Free Walking Tour vs Paid Tour of Prague

Recently, I went to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. I wanted to watch my budget and not spend too much money on exploring the city. As I joined a free walking tour I contemplated about sustainable tourism. I thought about the concept of a free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague. On both tours, you can see the same things and get the same information.

So why pay for a tour if you can join one for free?

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When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.

Check the beginner’s guide to Prague to learn why you should visit Prague!

What is a Free Walking Tour?

If you’re not familiar with the concept of free walking tours, I’ll brief you a little on this.

In most recent years, in bigger cities, free walking tours of the city are organized by tour companies. Mostly advertised on the internet or via leaflets in hostels, you can join one, follow the red/white/blue/yellow umbrella and get to see a bit of the city.

Some tour companies offer free walking tours and also offer paid tours. I reckon they hope you’ll also book a paid tour if you like their free walking tour.

Some companies solely exist for 1 (or several) free walking tours. In bigger cities, they run every day, sometimes in different languages but English is the most common language.

When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
Easter celebrations in Prague

You show up at the set time at the set place (either advertised on the leaflet from your hostel or online) and follow their colorful umbrella.

Usually, the tours vary from 1.5 hours to 2 hours max. as you walk with the group around the city center and a guide informs you about interesting facts, figures and shows you views of the city.

When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
Follow the white umbrella

Is there such a thing as “free” in tourism?

So, the free walking tours, are they really free?

Yes and no.

The free walking tours are based on the concept that tourists will tip the guide what they think the tour is worth. If the tour sucks, you are not obligated to pay anything.

If you like the tour, the guide will expect a tip. So if you’re traveling on an absolute budget and do not mind offending a guide, then you can walk away without paying. But you’ll not make any friends with that and I certainly do not feel comfortable with that.

Read more: Why you cannot travel for “free” by Girlastray.

When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
Prague is beautiful with or without a tour

But how much should you tip a guide for a free walking tour?

I never tip anywhere.

It is not custom here and might be offensive.

The prices of coffee and meals are already high and the waiters are paid a normal wage and do not need to rely on tips for their income.

So I never know how much to tip. How much do you tip for something that is advertised as free?

Depending on the tour’s duration and how much I liked it, I end up giving anywhere between 7 and 12€ for a free walking tour of the city.

When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
Time is also a valuable thing

Free walking tour of Prague

I wanted to join a free walking tour in Prague as I wanted to make some new friends. As I walked towards the meeting point at the central square at 2 pm, the place was buzzing with people.

It was so crowded, I quickly turned around and settled myself with a beer in the sun. No way was I going to follow an umbrella with 60 other people. Ugh.

After a beer and some people watching, I set out to discover the city on my own, as I stumbled upon a different umbrella. I asked the guy where he would be going and what time he’d leave.

Within 5 minutes, we had a diverse group of 10-12 people and we set out in the city. For 2,5 hours we walked around Prague’s old center and the guide explained a lot about the history and background of the Czech Republic and Prague.

I learned a lot about religion, food and drink, music, and life in ancient Prague. We also visited the Jewish quarter and returned to the river where we said our goodbyes.

I ended up giving the guide a tip of € 9,50 as this was all the money I had on me at the moment.

Paid city tours

But for a few euros more, you also can join a paid walking tour of the city. Usually, a 3-hour walking tour with a certified guide costs around 10 to 15€ per person, depending on the itinerary.

You usually book via an agency or online. I browse what the tour company has to offer, what is included, what we will see and where we will go.

On a paid tour, I know what I can expect and if the guide doesn’t live up to the expectations, you can complain or demand a refund.

I have joined many paid tours and usually, they offered me much insight into the city’s history and the guide shows you some aspects of the city you’d never had discovered on your own.

When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
Prague castle and the bridge

Paid tour of Prague

After the free walking tour of Prague, I had this idea in my head about a free walking tour vs paid tour in Prague, so I also decided to join a normal tour.

Because I didn’t want to see or do the exact same things again, I opted for the All in one Tour by Prague Budget. This tour costs €45 and you get picked up at your hotel, visit the castle with a guide and a walk around the historical center of Prague.

We had lunch included at a medieval tavern and a 1-hour boat cruise of the river. After this, we continued to the old center.

More Prague inspiration? Read a weekend in Prague.

