What makes a great Walking Tour?
September 4, 2010 11:06 AM   Subscribe

What makes for a good city tour? If you've ever been on a walking tour of a city, what made it great? What didn't you like?

I'm going to be running some walking tours of Buenos Aires over the next few months. They will be for paying customers (25-40 year olds for the most part) and I'm free to decide the schedule (approx 4 hours) and route. I have some ideas on how to make the tour a little different, focussing on less touristy, but still interesting areas of the city and information on Argentine culture and language and what it's like to live here rather than be a simple tourist (I've been here on and off for nearly 2 years, so I know the main areas pretty well).

What things have you been shown on a tour that were a little different and made you feel you were seeing something that otherwise you would have missed? What sort of information were you given? What sort of thing would you like to be shown (not just Buenos Aires, but in general) when visiting a city for the first time? Was the guide casual? Formal? Funny?
posted by jontyjago to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I like interesting history, including social history. I don't really like jokes. I like stops for bathrooms and beverages.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:42 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went on a walking tour where afterwards we all sat down in a local bar and the tour guide bought us all a drink (and since I didn't want any alcohol, I got a cappuccino or something). It was a really nice touch, was advertised as part of the tour and frankly was something that attracted me to the tour. Its a nice way to unwind at the end with other people in a local hangout- a lot of people want to know what a good local hangout is, and a lot of solo travelers like being at that local hangout with other people to talk to. It feels like the tour guide is really generous and doesn't just care about money, when you just add 10-15 bucks to the price of the tour. Also makes one feel more inclined to tip because you're aware of the fact that if you'd refused the beer they'd be just a lil bit richer even if you really are paying for it yourself.

I'd just like to take a moment to say that I love empanadas al horno.
posted by saraindc at 1:06 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perhaps one of the best tours I've ever been on is with Noshwalks in NYC. The leaders takes you to different ethnic neighborhoods and introduces you to great markets, restaurants, bakeries and such. With tastes included!

I also once did a great walking tour in Vienna based on the The Third Man. We even snuck into the sewers. It was great.

So given these two, I would suggest thinking about what is particularly unique about your city (Tango?) and introducing people to that aspect of it in a really not-for-tourists way.
posted by brookeb at 4:31 PM on September 4, 2010

Seconding tours with food stops. Really, it's all about the personality of the tour guide. My husband and I just did three different walking tours in Portland, Oregon, with three different guides. All were excellent, very knowledgeable and nothing they said sounded canned, rehearsed or memorized.
posted by Joleta at 7:51 PM on September 4, 2010

I've also done walking tours in Portland, OR, and London. The ones that I like manage to hit the highlights of the city's history by tying it to what we're looking at. And I like a narrative rather than bits and pieces of the story. The foodie tour we took in Portland was less satisfying and I think it was because that type of tour is necessarily more disjointed; how are you going to tie the truffle salt in with the hot chocolate?

On a practical level, PLEASE plan your tours with frequent places to sit! I'm plenty fit enough to walk for a couple of hours but I get joint pain, so I (and lots of other people with invisible health problems) need a few minutes to sit while you give your spiel at a certain location. And this can be a selling point in your advertising for the tours: it's an x-hour walking tour, but we only cover this distance and there are places to sit (and public restrooms!)
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:42 PM on September 6, 2010

The two walking tours that really stand out in my memory are of the East End of London on a Jack the Ripper tour (run by my school's English teacher who did this in his spare time) and another tour of the old City of London which went into the place names and hidden fragments of bygone times rather than the obvious tourist attractions.

Obviously both those are rather specific to London, but most cities have their histories hidden away in plain sight and often whilst exploring the old you come face-to-face with the new (some of London's most dramatic and impressive new buildings are on really ancient sites and their history is there if you know where to look).
posted by inbetweener at 3:48 PM on April 27, 2011

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