Leaving home and exploring a new city or region can be a bit daunting at times. Budgetary, work, and family obligations also mean that most people have a limited amount of time to travel. So how can we explore the best of the best without wasting time lost in tourist traps and empty streets?
One simple answer is by using a high-quality guided tour company. The companies on the list below were all chosen by TravelAwaits readers because they do exactly what good tours ought to do: help visitors truly experience their chosen destination.
1. ToursByLocals (Winner)
The winner for the category of guided tour companies is ToursByLocals, a Vancouver-based organization with 4,831 guides in 187 countries. The sheer scale of the expansive network of carefully curated guides means that curious travelers can find experts just about anywhere in the world.
While lots of the tours available in popular cities are general sightseeing outings, there are plenty of tours that are based around specific interests; for example, music fans visiting London can try out the London Rocks Music Tour and literary travelers can explore Paris on the Paris & the Lost Generation in the 1920s. Regardless of the tour, visitors can trust ToursByLocals’ hand-picked tour guides to show the absolute best of their cities.
2. Free Tours By Foot
As you may have guessed, Free Tours By Foot is a company that offers free walking tours. The organization is built around the pay-what-you-like concept, meaning that while the tours are free, you are able to pay the guide based on your experience. The tours are perfect for education and entertainment-oriented audiences.
Some examples of walking tours include the Beacon Hill Crime Tour in Boston, Glasgow’s Dark and Mysterious Past tour, or one of the countless free tours in Rome. The organization offers more options in pedestrian-friendly cities, but there is still a solid variety of choices in North America, Europe, and the Middle East with a few options in Oceania, India, and Asia.
One of the best ways to get to know the authentic side of a city is by visiting a friend or family member who lives there. The next best thing is Withlocals, a service that connects adventurous travelers with local residents who are passionate about their hometowns.
The broader strokes of tours are based on your interests, but you can customize your tour by communicating with your host in advance. The tours are completely private, which helps facilitate a connection between you and your local guide. Finally, with exciting destinations like Istanbul, Ho Chi Minh City, and Berlin, you can’t go wrong.
4. The Roman Guy Tours
While The Roman Guy Tours’ name may imply that the company only operates in Rome, that is just the beginning. The company’s founder started out offering tours in Italy, but his touring philosophy was so popular with travelers that the business spread across Europe.
The Roman Guy’s “travel mantra” is based on traveling with people you care about, picking wonderful destinations, and joining interesting activities. The company also seeks to offer unique experiences that can’t be had elsewhere (e.g. night visits, accessing restricted areas, etc).
5. Secret Food Tours
The outings organized by Secret Food Tours combine local expertise with a passion for good food. Given the ever-changing nature of the restaurant world, it’s a perfect match. Looks can be deceiving, so tasting a new city with a local can ensure a positive culinary experience.
Secret Food Tours provides services across the globe, though travelers will find they have the best luck with the company when visiting capital cities. The people who manage Secret Food Tours also run Secret Tours, a branch of the business that focuses on the historical and cultural sides of cities.
6. Eating Europe
Eating Europe narrows the focus of its tours to one continent, but that still leaves hungry travelers with plenty of options. With carefully selected guides in Paris, Rome, Lisbon, Prague, and other cities, the company promises that its guests will create lasting memories by sampling the best food in town.
One of the main benefits of touring with Eating Europe is being guided into the less touristy, more authentic neighborhoods of your chosen city. This company also places an emphasis on learning about the food in context rather than simply leading guests on a quick walk between destinations.
7. Heritage Inspirations, LLC
For an in-depth exploration of New Mexico, TravelAwaits readers turn to Heritage Inspirations. This smaller, boutique guide service is focused on an artistic, cultural, human, and nature-focused approach to travel.
Whether you prefer sunrise yoga overlooking the Rio Grande Gorge, participating in a hands-on baking experience at a local Puebloan home, or delving into the topography and history of the Chaco Canyon, you’ll find an elevated travel experience with Heritage Inspirations.
8. Best Of France Tours
As one of the most popular destinations in the world, France is brimming with tour options, and according to TravelAwaits readers, Best of France Tours delivers on its eponymous promise. These luxurious tours within and near Paris are expertly led by professional guides who offer their own unique perspective on art, history, culture, and food.
Guests can get an insider look at the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay from an art historian, taste Champagne in the countryside with locals, or stop by the Palace of Versailles. Adjustments and accommodations can be made to itineraries based on the preferences of the travel group.
9. Fat Tire Tours
Fat Tire Tours assures potential guests that they take care of the details so that travelers can focus on having fun, memorable experiences. While the company began with bicycle tours, they have since expanded to walking and Segway tours.
Fat Tire’s mission is to provide tourists with fun experiences, but they also try to help preserve their host environments through a focus on sustainable travel practices. Popular examples of tours include a beer-tasting pub crawl in London’s West End and a VIP cathedral and rooftop tour in Florence.
10. Intrepid Urban Adventures
It can be hard to get a sense of a city in a short amount of time, but Intrepid Urban Adventures has set the ambitious goal of providing travelers with a deep dive into the hidden gems of a city in just a day. To narrow down the options, this company offers themes like active adventures, social impact, and off-the-beaten-path.
From Boston to Bali and Toronto to Taipai, Intrepid Urban Adventures helps the curious escape from the same old landmarks to find exciting, out-of-the-ordinary experiences. By taking care of all of the logistics, the company also ensures that guests can focus on the fun of the destination rather than how to read the bus schedule.
Be sure to take a look at all of our 2023 Best Of Travel Awards.