In many cities, guided city tours are organized by professionals, companies and local organizations for those wanting to explore the city with professional guidance.
Travel agencies provide multi-stop guided journeys, including transportation and accommodation. This article describes day tours within a destination.
There are many different types of tours throughout the world. Tours can be valuable in destinations that are particularly difficult to navigate (like Fez), where a lot of interesting information is not obvious to a casual visitor (like Pompeii), or where walking down the wrong street can be dangerous (like La Boca in Buenos Aires). When deciding on a tour, think about the layout of the destination—a walking tour might be better in an old, compact city with many pedestrian-only streets, whereas a boat tour might be the way to go in a city of canals. Hotels and hostels often have information about available tours.
If you spend more than a day at a destination, a tour is usually a good starter activity, for several reasons. It provides a sense of orientation, an overview of attractions to see later, and a chance to find travel companions (especially when travelling alone).
Large cities and well-visited destinations usually have many competing tour services. They might have tours to different districts, on specific themes.
The busiest destinations might have a tour at several times during the day. Consider which of these times which would have the most comfortable weather (avoiding noontime heat, or darkness after sunset) and least traffic congestion.
The most straightforward type of guided tour is a walking tour, where a guide leads their patrons through the city on foot. As there are no significant costs incurred but the time of the guide, there are many cities where companies offer guides the city around for free, e.g. as part of the Global Greeter Network. For companies that advertise walking tours as "free" however, the expectation is that at the end of the tour, patrons tip the guide whatever the patrons thought the value of the tour was to them.
Some tour operators use a free tour as a sales pitch for paid tours and events, often providing discounts.
Walking tours often have several options and themes depending on the city and company. One of the options includes a general city tour where the focus tends to be on the core historical spots of the city. The other walking tour options explore certain themes in more depth and may be arranged around specific historical periods the city has faced, horror stories, pub crawls, all of which depends on the company.
Larger cities can also be toured by bus or coach, usually involving stops for walking tours of selected areas. A more recent development that gained much popularity is the hop-on / hop-off bus tour, where buses run along a fixed route and stop at fixed points at given hours, and patrons can choose to get on or get off the bus at any stop at their whim, at a fixed price.
Another option is to make use of local public buses – circle lines are particularly good for that – which "just so happen" to stop at local landmarks. While you won't get a running commentary and the buses won't be open top, the price for a tour will be much lower.
Bus and streetcar tours can be an alternative to regular public transportation. They are however sensitive to traffic congestion around rush hours and major events.
Some cities with extensive above-ground public transportation systems offer city tours, sometimes in historic rolling stock. Those tours tend to be available for special events only and the vehicle is often as much part of the attraction as the tour. One obvious downside is the fact that the tour is limited to where tracks go.
Urban rail adventures include public transportation systems which are an attraction in their own right.
Personal vehicle tours
For those who don't like walking, in many cities tours are organized using personal electric vehicles such as bicycles or Segways; see urban cycling.
Popular in canal cities and in areas with important rivers and lakes. They vary from chartered boat tours where you're just in a small group to larger groups with 20 people or so. An expanded version of boat tours are cruises, sometimes with thousands of people on one boat.