Thanks to this post, you will be able to create a guided tour in just 4 key steps. Thanks to the following table of content, you can go to the section that really interest you. However, if you're starting from zero, we recommend you reading this post step by step.
- Choose the main topic of your guided tour
- Itinerary: how to plan your tour route
- Write the script for the tour
- The most common mistakes of new guides
1. How to choose the main topic of my tour?
In this post, you will find the best tips to help you define the main topic of your tour. It will be very useful if it’s the first time you are creating a tour or if you already have a tour and are thinking of opening a new one.
You will see that the possibilities are endless!
- What’s the typical free walking tour?
- What topic should I choose for my tour?
- Topics beyond the typical free walking tour?
What’s the typical free walking tour?
Before explaining more alternative topics, it’s important to highlight what’s the typical free walking tour in most cities around the world.
It’s a walking tour that always has the same route and it usually lasts between 2 and 3 hours. Most of the time, it takes place in the old town, which is usually the most sought after place for tourists. Its main advantage is that it attracts a large number of travelers, but as it has a very broad approach, it’s not always easy to find a way to differentiate from the competition.
- Overview of the city: free walking tours are not used to go in-depth on a particular topic, but to show what the city can offer to the traveler.
- Most important sites, stories and topics: the tour includes the most important and emblematic monuments, topics (gastronomy, architecture, art, …) and stories about the city.
- Historical evolution: the evolution of the history of the city is usually explained, from its foundation to the present day and it’s the common thread of the tour.
- Curiosities, legends and anecdotes: travelers don’t want to hear again what they read earlier on the Internet. It’s important to surprise them with lesser known but curious and interesting stories.
- Fun and entertaining: travelers expect to have fun and have a good time.
- Personal touch and recommendations: travelers expect to receive good recommendations, both for places to see after the tour, as well as restaurants, …
- Adapted for everyone: it’s a basic tour, that everyone can enjoy: families, young people, … regardless of their personal interests or their country of origin.
What topic should I choose for my tour?
We have seen the case of the typical free walking tour but it’s only one of the many possibilities you can choose!
To identify the tour topic you should choose, think about the following:
What do I know better than others or want to continue learning? If you have a passion or something that has always fascinated you to learn, ask yourself if it is possible to create a tour based on this topic.
- Look at the free walking tours offered in your city. They can give you ideas of what you could do. But you also have to think about how you could stand out. If there are already several free tours about the historic center, perhaps it would be interesting to choose another theme. But you can also stand out in another way: offer a tour in another language, schedule at a different time than the rest, or choose your own approach, … Here you can search for your city and see all the tours that are offered in your city.
- What is your city famous for? Apart from the old town, your city is perhaps famous for something else. Think about what travelers have in mind about your city, what are they looking for and they would be interested to know? It can be a famous person, a neighborhood, an era, an artistic style, a typical food, … In the next part, we explain it to you in detail.
Topics beyond the typical free walking tour?
Nowadays, the traveler is tired of always seeing the same thing and is looking for different and more authentic experiences.
Let’s highlight the best-known alternative topics that generate a lot of interest from travelers.
Street art tour
After the typical free tour, it’s one of the most popular. In a couple of hours, you go through the area of your city with the greatest number of urban art works. Not all cities have an urban artistic heritage, but if yours does and if you are passionate about it, it might be a good tour idea for you. This is what many gurus who live in the 13th “comuna” of Medellín decided to do. So did our guru Magda in Athens or Susana in Porto.
In this case, you explain the different art works, their interpretation, their stories, their author, etc. Keep in mind that the route is changing, since the art works are not eternal and new ones can appear, so you have to be aware and constantly update your route.
The food tour is another very popular free walking tour topic. The common thread is to discover local food with travelers and it can be organized in different ways. If you are passionate about food, this is the main topic you have to choose!
For example, our guru Benardo in Amsterdam takes travelers to different shops and restaurants where he made agreements to receive a free sample of food for each traveler. During the tour, many travelers end up buying products in these places, which makes everyone happy. It’s also what the Balkan Bites agency does in Sofia.
Another example is Can in Istanbul or the Hanoi Free Tour agency. They have another approach, in which they take travelers to places where there is a lot of street food or markets and each traveler pays what they want to try.
In this case, you can explain the typical and traditional dishes, the stories behind these dishes, how they are eaten, how they are prepared, where to eat like a local, …
Alternative neighborhood tour
Alternative neighborhood tour
After seeing the old town and the most essential of the city, there are often other very interesting neighborhoods to discover! Maybe you even live in one of these neighborhoods?
