Audio vs Organized Tours
I am not a big fan of organized tours. Don't get me wrong, I have been on some pretty good ones. But when you travel with kids the dynamics change.
We have three kids and they are very inquisitive and curious. There is very little chance that a tour guide will thoroughly answer their questions when there are 25 other tourists vying for the same attention. For this reason, we do a lot of self-guided tours.
The advantages of self-guided tours are many:
-We can control our own schedule so we don't have to get up at oh-dark-hundred to go to a meeting point to be picked up and taken somewhere where we then sit and wait for more people. Instead we go at our own pace and take public transportation to wherever the tour starts. That in and of itself becomes part of the tour, part of the experience- especially if we get lost!
-We can skip the boring parts! I usually preview audio tours and get a feel for the amount of information it gives. There are certain obscure people whose statues we don't really need to know about or certain wars in history that the kids have not covered yet. We gladly fast forward and move on to the next thing. Being selective makes the kids more receptive.
-We can stop when we are hungry. This is key. We will stop at coffee shops and refuel, take a break and then continue. Also, we can stop if it rains or on some occasions, we have stopped to play in a park or do some shopping. It really gives you freedom of movement.
-Most importantly, we can stop for questions. This is key in keeping an engaged audience.
Listening to a St Mark’s Square audioguide
It took us a bit to get used to this. We all load the tours on our own electronic devices and just start at the same time. You just need to make sure everyone is on the same page or you will have kids walking in all different directions!
We have done audio or self guided tours in London, Paris, Nuremberg, Florence, Rome, Venice, Montreux, and Geneva to name a few. Rick Steves is a great resource for audio tours, and there are apps like Triposo that allow you to put your own walking tour together.
However there are times when organized tours are unavoidable or a good idea:
-If the places you want to go are not easily accessible (like Stonehenge in Britain, we don't drive in the UK)
-You have a limited amount of time and want to get to see as much as possible
-Some of the sights are in areas where personal security might be an issue
-You are not comfortable communicating in the local language
-Access is only granted as part of a tour
There is however, one tour we usually book. The hop on hop off bus. The quality of information and audio varies widley from city to city and tour company to tour company. The value it provides is giving you the lay of the land, you become aquianted with the city and get to see it from a vantage point that public transportation or walking won't allow you to. It also gives you an idea of how long it will take you to get from point A to point B, how big the crowds are and a general feel for the different areas of the city.
Our trips usually end up with a combination of both types of tours, but given the option, we go for audio/self guided tours. We love the flexibility and did I mention? Most of them are free!