Whenever you travel to a new city especially internationally, you always wonder whether to hire a guide, take a tour or explore on your own. Several people like to take an overall bus type tour so they can get a feel for the city. One pro is that you see a general layout of what you may want to see later in more depth. This helps especially if you are in a country where the locals don’t speak English.
However, in some cities, Edinburgh for example, the bus tours can be expensive, time consuming and kind of a waste of time. If you decide you are the tour type, make sure you take one where you can physically get on and off the bus at various stops. Otherwise, you may end up feeling like you’ve wasted a precious day of exploration not really seeing anything.
Hiring a guide can be a life saver in cities/countries where hardly anyone speaks English. Beijing, China is one of the places where I would recommend hiring a guide. If you get a small group together or join one at your hotel, hiring a guide isn’t all that expensive. Our guide in Beijing took four of us to The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, an old working man’s part of town and a home restaurant. We had a fascinating experience eating a home cooked meal in a small working class home. It was the best food we ate on our trip. No one spoke English, but our guide. The family ate with us, slurping noodles with chopsticks and all. Very interesting! Very fun!
We didn’t use a guide for all our sightseeing in China, but in the spots we really wanted to know more about and would have had no clue on our own, a guide was well worth it. In Dublin, we toured up the main street with a large tour group and didn’t really get much out of it. Most of the information we heard, we could have gotten out of a guidebook.
Roger and I usually choose to explore on our own. We do our homework, study the guidebook(s) and head out with excitement anticipating the adventure of the day. Meeting locals is always a treat. Once in Alsace, France we met a family at a restaurant and were invited to their boat for snacks and wine. Having a local invite us over is a great day! We may not see it all, but we narrow down the attractions we really want to see and spend the amount of time at the site that works for us.
1. Guide -Best in non-English speaking cities/countries
2. Tour – Best if you can get on and off at the various attractions throughout the day
3. Explore on Your Own –
- Best when you look forward to having your own adventures
- Have specific kinds of attractions that you want to experience
- Want to be able to control the amount of time you spend at each place
- Feel comfortable interacting with locals