Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at an important holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: getting the best out of tour guides.
A top tour guide brings history to life, as well as supplying invaluable local tips.
But how to track down a good one – and can live guides be beaten by the new generation of audio and app-based tours? Here’s how they all compare.
The live guide
Expert knowledge: This summer tour giants such as Big Bus in London (pictured) are including live guides on a record number of buses
All around the world, live guides are becoming more plentiful, easier to find and cheaper.
This summer tour giants such as Big Bus in London are including live guides on a record number of buses after customers said they prefer quirky, spontaneous stories to recorded commentaries.
If you also want a live guide for a small group or private walking tour, then scroll through the websites of firms such as toursbylocals.com or getyourguide.co.uk.
Both allow you to connect with guides offering an incredible mix of tours.
In holiday hotspots like Croatia, for example, the two sites include everything from chocolate and wine tours on Hvar to truffle-hunting days on the Istrian peninsula and Game Of Thrones tours in Split and Dubrovnik.
Wherever you’re going, search for ‘tour guides’ online and you’ll find ‘free’ tours alongside those led by qualified experts.
Reviews should show if the enthusiasm of the former beats the experience of the latter.
Top tip: Tour guiding is harder than it looks. If you like your guide, tips are always appreciated.
The audio tour
In Britain, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle include audio tours in standard ticket prices, but visitors often fail to see the collection desks (stock image)
Forget clunky, confusing, old-fashioned kit. At the Lisbon Story Centre in Portugal, for example, you no longer have to look for numbers on exhibits and key them into a handset. Instead the audio tour’s built-in GPS knows exactly where you are in the building and plays commentary accordingly.
At the Louvre in Paris, the Nintendo-style guide tracks your progress and maps out routes to specific paintings: the most popular request, of course, is for directions to the Mona Lisa. In Britain, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle include audio tours in standard ticket prices, but visitors often fail to see the collection desks (they’re just after security). Look out for them or you’ll miss out, as it’s hard to walk back against the flow of new arrivals.
At attractions where audio tours cost extra, online review sites show if recent visitors recommend them. Feedback at most big attractions is positive.
Top tip: Don’t forget to return the kit. An alarm goes off if you leave the Stonehenge car park, for example, with an audio tour round your neck. ‘It sounds like you’re murdering a Minion,’ say staff, and it won’t stop till you return to the site.
The app tour
The Snowdon Mountain Railway app uses bluetooth beacons to beam commentary and ‘then and now’ photos en route
Head to the likes of gpsmycity.com or pocketguideapp.com to get a tour guide on your smartphone. Use wi-fi to download a tour and you’ll be guided round anything from Gaudi’s Barcelona with the former to The Secrets Of Manhattan with the latter.
Traditional locations are also joining the app act. The 123-year-old Snowdon Mountain Railway app uses bluetooth beacons to beam commentary and ‘then and now’ photos en route. If it’s cloudy at the top, it shows the view in sunshine.
Other historic events are also going high-tech. As the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage approaches, you can get an app with local history everywhere from the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth to the Mayflower Pub in London.
Top tip: Apps use memory and may drain phone batteries, so delete them after use.