When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
The Paid Tour had a one-hour river cruise included

This tour lasted almost 6 hours and although it had a little overlap I saw many new things about Prague and it was nice to see the castle grounds with a guide.

With transport, lunch, a guide, and a boat cruise included, this really still falls into the budget category. Especially if you compare it with other paid tours of Prague.

Find the most Instagrammable places in Prague here!

Comparison between a free walking tour vs paid tour

Pro’s free walking tour

  • You pay once the tour is over
  • You pay what you think the tour is worth
  • In most cases, you can join by just showing up, and you can also leave when you like (but don’t forget to tip the guide).
  • The guide will work extra hard to make the tour worth it so you give a bigger tip.

Con’s free walking tour

  • You never know how much you should tip
  • You do not know if the guide is knowledgeable and if he is not, you waste valuable travel time
  • Sometimes, you do not know where you’ll go and what you’ll see
  • Until now, I have not had a local guide. They were always people from abroad, working in the city and trying to make some money
  • The guide needs to pay his boss a set amount per head of the tour and might end up being underpaid after all.
  • You run the risk of visiting entrepreneurs who are affiliated with the free tour company and spend too much time in their shops in the hope you’ll buy the affiliate goods.
When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
Cathedral of Prague

Explore Prague for more time, consider TEFL in Prague.

Pro’s for a paid tour

  • You know what you buy and if the tour doesn’t deliver you can ask for a refund
  • You get a reputable guide who studied tourism (at least that should be the case with good tour companies)
  • Most times, you’ll support a local company
  • The guide will receive a fair wage for their time and expertise.
When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
Explore the castle of Prague with a tour

Con’s for a paid tour

  • You need to pay upfront and you don’t know if it is worth it
  • You need to book ahead of time and are not flexible with your itinerary
  • It can be expensive
  • The eternal debate continues if you should tip this guide yes or no?

Read more: Ethical Travel Dilemmas – What will you do?

Free walking tour vs paid tour

As you can see from the above pros and cons list, there is something to say about a free walking tour vs paid tour of the city.

What bothers me the most about free walking tours is the name. Calling something ‘free’ attracts a certain type of traveler.

I have witnessed so many times a discussion with the guide about not receiving a (proper) tip from people and endless discussions afterward. This ruined the fun a bit for me.

Until now, I have always had a tour guide, who wasn’t a local. Although they were really knowledgeable and offered a good tour, I somehow feel like free walking tours ruin the tourism business for genuine tour offices trying to offer good value to the tourists.

Does this mean I’ll not join free walking tours in the future?

No. I will, however, be more selective with what kind of free walking tour I choose.

Is it a local guide or a foreigner trying to fund their own travels? What route will they take and is the tour really advertised as free or do they mention the tour is tip-based, to avoid any discussions afterward?

When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
Senate gardens with Prague castle in the background

How to decide which tour to take?

I hope you understand I’m not saying that you should not take free walking tours anymore. By all means, please join the fun!

I simply hope to raise some more awareness about fair wages for tour guides and sustainable tourism. I hope you understand, that in tourism, there is no such thing as FREE tours!

As I am an independent traveler it is important to monitor my budget and my time. I always try to determine if I get value for my money when I join a tour. In my opinion, free walking tours can be cheap and fun if executed properly. But sometimes you get more value for your money with a paid tour.

What kind of tours do you take when you travel around the globe? Do you ever join a free walking tour? What is your experience with them?

When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
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When you travel on a budget it is tempting to join a free walking tour of the city. My contemplations on sustainable tourism and free walking tour vs paid tour of Prague.
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14 Comments

  1. Viktorija

    A bit off topic, but like, you do tip in Prague. A lot, as often as you can and preferably at least 10 %. It’s a very common practic, no one is ever offended by tips (I’m from Czech and tipping is like a part of the culture).

  2. Very nice blog, happy to see this kind of blog. There are both free walking and paid tour available. But from my experience, I would like to suggest the paid segway tour to enjoy the city from the core. Segway tour in Prague will give more enjoyment.

  3. Hi! I am a qualified tour guide (and a travel blogger as well) from Florence, Italy. As a professional I expect to be paid for my job and I don’t work for free. What are you paying for when you hire a qualified tour guide is years of studies, years of experience + the warranty of a lawful and professional service.

