In the past year and a half I have made my way through fourteen countries in Europe, and even more cities, and one of the first things that I do now, when researching for a trip or visit, is check for any available Free Walking Tours.
ree Walking Tours are popping up more and more in major cities, especially over Europe and I for one, am a massive fan of the concept. While there are many different companies that are in operation, the concept is generally the same. The tour guide is not paid by the company that they are working for, they work solely for your tips and this really gives them an incentive to give you a great tour every time.
The tours are, of course, perfect for backpackers as they are budget friendly, you can pay as much as you can afford and according to the quality! However, even if you are not living out of a backpack and sleeping on night trains to save on accommodation (been there, done that!), I would still recommend trying one out the next time you have the opportunity. In my experience, the tour guides are generally young and full of energy and ooze a passion for their work. I find that the tours tend to offer a more personal way to learn about a city's history, people and culture, as opposed to reading a few paragraphs in a travel guide. The tours are usually far from grey, dry facts about exact historical events; the tour guides try to lighten up any history in a way that is entertaining and palatable.
Aside from showing you the sights and telling you about the history and culture of the city, the tour guides will often give you tips on where to eat, what to buy and where, and other local secrets. Personally, when there is a tour available in a city that I am visiting, it is the first thing on my list. Aside from learning a lot about the city that I am in, I find that it also gives me a chance to get my bearings in an unfamiliar place - walking through the town helps to give you an idea of where everything is and then it is much easier to find that Museum or Church that you wanted to see.
A lot of the companies also offer a variety of other side tours, for example in London there are tours featuring the main attractions as well as tours of the East End. Furthermore, a lot of the companies also hold Pub Crawls at least once a week.
I have taken Free Walking Tours in London, Prague, Budapest, Copenhagen, Bruges and Oslo and I will leave a list below with links of the Companies that I would recommend!