For example, the Free Walking Tours London agency offers several tours in different neighborhoods of London, such as the financial center “The City” or the alternative neighborhood “Camden Town”.
It can also be another kind of place, not only a neighborhood. For example, in Moscow, our guru Cesar has created a metro tour! Another example is the famous Colosseum in Rome that has an exclusive tour.
Dark Legends and Ghosts Tour
They are usually done at night, to better appreciate the dark stories and legends that scare travelers. It’s a very popular kind of tour, and each city has its dark side and ghost legends.
For example, in Edinburgh, we have several gurus who have chosen this topic for their guided tours.
Tour of a period or a famous person
Is there a famous person in your city that you are passionate about, and is there a possibility to create a route? Don’t waste a second and start creating your tour on it!
This is what our guru Belen did in London with her tour of Jack The Ripper! In Florence, we have an agency that has dedicated a tour to the powerful Medici family! Another example, in Rome, with the tour about the artists Bernini and Borromini.
In addition, it can be about a particular period, such as the tour of the Spanish inquisition in Madrid, another of the Soviet period in Moscow or this tour of the medieval period in Valencia.
But it can also be from an artistic era, touring the most beautiful examples of modernism in Barcelona or art nouveau in Brussels.
Based on a book or movie
Based on a book or movie
Perhaps your city was the star of a famous book or where a famous movie or series was filmed.
For example, our guru Aurora from Madrid offers a tour based on the scenarios where the Netflix series ”Money Heist” was filmed. The same with the famous Harry Potter stories, which have tours in London and Edinburgh and which are one of the most reserved guruwalks by travelers visiting these cities.
Social awareness tour
This is an example that we love and through which we can make known subjects that really matter: the reality that exists in many countries so that we all become aware of it and what better way to do it than with the help of a local?
We have for example a feminist tour of the forgotten women of the history of Madrid. But it could also be a tour of awareness of the environment, LGBT, local entrepreneurship, or the social reality of people “homeless” or living with few resources. The traveler could be brought closer to these and other realities through the favelas in Rio de Janeiro or the Bronx in New York.
Other main topics
There are thousands of different options depending on your passion and the city where you live.
- We have tours that focus on nature or the most beautiful urban parks, talking about local fauna and flora or the history of these places.
- We have music tours, like a British rock tour in London.
- There are also tours about mythology in Greece, or of the Viking gods. You could even do a tour about the Loch Ness monster.
- They can be tours at night, at sunset or taking travelers to different viewpoints to appreciate the city from another angle.
These are just some examples to create original guruwalks that hook your travelers but as you already know: the only limit is your imagination.
2. Itinerary: how to plan the tour route?
Do you already have an idea of the tour you want to create but don’t know how to structure it? In this section, we will share with you our most experienced gurus’ recommendations about how to plan your tour route the best way possible.
- 1. Make a list of places of interest
- 2. Highlight the 10 most important places
- 3. Define the area/neighborhood for your tour
- 4. Define a first itinerary with the main stops
- 5. Add extra places and topics
- 6. Try out your route to improve the itinerary
1. Make a list of places of interest
According to the main topic of your tour, what are the places you want to show to travelers and that are relevant to them? Do not limit yourself, write a list with everything that comes to mind and that you found searching about the topic.
To identify them, you can search for other similar tours on Google and GuruWalk and see the key places featured in their itinerary. Also, researching and reading about your topic in your city will give you more ideas about the places you can include.
Example: in Brussels, some of the most emblematic places to see are: the Atomium, Cathedral, Royal Palace, Town Hall, Grand Place, Manneken Pis, the Stock Exchange, Delirium Bar, Royal Galleries Saint Hubert, the King’s House, Monts des Arts, Royal Park, Parliament, European Parliament, Place du jeu de balle, Courthouse, the Fiftieth Anniversary Park, Royal Theater of La Monnaie, Martyrs’ Square, Central Station, the Sablon, the old defensive walls, gate of Halle, the canal, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart …
2. Highlight the 10 most important places
Among all these places you found, what are in the top 10 that travelers can’t miss while visiting your city? For example, you couldn’t do a tour of the Roman era in Rome without showing the Colosseum.
If you do a general tour, search on the Internet for the city main landmarks (TripAdvisor, blogs, …). In addition, you can ask the tourist office, since they know what travelers are most interested in according to the main topic of your tour. Moreover, check out the itinerary of other tours similar to yours.
Example in Brussels of a general city tour: Atomium, cathedral, royal palace, town hall, Grand Place, Manneken Pis, the Stock Exchange, Royal Galleries Saint Hubert, Courthouse and Mont des Arts.
