Like so many other industries, it seems like tour guides are slowly being replaced by automation. You can now download audio tours to your phone and some websites even provide step by step illustrations of historic landmarks. I still think that there is some value in physical tour guides, however, especially for some major tourist destinations. But this article doesn’t talk about them.
This article will feature 20 places where you should ditch the tour guide and just wander. The places contained in this article are a melting pot. Some of them are whole cities that you can visit without a tour guide while others are specific attractions that are best done on your own. It is also important to note that I am talking about actual, physical tour guides in this article. I have also tried to give it a global feel, so there are several countries featured here.
If you can think of any places where you don’t think that visitor need to hire a tour guide, or even somewhere you felt that a tour guide was especially helpful, feel free to mention them in the comments sections of this article.
20 The Great Wall of China
In the past 20 or so years, China has finally begun to realize its potential as a tourist destination. One of its biggest tourist attractions is the Great Wall of China, which circles most of the country.
While the Great Wall is certainly worth a visit, you do not need a tour guide to show you around. Most of the important places along the wall are marked and there are so many tour guides atop the structure that you can hear almost anything without having to pay the added cost.
19 Rome, Italy - Yep, the whole city
Most of the list will be made up of specific sites or attractions but there are whole cities that I think you can visit without getting a tour guide. For me, one of these cities is Rome, Italy.
Rome is just so steeped in culture and history that it seems like everywhere you go you are near a significant site. With so much all around you, you don't really need a guide to show you the ropes. All the big attractions are clearly marked and no matter where you are there is something to do. Sounds like a city that doesn't need a tour guide.
18 New York City, USA - Don't waste your money
I have mixed feelings about New York City as a tourist destination but one thing that I am sure of is that you don't need another thing on your list while visiting the city. The main problem that I have with New York City is it there's just so much stuff that you get sensory overload and end up sleeping half of your shift away.
Because there's so much to do and see in New York, you do not need to hire a tour guide at any point during your trip. Go see all the sites that you have ever heard about. Visit some cool restaurants and stores that you cannot find anywhere else in the world and call it a day.
17 Beijing, China
China is just now beginning its reemergence as a country onto the international stage. As such, the country does not have the tourist infrastructure that the countries in Europe and the United States have. But this doesn’t mean that a visit to mainland China isn’t worthwhile. The culture in places like Beijing is palpable and it is a once in a lifetime experience to visit there.
Since the country does not have so many traditional tourist attractions, however, there is no reason to hire a tour guide. You are much better off just roaming the city on your own and experiencing all that the capital of China has to offer.
16 Disneyland - Any of them
I was appalled when I learned that you can hire a tour guide at Disneyland. What better way to corporatize the happiest place on earth than to have little kids and families led around by a tour guide. This is just another way that Disney is trying to make additional money.
Disneyland is nothing more than an oversized theme park, what do you need a tour guide for in a theme park? One of the best things about Disneyland is you can decide what you want to do in the spur of the moment, and all a tour guide does is cost you money to take the spontaneity out of your vacation.
15 Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles is the city that you don't need a tour guide. Some of the best and most interesting stories from people who have visited there are from when they were just roaming around the city or trying to find places to eat on their own.
There're so many cool things in Los Angeles that you do not need a tour guide to take you anywhere in particular. For the more touristy things that everyone does, like visiting the Hollywood sign, you can easily find your way to them yourself. Furthermore, cooler experiences, like meeting celebrities at the famous restaurants, you really just have to leave things up to chance.
14 Yellowstone National Park, USA
There was a time where there are very few park officials to be found in Yellowstone National Park. In the late 80s and early 90s, however, park officials began to realize that having a handful of Rangers scattered throughout the park to answer questions and show visitors around was just good business. It seems like now they have overdone things, since you can actually hire guides to show you some of Yellowstone’s best attractions.
While there are certainly some spots that you cannot miss while visiting Yellowstone, I think that you are much better off finding your own way around the park.
13 The Catacombs in Paris, France
There are some places where a tour guide will not hurt your experience, it just won’t add very much to it either. Things are different in the catacombs under Paris. For me, the most interesting thing about these Catacombs is their spookiness. These Catacombs are huge and there is something about being underground that inspires fear.
Being with a huge tour group takes all of this away. You are much better off roaming the Catacombs on your own, or with a small group of friends. Just make sure that you don’t go into any restricted sections, as the city cannot guarantee your safety there and several people have gotten lost in unmarked mazes.
12 Stonehenge, England - How can they explain what they don't know?
Stonehenge could be grouped with several other entries on this list because the tour guides who would show you around this landmark can’t really tell you more than you could find in a quick internet search.
The fact is that we still don’t know very much about the Stonehenge formation. There are several theories, of course, but no definitive answer of who put these stones here and for what reason. Therefore, there is limited information that a tour guide can provide you.
Stonehenge is certainly worth visiting but maybe take the time to learn its background before you arrive.
11 Salem, Massachusetts - Witch county
You have to hand it to Salem, Massachusetts. This small town in northern Massachusetts has taken the ugliest chapter in its history and made it a legitimate tourist attraction.
