Free Walking Tours Immerse Families in Local Culture

Portugal is hot-hot-hot right now when it comes to the most popular European travel destinations, and with friendly locals who can speak English, lower-cost food and drink than most of the EU and a low-key attitude when it comes to dressing up versus those romance-language cousins like Italy and France (shorts are common!), it’s a great destination for families.

Those looking to save a few euros should check out the Tivoli and Avani hotels here, especially in capital Lisbon, where concierge-level service is taken to the next level. Instead of merely recommending places to go and what to experience, the brand welcomes guests to join its Discovery program — enrollment is free — and then they can reserve local Experience tours for free. You’ll reconsider an Airbnb stay when you see the Tivoli’s central location near Rossio Square and, when heading out in a small group on tours like a street art experience, get some context for the brightly colored masterpieces that punctuate some of the capital’s most charming corners. A Vintage Lisbon tour will take you to local shops, bookstores and patisseries like only a resident can, and you’ll get a taste of some specialties, too.

couple on walking tour

© Warrengoldswain |

At Tivoli Oriente, just a little bit further afield in the city, your feet will get some exercise and you’ll also be able to tap your toes to Fado music on a tour that introduces you and your family to this unique art form and its most famous faces. The rest of the Minor Hotel Group (including many in Asia) also has its own discovery program and tours that curate local cultural experience, but they’re not the only ones getting in on the action.

In New York City, take a bite out of the Big Apple with free tours when you stay at one of the Triumph Hotel brand’s seven properties. Each outing has a different theme depending on which location you’re staying, and you can reserve a spot in advance so the group size stays small. Best of all, you don’t have to stay at the specific hotel offering the tour if you’re at another, so you can take all of the tours if you want, offered 9:30 a.m. daily Tuesday through Saturday. In TriBeCa, explore the art and fashion near the Financial District and new Freedom Tower; in Manhattan, stroll Bryant Park, Grand Central Station and New York Public Library; and in Hell’s Kitchen, immerse yourself in the hidden gems of bustling Times Square.

Also in New York City, design-focused, economical Pod Hotels has a different free walking tour every weekday at 9:30 a.m. Check out Little Italy and Soho, the street art and Essex Market food tour, the High Line and Meatpacking District and Brooklyn and the DUMBO district.

girls on walking tour

© Olesia Bilkei |

A few hotels are historic attractions in and of themselves, and the grounds and resplendent buildings are worthy of a visit. At the Miami Biltmore, Dade Heritage Trust guides lead hour-long Sunday walking tours of this National Landmark, and the restored 1926 building is the focus of lectures on the history, architecture and culture of Coral Gables’ Grande Dame. In L.A., follow in the footsteps of Rudolph Valentino, the Prince of Wales, and Eleanor Roosevelt — or some of your favorite movie stars from Pretty in Pink, Ghostbusters and Fight Club — at the Millennium Biltmore. Sunday afternoon Beaux Arts tours are free for guests (fee for non-guests).

A bit further afield, free excursions are a walk in the park — literally — in Russia’s imperial capital at the boutique Dom Hotel, where during the summertime on Saturdays, English-speaking guides lead talks and walks through one of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Learn about the Summer Garden, Mikhaylovsky Castle, Stieglitz Academy and more, and enjoy family-friendly accommodations like a two-level triple room.