Coach tours are a popular way to see Europe whether it’s your first visit or a subsequent trip. With so many different types of coach tours available, how do you decide which is the right one for you?
The main advantage of joining an escorted tour is that everything is organised for you. All your accommodation, transport and some meals and sightseeing, are arranged for you. All you have to do is make sure you and your suitcase are on the coach at the designated time each morning and you’re whisked from one exciting location to another.
[This post may contain compensated links. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.]
Apart from the size of the vehicle you’ll be travelling on, what are the differences between taking a ‘regular’ tour or opting for a small group tour? Let me explain ….
Tours with the ‘big name’ brands
Generally speaking, long-established companies like Globus, Cosmos, Insight, Trafalgar, Scenic, APT and CIE provide fully-escorted tours on large coaches, mostly taking around 45 passengers. The number of itineraries on offer is huge with durations ranging from less than a week to six- or eight-week tours.
Itineraries mostly visit multiple countries, often starting and finishing in London, but a number of companies also offer single-country and regional itineraries. Most tours spend a maximum of two nights in any one location. (Read about my Trafalgar tour of Switzerland here.)
These tours often appeal to the first time visitor to Europe, the UK or Ireland who wants to see a lot of destinations in a limited amount of time.
Small group tours
Mainly focussing on one specific country or region, small group tours offer a more intimate look at the destinations visited.
With group sizes usually no bigger than twelve, small group tours are often organised and escorted by the company owner who has either lived in the area you are visiting, or has an extensive local knowledge.
Itineraries tend to be mostly around seven to ten days in duration but some tours are as long as a month and most tours start locally.
A huge range of special interest small group tours to Europe are also available with a focus on walking, cycling, food and wine, art and language and gardens. There are also a number of companies that offer women-only tours.
Small group tours are popular with travellers who have visited Europe previously and are returning to spend more time in a specific region, as well as those who have a particular interest such as Italian food and wine.
These tours often stay in one location for an extended duration, sometimes the same location/accommodation for the entire tour.
Not really a category as such, I think it’s worth mentioning that there are a couple of tour companies who sit in the middle based on passenger numbers.
Albatross Tours, for example, limit their tours to 28 passengers (Christmas and ANZAC tours take up to 40 passengers), whilst Bunnik Tours now take a maximum of 20 passengers per tour.
An escorted tour of Europe may suit you best if:
- You aren’t confident driving or travelling independently in a foreign country
- You prefer to have your transport, accommodation and sightseeing arranged for you
- You like to travel in a group and meet other travellers
- You prefer to have the majority of your travel costs paid upfront
Things to consider before booking your European coach tour:
- It goes without saying that you should check the tour inclusions to see what meals and sightseeing are included in the tour price but be even more particular and check that all the places you want to visit are included in the itinerary. Some companies promote the fact that you will ‘see’ XYZ but that can mean you just drive past it or stop outside without actually going in. If you specifically want to visit a particular monument or town, make sure you know in advance if it’s actually included in your itinerary (and tour price) or if there is free time allowed so you can arrange your own visit.
- Check in advance what the pace of the tour will be. If you’ve opted for a fourteen day tour which visits seven countries, chances are your tour is going to involve lots of early morning starts and quite a bit of time spent onboard the coach. As long as you know this in advance, you will be prepared for it.
- Likewise, if you’re interested in booking a walking or cycling tour, make sure you’re aware of the distance you’ll be expected to walk or cycle each day.
- Find out if gratuities (tips) are included in your tour price. It is standard practice in Europe to tip tour guides, tour directors and coach drivers. Small group tour companies generally include this in the tour price (and pay all the service providers on your behalf). Other companies offer the choice to pay the gratuity (which is a specified amount based on the individual tour) when paying for your tour, or you can choose to pay the coach driver and tour director yourself at the end of the tour. A recommended daily amount is suggested, in this instance. If you’re at all nervous about tipping, I’d recommend paying your gratuities here in Australia before travelling.