Ever wondered why we tour cities? Where this practice originated?
The idea of going to a foreign city and visiting its landmarks, trying its cuisine and interacting with its people seems natural nowadays. It is a key part of our globalized world and regular cultural exchanged amongst peoples and nations. But, why?
Tourism as a practice has been with us for centuries, but only recently has become so widespread. It probably developed from our curiosity and want for new and different things. But in older times it was limited to a few rich individuals around the world. We can see evidence of leisure travel as far as 1500 BCE and our best testimonies of “tourism” around the world come from travel literature, like Marco Polo’s account.
This is because most people spent their whole lives in and few kilometers around where they were born. Other than the wealthy, it was often soldiers who got the chance to visit faraway lands. And, some of the first to bring home souvenirs.
But religious pilgrims were probably much like tourists today. Temples, churches and other religious structures and sites – including the resting places for some relics – are still a key ingredient in tours. And holy cities are still a huge source of local and international tourism. Despite traveling mainly for spiritual and religious reasons, they did get the chance to sightsee, try the local cuisine and exchange ideas and practices.
But you can argue they were not traveling for leisure.
Leisure travel as we know it today can really be traced to the United Kingdom during their Industrial Revolution. The bustling industrial middle class on the rise became the clients of the very first travel agencies. These leisure trips were mostly to France and other European countries, but soon the Empire took advantage of its size and reach to send their citizens all around the globe.
Gran Tours, somewhat like modern tours, were also made by young wealthy European men when they came of age as part of their education in the 17th and 18th centuries. These were more educational and cultural, often undertaken to learn a new language. But, again, only a very limited part of the population had access to the resources demanded by what would now be very cumbersome traveling.
Fortunately, jumbo airplanes, low-cost airlines, airports, and infrastructure developments in the later half of the 20th century allowed more people to travel around. And now we have all kind of tourism: ecotourism, sustainable tourism, culinary tourism, sports tourism, etc. Every type.
And among the types of tourism available nowadays one kind of tour format that has become quite popular: free walking tours. A favorite here in Gran Colombia Tours.
These types are an invention of the early 2000s. Grounded in “traditional” guided walking tours, but less formal, these opt for either a tip or pay-what-you-want system, making them more accessible and popular among travelers. Especially traveling students.
The tours also often weave dramatic narratives into local history, making for a more accessible learning experience than your usual fact-shower tours. This makes the experience more interesting and less bookish, fleshing out local histories with additional entertainment value.
This approach to tourism soon spread from Europe to all over the world, especially in the big cities. The biggest cities might seem like an unlikely host for walking tours, but it is not uncommon for landmarks, museums and other attractions to be close to one another in the city centers and downtown areas. And the modern ease of public transportation can also make for a more well-rounded city tour experience.
Don’t know if free tours are your thing? You can try one with us. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.