Posted: 11/13/23 | November 13th, 2023
I love walking tours. The first thing I do when I arrive somewhere is take a walking tour. It’s a great way to get the feel of a new place, see the main sights, and adjust to the local culture. You also get to meet a local expert guide who can answer your questions and give you tips on other spots to check out (I always ask for recommendations for places to eat, for example). But sometimes the dates and times that walking tours are offered don’t line up with my schedule, especially if I’m only in a place for a few days or if I’m visiting when there is a local holiday. I also like to be spontaneous, and often tours are already filled up for the day or don’t allow last-minute registrations. Plus, I really like going at my own pace when exploring a city, and I don’t always feel like being tied to a tour for three hours. In the past, this meant I was just out of luck. But today, there’s another option available: self-guided audio tours. With the prevalence of smartphones, it’s now possible to access guided walking tours from your mobile device, giving you tons of freedom when it comes to taking a walking tour. I’ve taken audio tours around the world, and they can really run the gamut in terms of quality. Around aims to take the guesswork out of finding quality audio tours by vetting local guides and compiling tours from cities around the world in one place. In this review of Around, I’ll share everything you need to know about using this new tour marketplace!
What is Around?
Around is a platform where travelers can find and take self-guided audio walking tours in major cities around the world. Around vets local experts who create and list tours on the website, so you always know that you’re getting a quality tour guide. (Around does not run tours themselves; they rely on local experts.) Tours generally last 60-90 minutes, though there are longer ones (such as Full Immersion Verona) lasting upwards of 180 minutes. Keep in mind that the estimated times do not take into account how many times you stop and start (and they certainly don’t account for that delicious pastry break!). Since tours on Around are created by local experts, there’s a mixture of detailed tours on a particular topic (such as the 19th Century Skyscrapers Tour of Chicago, led by a professional Chicago tour guide who specializes in architecture and design) as well as general overview tours geared towards first-time visitors (like the Berlin Highlights Tour). Tours are mainly offered in English, though there are some tours in Spanish and Italian, with the intent of adding more languages soon.
How Does Around Work?
All you need to take an Around walking tour is a smartphone with GPS enabled and an internet connection (no need to download a new app). Rather than the traditional tour model where you pay per tour, with Around, you purchase an all-access pass which lets you take as many tours as you want within a period of time, from 24 hours to 14 days. This is a great value when you consider that taking one walking tour is normally around $5-20 USD, and for most cities on Around, there are at least three tours currently offered. If you’re visiting a place for a weekend, the three-day pass is perfect, as you can take all the tours you want for just $14.99 USD. Purchases on Around can be made in five main currencies (USD, EUR, GBP, CAD, AUD) to avoid exchange rate fees. If you’re more of a slow traveler and staying somewhere longer, or are visiting a few different cities on one trip, there are one-week and two-week passes too. Once you purchase a pass, you’ll unlock all Around’s available tours for that period of time.
As the company started in Italy, you’ll see the most cities represented there: You’ll also find tours in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and throughout Europe, with new cities being added all the time. In fact, since I started writing this post, new cities have been added! On each tour page, you’ll see helpful information including the duration, recommended starting point, information about the expert guide, a map of the stops, and a short description of what the tour is about: I really like how you can listen to a 30-second preview of the tour. That way, you can quickly get a feel for the guide before you decide to embark on a longer audio adventure with them. Each tour page also displays some of the highlights in visual form, which is super helpful for knowing whether the tour covers main city landmarks that you might not want to miss: While tours all come with a recommended starting point, you can start at any location on the tour. Upon starting, you’ll follow the route, guided by your map and the voice of your guide. Once you reach an appointed stop on the tour, an orange button pops up. Hit the button to listen to the guide’s expertise at the stop. You can pause and replay each stop as many times as you like, which is handy in busy cities that might be loud or otherwise distracting. In fact, while you’re in the city where the tour takes place, you can play each stop’s audio whenever you like. This is not only helpful if you’re using an older device that might struggle with precise GPS (so it might not recognize if you’re standing at an audio stop), but if you didn’t have time to finish the tour while walking around, you can still learn the information while relaxing in your hotel or hostel later. And as long as your access pass remains valid, you can take the whole tour again if you really want to!
Pros of Using Around
Around takes the guesswork out of finding quality audio walking tours, and there’s a lot to like about this newcomer on the tour company scene. I especially liked how, with Around, you can:
- Take expertly guided walking tours at any hour of the day
- Stop, start, replay, and come back to tours on a truly self-paced tour experience
- Enjoy as many tours as you want for one price, with their unlimited access pass
Cons of Using Around
Around is still in development, meaning that they’re still working out the kinks. While they’re off to a great start, here are some places I’d love to see them improve upon:
- More cities offered (which is something they’re actively working on)
- Downloadable tours as you currently need an internet connection to take tours, which is something you may not have when you’re traveling
- Short bios of the guides to highlight their background and expertise (most are professionally licensed guides)
Around is a cool, affordable platform with lots of potential. While there are a lot of companies offering walking tours these days, there still isn’t a lot of focus on audio tours. It’d be great to have a go-to place to find curated expert-led audio tours around the world. I’m looking forward to seeing them flesh out some of the features and add more cities too. If you’re somewhere that Around offers tours, definitely check them out!
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites