11 Mar 2024 | Blog, Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria

The Free Walking Tour Concept, What Is It?

So, you’re traveling and a question has come to your mind, what is a free walking tour?

While researching for an upcoming trip, or perhaps being in your travel destination, you keep seeing and hearing about these popular free tours.

What are these all about? 

Well, this is what we do! Let us tell you about it.

A group of people posing in front of a statue.
A group of people on a free walking tour of Vancouver, Canada.

The Free Walking Tour. What is it?

The free walking tour is a guided group tour that is free to join when signing up directly with the tour-providing company. If the tour experience is valuable, and you think it’s worth paying for, you’re free to leave a gratuity that communicates that value to your local tour guide host.

Are Free Tours Really Free?

Free tours are free to join, as opposed to tours that must be paid for in advance. The tour gives you, the customer, the freedom to determine what the tour was worth to you, with consideration to your experience and budget. If you don’t like the tour, there is no obligation to pay for it.

A group of people posing in front of a sign that says tonie tours vancouver.
A group of people on the free walking tour of Vancouver, Canada.

How Do Free Tours Make Money?

Because free tours are gratuity-based (tips-only), tour guides are incentivized to provide an exceptional experience on every tour that commands the most appreciation and admiration. By doing the tour right, free tour companies and tour guides thrive by adding value to the marketplace and giving customers an unforgettable experience, and the freedom to choose how it impacts their wallet.

Where Did The ‘Free Walking Tour’ Concept Begin?

The concept of Free Walking Tours began in the beautiful city of Berlin, Germany, back in 2003. Yale graduate, Chris Sandeman, founded the popular Sandemans New Europe Tours, and since discovering the concept, has spread this popular idea to more than 200 countries around the globe. 

Chris realized something about the value of his guided tours. He always received the best feedback about his product when the customer was free to tell him.

That was it. The idea struck him. Offering free, tips-based tours that allow the customer to determine how much the tour was worth, and not the other way around, would be the foundation of ensuring quality and value to his business.

A group of p
A group of people on the free walking tour of Berlin.

How the Company and Tour Guides Make Money. Does it Work?

Yes! Believe it or not, loads of customers appreciate this style of business. Don’t believe us? It’s clear by the crowds, just join one of our tours to see.

The concept isn’t new, and it isn’t exclusive to walking tours. This model of business is the old marketing strategy of ‘try it first, and if you don’t like it, you don’t pay’. It tells the customer the business is so confident in its product, that they’re willing to take all the risk in delivering it to the customer for free.

Providing the tour on a free, tips-only basis, requires the company and tour guide to provide nothing but the best tour every time. This model has the added benefit of retaining and rewarding the highest quality and rated tour guides in the industry. The product continually gets better and better from valuable feedback from the marketplace.

The system is brilliant, and customers know it and trust it to provide them with an unforgettable experience, every time… Or they don’t pay.

What can I expect on a Free Walking Tour?

You’ll meet at a starting location and be introduced to many other tourists and curious locals excited to get their steps in and learn about the city at large. The tours vary in length, running… or shall we say ‘walking,’ for about 2-4 hours. The tour is centered around giving customers a first-hand experience in the city that dives deep into history, architecture, food, culture, and so much more. The tour is most popular for getting a lay-of-the-land and local recommendations and tips to make the most of any visit. 

At the end of the tour, if you’ve had an incredible experience, the tour guide will accept any form of gratuity you’d like to offer, but there is no obligation. It’s that simple.

Here are some other considerations to prepare for your free walking tour. 

A Good Walk

This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said.

Yes, there is a fair amount of walking on the walking tour. Most tours are between 3-5km (1.5-2 miles) and last between 2-4 hours. There are always opportunities to take a break, sit down, and rest your legs.

A Break

Most tours have a break or intermission that provides you the time to explore the new area that you’re in. This is always a great opportunity to use the restroom or find a refreshment to keep the energy high for the tour. Your tour guide will have great recommendations, ask them!

