A good city tour can open your eyes up to the personality of a city and is a fantastic introduction to a new destination. In our opinion, after checking into your hotel, a city tour should be first on your agenda. This gives you an understanding of a city’s history, and of course, your bearings (which should ideally be well-established before your first exploration of the city by night). Here are our favourite city tours on the continent that do just that, plus they’re based purely on tips so they’re a great option for a bargain break!
Budapest isn’t all ruins bars and stag dos you know – the city actually has a pretty incredible history, being one of the eastern countries that was part of Stalin’s formidable Communist Bloc. The contrast between communist and capitalist systems is still evident in the architecture scattered around the city and provides a great narrative of the city’s heritage. Free Budapest Tours takes you past the parliament and historical monuments, but the best thing about this tour is the guides’ enthusiasm and powerful personal anecdotes that puts the city’s history in context.
With so much going on in the marvellous Spanish city of Barcelona there’s a lot to get through, so why not get to know the city through the eyes of a knowledgeable Gaudi-guru guide? We recommend jumping on one of the Runner Bean free city tours, first set up by a Spanish-Irish couple back in 2010. Groups wander the city’s Gothic Quarter, dedicate part of the tour to the architectural mastermind that is Gaudi himself, and visit the colourful memorials dotted around the city. On the itinerary is the Sagrada Familia and the distinctive houses dotted along Las Ramblas.
Just a hop across the North Sea, Amsterdam is a hub of winding canals lined with towering Flemish houses and picturesque cafes offering stroopwafels galore. Employing the help of clever history swats and culture vultures, Sandeman’s New Amsterdam Tours is the way to fit in the highlights of this Dutch city if you’re short on time. There are a selection of fascinating guided tours to pick from, including a walk around the famous Red Light District, as well as alternative tours of lesser known parts and even street art tours.
The sprawling urban city of Berlin is unconquerable in one fell swoop so tours here are divvied up thematically, or based on location. With this city’s avant-garde arts scene, famed nightlife and its unique history as a metropolis once split in the middle with a looming concrete wall, Berlin attracts swathes of tourists year on year. As a result, the Berliners have well and truly mastered the city tour. Sandemans have once again championed the free tour here, offering holidaymakers and mini-breakers a 2.5 hour blitz of the city’s most impressive monuments, including Brandenburg Gate, the haunting Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Berlin Wall. The tour brings history to life and shows how the city has evolved to become unified.
An array of pastel-coloured houses clad with Moorish-style tiles and topped with terracotta rooftops, this higgledy-piggledy labyrinth of a city is one best-led by an expert guide. With Pancho Tours, there are three differing tours to choose from. Head to the picturesque Alfama village – an enchanting district that is known as the oldest quarter of Lisbon with views of the sea after every corner. Alternatively, jump on-board the Bairro Alto and Chiado tour. Here, you’ll discover a bohemian district typically occupied by oh so chic poets and artists who congregate in busy bars and enjoy the odd Portuguese custard tart or two. Finally, there is the Mouraria tour for music lovers, where you can discover the birthplace of mournful and melancholy Fado music that speaks of life and passion in Portuguese slums.
Prague is a pretty city of twisting spires just waiting to be explored and with NEXT city tours, you can fully embrace the magic of the Czech medieval city. With a handful of UNESCO Heritage Sites, the biggest castle complex in the world, and the historic Charles Bridge that crosses the Vltava River, there is plenty to tick off. The tour guides offer trips to the enchanting Old Town where you’ll hear the many mythical stories surrounding the city’s past, as well as a free tour of Prague Castle. Prague is also known for its beer culture and for backpackers who want to explore this scene, NEXT also offer nightly pub crawls from €15.
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Whether you’re a tourist coming from far flung corners of the globe, or are down to the capital for the weekend, a free city tour of London is a great way to get your orientation in this expansive, electric metropolis. The witty-named Bowl of Chalk (cockney rhyming slang for ‘walk’) run tours every weekend that take in the sights of central London like Trafalgar Square, China Town and Piccadilly Circus. On Sundays, the guides head east where you can get a more intimate feel for arty, graffiti-clad east London.
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As the political capital of Europe and the capital of Belgium, Brussels is a vast multicultural city that can be daunting to explore on your own. New Europe Tours offer a free 2.5 hour tour that covers all the city’s main sights including the famous Grand Place which is a spellbinding square of incredible buildings, various churches and winding streets, and even the birthplace of Tintin. Tours are regular and guides are well-versed in the history of this extraordinary city that is somewhat overlooked by neighbouring Bruges and Antwerp.
With airlines offering bargain flights to the Danish capital, Copenhagen is certainly an alluring mini-break destination. It’s more than just a colourfully quaint and photogenic little city, and has an expansive history that evolved from a small fishing town into a cultural hub and a global centre for design, art, and the land of contemporary cuisine. Copenhagen Free Walking Tours run a range of daily tours in the mornings and afternoons. Visit Christianshavn for a walk down pop-coloured cobblestone alleyways, or opt for the classic tour of the city which finishes at Torvehallerne – one of the best food markets in town. The company also runs a successful pub crawl that costs a few more pennies if you’re in the holiday mindset!
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If attempting to decipher Bulgarian doesn’t come naturally, you may need an expert guide to help manoeuvre you around the capital city of Sofia. Leading tours three times a day, the tours from Free Sofia are led by keen students who fit in the best of an incredible and highly underrated city. Among the most impressive sites of interest are the churches, mosques and synagogues that narrate the history’s rich cultural history. No tour of Sofia would be complete without stopping off at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – a dazzling Byzantine-style build with a distinctive gold-plated dome, and the snow-capped mountains on the horizon providing a staggering backdrop.