The Art of Tour Guiding is All About Storytelling

A photo of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, one of the stops on the highlights tour where I rediscovered the art of tour guiding.

As much as I love my job, sometimes I need a vacation to rest and recharge. When I started working as a tour guide, I discovered that it was usually around mid-July that I would start to feel the need for a holiday. By that point the guiding season would be well into the busy summer months, and the temperatures would usually be soaring. This year was no different, so last week I headed to Berlin for a few days. It was my first visit to this beautiful city, and therefore I had lots to explore. And what better way to explore a new city than to go on some tours? 

I ended up booking two tours with Insider Tour Berlin, and they were both worth every penny. Why? Because both of my guides were absolutely fantastic. Yes, they were extremely knowledgeable and they knew their history, but so do a lot of mediocre guides. What set these guides apart was that it seemed like they adhered to my own personal philosophy of tour guiding – It’s all about storytelling. These guides were amazing because they told us a story. Specifically, they told us the story of Berlin, and as a customer it made for an incredible day. As a fellow guide, however, it was nothing short of inspiring. Thanks to these guides, I arrived back in Paris with a newfound appreciation and excitement for the art of tour guiding. Yes, they were just that good.

My first tour was a highlights of the city tour, and our guide, Brian, just so happened to be a fellow Canadian. This earned me a hug right off the bat, and in that moment I knew it was going to be a great day. Over the course of five (yes five!) hours, Brian told us the history of Berlin across several centuries. He said in his introduction that his goal was to make us love Berlin like he did, and he was not lying. His love for that city shone through at every step. He made us laugh, and on numerous occasions he made me tear up, and by the end of the tour I was head over heels in love with Berlin. Mission accomplished.

The next day I headed across town for the Cold War tour, eager to learn more about the legacy and history of the Berlin Wall. That day’s guide, Barnaby, was fantastic as well. He was also a far braver guide than I will ever be. There were 25 people on our tour, and we spent the day hopping on and off of trains and trams, journeying all over the city to see the most important spots of Cold War era Berlin. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to keep track of so many people getting on and off public transit, and yet he didn’t even break a sweat. Moreover, he did all this while telling us the truly fascinating story of what was once a divided city. Another fantastic day of storytelling.

As a guide, I know how hard it is to make history come alive in a way that is both informative and entertaining. That’s why I believe that the art of tour guiding is all about storytelling. Yes, you have to know facts and dates, but at the end of the day, a fact is easily forgotten while a story is remembered forever. It’s not a coincidence that I named my company Story of a City instead of Tours of Paris. If you come on one of my tours I won’t just regurgitate facts at you. I will tell you a story. Hopefully I will tell you a story that will make you fall in love with Paris the same way I just fell in love with Berlin.

In the end, my trip last week included two tours, over two days, with two fantastic guides. Thank you Brian and Barnaby for the incredible tours. Thank you for your enthusiasm and your storytelling. Thank you for being proof that tour guiding is an art form, and it’s one that you have both clearly mastered. But mostly, as we head into the back half of high season, thank you for reminding me why I love my job.

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Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.