When I travel, I love looking into tours that can bring a location to life. Sometimes these are free walking tours, as I took in Edinburgh some years ago. Walking tours in cities like London and Paris can be fabulous and reasonably priced. Other times I’m planning to tour a battlefield and I want a guide who can tell me what happened in the farmland or on the beach I’ll be visiting.
Once again, I’m in happy research mode for an upcoming trip, wondering if I should prebook tours in Budapest, Vienna, or Paris. This prompted me to think back on some tours that I booked ahead of time that were well worth the money. These tours made a place come alive. The cost was a small percentage of the total cost of travel, and I’m so glad I splurged (in some cases) on these tours. My interest is history, but you may choose tours on other subjects such as food. Paris offers a tour on chocolate, for example. I hope this helps you weigh whether or not you want to look into a tour.
Biking in Versailles
A friend recommended this day-long bike tour and it far surpassed my expectations. Not only did we cycle around the immense grounds of the palace but we also spent a pleasant time in the little town. We just happened to hit a major market day. Fruits, cheeses, breads, and carmels spilled out of the stalls.
With our lunch carefully chosen from the market’s bounty, we cycled to the palace. Our excellent guide Drew informed us of the history of Versailles along the way.
Everyone loved the life-size village that was Marie Antoinette’s playground. We parked our bikes for a while and explored.
The best part of the entire fun day came at lunch as we enjoyed a picnic on the canal, with a view of the palace.
The grounds of the palace are large, so biking is ideal for seeing more of the land. You can’t go wrong with this tour!
Tour information: Fat Tire Bike Tours, Paris
Bouncing Along D-Day Beaches in a 1942 Jeep
This is my favorite tour of all time, a day I will always remember. I had walked the D-Day beaches in Normandy some years ago. When I was able to return, I chose a different way to see Utah Beach and the little towns and hedgerows that were the scene of such terrible fighting on D-Day. We met our guide in the town of St. Mere Eglise, at the church where an American paratrooper hung all night as the Germans killed those who landed below. The church today has a memorial to that paratrooper, who survived. We then climbed into an open Jeep of World War II vintage and careened through the countryside.
As our guide Monica zipped around back roads, she told us what happened along the lanes and bridges and beaches in June, 1944. We were able to get a feel for what the soldiers experienced.
You can tour in a Jeep or a van, either for a half day or a full day, for an unforgettable time.
Tour information: D-Day Battle Tours
Learning about the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall dividing East and West Berlin came down in 1989. I was surprised how many parts of this concrete symbol of terror still stand in various places in Berlin. I wanted to learn about the wall’s history and function in depth, so I booked a Walking the Wall tour with Context Tours. This company provides tours in many cities and specializes in small groups led by a Ph.D.
We met our charming Irish guide at the Berlin Wall Memorial and for 3 engrossing hours we walked along the largest remaining section of the wall, gazed at a guard tower, and learned about “no man’s land.” We heard story after story of escapes, tunnels, and bravery. We could have wandered along the Wall unguided, but to know what actually happened at various locations and to stand atop the tunnel while we saw photos of the escape made the experience so much richer.
One aspect of this tour I appreciated was that our guide took us to a cafe at the beginning of the tour. We sipped our coffees while he filled us in on detailed history. I was also able to ask questions, which makes me happy!
Tour information: Walking the Wall, Context Tours
World War II in Prague
We almost missed out on this because I assumed Prague wouldn’t have such a tour, as there weren’t battles there during the war. I booked this wondering what we would learn about for 2 hours, and it turned out to be fascinating. While the army surrendered immediately, the resistance grew. We stood at places where those in the resistance used radios and saw where they were caught and executed. We met the group at the old Powder Tower, which is a fine place to stand and learn about history.
One reason to take this tour is that it includes a visit under the City Hall, in tunnels not open to the public. This is where the resistance hid during the war, and for centuries earlier the tunnels were used for various reasons. We were warned to stick close to our guide so we wouldn’t get lost in these dark passages.
We also got a close look at the ornate ceiling of City Hall.
One advantage of a tour is that you walk by places that spark your interest and you can return after the tour. We went by the Jewish Quarter and learned some of its history, then went back that afternoon to explore more.
The following day we sought out the church where the resistance heroes who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich died. This was history I was not aware of before the tour.
Tour information:World War II in Prague
A Day in Flanders Fields
Before we arrived in Belgium, my research showed that Flanders Fields, where a major part of World War I took place, is today largely farmland. I decided to book a tour so we didn’t have to navigate the countryside while trying to read what happened in the area. This turned out to be a perfect place for a tour offered by a local resident who knows the lay of the land as well as the history of the war. We visited monuments, a surviving German bunker, and peaceful Tyne Cot Cemetery.
We read the names on the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres. Our tour ended with time to trudge through a nearby restored trench.
It was a day of immersion in history. Here we are with our knowledgable guide, Phillipe.
Tour information: Quasimodo Tours
We have had wins and misses with city walking tours. They are usually reasonably priced, so taking a chance is mostly a matter of lost time if you have a poor guide. Also, sites themselves often offer a free tour once you are inside that you want to be sure to take, such as the Beefeaters tour of the Tower of London.
How about you? Do you prebook tours when you travel? What was your favorite tour so far?
It probably is different for me, since I’m European, I have heard and seen so many places having to do with the II World war. Went back and forth over the Berlin, when even Berliners had through customs, because of the communist occupation, visited every country of E. Europe, except for the then USSR and Albania. What I like is that you take the historic approach when you visit Eur. and many thanks for the info you give to All Seasons about the opportunities to travel there,
Thank you for your great comment about the pier (between L.A. and Santa Barbara) and Sutro Bath!s
Very beautiful and interesting post. Thanks for sharing.
