The Best and Worst Kinds of Tours
Oh, Europe. There is so much to see, do and explore. But how do you know what all you need to see?
Besides a few obvious standouts like the Eiffel Tower, Coliseum and Parthenon, it can be hard to figure out what sights are the best ways to fill your precious time.
That’s when tours come in.
Tours are your entrance into a city. Once you take a tour or two you can not only see some of the best sights, but you can also discover what you want to spend the rest of your time in that city doing.
Personally, I love taking city tours when I first hit a new destination. As corny and obnoxious as you may feel “hopping on” to a giant brightly painted bus, it helps you get your bearings of a city, and after getting that first taste you can decide where you want to explore further.
Side note: don’t be afraid to wave your tourist flag loud and proud. You are a tourist, and most touristy places are popular for a reason. The best trips have a healthy mix of tourist stops and local explorations.
But anyway, here are a few more reasons why taking tours is awesome:
For starters, interacting with a tour guide is way more fun than just renting the audio guide. When I was in Europe I was constantly floored by how knowledgeable these people were. They load you up with so much information about what you’re seeing that it’s hard to even come up with questions at the end (and if you do they’ll still know the answer).
Secondly, using a guide is great because they generally love to divulge their local knowledge. If you’re ready for dinner after your tour, your guide can tell you which touristy places to avoid and lead you to authentic cuisine.
Tours usually have a skip the line option, which saves so much time and energy. They don’t always seem like the cheapest option, but when you compare what you get for the tour price versus what you get for just a normal entrance ticket price, they’re worth it.
However, as great as tours are, it’s still possible to find yourself on one that’s a dud. After taking tons of tours in Europe I’ve come up with a few things you should look for and avoid when booking for your next trip.
What you want:
A tour that offers the inside scoop, or something extra that you can’t get on an audio guide. When I toured the Palace of Versailles, I got to go way behind the scenes and walk through the private bedrooms of French royalty, which are typically closed off to the public. It made the experience way more memorable.
A tour that can become a resource. When I first got to Paris, we (my mom, sister-in-law and me) took a tour that included a river cruise on the Seine, followed by a bus tour of the city and a final stop at the Eiffel Tower. Driving around Paris in the bus really helped us understand the city and not get too overwhelmed. After the tour we could discuss what parts we want to revisit for ourselves, and what we were satisfied with seeing from the bus window.
A guide that takes care of you. When I studied abroad in Italy and Greece, our group had two very different guides (and I’m talking about guides who are with you for the whole trip – not just for one tour). In Italy our guide was kind, helpful and in tune with what we needed. He could tell when we’d been on our feet for too long, when we were tired or just wanted to stop sightseeing and get a gelato. He was also willing to deviate from our schedule if that meant keeping us happy. In Greece our guide was completely different, but more on that later.
A tour that offers the whole package.. If you’re booking a tour that takes the whole day, you want to make sure it includes the essentials. When my sister-in-law toured the ancient city of Delphi, we made sure it included transportation and lunch.
A tour that you’re interested in. Nothing is worse than being stuck on a tour that you couldn’t care less about. If you plan to book tours on your next trip, be selective and choose sights that you know you want spend lots of time exploring. If you’re not sure, do some research or wait and see when you get there.
What you don’t want:
A tour that doesn’t offer extra information. If you can get the same out of a place by walking through for yourself, skip the tour. There isn’t much of a point if you’re not learning from an expert. (Don’t go on a river cruise in Stratford Upon Avon. I repeat, DON’T do the river cruise in Stratford Upon Avon.)
A guide that doesn’t care about you. When my study abroad group left Italy and headed to Greece, we had to trade our helpful guide for an awful guide that didn’t care about us at all. She was only interested in getting us where we needed to be when we need to be there, and in order to do that she wasn’t afraid to speak harshly and even yell. She could make the whole atmosphere hostile in a matter of seconds, and she was definitely not in tune with what we needed.
A tour that crams too much into one day. The worst tour my mom, sister-in-law and I went on was the one that promised we’d see Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge all in one day. The tour kept its promise, but it was extremely fast paced and we barely got to spend time at each place. We spent more time on our bus than we did at the sights, and the guide kept threatening to leave people if they didn’t make it back to the bus on time.
A tour you don’t care about. You only have a certain amount of time, so make every minute count. Sometimes it’s unavoidable (especially when studying abroad), but when you have the choice, choose your tours carefully and make sure to give yourself plenty of free time too.
- I’d suggest checking out Viator, a site that offer diverse types of tours and should have what you’re looking for. Happy touring!