A Local’s Perspective

Your Tour Guide is a local in the city. So you will be getting the local’s perspective on almost everything. During the tour, you will learn the local history and much more. Ask questions on various things, like ‘How and where can I get a day pass for public transportation? What’s a great place to go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Where do people like to go for good nightlife? These and many more are great questions to ask and a terrific way to get the most out of the place you visit. 

A group of people posing for a photo in front of a statue.
A group of people waving on the free walking tour of Vancouver.

How Much Should I Tip My Tour Guide?

The amount you leave as gratuity for your guide is always a personal matter. The tip should reflect the value of the experience you received and what fits best within your budget. Most tour guides will make a recommendation, understanding that travelers may not come from a tipping culture or recognize the conversion of their currency or the cost of living in the destination.

Do understand that tour guides are paid exclusively from the gratuity they receive at the end, and that the company earns its entire revenue for that tour from those tips as well.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, where could I get this amount of value somewhere else in the marketplace? Think of a similar first-hand experience that may provide you with similar entertainment, information, advice, guidance, and more. The value starts to add up when you consider the experience as a whole.

What Should I Bring on a Free Walking Tour?

Comfortable Shoes

Like we said before, prepare for a good walk.

Water

Bring a bottle of water for your tour. You’ll have a thirst for knowledge taking these tours and a genuine thirst that will need to be quenched. You’ll be moving your body, and depending on the weather, you never know just how thirsty you can get. 

Proper Clothing for the Elements and if Raining, an Umbrella 

Similar to the postal service creed, most walking tours will run when it’s snow, sleet, rain, or in the heat…all depending, of course. So, please come prepared. Dress for the weather and if it’s raining, try and bring an umbrella or rent one. 

Questions

This might be the most valuable part of the tour! Ask your local tour guide all your burning questions to get the most out of your trip. Your tour guide will be delighted with so many questions and be happy to answer. So don’t be afraid to ask. Believe it or not, they WANT to answer as many questions as they can for you, so don’t hesitate.

A Great Attitude

Free Walking Tours are a great way to learn and experience the place you are visiting. But it’s really about having a fun, memorable time that is educational, informative, and inspiring. It’s about learning, laughing, meeting new people, and having FUN. So do bring your best attitude. You, and everyone else, will be glad you did.

Do Free Walking Tour Guides Ask for Anything From Me?

 

  1. Guests who arrive on time at the start location
    It means a lot to be on time for these tours, and sometimes, if you arrive late, they will have to start without you. So show up on time for a good time, ready to go.
  2. Respectful behavior
    Treat the other guests and the guide with respect, as well as the citizens of the place you’re visiting. Try to avoid talking while the guide is talking to the group. Don’t interrupt other guests who are asking questions. Most guides will only move on once everyone has their questions answered. And, of course, respect the people who are citizens of the place you are visiting. Remember, they are not on vacation; you are. Be the best person you can be while visiting and treat those as you would like to be treated by tourists if they were visiting your city. People aren’t props for your vacation; they’re people on their day-to-day.
  3. Stay to the end of the tour
    Tour Guides understand sometimes people can’t stay for the whole experience, and that’s okay. Of course, they want you to remain the entire time, but if you have to leave early, all they ask is to let them know, so that they can keep track of the group, rather than think someone went missing. Of course, your gratuity for the duration you were there is always greatly appreciated
  4.  A Fair Fare
    Tour guides are guiding for a living, and take their gratuities received very seriously. Tour guides spend countless hours doing research, testing material, and keeping informed on current events that in most cases, they deserve to be compensated well.

So, Will You Benefit From Going on a Free Walking Tour?

We hope this article has helped you with making that decision. And that’s the question you can ask yourself again after your first tour while your local tour guide will be patiently waiting for the answer.

With the growing popularity of Free Walking Tours around the world as evidenced by the countless rave reviews fellow travelers are giving them, we’re confident you’ll have an extraordinary experience and join the masses before long. 

So go ahead, book you’re Free Walking Tour today, and do your next travel experience right.

We can’t wait to show you around.