Americans have fewer vacation days than a lot of our fellow travelers. For us, it’s even more important to capitalize on our time away and make the most of a trip. To fully experience a city and its charms, I like taking a small-group tour for a few hours. A tour offers you the chance to see the sites and experience the culture that a city is known for with minimum planning by you. Small group tours reduce the stress of travel and often offer a lot of value for the dollar.
But not all tour companies are alike. Some shuffle you around the sites in large groups. Because of the larger size, you don’t have close access to your guide and these types of tours often pack too much in one day so you miss out on really getting to learn about a place. Often sold by aggregator companies, they may be lower-priced, but don’t really offer a bang for your buck.
Which tour company is best then? There are lots of good companies out there, so I recommend looking for these specific features in a tour:
- Is small (6-15 people)—you want a small group tour so that you can easily hear the guide, interact with your fellow travelers, and get around a place easily.
- Has fun, knowledgeable, local guides with good credentials—make sure that your tour company chooses guides that know the area and have the skills to lead the tour well.
- Makes you feel connected—such as when the guide learns your name, converses with you, jokes with the group, and is interactive. You don’t want to feel like your tour group would leave you behind if you were in the bathroom when they decided to go to the next stop.
- Provides an inclusive & immersive experience—a good tour makes you feel like you are a local who is “in the know” with insider tips about a place.
- Allows enough time at a site to enjoy it—you don’t want a tour that drags you from site to site at breakneck speed; this is your vacation, after all.
- Clearly expresses pace of tour and activity level—a good tour company will let you know what to expect physically from a tour so that you can pick the fit best for you.
- Has arranged for the group to bypass lines—a diligent tour company will clear all foreseen obstacles so that you just enjoy the experience.
- Offers a focused experience—this may be themed (e.g. underground Rome or foodie Florence) or region specific (e.g. walking tour of a neighborhood) or designed around an activity (biking anyone?).
In short, the reason to take a small group tour is to have a richer experience in a city. You can connect with others and have someone take care of all the details for you. It is nice to not have to worry about reserving an entry spot online or standing in line to pick up tickets (or buy them). Your tour guide will be able to navigate any language barriers so that—at least for a few hours—you have a translator. Also, if travel from one place to another is needed, the tour will generally include transportation; I’ve found this very valuable when visiting places on the outskirts of a town that are a little more difficult to connect with via public transport. With local tour guides, you have someone to provide valuable advice about where to eat and what to do. When you think about the value for everything included, especially the knowledge of the guide, a small group tour is often worth the additional expense. I felt like I saved money with the Florence Food Tour I went on since eating individually at each of the locations we visited would have cost me more than the tour.
If you use these tips, you should be able to find the right tour for you. We have had a lot of fun on tours with the Tour Guy and can honestly recommend them. From food tours in Florence to boating in Venice to ancient sites in Rome to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, we’ve had a lot of fun with their guides. In fact, we enjoyed our time with them so much that we became an affiliate of the company and our readers can save 5% on most of their small group tours with our link. They service Paris, Rome, Vatican City, Venice, Florence, and Barcelona. Although I find their tour prices fairly reasonable, the additional savings by using our affiliate link makes them an even greater deal.
If you’ve tried a tour company that really nailed it, please leave a comment below—we’re always looking for new experiences to tell our readers about. I hope you enjoy your next vacation and that it is everything you hope it will be…and more. Happy travels!
Pics from some of our small group tours
Disclosure: Roaming Historian may derive revenue from affiliate links and other sources, which helps offset the costs of bringing you the information we do. The blogs and reviews posted on this website are of our own opinion though.