9 reasons why I always do this type of tour when I visit a new city

You have just arrived in a new city. Where do you start your adventure? How famous is this place? And, above all, where is the best food? Usually, when we travel, we are only in a place for a short time and want to make the most of every minute. Before I fly to a new place, I plan a food tour right after I arrive.

When I can’t find a food tour that fits my schedule, I’ll come up with a plan to find foods based on a theme. Where to find the best waterfront restaurants on Cape Cod or the best places to eat along the Ruta del Lechon in central Puerto Rico are good examples of going out and exploring a destination through a food lens.

Traveling is living an experience and immersing yourself in the culinary culture of a region. Following a local guide is the best way to explore an exciting new place. Here’s why taking a food tour is a must in a new city.

Note: Some information in this article was obtained through a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.

Street Corn Salad and Taco from The Mission in Scottsdale, Arizona

Photo credit: Sandi Barrett

1. You taste incredible dishes

Guided food tours bring local cuisine to life. They will take you to a selection of restaurants where you will taste small bites of a wide variety of dishes. It’s like having a progressive meal – a bite here and a bite there.

Great food tours will introduce you to the exciting food offered in their region. For example, street corn salad at The Mission restaurant in Scottsdale is a delicious take on classic Mexican street corn. This incredible bite of food – sweet corn, salty cheese and creamy dressing – tastes so good. Many regional traditions and flavors come to life in this dish.

This touring experience was through Arizona Food Tours.

rooster walking on astroturf in restaurant

A rooster struts through Old’s Havana in Miami, Florida

Photo credit: Sandi Barrett

2. They explore the local culture

In Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, the roosters run wild – you could say they rule the roost! In Cuban culture, the rooster represents strength and power. They roam the Little Havana neighborhood as they would the residents’ hometowns in Cuba.

Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina serves a classic mojito with candy cane stalks. Their slow-roasted pork, Swiss cheese, and pickle Cubano on hot, pressed Cuban bread is a slice of gooey delight. The 1950s-inspired tropical decor punctuated with a rogue hen or rooster sets the stage for a culturally immersive meal.

This touring experience was through Miami Culinary Tours.

3. They expand your comfort zone

Our guide, Georgia, said, “Let’s take a walk through the fish market. My first instinct was no thank you. She assured me it didn’t smell at all, and she was so right. Local food safety requirements keep the fish market clean and fresh. We even sat down and enjoyed a snack right in the market. I have wandered into many fish markets where the smell of fish was so overwhelming I had to leave. Trust your guide – you may discover a new perspective.

The Athens food market is huge – exponentially bigger than your local farmers market. You could easily spend an hour or more wandering through all the different sections. At every turn, you’re assailed by a riot of color, spicy aromas and beautiful presentations. The vendors are pleasant and helpful and many speak enough English to complete a transaction.

This tour experience was through Athens Walking Tours.

4. You could learn cooking techniques

When you learn how to create a culturally rich dish, you get a new perspective of a region or country. Exploring the history of food by making it with the guidance of a true artisan helps you capture the soul of a dish. At Agriturismo Il Mandoleto I took a pasta making course – I was amazed at how easy it was to make delicious pasta by hand. We made pasta without a machine, just rolling the dough with a wooden rolling pin.

Our instructor, a nonna who has been in the past for many years, walked us through how to hand mix flour, egg and water and knead it to the right consistency. After rolling out our beautiful dough, we practiced cutting and forming shapes. Simple foods like homemade pasta immediately take you back to a treasured adventure.

This tour experience was through Oceania Cruises.

beers on a table

Beer class at Lokál in Prague, Czechia

Photo credit: Sandi Barrett

5. They can introduce you to the bar scene

The local culture of bars and cafés offers visitors an interesting insight into the daily life of the inhabitants of the city. In Prague, especially in neighborhood bars like Lokál, you will find groups of friends enjoying the quintessential Czech beer – Pilsner Urquell.

After a long day, tables full of co-workers and friends come together for a few hours of sharing stories, food and good beer. The lager has only an alcohol content of 4.4%, which makes it very drinkable during a long evening of pub fun.

Researching the bar scene can be a lot of fun. You might want to try joining the locals on your next trip.

This tour experience was through A Taste of Prague Food Tours.

man sipping wine from barrel

Wine tasting in Etyek, Budapest

Photo credit: Sandi Barrett

6. You can enjoy a good wine

Wine tastings usually involve fabulous local wines and delicious bites – two of my favorite things. The excellent winemakers in the Etyek-Buda wine region were a surprise to me. Tasting wine in a newly built tasting room is nice, but when you can taste in a winemaker’s cellar, it’s an experience.

We were treated to a tasting straight from the fermentation barrel. Our small group crammed into the underground stone cellar where the winemaker used a “wine thief” to extract glasses of aging red wine from his barrel. Our experience was followed by a glass of an aged vintage of the same wine. It was interesting to taste the unique journey that grapes take to become a great wine.

This tour experience took place through Avalon Waterways.

coffee shot from above in a takeaway cup

Cafe de Cuatro Sombras in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Photo credit: Sandi Barrett

7. History Lessons

So many times, the foundations of a culture lie in history. Food tours partner with local businesses and bring local history to the tour seamlessly. Puerto Rican coffee is a good example. They have been growing rich, flavorful coffee beans since the late 18e century. The demand for Puerto Rican coffee in Europe, known for its chocolate notes, helped elevate the island’s agricultural economy.

Central Puerto Rico has a coffee culture based on high-quality coffee grown on the rich volcanic slopes of the island’s interior farmlands. Cuatro Sombras farm-to-cup coffee is one of the best coffee experiences in Old Town San Juan. Their coffee is grown in Yauco (Coffee Town) in the southern coastal region where the climate and soil are perfect for growing coffee.

This touring experience was through Flavors Food Tours – San Juan.

stainless steel bowls with red napkins lined up on a stainless steel table

Chocolate class at Funky Chocolate Club in Interlaken, Switzerland

Photo credit: Sandi Barrett

8. Sweet Sensations

If you don’t have enough time for a half-day food tour, choose a delicious dish and learn a bit about how it’s made. Short courses focusing on a local artisan product are the ultimate way to learn about food cultures.

The Swiss know how to handle chocolate. Internationally renowned for their decadent milk chocolate, farmers who tend the herds of cows would say it’s because the cows eat the sweetest grass and are happy and content. Sweetened milk combined with perfectly roasted cocoa beans produces the best chocolate.

When I visited Interlaken for a ski trip, I took a day to explore the village. As a chocoholic, taking a hands-on course in making my own Swiss chocolate bars was an absolute must. A little taste test along the way for a chocolate infused party.

This touring experience was through the Funky Chocolate Club.

Find the best local food tours

When looking for the best food tour for you, there are several sites that can lead you to a great food tour. Local tour guides will register to be part of several group booking sites in addition to having their own website.

Viator is a good place to start. If you check the “Additional Information” section, it should show the name of the provider. This allows you to research the provider more thoroughly and explore all of your tour options. Another good site is Get Your Guide, very similar to Viator. If you want a private tour, Tours By Locals is the way to go. For an immersive experience, you venture into the homes of local chefs with Eat With where you can explore dining on a personal level.

Take a Food Tour

Go out and explore your next destination through its food. It will bring you closer to the local people, their history and culture.

Pro Tip: Foodie tour guides are used to making dietary restrictions work for their guests – don’t be afraid to ask about substitutions.

To learn more about tours, explore these articles:

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