    Many of the free walking tours are lead by non-licensed tour guides: what they are offering is not just a very low quality service, but often is illegal (you can’t lead tours in Europe without license). Plus… are you sure they’re paying taxes when their entire wage comes from tips?

    Please ask yourself what’s behind someone doing for free a job that needs a lot of studies and qualifications. Would you let a non-doctor take care of your health? Or a non-lawyer take care of your legal issues? So why should you let non-professionals take care of your travels? 😀

  4. Great post! I’ve often contemplated the same myself. When I first started traveling in Europe as a uni student I was all about the “free” tours (still always tipped though of course). Then I started learning about how the guides have to pay a certain amount per head and that they have to pay for the people who don’t give them a tip at the end. Didn’t sit well with me at all! On my last trip (to Berlin) I took both a free tour and then a paid tour (vastly different topics so they didn’t overlap) and while the free tour was still great, the level of expertise and knowledge of the paid tour was incomparable. The tour guide was also an archaeologist and he knew so much about the history of the city. Plus, the paid tour attendees were much more respectful and a smaller group as well. On the free tour on our break a bunch of girls bought beers and carried them on the rest of the tour, giggling the whole way! Considering I only paid around 12 euros for the paid tour and I would’ve tipped 10ish anyway for the free tour, I think from now on I’m going to be searching out paid tours!

  5. I prefer to pay because being a tour guide is also difficult and it is a profession too. I respect anyone who works hard. They should not promote it as a free tour if they’d expect a tip. I have visited tourist destinations which have a small donation box beside the entrance. I usually forget to donate something. The tour companies should just provide a standard amount of fee. I’d feel awkward if I gave a tip but I’m not sure if it’s a fair tip.

  6. I took a paid tour in Prague which included the boat cruise. I actually think I’d have been better off just walking around the city and seeing the points of interest alone and not on any tour. Waiting around the central square for a quiet walking tour seems a good idea too!

  7. I love how you broke it down for each option. I’ve been to tours with a guide before and I really appreciate their insight. It makes you appreciate the attractions even more, especially if you are visiting somewhere with a historical value. With paid tours, I think you can expect more trained guides and a more comprehensive tour, so I think they’re worth the splurge if you have the budget for it!

  8. Soraya

    I honestly prefer paid walks, because I find you know what you are going to see, and if something goes wrong then there’s a professional company behind the tour that you can speak to. When I have done free walking tours, it’s usually been with local government initiatives. Some are volunteers who want to show tourists around their city, which have been lovely to experience. I find the free tours are a good introduction to the city, but the paid tours tend to offer that much more.

  9. Karin

    I can´t remember when was the last time I took a paid tour, usually I prefer to explore on my own. But I took two free tours in my own town, one on interesting women in Bratislava and the other on protestant churches. Both were in Slovak, crowded as hell and very good.
    The tipping…I heard a good tip is the price of coffee in the place but it is an ongoing mystery!

  10. We had planned to take a free tour when in Prague. We waited near the bustling square of the Charles bridge and when the guide arrived we saw a huge crowd following him and dropped the idea. We had some information and map around the places in Prague from our research before the visit and we ended up exploring on our own. We follow the same most of times and hire a guide if we really feel like.

  11. Gareth

    A great read and an important consideration when trying to get to grips with a city like Prague. During my time there however, I actually downloaded a walking app tour of the city for a couple of Euros and while I know these things can be hit and miss, this was genuinely superb and afforded a little more independence. If you’re really wanting the creme-de-la-creme however, a paid tour really is hard to beat

  12. Ivy

    Interesting comparison of the two, thanks for listing out all the pros and cons. We’re picky about things (just about everything, haha!)… not knowing where we’ll be taken and having the possibility of a bad tour will drive us nuts. I think we’ll stick to the paid tours so we know exactly what we’re getting. Affiliated sales are a huge no-no for us!

  13. Free walking tours are a great way to see a city. Tipping is a difficult custom to learn in each new country, so it’s good to know the rules beforehand. I had always assumed you don’t tip tour guides (as you are already paying for the service), but I have since learned from some friends who are tour guides in the States that tips are expected. So you might as well do a free tour if you have to tip anyway!

  14. Abhinav Singh

    Usually when I am short of time, I take free walks. But ideally I prefer paid walks. They teach you so much more than just passing through monuments without understanding them.

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