Europe Tours: Tips for Creating the Perfect Family Travel Itinerary


Hitting all the must-see sights while learning historical facts from Europe tours doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. Booking an affordable European family vacation is as easy as varying the type of tours you take.

Europe Tours

This post, part five in a series on how to plan the perfect European family vacation, shares the ins and outs of Europe tours. From group and private to self-guided audio and walking tours, we've got you covered. Check out the other posts in this series for information including a packing list, lodging recommendations, car rental benefits and 10 things to know before you rent, planning your vacation on a budget, how to get around Europe with a family , and must see places in a variety of European locations.

4 Different Types and Benefits of Guided Europe Tours

Not all guided Europe Tours are created equal. Check out these differences among the various tour types:

Group Europe Tours

Europe Tours The guided group tours we went on in Europe included anywhere from 10 to 40 people. Depending on the attraction or sight we were visiting, they included transportation, meal(s), and/or a snack. Tour guides have a great knowledge about the area(s) you visit, including the sight itself as well as the historical, cultural, and religious background. Booking a group tour in advance, especially during the peak travel season, is a great idea and one that often results in saving you time and money when in country.

The benefits of group Europe tours:

  • A guided group tour typically costs much less than private guided tours.
  • Your tour guide often has permission to skip long lines, getting you into the sight much faster than if you had gone at it on your own.
  • If included, it saves you from having to figure out transportation and meals during the tour. Additionally, the cost for both is typically factored in and included in the total cost.
  • You will leave knowledgeable on the historical, cultural, and religious facts associated with the place you are visiting without having to do your own research.

The downsides of group Europe tours:

  • Guided group tours can take longer than private Europe tours as there are far more people to get from place to place.
  • You can sometimes end up waiting for group members to gather at each location, which costs you time in seeing the sights.
  • You cannot go at your own pace.
  • Even though tour guides wear microphones, they can sometimes be hard to hear, especially if you visit a sight during peak season or a busy time.

Places we loved our group tours:

  • Morocco. Rick Steves suggested a group tour in Tangier and we were glad we took him up on it. Because it was off-peak season, there was only one other couple in addition to our family in the tour. Abi, our guide, really made the entire trip for us. Everyone seemed to know him and we felt at home everywhere we went.
  • Palatine Hill, Rome. Fi (short for Fiona) was the human version of Tigger. Her energy and former school teacher knowledge got us very excited about history. My 13-year-old son said if all of his teachers were like her, he would never want to miss a minute of school.

Private Europe Tours

Europe Tours Private tours are similar to group tours in that you have a guide who takes you around and shares the historical, cultural, and religious facts about the attraction you're seeing. The main difference is that no other tourists join you for your tour. It's just your family and the guide.

The benefits of private Europe tours:

  • Private tours can go much more quickly than group tours. This option is especially appealing when a family member isn't feeling well or should you desire less time at a particular attraction.
  • You have the option to go at your own pace.
  • You don't have to wait for the group to gather.
  • It isn't difficult to hear as there are very few of you.

It also shares these benefits with group tours:

  • Your tour guide often has permission to skip long lines, getting you into the sight much faster than if you had gone at it on your own.
  • If included, it saves you from having to figure out transportation and meals during the tour.
  • You will leave knowledgeable on the historical, cultural, and religious facts associated with the place you are visiting without having to do your own research.

In my opinion, the only possible downsides of private Europe tours:

  • Private tours can be the least affordable option of all Europe tour choices.
  • You also risk not getting a guide you like. But, then again, that would be true with every guided tour you went on.

