Do you already have an idea of the tour you want to create but don’t know how to structure it? In this post, we will share with you our most experienced gurus’ recommendations about how to plan your tour route the best way possible.
1. Make a list of places of interest
According to the main topic of your tour, what are the places you want to show to travelers and that are relevant to them? Do not limit yourself, write a list with everything that comes to mind and that you found searching about the topic.
To identify them, you can search for other similar tours on Google and GuruWalk and see the key places featured in their itinerary. Also, researching and reading about your topic in your city will give you more ideas about the places you can include.
Example: in Brussels, some of the most emblematic places to see are: the Atomium, Cathedral, Royal Palace, Town Hall, Grand Place, Manneken Pis, the Stock Exchange, Delirium Bar, Royal Galleries Saint Hubert, the King’s House, Monts des Arts, Royal Park, Parliament, European Parliament, Place du jeu de balle, Courthouse, the Fiftieth Anniversary Park, Royal Theater of La Monnaie, Martyrs’ Square, Central Station, the Sablon, the old defensive walls, gate of Halle, the canal, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart …
2. Highlight the 10 most important places
Among all these places you found, what are in the top 10 that travelers can’t miss while visiting your city? For example, you couldn’t do a tour of the Roman era in Rome without showing the Colosseum.
If you do a general tour, search on the Internet for the city main landmarks (TripAdvisor, blogs, …). In addition, you can ask the tourist office, since they know what travelers are most interested in according to the main topic of your tour. Moreover, check out the itinerary of other tours similar to yours.
Example in Brussels of a general city tour: Atomium, cathedral, royal palace, town hall, Grand Place, Manneken Pis, the Stock Exchange, Royal Galleries Saint Hubert, Courthouse and Mont des Arts.
3. Define the area/neighborhood for your tour
Free walking tours are attempted in small areas, where you can walk from one place to another and everything is relatively close together. Therefore, you have to figure out where the most iconic places which relate to the main topic of your tour are located.
The easiest thing to do is to find the location of each one in Google Maps. You can even create your own map on Google. To do so, click here and create your map with the 10 featured places.
You will then clearly see that you may not be able to visit some of the places as they will be too far from the other landmarks. However, if this happens with one of the most important places, don’t scrap it and try to find a way to include it.
In the case of the general city tour of Brussels, the most important places are located in the old town. We have to remove the Atomium and the Courthouse as they are located too far from the rest.
4. Define a first itinerary with the main stops
You should now have about 5-8 key locations left that will be the main sights on your tour that will be listed in your tour description to encourage travelers to join.
Having 5-8 main places is ideal for a 2h-2h30 tour, which is what a free walking tour normally lasts. At each stop, an explanation of around 10 minutes is usually made and between each place you generally walk for 2-3 minutes.
Now let’s go back to the list you created on Google Maps and try to create a tour. Put the first place and you just have to click “how to get there” and add the second, then the third etc. (If you don’t know very well how to create a route in Google, take a look at this post).
You will also have to put these places of interest in order. Do it by taking the following things into consideration:
- Minimize distances to the maximum. Travelers want to see places and hear stories and walk as little as possible! Don’t go through the same place twice!
- Think about the structure of your tour. If you do a historical tour, it’s better if you start in the oldest part. Your tour must have a coherent common thread.
- Think about a flat or downward route. This way you avoid travelers getting tired. Google Maps even puts this information on your itinerary. In the lower left corner of the map above, you can see it says “mostly flat”. If you click the down arrow, you can even see all the leveling. It’s better to start in the upper part of your city. Going down is always easier than the contrary.
The first place should be well known, as it will be your meeting point (we have a post dedicated to the meeting point here). The last place also has to impress travelers. Both have to be well-connected so that travelers can easily carry on with their visit of the city. That’s why we recommend circular routes.
So there you go, you have just created your first itinerary! It’s not perfect, and it still needs to be improved, but it has already given you an excellent idea on how to plan your tour’s route.
