If you travel, chances are you’ve booked a tour (or five) to experience the most famous landmarks at your destination. I’ve been on some fantastic (but also some extremely lacking) tours over the years.
Tours can be convenient, and can give you a brief overview of a location, but might not give you that behind the scenes information that you’re really craving. The best tours I’ve had were ones that I was able to really interact with my guide. I felt more like a friend rather than just a source of income. When someone is excited about their own city, it truly shows, and their enthusiasm rubs off on you!
With so many different tour providers out there and a million ways of booking them, you may feel a bit overwhelmed making your decision. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite options to find a more unique, affordable and personalized tour. You might be the type of person that loves the big double decker bus tours, and that’s okay! But if you’re anything like me, you’re going to want something a bit more unique and off the beaten path.
Below you will find several options for booking tours, meeting locals, and also hiring locals as your city guide! I’ll start with a few more traditional (yet still local) options, as well as some options for the more outgoing and adventurous traveler!
Local But Traditional Guided Tours:
Viator -- Viator prides themselves with handpicking the best local experiences around the globe. The site has verified reviews and photos of tours, VIP tours, low price guarantee, and 24-hour customer service. Local travel agencies and partners will list their tours on Viator. While your guide is most likely a local, these tours are going to be more established and traditional than booking a local tour through another source. I’ve used Viator to book a day trip in Tuscany, which was a fantastic deal compared with many I researched through other booking sites. My trip was with a small group and it felt very personal, although organized through a small travel partner.
The Viator website also has some added perks. Top destinations have an Insider’s Guide to assist you while you travel in the area. It includes what is happening now in the city, the top attractions, things to do, maps, and exclusive videos.
Rent-A-Guide -- Rent-a-Guide offers professional tours which can be both private or public. This website is similar to Viator. The listings on the site are from various quality providers and include reviews and low price guarantees. You can select tours to add to your “wishlist” so you can keep track of all the tours that you are interested in.
Curated Experiences By Local Guides:
Vayable -- Vayable allows you to browse and book unique experiences provided by local insiders. Top destinations include Paris, New York, London, Barcelona, Rome, and San Francisco. On Vayable, you’ll find reviews, video verified profiles, and can even book some tours instantly. You’ll find tours of all types, including food, photography, museums, street art, biking, hiking, running, boat tours, etc. Experiences are created by locals, so they are completely unique and customizable too! Don’t worry, each local is vetted by Vayable for quality and safety. If you have an experience to offer in your city, you can become a Vayable Insider yourself!
Another perk? If you’re looking for a gift for a friend’s wedding or birthday, you can gift a Vayable experience. The recipient will get an email and can select their own experience. You can leave a note with a tour suggestion, but it is ultimately up to the recipient to decide what they would like to book.
Tours By Locals -- Find a tour with a local to guide you through their city! While their website isn’t visually as welcoming or easy to navigate as Vayable, Tours By Locals is a bit in between a traditional style tour and one of the more unique curated experiences you’ll find on Vayable.
One of the main differences you’ll find on Tours By Locals is that tours are priced per-tour not per-person like other tour websites. If privacy is important to you, this is probably the best route to go. Your tour is private and only for your group. If the tour can accommodate 8 people, and you only have 4, the remaining seats will not be sold to other travelers.
If the tour is about $400 USD and can accommodate up to 8 guests, the price per person will be lower if you fill the tour. This means you may pay less per person than a big bus tour. If you only have 2 people, this may not save you any money, but you would guarantee it would be a private tour for the two of you.
Who's My Guide -- Who’s My Guide is a community of travelers and tour guides worldwide. When you contact a guide from the site you are reaching out to them directly, there is no intermediary. Tours are grouped into several categories including culture, nature, water sports, gastronomy, extreme, and fishing. Guides are rated by their communication, safety, knowledge, and their overall impression. They are all required to work legally and have the proper documents, permits, certifications, and insurance to provide their advertised services. When you see a tour you want to book, contact the guide, discuss the experience, agree on a date and price.
Like a Local Guide -- Like a Local Guide is a great user-friendly tour and activity resource. Every location has a group of contributors that offer advice for the best tours, activities, sights, restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops in their city. Many of the tours I spotted on the site are more alternative, so if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten track, this is a great place to start. The top 5 destinations that they offer currently are Amsterdam, Helsinki, London, Munich, and Paris. Tours are priced per person and vary depending on the experience. Some are donation based too! Do you have a tip to add to your own city? You can become a local expert and point out your favorite places to eat, drink, or visit!