Places we loved our private guided Europe tours:

  • Rome—walking. Annie from Scooter Roma Tours greeted us only 30 minutes after we arrived in Rome and took us on a 3-hour walking orientation tour of the city. She has a big midwest personality (she's from Minnesota), but fits right in as if she were a native. Getting acquainted with our surroundings made us feel at home at the very beginning of our stay in Italy. Annie provided us with business cards for local grocery stores, restaurants, and pizza by the slice joints. She took family pics for us (like this one above of us throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain). She also treated us to gelato and made dinner reservations for us that night, dropping us off at the restaurant on her way home.
  • Europe Tours Rome—on Scooters. Giovanni, also from Scooter Roma Tours, gave our family the thrill of a lifetime as he and three drivers on his team scooted us inside and outside of Rome's city walls on day 2 of our visit. One of the drivers served as our private guide, sharing via iPad Rome's most important historical details. The phrase "When in Rome do as the Romans" never had such meaning as when we were in Rome, driving on vintage Vespas and listening to men with thick Italian accents, sharing their love of the eternal city.
  • The Vatican. Annie also arranged a last-minute private guide for us so we could skip the long lines at the Vatican and it was worth every cent. We visited the Vatican on our last day in Rome in the middle of a hail storm during Holy Week. We appreciated our guide shaving an hour off the typical 3-hour tour without having us feel like we missed out on too much.

One place we wish we would have had a private tour:

  • Pompeii. We opted for a self-guided audio tour instead of a guided tour, but found the surrounding difficult to navigate. In hindsight, we would have stayed 3 instead of 2 hours there and we definitely would have signed up for a tour. Next time!

Self-Guided Audio Tours

Self-guided audio tours do not require a tour guide. Instead, they rely on you listening to a recording on a gadget similar to a phone or wearing a head set. You have the freedom to go at your own pace, learning as much or as little about each sight as you'd like.

The benefits of self-guided audio Europe tours:

  • Aside from self-guided walking tours, self-guided audio tours cost the least of all tour options.
  • You get all the historical, cultural, and religious facts you would get on a guided tour with the freedom to listen and move about at your own pace.

The downsides of private Europe tours:

  • Self-guided audio tours can create some distance between you and other family members.
  • If you are playing tour guide and trying to listen and then convey the information to your other, especially younger family members, it can be time consuming.
  • Younger family members may have a difficult time paying attention to the audio tours.

My favorite places to do self-guided audio tours:

  • On hop-on, hop-off type bus tours
  • In museums
  • In cathedrals

Self-Guided Walking Tours

Europe Tours Self-guided walking tours in Europe are awesome. Rick Steves, in particular, is the king of detailing step-by-step instructions for how to be your own tour guide.

The benefits of self-guided walking Europe tours:

  • You can go where you want, when you want, and consume as much information as you want (most often done by reading ahead of time or on stops along your self-guided walking tour).
  • Your family explores and discovers together.
  • You give your kids unstructured time in Europe to create experiences on their own.
  • As a family, you create unique moments together that will forever be your own.
  • You may discover some amazing, off-the-beaten path type of finds, including restaurants, shops, and more.
  • Self-guided walking tours are the least expensive touring option and perfect for a family looking for an affordable European vacation.

The downsides of private Europe tours:

  • Self-guided walking tours require a higher degree of confidence as you're relying on yourselves and a book and not a tour guide to get you from place to place.
  • If you don't love standing in long lines at attractions and you are including sight seeing at some of the popular sights as part of your self-guided walking tour, you forego the benefit of being able to skip the lines if you were with a licensed guide.
  • You may not learn as much about the places you visit.

Places I loved exploring via self-guided walking tours:

  • Toledo. Getting "lost" in Toledo was one of my favorite European adventures. Not having to be anywhere at a specific time helped us shape our day there, adding just the right elements to make it a perfect day trip from Madrid.
  • Gibraltar. Rick Steves instructions for how to get there, what to do, and how to get to the top of the Rock were spot on. Our half day trip there from Spain was much more fun sans tour guide.
  • Rome. Again, Rick Steves made our walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto in Rome all I had envisioned it to be. Having the freedom to explore and stop and ponder along the way was worth its weight in gold.
  • Harlem. My only complaint about Harlem in the Netherlands was not being able to spend more time there. Our family loved discovering this quaint town.

Regardless how you discover a city, see the sights, or approach the variety of attractions Europe has to offer, your family will benefit from a diverse mix of Europe tours to round out its travel itinerary.

What type of tours does your family prefer: group, private, self-guided audio tours, or self-guided walking tours? What tips do you have for creating the perfect family travel itinerary complete with Europe tours?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.

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