3 Ways to Tour Cities for Free

When you’re in a new city a tour is a great way to visit the must-sees and orient yourself to an unknown environment. But hiring guides or taking bus tours can get quite pricey. Here are three ways to tour for free in cities around the world.

Walking Tours

Last year in the New Orleans Garden District, I was able to identify which home belonged to the Mannings of NFL fame versus John Goodman from Roseanne. My skill was not from being psychic or researching real estate records.

Instead I had printed a walking tour which listed 20 stops in this part of town along with pertinent background. My favorite source is Frommer’s which does include self-guided tours for many U.S. and foreign cities.

Google.com offers city tours. Just enter your starting location and a route will be created. Features include the ability to add or remove sights.

Audio Tours

Audio tours are narrated city routes. There are lots of free offerings for European cities but you can find downloadable tours out there for most major American cities.

Some even offer iTunes downloads for your iPod or iPhone. Others are good for any MP3 player or smartphone. Speaking of which, there are free or low-cost apps featuring audio tours for many cities in the App store or Market.

Guided Tours

No-cost guided walking tours are available all over North America and Europe. These can be sponsored by historical organizations, government agencies or just residents who want to share their city with visitors.

For example, the San Francisco city guides offer dozens of tours throughout the week ranging from the Ferry Building to the Golden Gate Bridge and just about everywhere else you’d want to go.

Citizens in other countries often serve as goodwill guides providing free tours. It gives them an opportunity to practice their English and meet new people. My understanding is that paying any meal or entrance fees for the goodwill guide is customary.

Taking advantage of these types of tours will leave you wallet fuller and leave you more knowledgeable than the alternatives.

Have you taken advantage of any of these types of tours? How do you tour cities at no to low cost?

Photo: Some rights reserved by Dylan Passmore

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jana Jul 15, 2011, 9:45 am

    these are great suggestions! i’ve never toured a city for free. the closet i came was paying $15 for two for a guided train tour of key west.

    another suggestion that i can think of would be to find a friend who lives in the city and have that person show you around. it’s an insider’s look, it’s free, and you get to spend time with a friend.

  • No Debt MBA Jul 15, 2011, 10:27 am

    The last time we went on vacation we ran into a local history professor who was practicing a tour he would give to students later that week. He invited us to join him so he could have an audience to practice with and we got an interesting tour of the area for free from a very knowledgeable source!

  • Sam Jul 15, 2011, 2:21 pm

    Walking around really is that best, cheapest, healthiest way to go. Just avoid the megahills like we have here in SF!

    Walking tours are the best!


    • Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer Jul 16, 2011, 9:10 pm

      Jana: Great idea about asking friends to give you a tour. However, I must admit it can get tiresome if you live in a town in demand.

      No Debt MBA: What a great opportunity. I must confess to hanging around tour groups I see in progress at museums.

      Sam: I do love self-guided walking tours because you can go at your own pace and focus on the sights that interest you.

  • mbhunter Jul 17, 2011, 12:15 am

    Wifey is headed out to Wyoming. Will be sure to share this with her!

  • Scott Woznicki Sep 4, 2011, 5:54 pm

    The city of Chicago offers 3 great tours for free on one of their websites (http://www.downloadchicagotours.com/). Soundwalk is an interesting company in that they offer audio tours with a unique story behind each (www.soundwalk.com). IWalked Audio Tours also offers a number of low cost tours for Boston and New York City (www.iwalkedaudiotours.com).