Whenever I head to a new city, I immediately do one of two things: check out the local markets, or look into a free walking tour. Yes, that’s right, I said free. Well, it’s a tour based on tips. Basically, at the end, you give what you think it was worth—or what you can afford, if you’re traveling light.
I first discovered this concept in Valparaiso, Chile. Upon arrival, my hostel provided me with a map of the city and told me I had 30 minutes to find “Waldo” in Plaza Sotomayor. Tired, but intrigued, I waltzed down the steep alleyway into the main square, and saw a small group gathered around a tall man wearing a red and white striped shirt.
In Valparaiso as well as cities like La Paz, Paris, Tokyo, and Bangkok, a local (or someone who has lived there a fair bit) takes you around the city center, gives you some history on the place, and usually provides you with a map and recommendations on what to do during your stay.
In Sydney, there seems to be several tour options, but I chose a company called “I’m Free,” based on TripAdvisor reviews. The tour was about three hours, and took us through the CBD (Central Business District), through various neighborhoods like “The Rocks,” and along the Harbour, finishing in front of the iconic Sydney Opera House. The guides were spunky, interesting, and obviously proud of their city.
Here are some highlights from my walk:
St Mary’s Cathedral in Hyde Park.
The Hyde Park Barracks.
The Sydney Hospital, also know as “The Rum Hospital,” as it was paid for with the promise of rum sale profits.
Next to the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, where the tragic hostage situation took place.
Local art exhibit, complete with the sounds of native birds.
A giant city model under a glass floor in the Customs House.
Martin Place right after Christmas.
Probably my favorite neighborhood, which I later explored on my own: The Rocks.
The famous Sydney Harbour Bridge.
And last but not least, the grand finale: The Sydney Opera House!
For more information, check out the website: http://www.imfree.com.au/. Tours take place every day at 10:30am, 2:30pm, and 6:00pm, and last between 2.5 and 3 hours. Note that you will do a lot of walking, so wear sneakers and bring sunscreen. Also plan on giving a decent tip. I gave $20, although many gave less, and a few gave more. And remember to Google “Free Walking Tour” the next time you visit a new city.