10 reasons to hire a local tour guide and take a tour on your travels

10 reasons to hire a local tour guide and take a tour on your travels

Paris, 1995. I saw all the sights. I climbed the Eiffel Tower, walked the Champs Elysée, took in the view from the tower at Notre Dame and was entranced by the scene playing out in the shadows of the Sacre Coeur. I had “done” Paris. Or so I thought. I liked travelling independently and figuring things out for myself. I never considered hiring a local tour guide.

Many visits later I know that I had barely scratched the surface of the iconic city. My travel style has changed. These days I like to seek out local tour guides and experiences in the places I travel to. Here are the reasons why.

1. Learn about history and context from your local tour guide

discovering michelangelos david with a local guide

Michelangelo’s David is an incredible sculpture complete with intricate and precise anatomical detail. It is beautiful in its own right but your fascination only grows when you discover more about its background. The process behind making the statue and the politics behind how Michelangelo was able to create his art are incredible stories I learned when I visited Florence and took a cultural tour.

Favourite history tours

London: Tour of the Houses of Parliament with afternoon tea
Berlin: Discovering East Berlin by bike
Florence:  Accademia and Uffizi Gallery tour

2. Discover unique details and stories about a destination

Wells of Venice - one of 600 remaining wells in Venice

Uncovering the stories and details of the places you visit make them come alive and cement them in your memory. Walking around Venice you notice stone structures in all the campi or squares. These are the cisterns that ensured the city had fresh water. Some of them are elaborately decorated and beautiful but without them the city would not have thrived as they were the only means of accessing drinking water. We learned this on a walking tour as well as many other interesting details about Venice.

For me the stories behind what we see are important in making our trips special.

3. Learn about the local food culture

food tour of floating market

I think if you could only do one tour in the destinations you are visiting it should be a food tour.

We love tasting new foods on our travels. Apart from being delicious, food is central to most cultures. Taking a tour with a local guide means you learn about the importance of ingredients and dishes to the local people. You go to local cafés and restaurants and avoid mass produced tourist traps. While I love simply browsing produce markets we learnt so much about how the Rialto market is central to life in Venice on a recent tour. Plus we were able to try the most delicious figs.

All over the world food tours and experiences are the perfect way to learn about cultures and cuisines. One of my favourite experiences in Vietnam was a cooking class in Hoi An. Vietnamese food is so fresh, tasty and delicious and the class opened my eyes to this thoughtful and balanced cuisine.

make your own pho cooking class

Eating a meal prepared by a local home chef is another food experience growing in popularity. Sites like BonAppetour offer you the opportunity to find home dining experiences around the world. What a fantastic way to appreciate a destination and support local communities.

Eat with locals on BonAppetour

Favourite local food tours

Madrid: Tapas tour
Venice: Rialto Market and food tour
Italy: Local food festival
Vietnam: Hoi An cooking class

4. Support the local community

support communities with a local tour guide

Local tour guides and companies offering local experiences are predominantly local businesses. This means your travel spend is directly impacting the local community. Why is this important? Recently I was shocked to learn about the impact of short trip tourism on local economies. The pretty Belgian city of Bruges welcomes 7 million visitors a year however only 1 million of those stay overnight. Day trippers contribute very little to the local economy meaning that maintaining historical sites is difficult and the local way of life is under threat.

Choosing a local tour means you are directly supporting the local economy and people, helping to preserve the sights for future visitors. Some tours offer a deeper and more immersive experience connecting travellers with local communities. London’s Unseen Tours works with homeless and ex-homeless people to provide unique tours of the city.

To discover tours that benefit local communities around the world go to Visit.Org

Favourite tours for supporting local communities

Thailand: Elephant sanctuary visit and tour
London: Tour of the secret streets of Shoreditch
Bordeaux, France: A wine tour of the Medoc region

5. Uncover lesser known places of interest

soviet memorial discovered on a bike tour of east berlin

Do you get a bit of a thrill when you discover a new place that is out of the way and a bit unusual? I love searching beyond the obvious and finding places that aren’t on the popular tourist routes. One of my favourite discoveries on our Berlin bike tour was the hauntingly beautiful Soviet Memorial in the east of the city. I am quite sure we would never have visited this monument had we not taken the bike tour.