Too many war memorials across Europe… unfortunately!
I wish to see half of the sites in Europe you have seen!!
You’ve had so many fabulous experiences – thanks for sharing!
Hello, what a wonderful tour. I would like the jeep tour. Great trip photos. Enjoy your day and the week ahead.
Very curious and interested about bike tours in the countryside.
Worth a Thousand Words
Very interesting to her of your experiences. I don’t tend to book a tour prior to arrival in a new city. Maybe I should rethink my planning.
Looks like you had a grand time, and your photos are marvelous@!
Thanks for sharing at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2018/07/a-bit-of-avian-whimsey.html
Being out there is the best experience. Second best is reading about places through a travel writer like yourself, Sharon. Thank you much!
What impressive architecture! And I love that thatched cottage.
Interesting tours, I like the fact that you can go places you wouldn’t be able to on your own. I never considered taking one during my travels. Maybe because I grew up on the other side of the Wall (not in Berlin, but another Eastern European country), where the only way I was able to leave my country was on a tour. I visited East Germany at the time, though we never went close to the Wall, only saw it from afar. We had a “guide” who was keeping an eye on us, so we wouldn’t run away to the Western side… well, maybe you heard stories while visiting the Wall. The experience turned me off tours for a lifetime. I would love the bike tour of Versailles though, that looks like my idea of fun. Thanks for sharing; great photos and write-up.
I love to book at least one tour on every trip, and have mostly had good luck, and a few misses. Our favorite two tours were Sintra, when we accidentally hired a guide, and he was fabulous, and Belfast when we took a black cab tour through the city and then into the countryside. It was a 9 hour tour, but the best one we’ve ever taken anywhere! #farawayfiles
I am going to mark those d-day jeep tours! That looks really cool! Thanks for sharing! have a great week!
These are all fantastic tours! I would love to do the bike ride in Versailles as well as the WWII in Prague! I remember how intriguing your post was on the resistance heroes and the movie which was so fascinating! #FarawayFiles / #WanderfulWednesday
Thanks for sharing your experiences. I wish I’d known about the D-Day Battle Tours – it seems like a great experience. #FeetDoTravel
These are wonderful Sharon! I like to do tours too. Recently, we booked a day-long tour to explore Montenegro. It ended up being one of the most memorable days of our trip. My husband kept repeating how much he loved that particular day. Tours are a great way to connect with the local guide and other travelers. If you are going to Vienna, take into consideration the Wachau Valley. It is gorgeous in there! #feetdotravel
I love to do tours – I feel that you can always learn so much more about a place than doing it on your own. And all 5 of these look fantastic. I’m on the lookout for tours of Munich for this fall right now and hoping I can find something unique like these.
I didn’t used to love tours, but my husband got me hooked!! We always try and prebook at least one everywhere we’re going. Most of the time, we end up doing at least one a day! My favorite tours have been in Budapest (all of them – we did a Hammer and Sickle tour, a Christmas market tour, and a night walking tour with the same agency – all their guides are amazing), the Beefeater Tour at the Tower of London, any cooking classes (pizza in Rome and pasta in Florence!), and a walking tour of Siena! I’m trying to figure out our Paris tours right now… I’m going to check out your recommendation!
I have taken many walking tours in the European cities I have visited. Many are pre-booked but some just “happen”. Coming up out of a car park in San Sebastian, I noticed a “free walking tour” grouping across the street getting ready to leave. I joined in for a great tour (history, food, and sites). I usually pre-book off ship shore excursions to insure that I can get a quality guide that can custom tailor my day and get me back to the ship on time.
This is a great list of tours. It’s not something I do that often, but I think I need to look into them more. I can see you get a lot more out of a place by understanding it in more depth. #farawayfiles
I pretty much always book tours. I feel like I am missing something if I don’t. I love all five of the tours that you took. The only one that I have done myself is the Berlin Wall one. In Prague, I did a Jewish history tour which was fabulous. But, I have never done anything in Normandy or Belgium. I am definitely inspired by these!
What a great list of such a variety of tours! It sounds like you had an amazing time on all of them. Personally I think I’d love the WWII Prague tour best… we went to Prague for a few days but mainly spent our time eating, drinking, and wandering. I didn’t learn much of the history of the city and I’d like to change that next time!
These tours do look great and I agree, getting to know a destination through a tour often gives you a greater sense of connection with a place. The last time I booked tours was in Prague with mixed results. The city tour was a bit scatty and not very informative but I went to Terezin and that was such a great tour. It comes down to the knowledge and personality of the guide for me. 🙂
Biking in Versaille sounds like a great tour. I’d love to try that while I still can ride the bike, lol! We generally don’t book any tours when we travel, but sometimes they prove to be excellent experiences. #TheWeeklyPostcard
I usually don’t book tours in advance, well, to be honest, I don’t do group tours if it’s not essential to go/visit something. However, exploring D-Day Beaches with an old Jeep looks like a fun thing to do.
I like tours! The best we have been on was a morning cycling tour in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo. It was a Sunday so not a lot of traffic, and we ended up stumbling across a Muslim wedding, and everyone insisted we sit and eat with them. Very special memory. From your list, the Belin Wall tour would definitely fascinate me for all the reasons you mentioned. Pinned. #feetdotravel
I love the way u write a blog in beautiful manner . The pictures are very amazing . The content is perfect.Thanks for sharing your experiences.
I like taking a few tours when I’m visiting a new place. I feel like you can learn so much from the people who live there.
What a great choice of tours! I love all 5 of them but have only seen 2 of them so far. I am not much of a bike or car group-tour person, but maybe I should try exploring this option sometime. 🙂