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.
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.
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.
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.
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?