6. Take in the views from another angle

amsterdam canal cruise tour

While I am a big fan of simply wandering around a city exploring, sometimes your feet need a rest from walking. It seemed 2016 was the year of visiting cities on canals and we enjoyed boat cruise tours in Amsterdam, Berlin, Strasbourg and a once in a lifetime gondola ride in Venice. Sitting back on a boat is one of my favourite ways to appreciate a city.

Bike tours are another great way to discover cities and regions as often a bike can take you to places that you can’t reach by bus and are too far to walk to. Many European cities like Copenhagen are incredibly bike friendly and touring by bike lets you experience the local lifestyle in a unique way.

In Paris we enjoyed a private tour of lesser known locations in the Marais and Latin Quarter in a Citroen 2CV. Zipping around the streets in an open top classic car was so much fun.

Favourite tours on wheels and water

Berlin: Bike tour of East Berlin
Amsterdam: Canal cruise and Rijksmuseum
Paris: 2CV tour of hidden Paris in a vintage car

7. Meet fellow travellers

If you are travelling solo or extending a business trip a tour is a great way to connect with people on your travels. Hiking and food tours in particular offer a wonderful opportunity to sit and chat over a delicious meal and lovely wine. There is something about sharing a meal that connects people.

I made some firm friends on a tapas tour of Madrid. It was the day after Spain won the World Cup and the atmosphere was electric. After the tour some of us made plans to join in the huge celebration party. I probably would not have done that if I was on my own and would have missed one of my all time travel highlights.

8. Learn about local art and artists

GCAK moth mural seen on Street Art London walking tour

Art tours are one of my favourite ways to discover a city’s street scene and galleries. Sure you can spend time on your own appreciating paintings and murals but they come to life when you understand the background to the work, techniques used and personal histories of the artists. On a recent street art tour of London we saw an incredible mural created by our tour guide and learnt about his process and motivation for creating the art.

Favourite art tours

London: Street art tour of London’s Shoreditch district
Florence: Best of Florence: Accademia and Uffizi
London: The National Gallery’s free one hour guided tours take place every day

Related  11 London galleries for art lovers

9. Gain a fresh perspective from your local tour guide

a bike tour of east berlin guidetalking

Tour guides are usually very talented and interesting people. It takes a certain amount of confidence and passion to be a tour guide and I have rarely come across one that does not add deep insight and a sense of fun into their tours – often in a second or third language. Our cheeky and irreverent guide on a recent tour of the Houses of Parliament ensured we had a wonderful time full of laughs while we toured one of the world’s most interesting buildings.

Given the skills needed to do this job I also commend Unseen London for supporting people who are homeless or have been homeless to become tour guides. Beyond the iconic sights of London there is a living city waiting to be discovered.

Favourite tours with fun and interesting tour guides

London: Houses of Parliament tour
London: Hidden London by Fun London Tours
London: Unseen London tours

10. Save time and skip the line

queues outside major attractions

If you are short on time or low on patience many tours offer skip the line or fast track options. This is a great way to visit many attractions without the time wasting frustration of standing in a queue. As a horribly impatient person I choose this option wherever possible. I also recommend these tours for people with health issues that mean standing for long periods of time is uncomfortable.

Top tours for avoiding lines

Paris: Priority access for the Eiffel Tower

New York: Express pass for the Empire State Building

London: St Paul’s Cathedral skip the line

Favourite local tour guide and experience resources

Checking the offerings at the local tourist office and at your accommodation when you arrive is a good idea however I find many of the best tours are booked before you arrive. Make sure you prepare and book well in advance. The quickest and easiest way to do this is using online resources.

I am afraid Google is not your friend when trying to find local tours and experiences. Many local business do not have the experience and resources to rank highly in searches. I find the following sites useful for finding and booking tours all over the world. What you get when you use these sites is the ability to compare tours, read objective reviews and choose activities that are monitored and vetted by experts. Some of these, such as Get Your Guide, have useful apps that hold all your ticketing information and allow you to book last minute tours on the go.

Remember when using these services the price may be a little higher to cover tour vetting and administration costs but I have found the convenience of using a one stop shop to compare tours and book tickets more than justifies that additional expense. Many of these sites offer a lowest price guarantee regardless.

get your guide logo

Get Your Guide
Book tours, attractions, and activities online with the world’s biggest collection of things to do. Get Your Guide lists almost 30,000 activities in destinations from the four corners of the world and has a handy app allowing you to book tours and activities on the go.