Because this part of the state was home to the most infamous series of witch trials in history, there are several museums and tours within the town that focus on witches and witchcraft.
The problem with these tours is that they are all pretty much the same. There hasn't been any new revelations about the Salem Witch Trials in decades. Therefore, you are much better off exploring Salem on your own, especially if you are visiting close to Halloween.
10 The Freedom Trail, Boston, Massachusetts
One of the worst things about hiring a tour guide is that you cannot abandon the tour if you aren't into it. For starters, you have probably already paid some money for the tour, so you would lose that. In addition, it's pretty rude to leave a tour before it officially ends and there is always the chance that the tour guide calls you out as you are trying to exit.
It is for these reasons that I do not think that you should hire a tour guide to check out Boston's Freedom Trail. I think of the Freedom Trail is pretty cool, but I know a lot of people who didn't like it.
9 New Orleans, USA - The Big Easy is best explored on foot
I'm not saying that the various tours in New Orleans are bad, what I am saying is that New Orleans is cool and interesting that you shouldn't waste your time on a directed tour.
Even the best tours can only cover so much ground and you will always be slowed down by the rest of the people in your tour group. You are much better off just finding a hotel in the center of the city and finding your own way to the city's hotspots. I'm sure that you will meet some interesting people along the way.
8 Puget Sound, Washington, USA - Let nature do its thing
Puget Sound in Washington State is one of the few natural wonders that have not been completely corporatized. The Sound is so beautiful and the last thing that I want to see is a bunch of tour groups trouncing around the lake and accompanying woods.
One of the best things about the Sound is that it is so isolated and you can spend time there without running into large groups of people. Don't be the person that brings a company of tour guides into the area. If you really need guided stimulation, there are several stands that offer kayak and canoe rentals.
7 The Pyramids of Egypt
As a history buff, I hate to admit that there are certain historical artifacts whose stories behind them are absolutely boring. These artifacts are cool and significant only because of their size or outward appearance. The pyramids in Egypt are a perfect example.
Tour guides around the pyramids are a dime a dozen but I don't know if you want to spend an afternoon listening to stories about the great pyramids. The fact is that a lot of the history behind the pyramids is still unknown, so a lot of what you will be hearing is merely conjecture or stories that you've already heard 1000 times through grade school.
6 Jamaica - Just enjoy the beaches!
I recently took a cruise that stopped in Jamaica and I was shocked to see how many people from our ship had tour guides waiting for them when they docked. Jamaica is a very cool island but you do not need a tour guide to show you around there.
For starters, the majority of your time in Jamaica should be spent on the beach and you don't need a tour guide for something like that. In addition, the handful of attractions in the island's interior can easily be reached by car or bus and are so well advertised that you should be able to find them easily.
5 Dublin, Ireland - Set off on foot
I actually found that having a tour guide was very helpful when I was touring Ireland. You can drive to places like the Blarney Stone and Cork County but it is a much more enjoyable experience if your driver can tell you about the cultural and historic points along the way. One part of Ireland where you do not need a tour guide, however, is in the capital city of Dublin.
There are a handful of specific attractions in the city that everyone should visit but for the most part, getting the most out of Dublin involves just roaming around and visiting various pubs and restaurants.
4 Rio de Janeiro Harbor, Brazil
There are some places that you will visit that do not have specific attractions but are still very worthwhile as a vacation destination. Rio de Janeiro Harbor, in the capital city of Brazil, is one of these places. Rio Harbor is a business harbor, so it was not designed to attract tourists. The surrounding landscape is so beautiful, however, and the people who live in downtown Rio are so fun and unique that the harbor has become a popular vacation destination.
But this isn’t the kind of place that you need a tour guide to visit, you are better off just walking around and going towards the things that interest you.
3 Mount Everest - Don't give in to commercialization
This next entry is a little nontraditional, merely because most people will never visit Mount Everest in their lifetime. It is worth noting, however, that an influx of guided tours have begun to ruin the experience of climbing the tallest peak in the world. Due to technological advances, it is now possible to buy your way to the top of Mount Everest.
Without any climbing experience (or in many instances, physical ability) people will pay guides to literally and figuratively carry them up the mountain. This isn’t what our forebears envisioned climbing Everest would be like.
2 Beach Towns (like, all of them)
I feel like tourists should be adaptable when they visit a new city. If that city is known for its fine cuisine, you should spend a lot of your trip eating. But if that city is known for its many attractions and historic sites, you'll spend a lot of your trip visiting these places. It is for this reason that I cannot understand why people take tours when they visit beach towns.
A good deal of your time should be spent at the beach, otherwise, why did you decide to come here?
1 Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
I considered whether to include Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on this list really because I don't think that there are a ton of people, outside of history nerds, visit the historic site. After looking at the numbers towards her visit Gettysburg every year, however, I decided that I was very wrong. Gettysburg is one of the most popular historic sites in the entire United States, and tens of thousands of tourists come in the small town every year.
There are a ton of tour guide companies to show you around and show you important battle sites, but that's not the best plan of attack for Gettysburg.