For example in Brussels, we have an almost circular itinerary of the 8 highlights we had on the list. We chose the Grand Place as a starting point as it is the historical heart of the city, a well-known and well-connected place and one of the oldest (which is important on a historical tour). We ended up at the Mont de Arts, which offers one of the most beautiful views of the city.
5. Add extra places and topics
On a tour, your explanations are mainly related to 2 things:
- Related to a place: what’s important here is the monument or the building. You already have an itinerary with the main ones, but let’s now go back to the first list you made to see if other places of interest are close to your itinerary: zoom in on Google Maps to see what you will find along the way and get outside and do the route yourself to explore the area and see for yourself what it’s like.
- Related to a topic: aside from the places, think about the different topics you want to cover. Your tour has a main topic, which can be divided into different sub-topics that are not always related to a particular place. For example, on a food tour, these different topics could be about the history of some dishes, the interesting ways of preparing them, special celebrations, etc. On a general city tour, you could speak about the country, an important time period, gastronomy, famous people who are from your city, … This kind of explanation fits well when you have to walk a lot between 2 places of interest.
It’s time to think carefully about the order of the different places and topics in order to create a common thread. Since you can’t change the places from where they are, think carefully about how to add explanations based on sub-topics to create a coherent structure.
In the end, for a 2h-2h30 tour, you should have about 10 stops.
For example, on the Brussels general tour, we optimized the route with these additional topics and places of interest:
1. Grand Place: here we added several places of interest that can be seen in the square.
——> The statue of Everard t’Serclaes: a landmark that is also in the Grand Place and where we explain the legend behind it.
2. Town Hall
——> Tintin Mural. On the way to the Manneken Pis, you pass a mural representing Tintin and we take the opportunity to talk about its history and the importance of comics in Belgium.
3. Manneken Pis
4. Stock exchange
——> On the way to the stock exchange, you pass by an area with restaurants, and here we take the opportunity to talk about typical Belgian food and beers. We also stop to see the “peeing girl” statue on the way and one of the most famous bars in the city.
5. Royal Galleries St Hubert
—–> As the walk to the Royal Palace is quite long, you can stop in the Royal Park to explain its history and talk about the Belgian revolution.
7. Royal Palace
—–> As the walk to point 8 is a bit long, we make an extra stop to rest and do a small quiz about famous Belgians. This is a fun and easy stop, which is perfect as you can tell travelers are already a little tired.
8. Mont des arts.
In addition, you can always mention curious and fun facts that we see on the way.
6. Try out your route to improve the itinerary
It’s very important to go outside and to try the route of your tour for yourself. Try doing it different ways, explore the area, etc. You will notice many things in real life.
- Perhaps Google showed you a route that can no longer be used or is under construction?
- Maybe some places are uncomfortable to make your explanations: lots of people, lots of traffic, …)?
- Perhaps a store along the way sells something that could help you introduce one of your topics?
- Where could you go in case of rain or if it’s very hot?
- Is your itinerary accessible to everyone: the elderly, families with baby carriages, …)?
For example, on the Brussels general tour, we optimized the tour this way:
1. Grand Place:
——> The statue of Everard t’Serclaes: It’s a protected place in case of rain.
2. Town Hall
——> Tintin mural and comics.
3. Manneken Pis: As the place is small and full of tourists, we will first give time to take photos and then explain the spot out of the crowd.
4. Stock Exchange
——> Gastronomy stop
5. Royal Galleries Saint Hubert: There are also restaurants, so in case of rain, I would rather introduce the typical food here.
—–> It has also been adapted to go through a street that goes up to avoid the stairs, although it is a bit longer.
7. Royal Palace
—–> Quiz about Belgian celebrities.
8. Mont des Arts.
—-> Travelers can sit on the stairs, to rest a little.
Now that you have more or less the itinerary of your tour ready, you have to search for information on the different places of interest and topics to create the script for your tour. We explain it in this post on our blog.