 

 

proud to be a supporter of visit.org

Visit.org
Authentic and immersive travel experiences from hand picked not for profit organisations around the world. If you want to support local communities when you travel Visit.org has the best list of tours and experiences.

 


Viator
TripAdvisor owned Viator has curated and sourced activities around the world for over 15 years. With over 800,000 independent reviews you can pick a travel experience with                                         confidently knowing that they have been tried and tested by experts and travellers.

TripAdvisor
I always check TripAdvisor quickly for reviews of all the activities and hotels we choose when we travel. Now you can book tours directly on the site making it perfect for those who like to plan their trips using fewer resources.

 

bon appetour logo

Bon Appetour
I think my favourite new food travel experience is the concept of home dining with a local cook. Bon Appetour connects travellers with home chefs for one the most memorable travel experiences you are likely to have.

 

 

attractiontix logo

Attractiontix
This site offers great deals on tours and attractions worldwide.

My tour and experience wish list

balloons over cappadocia with a local tour guide

I have a growing list of tours and experiences I would love to take with a local tour guide. Here is a list of some of the tours I covet. I hope it provides some inspiration for your next trip.

✪ A hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia in Turkey

✪ An Amazon cruise discovering local wildlife and learning from the local community in Peru

✪ Discovering local food producers on a food tour of Emilia Romagna and Bologna in Italy

lavender fields of provence

✪ Taking in the sights and heady smells of the lavender fields tour of Provence

✪ A home cooked meal by a chef in Rome overlooking the Vatican City

✪ Watching the sunrise at Uluru the spiritual centre of Australia with a local guide


I’d love to know. Do you take local tours and seek out unique experiences on your travels? What has been your favourite unique tour experience so far?


This post contains affiliate links. This means I may receive a small commission if you click these links and choose to make a purchase. There will be no additional cost to you. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own based on personal experience. You can read more about our affiliate policy on our disclosure page.


Travel - 10 reasons to hire a local guide

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33 Comments

  1. 12th January 2017 / 9:17 AM

    As we finish up our third month touring Europe, we’ve come to the same conclusion. We’ve found a few free tours as well which were great. We’ve especially liked the ones by Sandemans.. Thanks for all the great suggestions for other tours.

    • 13th January 2017 / 3:38 AM

      Thanks Henry for your lovely comment and the prompt on the free tours. They can be fantastic. I don’t know about you but I always give a big tip at the end because the guides work so hard

  2. 12th January 2017 / 10:13 AM

    I won’t lie, I am a lazy traveller so I do enjoy tours as I get to find out about a place quickly, by a local and with tidbits of information. There are arguments for and against tours but me, personally, I like them for all the reasons you have mentioned! I haven’t actually been on a food tour yet but as we begin our life as full time travellers, I am hoping we can do a few – especially in Vietnam – and city bike tours as well, I really want to do more of that 😀 I haven’t heard of visit.org or Unseen London and I think they are fantastic ideas! I have used Viator in the past for trips and always check on TripAdvisor. #farawayfiles

  3. 12th January 2017 / 12:38 PM

    I’m wasn’t a big fan of tours. Mostly because I found many of those I’ve attended rushed and rather boring. But then I was dragged to the walking tour around Zürich and it changed my attitude towards the tourist tours. It was fun, educative and it showed Zürich from totally different perspective. I couldn’t believe what a difference local enthusiastic tour guide can make. #FarawayFiles

    • 13th January 2017 / 3:35 AM

      Thanks Urska. I think the trick is to choose the right tour for you. Certainly I am not one for being dragged around on a huge bus for a day but even they have their benefits if you are short of time or are not too mobile.

