Some time ago I wrote a post about how great the free walking tours are. I like taking walking tours when visiting a new city and the idea of tip based tours is quite interesting. However, I felt that that post was incomplete. It described the free walking tours only from the positive side and ignored all the bad things. During my trip to Vienna, I went on a free walking tour and finally got inspiration to write something negative about the free tours. It’s not what you think, my tour was great. In fact, it was the best free walking tour I’ve ever had before. I kept thinking about how this tour was different compared to all the other tours I’ve taken in the past and this is how this post was born. If you are not new to the free walking tours, you might have also experienced some of those things before. And if you are only about to try them out, here is what you should be ready for.
1. The group is too big.
Sometimes the companies that are offering free walking tours ask you to register on the website for the tour you want to attend. At first, I really didn’t like doing this. If you register, you have less freedom and feel obliged to come to the tour even if your plans change. But now I understand that this is a perfectly fine thing from companies to ask for. This way they can see how many people are going to come to the tour and if they have enough guides. Some serious companies limit the number of people in the group to 30-40. I even saw once the guide sending people who didn’t register back because the group was too big. However, there are many companies over there who don’t care so much about the quality of the tour and let all people come. You end up walking the streets with a large group and are lucky if you can hear what the guide is telling.
2. The guide is not professional.
Most of the cities don’t have strict restrictions about who can work as a guide. I only heard that in Vienna the guides have to take special courses to be allowed to work. But is it a big deal, you might think? Can’t a person be a great guide without taking a class? I agree that in most cases the guides are passionate about their work and try to do the best they can. But there are also enough guides there who came to this job for “easy money”. They will tell you some text they learned from the internet but will not be able to answer your questions if you ask something more complicated than the general facts.
3. The guide talks too much about history.
Everyone has a different opinion on what makes a good tour. I am not too much into history and don’t if the tour is only focused on historical facts. I feel like I could just read all of this information on the Internet if I was interested. If it was not specifically indicated in the tour description that this is a historical tour, I appreciate a good mix of history, funny facts, legends, local lifestyle etc.
4. The guide talks too little about history.
Even though I am not interested in history too much, I know that many people think the opposite. You are right as well if you expect to hear a lot of history facts on the tour. Sometimes the reason the guide doesn’t talk much about history is because he doesn’t know much about it.
5. The guide is not local.
This might not bother you so much, but it does really bother me now after the countless walking tours I’ve taken. By local I don’t mean that this person and his ancestors must have lived in this place for centuries. I also don’t mind if the guides are foreigners as long as they lived in this place for quite some time. I’ve just seen too many English native speaking guides that had spent a very little time in the city and are already working as the guides. English language is their advantage, they can speak freely and communicate well with the tourists. But I think there are also enough local guides that can speak English very well. Maybe it is too harsh saying but this way foreigners are “stealing” the jobs that the locals couls also do.
6. You can’t understand what the guide is saying.
Whether the guide speaks too fast, has some strong accent or it is too noisy and you can’t hear anything, it is annoying when you don’t understand the guide speaking.
7. Too much advertisement.
The companies that organize free walking tours sometimes also offer other paid tours and pub crawls. It is not a secret that a free walking tour is often used to promote the other tours. And in right amount it is good. If you had a nice free tour with this guide, why not go with him on a paid tour. But it can also be annoying when the guide mentions those paid tours every 10 minutes of your walk instead of actually doing a tour.
8. The guide talks about money and tips.
At the beginning of each tour the guides usually explain how the tipping on the free tour work. Sometimes there are people who are doing it for the first time and this is a right thing explain what the tour is about. However, as soon as a guide says how much tips they expect for this tour, I want to turn and walk away. Someone might argue with me that this is helpful if you really don’t know how much to tip, but I believe that everyone is smart enough to determine by themselves how much the tour was worth. People also have different budgets and hearing that the guide expects more tips that you can pay is really uncomfortable.
9. The guide is rude.
Well, this is unlikely to happen as the way guide behaves strongly affects tips at the end of the tour. But I’ve seen once how the guide was telling someone from the group to shut up. I understand that it is annoying for the guide when someone talks at the same time as they are trying to explain something. But there are other ways to deal with this situation other than being rude.
10. The tour is not really free.
And the last annoying thing is that the tour is not actually free. It should rather be called something like “tip-based” tour instead. The definition “free” can be really misleading and annoying as soon as you realize that there are tips expected. Sure, you can leave without paying but the guide expects you to pay anyway. And if the tour was really good, it is not nice not to pay the guide for the effort.
Have you experienced some of those things during the free walking tour? What there something that made you angry?
Let me know in the comments!