking Tours Budapest
When I used to work as a receptionist and pub crawl leader in a hostel in Budapest, there were a number of free walking tours available for our guests. But of all of them, the tours run by Trip To Budapest were my favourites.
It’s been a couple of years since I last walked with them, but a quick look at their Trip Advisor reviews show that they’re still hugely popular.
As a bonus, I also found that their map of the city was the best one to use when I was advising guests on things to do and see! You can download it for yourself by clicking here, or just pick one up at your hostel!
10. Leipzig – Leipzig FreeTours
I first met Dirk and the team a couple of years ago and his passion for his city and his tour company was instantly infectious! Before long I found myself on his free walking tour and, despite having taken previous tours of Leipzig and lived there for a few months, I discovered so many new secrets around the city.
The tour guides who work at Leipzig Free Tours always seem genuinely pleased to see you. Whether you meet them in the city or at the free walking tour meeting point at Burgplatz, they’re super quick to give as much advice about their city as they can!