  4. 12th January 2017 / 1:19 PM

    I have never really considered doing a tour before, especially since we usually travel with the kids and I don’t think they would be up for walking around a city all day listening to a tour guide, however knowledgeable he may be. But I would like to do some kind of tours on our travels if I go anywhere with just my husband. I love that many help the local economy. That alone is enough to make me want to do one. #farawayfiles

  5. Clare Thomson
    12th January 2017 / 2:52 PM

    Such a great post about the benefits of tours and hiring local guides. You can learn loads and have so much fun on a tour – I made friends on a cycling tour of Tuscany while travelling alone and I think tours geared especially for families can be a brilliant way of making a place come alive for children. I will definitely be booking more tours in 2017. #FarawayFiles

  6. 12th January 2017 / 3:21 PM

    I’m a bit divided in opinion about tours. I think they’ve improved hugely in recent years, I guess with all the feedback and reviewing culture they have to up their game, but I find so many are just rip off ways of seeing exactly what you’d see on your own without the freedom to do it at your own pace (and I think Viator is one of the worst cuprits for this). But if you can find an original tour, that takes a different angle (like a food tour as you so rightly point out), then I agree it can be a great experience. I love the idea of the 2CV tour of Paris, and along the same lines we nearly did a Trabant tour of Krakow a couple of years ago but the timing didn’t work. I also like the point that hiring a local guide helps the local economy which is why I don’t like Viator as huge amounts of commission go to TripAdvisor and not to the local business. Dealing direct with the little guy is the way to go!

    • 13th January 2017 / 3:34 AM

      I take your point Phoebe however here some more thoughts particularly on the aggregators. In any industry there are going to be charlatans and poor quality products and services, the trick is to choose the tours that offer something different and special. Of course that’s what I am seeking always!

      Aggregators like Viator take commission but I would never have found some of the fun tours we have done without their service. Local tour providers can of course do their own sales and marketing however getting to the top of the Google rankings is difficult and they may not have time, skills or resources to do it themselves. In researching this post I went through 10 pages of Google to find a tour of Uluru that was taken by an indigenous guide with no luck only to find one on Viator that fit the bill. Of course you can always use them as a search engine and book direct with the local tour if you choose.

      Love our online discussions on these topics. As a former tech marketer I tend to embrace disruptive technologies and business models quickly. I acknowledge that it is also worth considering the many other perspectives out there particularly on an industry where up until recently I was simply a consumer. Thanks Phoebe!

  7. 12th January 2017 / 5:18 PM

    I’d love to try a local tour atleast once. It sounds like a great way to explore a new place!

  8. 12th January 2017 / 6:59 PM

    I love this post! When I first started traveling I considered it a matter of pride that I was capable enough to plan and explore on my own, however… In recent years,we’ve seen the lights, and have started hiring guides and going on more tours and we’ve had the BEST experiences! Now that we’ve opened up to the idea, we’ve loved private tour guides in Kyoto, Sintra and Northern Ireland and group tours in Scotland, London and even Los Angeles to name just a few! #farawayfiles P.S. you always have the best post ideas!

    • 13th January 2017 / 3:45 AM

      Thanks Hilary! You made me laugh. I had exactly the same outlook you did and looking back I am a little annoyed with myself because OF COURSE locals will know so much more about a place than a tourist visiting for a few days ever will. I think a mix of both tours and independent exploration is the ideal situation.

      • 13th January 2017 / 4:10 AM

        I completely agree! xo

  9. 13th January 2017 / 4:07 AM

    Katy, I agree with all the points you have stated in here. When I graduated from college, I went to Europe with a tour company and ended in a group with guides from other countries. They really didn’t know about the countries we were visiting. I have fond memories from my trip but was a bit disappointed by the guides. Nowadays, I have rediscovered the joy of learning from local guide. I do not want to change those experiences. #FarawayFiles

  10. 13th January 2017 / 3:16 PM

    Great idea for a post, Katy! You’ve done a lot of tours! We had a fabulous family tour in Florence that really helped the kids to see and experience the city. I go back and forth with the idea of taking a tour, but in looking at all the neat ones you’ve done I’m thinking I should be looking into it more. Great tips for which tour guide services as you’re right, it’s hard to research online. #farawayfiles

  11. 13th January 2017 / 3:32 PM

    Wonderful post with great resources Katy. We don’t gravitate towards tours as I find it is hard to capture the attention of adults, teens and tweens, so usually stick to the guide it ourselves route. But you have persuaded me to look deeper. Thanks for sharing! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin #FarawayFiles