3. Define the area/neighborhood for your tour
Free walking tours are attempted in small areas, where you can walk from one place to another and everything is relatively close together. Therefore, you have to figure out where the most iconic places which relate to the main topic of your tour are located.
The easiest thing to do is to find the location of each one in Google Maps. You can even create your own map on Google. To do so, click here and create your map with the 10 featured places.
You will then clearly see that you may not be able to visit some of the places as they will be too far from the other landmarks. However, if this happens with one of the most important places, don’t scrap it and try to find a way to include it.
In the case of the general city tour of Brussels, the most important places are located in the old town. We have to remove the Atomium and the Courthouse as they are located too far from the rest.
4. Define a first itinerary with the main stops
You should now have about 5-8 key locations left that will be the main sights on your tour that will be listed in your tour description to encourage travelers to join.
Having 5-8 main places is ideal for a 2h-2h30 tour, which is what a free walking tour normally lasts. At each stop, an explanation of around 10 minutes is usually made and between each place you generally walk for 2-3 minutes.
Now let’s go back to the list you created on Google Maps and try to create a tour. Put the first place and you just have to click “how to get there” and add the second, then the third etc. (If you don’t know very well how to create a route in Google, take a look at this post).
You will also have to put these places of interest in order. Do it by taking the following things into consideration:
- Minimize distances to the maximum. Travelers want to see places and hear stories and walk as little as possible! Don’t go through the same place twice!
- Think about the structure of your tour. If you do a historical tour, it’s better if you start in the oldest part. Your tour must have a coherent common thread.
- Think about a flat or downward route. This way you avoid travelers getting tired. Google Maps even puts this information on your itinerary. In the lower left corner of the map above, you can see it says “mostly flat”. If you click the down arrow, you can even see all the leveling. It’s better to start in the upper part of your city. Going down is always easier than the contrary.
The first place should be well known, as it will be your meeting point (we have a post dedicated to the meeting point here). The last place also has to impress travelers. Both have to be well-connected so that travelers can easily carry on with their visit of the city. That’s why we recommend circular routes.
So there you go, you have just created your first itinerary! It’s not perfect, and it still needs to be improved, but it has already given you an excellent idea on how to plan your tour’s route.
For example in Brussels, we have an almost circular itinerary of the 8 highlights we had on the list. We chose the Grand Place as a starting point as it is the historical heart of the city, a well-known and well-connected place and one of the oldest (which is important on a historical tour). We ended up at the Mont de Arts, which offers one of the most beautiful views of the city.
5. Add extra places and topics
On a tour, your explanations are mainly related to 2 things:
- Related to a place: what’s important here is the monument or the building. You already have an itinerary with the main ones, but let’s now go back to the first list you made to see if other places of interest are close to your itinerary: zoom in on Google Maps to see what you will find along the way and get outside and do the route yourself to explore the area and see for yourself what it’s like.
- Related to a topic: aside from the places, think about the different topics you want to cover. Your tour has a main topic, which can be divided into different sub-topics that are not always related to a particular place. For example, on a food tour, these different topics could be about the history of some dishes, the interesting ways of preparing them, special celebrations, etc. On a general city tour, you could speak about the country, an important time period, gastronomy, famous people who are from your city, … This kind of explanation fits well when you have to walk a lot between 2 places of interest.
It’s time to think carefully about the order of the different places and topics in order to create a common thread. Since you can’t change the places from where they are, think carefully about how to add explanations based on sub-topics to create a coherent structure.
In the end, for a 2h-2h30 tour, you should have about 10 stops.
For example, on the Brussels general tour, we optimized the route with these additional topics and places of interest:
1. Grand Place: here we added several places of interest that can be seen in the square.
——> The statue of Everard t’Serclaes: a landmark that is also in the Grand Place and where we explain the legend behind it.
2. Town Hall
——> Tintin Mural. On the way to the Manneken Pis, you pass a mural representing Tintin and we take the opportunity to talk about its history and the importance of comics in Belgium.
3. Manneken Pis
4. Stock exchange
——> On the way to the stock exchange, you pass by an area with restaurants, and here we take the opportunity to talk about typical Belgian food and beers. We also stop to see the “peeing girl” statue on the way and one of the most famous bars in the city.
5. Royal Galleries St Hubert
—–> As the walk to the Royal Palace is quite long, you can stop in the Royal Park to explain its history and talk about the Belgian revolution.
7. Royal Palace
—–> As the walk to point 8 is a bit long, we make an extra stop to rest and do a small quiz about famous Belgians. This is a fun and easy stop, which is perfect as you can tell travelers are already a little tired.
8. Mont des arts.
In addition, you can always mention curious and fun facts that we see on the way.
