10 Best Tour Companies That Will Make Your Next Vacation a Breeze
The best tour companies offer trips with plenty of enthralling activities in destinations around the globe, with all-in pricing and the opportunity to meet new friends. Find the right one for you.
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Why a tour company?
As a rule, I consider myself an independent traveler. I love to explore new places and take my family on adventures around the globe. Sometimes, however, I just want to leave the proverbial driving—and organizing—to someone else. Which is how I discovered the joys of the best tour companies that have helped me find the best places to travel. I’ve been able to circle Ireland, explore national parks and hop around Italy, all with someone else at the wheel and a few dozen other friendly people along for the ride, and it’s been a dream.
Think of group tours like the best all-inclusive resorts; there’s one-and-done pricing that lets you know exactly what your vacation will cost, in advance, making it easier for you to keep to your vacation budget. Depending on which tour you choose, you can still have plenty of time to explore on your own, but during the day someone else will be in charge of figuring out all the logistics, including lodging, transportation, meals and activities. Of course, like resorts, tour companies have different personalities: Some run small, boutique-style group tours with just a handful of people, while others have multiple tour buses with every seat filled. Many companies cater to specific interests and age groups, some offer private access to top attractions and others include special classes and experiences. Basically, there’s something for every type of vacation style and interest.
How we chose the best tour companies
To come up with the list of the best tour companies, we reached out to travel planners and other travel experts for their top picks. We also used our personal travel experience and checked in with travelers who have vacationed with these tour companies to get their first-hand reviews. Finally, we cross-checked our research with Tripadvisor’s star ratings to make sure we’ve picked the best of the best so that you can have the best group tour all-inclusive vacation no matter where you want to go.
Best for history buffs
National Geographic Expeditions
Sample trip: Human History: Northern Spain and Southwest France
For curious travelers who love to explore history, culture and archeology, National Geographic Expeditions is tops in its field. Highly trained NatGeo experts accompany trips and share their insights and insider knowledge with small groups of equally curious travelers. One recent traveler called the 10-day guided Human History trip to Spain and France to see paleolithic art and cave paintings “among the best trips of our lives,” also noting that the adults-only itinerary also felt like a romantic getaway.
- Trips around the globe
- Behind-the-scenes access to NatGeo research and projects
- Highly skilled scientists, photographers and historians accompany tours
- Limited options for kids and families
Best for families
Adventures by Disney
Sample trip: Peru: Lima, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco
First, let’s dispel any notion of Mickey driving a tour bus, and there are no costumed characters on Adventures by Disney itineraries, which include myriad global destinations including Antarctica, Africa, Japan and Europe. What these tours do have, though, is the attention to detail and planning prowess that Disney is known for, plus a unique ability to offer special access to some of the world’s most impressive sights. Plus, of course, it’s one of the best tour companies for family vacations (although there are adults-only trips as well).
My family and I have traveled with Adventures by Disney to Yellowstone National Park and to Italy. Some of my favorite moments included private access to the Sistine Chapel for our group (approximately 26 people) and a “magical” ability for our bags to be transported from one hotel room to the next, especially impressive when I checked out of a Tuscan villa one morning and my suitcase was in a room with a view of Venice’s lagoon later that day. A recent traveler called the Peru trip “super fun and impeccably run” after exploring Machu Picchu and rafting down the Urubamba River.
- Seamless transfers between locations
- Highly trained guides
- Special access to iconic sights
- Adults-only itineraries offered infrequently
Best for biking
Sample trip: Bordeaux Bike Tour
If you like active vacations and exploring the outdoors, then Backroads may be the perfect tour operator for you. They specialize in European itineraries both for adults-only and for families. Backroads also offers “multi-adventure” tours where, say, a biking trip in Spain will also offer surfing lessons and kayaking. One mom of two 20-somethings shared, “We’ve taken four multi-sport trips with Backroads, and each one was phenomenal.” The trip I have on my dream board is the “Bordeaux & Dordogne Bike Tour,” which includes stops at “grand wine estates” and Michelin-star restaurants, a perfect blend of calorie consumption and exercise.
- Range of bicycles available, including electric-assist E-bikes
- Itineraries for couples, friends or solo travelers
- Itineraries for families with older teens and 20-plus, a rarity
- “Dolce Tempo” trip options offer an easygoing pace
- Many trips are only offered seasonally, May to October
Best for castles and royal lovers
Sample trip: Iconic Ireland and Ashford Castle
When I was ready to explore the rolling green hills of the Emerald Isle, Brendan Vacations was my first stop. They offer wonderfully immersive tours that loop you around the island, stopping at iconic sights such as the scenic Ring of Kerry, dramatic Cliffs of Moher and the Blarney Stone. Best of all, my tour stayed at Ashford Castle, a grand estate in Cong where my family and I were able to try falconry, stay in a room built in a real tower and eat our breakfast porridge in a chandelier-filled dining room, just as if we were staying as guests of a king or queen in a royal palace. Brendan also offers tours to Scotland, Northern Ireland and London and combinations of the four.
- 50 years of experience
- Option for a private chauffeur for smaller group travel
- Partners with top hotels in the U.K. and Ireland
- Limited destinations
Best for seniors
Sample trip: Canadian Odyssey: Québec City to Toronto
With a focus on lifelong learning, Road Scholar is for travelers who embrace slower trips and deeper cultural explorations, and the company specializes in senior travel. Road Scholar extends its focus on education to online lectures and virtual tours to educate interested travelers on a destination. For example, for the Canadian Odyssey, the company’s suggested reading list includes 19 books for the 11-day trip. Road Scholars is especially popular with retirees and seniors, who tell us they appreciate traveling with like-minded folks. Looking for more options? Here are some more trips for seniors who love to travel.
- Offers resources for at-home learning
- Special “grandparent” trips for multigenerational travel
- Solo travel options available
- Many trips are two weeks or longer
Best for solo travelers
EF Go Ahead Tours
Sample trip: Spain for Solo Travelers: Barcelona, