What is a free walking tour?

Free walking tours are excursions provided by locals to tourists for a tip. However, since they’ve been around since 2008, they have become a service provided by tour guides in almost every tourist city.

Free walking tours in Italy

In Italy free walking tours are different from the rest of the world as you require a government issued license to do any tour, free or paid. 

To get a license you need to study in a specific tour guiding school and you only get accepted to it if you have a university degree. 

So becoming a tour guide in Italy takes at least 5 years of studying. 

In other countries free walking tours are done by university students or just locals who speak good English to make some extra cash. In Italy they are done by professional tour guides and it’s their full-time job. 

 

How do the guides make money if the tours are free?

It has become an international standard to tip a guide a minimum of 10 per person, making it convenient to the guides and tourists, as the cheapest tours you can find online start at 25per person. 

 

How much to tip for a free walking tour?

Your tip should grow with the tour’s quality and depend on the group’s size. 

  • 10per person tip for an average large-group free walking tour (more than 25 people); 
  • 15tip for a medium-sized group and a tour including a bathroom break and restaurant recommendations (10-25 people);
  • 20tip for a small-group free walking tour that takes you inside every landmark on the way (under 10 people)

If the free walking tour company limits its groups to 10 people, you will have a better experience, and the tour will be identical to a private 250-euro tour. If they don’t limit the number of people in groups, this means the company makes money on the quantity of people and not the quality of the tours.

Why don’t tour guides do paid tours for the same 10-20 euro a person price instead?

Tour agency keeps 60-80% of what you’ve paid for the tour; the remaining part goes to the guide. Then, the guide pays 25% taxes on their income. 

Tips, on the other hand, are not taxed in Italy, and free tour-booking platforms charge less than tour agencies for providing clients with free walking tours, making them more convenient for both parties, the tourist and the guide.  

 

How much do the guides pay to the booking platforms?

Civitatis charges the guides 3for every tourist who attends the tour.

TripAdvisor charges tourists 3 per person.

Guruwalk charges the guides 3 for every tourist who booked

Sandeman walking tour charges 2.5for every tourist who attends the tour.

Freetour.com charges differently based on guides’ availability, 1– 5 per tourist.

 

Can I book a free walking tour without a booking platform that charges guides?

Yes, after you’ve picked your tour on one of those platforms, search for the company’s name and scroll down until you find their website. 

Usually, the first 10 Google results for free walking tours are occupied by Google Ads and platforms that charge guides for booking.

 

Are Paid Tours Better than Free Walking Tours?

No, they are the same tours done by the same guides on the same topics. The quality of the paid tour also varies based on the group size. Prices of free tours are a lot more convenient as there is no agency free and no taxes for the guide to pay. Free walking tour companies only pay the booking fee to the platform you used to book it.

 

Are These Free Walking Tours Any Good?

There are three types of free walking tours in Italy, and they differ depending on the group size. The quality of the tour is proportional to the size of the group. The smaller the group, the better the tour.

Large-group free walking tours with more than 25 people in a group.

  • 1,5 to 2,5 hours
  • guides repeat the same script every day
  • guide is wearing a mic, you’ll be wearing an earpiece 
  • no ice cream/coffee break
  • no bathroom stop
  • if it starts raining, you continue with the tour
  • tours are exterior only
  • tours are history or art history only
  • you stop 10 min in front of the landmark to hear the story
  • guides use booking platforms, google ads, and TripAdvisor to get clients and pay them for every client
  • guides pay those platforms around 3 eur for every tourist that comes
  • these tours are perfect for young travelers on a tight budget on their first short visit to a city

Medium-sized free walking tours with 10-25 people in a group

  • 1,5 to 2,5 hours 
  • very similar to the large-group tour, but they run during the low season
  • sometimes, they have a bathroom stop
  • still no coffee/ice cream break
  • the guide will take you inside one, maybe two buildings
  • guides wear a microphone with a loudspeaker
  • if it starts raining, you will wait it out in the sheltered area
  • you get a better overview of the city in a medium-sized group
  • you can ask questions and talk to the guide
  • you get food recommendations from the guide
  • guides use Freetour.com and GuruWalk to get the clients
  • guides pay 3 eur to these platforms for every tourist that shows
  • these tours are perfect for first-time visitors of the city who have done some research 

 

Small-group free walking tours with 2-10 people in a group.

  • 2 to 3 hours
  • you get to visit many landmarks on the inside
  • you have an ice cream or a coffee break
  • there is always a bathroom break
  • if it rains, you go inside a bar or a cafeteria
  • you get to visit shops and galleries on the way because the group can fit inside
  • you get information about all aspects of the city, not just the history
  • tour is in a dialogue format; you talk to the guide
  • the guide will walk you to a restaurant at the end of the tour
  • guide will take pictures of you if you ask
  • you will get information about shopping
  • guide doesn’t wear a microphone or carry a flag
  • guide may provide you with different options on what to visit during the tour
  • guides use their websites to get the clients and don’t pay anyone
  • these tours are perfect for people who have a genuine interest in the city

Can I pick my guide?

No, in free walking tours, you cannot choose your guide. The reason they are free is that if, in the first five minutes of the tour, you find that you do not like the guide or they speak English with a strong accent, you can walk away without leaving a tip or saying anything.