6. Try out your route to improve the itinerary
It’s very important to go outside and to try the route of your tour for yourself. Try doing it different ways, explore the area, etc. You will notice many things in real life.
- Perhaps Google showed you a route that can no longer be used or is under construction?
- Maybe some places are uncomfortable to make your explanations: lots of people, lots of traffic, …)?
- Perhaps a store along the way sells something that could help you introduce one of your topics?
- Where could you go in case of rain or if it’s very hot?
- Is your itinerary accessible to everyone: the elderly, families with baby carriages, …)?
For example, on the Brussels general tour, we optimized the tour this way:
1. Grand Place:
——> The statue of Everard t’Serclaes: It’s a protected place in case of rain.
2. Town Hall
——> Tintin mural and comics.
3. Manneken Pis: As the place is small and full of tourists, we will first give time to take photos and then explain the spot out of the crowd.
4. Stock Exchange
——> Gastronomy stop
5. Royal Galleries Saint Hubert: There are also restaurants, so in case of rain, I would rather introduce the typical food here.
—–> It has also been adapted to go through a street that goes up to avoid the stairs, although it is a bit longer.
7. Royal Palace
—–> Quiz about Belgian celebrities.
8. Mont des Arts.
—-> Travelers can sit on the stairs, to rest a little.
3. How to write the script for my tour?
A free walking tour is like a play: each word is of vital importance to transmit your speech in the best way and touch the emotions of your travelers. In this post, we will explain how to create an amazing script, which will be the bible of your journey. It will allow you to choose the best content in order to create an incredible experience and receive lots of money.
- Before creating the tour script
- 1. Create a great introduction
- 2. Balance the types of content
- 3. Find the content and write the tour script
- 4. Think of the best way to explain your stop
- 5. Create natural transitions in your itinerary
- 6. End the tour with style
- 7. Control time, practice and improve the tour script
Before creating the tour script
Before starting to write the script, you should be aware of at least these 2 elements:
- Make sure to have identified all the places of interest (ex: town hall) and topics (ex: gastronomy) that you want to introduce throughout the tour.
- Make sure to have ordered all the places and topics to create your tour itinerary, taking into account a coherent structure and the shortest distance between each stop (max. 2-3 minutes).
If you have any questions about that, we strongly advise you to read this post first to define the itinerary of your tour.
1. Create a great introduction
Think about it as if it were the first few minutes of a movie or the first pages of a book. You have to create the “WOW” effect.
Your tour introduction has several goals:
- Captivate your travelers: you have to show travelers how special this experience will be with you and that it was worth booking. Make it clear that you will exceed the expectations they have.
- Break the ice: travelers don’t know you yet, they don’t know your city, or the other travelers in the group. It’s important to reduce this tension from the beginning.
- Give confidence: You must show your professionalism and credibility so that travelers can trust what you explain.
This introduction is usually short (5 minutes) and is normally structured like this:
- Say hello, welcome them, thank them for booking with you, introduce the tour and get the travelers’ interest.
- Introduce yourself to the group (and sometimes the travelers among them): here you have to show your credibility (experience, studies, time spent in the city …) so that the travelers know that they made the best decision booking your experience.
- Tour structure (key sights) and practical information (duration, if there will be a break to go to the bathroom, the payment concept, …). You make sure travelers know what to expect from you and to show them your professionalism.
- Get travelers’ interest and give time for some practical questions.
Then, in the same place, gurus usually start with their first explanations (most of the time, it’s an historical introduction of the city and the country). This explanation is normally a bit longer than the others (10-15 minutes) and serves to put the context for the rest of the tour. It’s also important to start at the meeting point so late travelers can still join.
2. Balance the types of content
It’s important to find a balance between the different kinds of content to include in your tour so it’s easy for them to follow you.
These are the different types of content that your tour must include:
- History: it’s usually the main focus for the content of your tour and helps to introduce the rest of your explanations. In many cases, travelers have already read part of the story before joining the tour in their travel guide or online but it’s important to explain it as travelers expect it and to put everything in context. It can be both the history of a building or monument, as well as the history related to a topic (specific period, important social movement, gastronomy, …).
- Anecdotes and curious legends: that’s what makes the difference for travelers and what they will remember, since it’s usually something that surprises them and that they don’t usually know about. It touches travelers’ emotions and keeps their attention. This kind of content is usually explained after the historical context.
- Customs and recommendations: Travelers who participate in a free walking tour don’t just want to listen to stories. They also want to be able to understand the city as a local, live as a local and go to places that are not as touristy. That’s why it’s important to include some local customs and personal recommendations in your tour.
