Lately we have been doing a lot of free walking tours and so I wanted to do a quick post about what they are. I am sure you could google it so I will keep it brief.
In many cities that draw tourists, there are companies that provide “free” walking tours. Type “Tallinn free walking tour” (replacing with the appropriate city name) to find whether there are any available. Some cities have multiple competing companies so you might want to check them out on TripAdvisor to pick the best for you.
They will offer them regularly during the summer but less often at other times of year. They often take between 1.5 and 2.5 hours and you can expect to walk between 1 and 3 km. The guides are often young adults, some are studying history, language, etc. The stories they tell are crafted by the company and the guide puts their own spin on it. You can expect to visit many of the most popular tourist attractions but not enter any of them. We find it a great way to get some of the background on what we are seeing without paying huge amounts of money to do so.
So, how is it free? Free walking tours are tips-based tours. They get groups of 20-30 people and at the end people provide them with a tip. If everyone on the tour tipped them $10 that would be $200 to $300 for two hours of work. Not a bad wage. We are not sure how much they have to share with the company or how the company knows how much they got. Some tours ask you to reserve your spot online before the tour and others say just to show up. Somehow, we expect the guide has to kick in something to the company.
How much to tip? This is the thing, you tip what you want and what you can afford. For us, a good tour is worth about $10 each. That depends also on the number of people. If it is a smaller group we might tip more for more personalized attention. In a bigger group, we might be inclined to tip less but it seems like $10 is the lower limit for us these days. If you are a starving backpacker you might tip less and if you are wealthy you might tip more. Tipping seems to vary by country and culture, so I expect the guides learn who tips best. Also, tip based on the quality of the tour you get from the guide.
Free walking tours used to be mostly backpackers but more and more it seems that people of all travel types are doing them. We find it a good way to meet other travellers as well. At the end, most guides will take a group picture and post it on Facebook. Go in and tag yourself in the picture.
Why not just pay for a tour? To each his own. For us, these tours work well. We like that the cost is not outrageous and we like that we pay based on value. We also like that we do not have to book anything and can just show up.
There are many companies doing free walking tours. Some are specific to a city and some are websites serving many locations. Try to Google the city you are looking for or try a general site like: Free Tour https://www.freetour.com/