Tournative -- Every experience listed on Tournative is vetted and reviewed by the Tournative community. They hand-pick local experiences that you can book directly through their payment system, not with the guide. I searched a few popular destinations, but there aren’t many tours offered through the site, which means it may just be getting started. One of the more unique features of this site is that you, the traveler, can post an experience that you would like to have and guides can bid on your tour.
Meet A Friend, Not A Tour Guide:
Not into a tour? You can meet up with a local for dinner, an event, etc. Don’t have a local friend? That’s okay! The following sites will help you find one!
Rent A Local Friend -- Rent a Local Friend is like hiring a private guide for the day. There is a daily fee, which allows you 8 hours to tour the city of your choice with your designated Friend. You can select someone with similar interests like local culture, gastronomy, nature, photography, history, art and design, shopping and street markets, etc. Local guides can set their daily rates, so depending on where you are traveling and which local friend you book, it can be anywhere from about $50 for 8 hours to hundreds of dollars depending on the city. One thing to note, Rent a Local Friend does not vet the local before you meet them. You can read reviews and communicate with the person as much as you’d like before meeting, but they do recommend meeting in a public place.
Shiroube -- Shiroube means “to be a guide” in Japanese. Shiroube’s goal is to help travelers have a superior travel experience by hiring a local guide based on common interests. The site has ads for different local guides and you can email back and forth with the guide and negotiate a fee for their services. Locals place their ad on the site, much like the classified ads from the newspaper. You’ll learn a bit about them (age, sex, languages spoken, and activities they like) and if you chose to hire them, you will pay them directly, not through the website. As always, read their FAQs to avoid any fraud/scams and use your best discretion when hiring someone.
RentAFriend -- Are you traveling and looking for someone to hang out with but not necessarily give you a guided tour? Maybe you just want someone to join you for dinner, teach you their language, give you some inside tips about their city, etc. In that case, RentAFriend can be a helpful resource. You can hire a friend starting at $10+ per hour.
ShowAround -- ShowAround has a wonderful and user-friendly interface. It's much like Airbnb but for local tour guides. Browse popular destinations like Kyiv, Istanbul, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Athens, Prague, etc. Click on a guide's profile for more information about them, reviews, interests, pricing, etc. Contact them to hire them as your local guide so that you have a true and authentic tour of your destination. Payment is all done through the website so you don't have to worry about that when you meet with them. Show Around is in 99 countries, 1022 cities, with a network of 2,038 locals (at the time of publication).
Free Local Guides:
Couch Surfing -- Couch Surfing’s primary function is to help you find a free bed or couch to sleep on during your travels, but it has several other features for those who aren’t able to host or prefer not to stay on someone else’s couch. The site works through reciprocity, so if you intend to couchsurf, you should also be willing to open up your home for like-minded travelers. You don’t have to offer a place to sleep, however. You can list that you are available to meet, but unable to host. As a traveler, you can message a local with questions, or ask them if they are able to meet with you for coffee and tell you about their city! You can also meet up with fellow travelers and locals alike with their “Events” search feature.
Meetup -- Meetup groups are another non-traditional way of making new friends in another country or even here in the US. Organizers plan events surrounding common interests and allow you the chance to meet other like-minded individuals. Sign up for a profile and browse local or international meet up groups. Maybe you’d like to practice a language while you’re abroad, or you might prefer to meet up on a local pub crawl. Either way, Meetup has a ton of options to meet new people while you are traveling!
Global Greeter Network -- The Global Greeter Network is a collection of greeter groups in over 100 cities around the globe. What are greeters? They are enthusiastic citizens that love where they live so much, they will give you a guided tour (most are between 2-4 hours) for free! The site will help you find the greeter group to contact based on your destination. Your greeter is there to offer you advice about their city and show you around for absolutely no charge. How cool is that? Most groups seem to have a strict no-tipping policy, but I did run across some that say they do allow donations, so be sure to read up on the FAQs for each greeter group you contact.
Have any great local guide recommendations that you used and rave about all the time? Share them in the comments below!