You can balance the content both from one spot to another and within the same explanation of the place! (Ex: have a moment to talk just about recommendations or include recommendations after an historical overview).
3. Find the content and write the tour script
Now that you know the type of content you need, it’s time to search for it.
There is no miracle, you will have to read a lot, watch many documentaries, visit many places, talk to the tourist office, experts … and that takes a while.
While doing this research, also consider the following things:
- Keep only the most essential and relevant information: you can talk for hours about some places, so it’s important to select only the most interesting part for the traveler.
- Open your search beyond the content of the tour: If you read more than the content of your tour, you’ll be able to show to travelers that you are a true professional by answering all their doubts, which often go beyond what you explain on the tour.
- Verify the data: you can’t trust just one single source of information. Cross-check the data to ensure your script’s content is reliable.
- Write in an understandable way for everyone: sometimes travelers don’t know anything about the topics you are dealing with on your tour, so you have to explain it in a simple and clear way and avoid technical words.
- Think of practical information: free walking tours give travelers a general overview of what the city can offer, so they can then visit some places on their own. That’s why it’s important to know the practical information of the most important places in your city and to include them in your tour: opening hours, ticket prices, how to get there, …
4. Think of the best way to explain your stop
Just as you did by selecting the type of content for your tour, you must also balance the different ways of transmitting this content, which will create a much more enjoyable experience.
Maybe you can explain a personal story, or perform a historical event with travelers, even teach them how to prepare a traditional recipe, or make a quiz … You can find more information on this topic by consulting this post on how to create a more interactive tour and in this post on how to create amazing explanations.
In addition, you can include your travelers better by asking them questions, as we explain in more detail here.
5. Create natural transitions in your itinerary
Maintaining the logic between your explanations can be achieved when you have good transitions, because it gives a common thread to the whole tour. Your experience is not just going from one place to another, you have to see it as a set where each explanation tells a story that supports the overall idea of your experience, like a movie with different scenes.
Good transitions allow travelers to better remember key facts and will help make the journey more meaningful. It also helps you memorize your speech better and will keep travelers interested to follow the whole tour.
You have to add these transitions at the end of the stop or when starting the next one. It can also serve to get travelers’ attention and surprise them, as we explain in this post.
6. End the tour with style
The final part of the tour has to be the cherry on top. Like a good movie, the final part is essential and will be the last impression travelers get before paying you. It’s important to make an emotional ending, so travelers realize how awesome this experience has been with you.
Many gurus achieve this by choosing a very special place to end their tour, such as a vantage point with a spectacular view of the city. Others choose a site that is relevant to the common thread of their tour, because of the history of that place.
What is usually said at the end:
- Summarize the most important elements of the tour, show travelers that the experience was amazing and that they have learned a lot with you.
- Give options on things to do after the tour.
- Remember that they will receive an automatic email from GuruWalk to leave a review on your profile and explain why it’s so important they do so (it allows you to get more bookings).
- Thank them and wish them a good stay.
If they give you an applause, it means that the tour and its ending have been a success.
7. Control time, practice and improve the tour script
Remember, the best free walking tours last between 2 and 3 hours. Shorter than that, travelers will feel that the experience was not complete and longer, you will tire them out too much and they will end up bored.
With Google Maps, you can approximate the time you will need to walk. In this example of an itinerary in Brussels, which is a 2-hour tour, you walk about 40 minutes, leaving 1h20 to tell stories. Only the main stops are represented there, but there are about 10 stops, which makes 10 minutes per stop, taking into account that the first stop is usually longer, so it’s fine.
So, you can put a timer so that each stop on your script is no more than 10 minutes. It is not an absolute rule. There are places that require more time and others less.
Now that you’ve added or removed content from the tour script, it’s time to practice it at home and learn it well.
Once you have it ready, practice it with a friend or family member in real conditions. This person can also give you valuable feedback to improve your speech. Look at the time before starting the tour and halfway through the tour, verify your progress at the halfway point to make sure you are on target. If not, you will have to add or remove content.
You have to constantly review your tour script. With practice, you will realize what is more or less interesting to travelers.
However, keep in mind that the speed of the group is always different. So you have to identify less important explanations or places that you could skip or add to meet the duration of the tour.
It’s important to memorize the tour script perfectly. In front of the group of travelers, you can’t doubt or read something from a notebook. Otherwise, you may lose all your credibility (and money… ).
4. The most common mistakes of new guides
We all make mistakes when we start out as guides.
But the worst thing is, we don’t even realize them.
Now that you are learning your script, please review this post carefully to avoid these mistakes before you receive your first group of travelers.
We wrote it talking to over 100 new guides.
Bonus: best tips from an experienced tour guide (English subtitles available)