Hands up if you’ve ever made fun of a group of folk trailing along behind a guide carrying aloft a flag or an umbrella, or just a folded pamphlet. It’s so easy, especially if you’re in a familiar place to put down walking tours, but they’re growing in popularity all over the world. There aren’t now many cities which don’t boast some form of tour.
I’m one of those with my hand in the air. Until recent years I considered it extremely embarrassing to be found trooping along the streets being mocked by the sophisticated locals. Two things made me change my mind. One was a visit to Rome a few years back. It was my third visit, and I was chuffed to find that I remembered how to get around to the main sights quite well. I was with my friend, Maggie, and it was her first visit, so it was fun to act as our own guide, but when she mentioned wanting to visit Tivoli I knew that it was beyond my capacity to get us there without a lot of hassle, and we plumped for an organized tour recommended by the hotel. It turned out to be a great idea. The tour included a visit to Hadrian’s Villa too, and our totally entertaining guide was full of the sort of anecdotes you don’t find in the official brochures. On the bus back he sat with us, and it turned out that he’d worked in Tenerife, so we had some repartee on that account. I don’t remember his name any more, but I do vividly remember the visit, and lots of the information he gave us because he did it in such an entertaining way.
I don’t have any pictures from Hadrian’s Villa or Tivoli because I dropped my camera and broke it, but here I am a couple of days before that, throwing my obligatory coin in the Trevi Fountain – managed to get close enough despite the usual hoards because it was (as you may be able to make out) raining! Note to the gods of the fountain: it’s time I was back there!
The second mind-changing event was actually two events, and happened here in Tenerife. One, which I blogged last year, was a tour euphemistically named La Ruta de los Castillos (Route of the Castles) in Santa Cruz, and the other, lead, as it turned out by the same guide, was a nocturnal museum tour followed by a walking tour of La Laguna, which I didn’t blog. Both of them organized by the Museums of Tenerife, and both very informative and entertaining, full of stuff I didn’t know before.
The other thing which surprised me and gladdened my heart was that most of the folk on the tours were actually interested in knowing more about the places they visited, and didn’t fit the “ugly tourist” mold at all.
Visiting any city is overwhelming if you’re going for a short stay, unless you’ve done a lot of research first, and know exactly what aspect of the city to concentrate on, so a guided tour of some sort isn’t a bad starting place to get your bearings. You can always pick out the places which really interest you and return later to find out more.
So then, in Sevilla Maria and I opted to take the tour. Actually, we took two. One was a short river cruise, which was fairly cheap (and appealed because of the breeze too – we went in a heat wave, remember!). There was a constant commentary, so we could scurry from side to side snapping away to our hearts’ content and know what we were seeing!
This was one of the buildings from the 1929 Iber-Americano Exhibition, which, I learned had a huge influence on how the city looks today.
The pictures above are of the simply stunning Plaza de España, which also dates from the Iber-Americano Exhibition, although it’s also a beautiful reminder of typical Andalucian architecture and the debt it owes to the Moors. Many of the buildings we saw on the tour dated from this exhibition, without the delightful Filipo explaining everything I wouldn’t have known that.
The other reason we opted for this, particular tour was that it was free. Of course, at the end we could give or not, as we chose, based on how well we thought Filipo had done. Some of the sites we saw we’d already seen, so to begin with we did wonder, especially considering the heat again, whether it was a good move or not. Turned out it was.
There had been a choice of tours, and we opted for one called something like “Myths and Folklore” partly because we both like the old stories and partly because it included the barrio (neighborhood) of Triana, across the river from where we were staying, and said to be the Flamenco heart of Sevilla, so we were sure that the stories would be rich and colorful. It turned out that the tour company considered that too far to walk in the heat – they were almost certainly right, it definitely wouldn’t have been a good idea for some in our group – so that was a bit disappointing, but what we did get was a tour which was flavored with quirky stories rather than dry facts, and Filipo made sure that wherever we stopped it was in the shade!
Triana, seen only from the opposite river bank, and a reminder to return to Sevilla
We were a very varied group, both in age and nationality, and only one couple dropped out, despite the heat. Our guide turned out to be funny and friendly, but not over-flamboyant, and the experience was definitely positive. I’d do one again for sure – although I did chicken out on the Ghosts of York tour I planned to do the following week in England. It was just too bl**dy cold to be tramping the streets at night!
If you’re travelling alone, walking tours would also offer a great way to meet people, and if you’re nervous of cities of course there is safety in numbers. It was suggested that we might join an evening tour too, but we’d already made our own decisions based on our budget for that. As it turned out we’d chosen one of the bars which Pancho Tours with whom we’d gone, visited and we bumped into one of the guides we’d seen that morning with a good-natured crowd in tow.
Shady avenue of the Parque Maria Luisa in which is situated La Plaza de España.
As always, recommending Pancho Tours.com is something I’m doing because I enjoyed their tour and the friendliness of the service, not because I’m receiving any payment for giving them a plug, in fact, of course, they have no idea I’m doing it. They picked us up at the hostel and then we trotted around to various other locations, picking up folk as we went, like the Pied Piper. At the end we were left in no doubt that we should only give according to our feelings and pocket, there was no hassle at all. As well as the tour we did they do a historic walk, bike tours and tapas tours. If you look at the pictures on their website it might look as if it’s all for the young folk, but, as I said, we were a very mixed group.
So – walking tours, worth it or not? End of the day it depends. Definitely they are probably the most in-depth “snapshot” you’ll get of a city if you’ve got limited time. You can wander around and ogle gorgeous buildings for hours and not appreciate what you’re seeing. Knowing the history, myth or tradition of a place brings it alive. That said, next time in Sevilla, having now, after a couple of visits, got a sense of the city, I’d research first and then choose specific places to visit…..I would also spend longer – city breaks are great, but always leave you wanting more!