  12. 13th January 2017 / 9:06 PM

    Some excellent pointers and reasons to choose a guided tour. We tend to avoid tours, not only because they cost more money and we are trying to be frugal, but also because we have a two and the year old who would not thank us if we had to travel at another’s pace. I have taken tours in Cambodia and really enjoyed the knowledgeable experience. At the moment we just have to try and read everything and educate ourselves! #farawayflies

  13. 15th January 2017 / 2:13 AM

    Thank you for all the resources! I’ve rarely had a local guide because I always travel on the tiniest shoestring, but I would love to do a food tour or a street art tour! I’ve mostly traveled in Europe but I think that if I was somewhere less familiar, it would be essential to have a local guide to get the most out of the trip. I think the trick is to make sure you get the right tour, as there are surely duds out there, so I’m glad to have your recommendations. #FarawayFiles

  14. 15th January 2017 / 3:30 AM

    I like a balance of local guide led-tours and self-guided tours, when I travel. Local guides do add to the insights one gets when exploring a new place.

  15. 15th January 2017 / 12:44 PM

    Love this! I’m headed to Morocco in March and just booked our tour to the Sahara through a local company and cannot wait! I’m sure we will see things I never would have seen on my own. Thanks for sharing this! #farawayfiles

  16. 15th January 2017 / 4:48 PM

    We so agree! We definitely love food tours or taking a cooking class, especially when you’re not really familiar with the local cuisine. We did our first food tour in Hanoi, Vietnam, and we ate things we otherwise would never have ordered! Our first cooking class was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and we had so much fun. It was really nice we could choose our own amount of spice as well: first time I could finish my Tom Yum. 😉
    We’ve taken a couple of walking tours around the world as well: in Washington DC and Lisbon for example. We’ve always had passionate guides with a ton of interesting facts.
    Great post, thanks!

    • 16th January 2017 / 3:42 PM

      Thanks Birthe – the Hanoi cooking school was one of my favourites of all time. I have an ongoing passion for Vietnamese food. It’s very hard to get some ingredients in London but I still try to make my pho! I like my Tom Yum super spicy though.. more chilli for me!

  17. 15th January 2017 / 9:27 PM

    Wonderful advice (and I’m not just saying that because I’ll be a tour guide myself pretty soon). However, guided tours are not typically something that we have done as a family, principally because we have kids of different ages and requirements. But I’ve been won over by your blog these past months and have a resolution (of sorts) to cherry-pick some food and culture tours this year that could be of interest for the older kids. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • 16th January 2017 / 3:40 PM

      Thanks for your kind words and how exciting Jonny. Will you be a tour guide in Luxembourg? As you rightly pointed out, when travelling with the kids selection of activities becomes a little more critical. If the budget allowed I would invest in a private tour so the guide could accommodate for pace and interests.

  18. 16th January 2017 / 4:01 PM

    Hi, yes. I’ll be a tour guide for the Mullerthal region of Luxembourg, probably from September onwards (perhaps doing it on an occasional basis before then). So if you’re ever thinking of visiting here, just give me a shout.

    • 21st January 2017 / 11:40 AM

      Absolutely Jonny. We would like that. Best of luck with the new venture

  19. 17th January 2017 / 1:49 PM

    I’ve not done many local tours abroad, but I’ve done a few in Scotland and I love learning new things about familiar places. It really is a great way to get a deeper perspective on a city or country! #farawayfiles

  20. 18th January 2017 / 1:03 PM

    Did you update your blog design recently? I love it!

    • 19th January 2017 / 8:30 AM

      Thanks Elizabeth- so sweet! I tinker around with a lot. Too much probably ?

  21. 3rd May 2017 / 11:26 AM

    Great post! I wholeheartedly agree, guides are definitely worth paying for, for all of the reasons you mention. We had a guide when we visited Mt Etna in Sicily last month. He tailored the tour to the needs of our young children so walks were short and not too demanding. He described how a volcano works in a way that my five year old could understand and we visited parts of the volcano that kids would find exciting: a lava “bomb”, lava cave and buried houses. Great for capturing the imagination!
    I love the idea of a food tour in Emilia Romagna, I would love to eat my way around that region!

    • 7th May 2017 / 10:07 AM

      Thanks so much Annabel. Just back from Sicily and we’ll definitely be looking into hiring a guide when we return. Our kids are only 3.5 so we thought they were still a bit young. I can just imagine all the questions from your 5 year old. Love it!

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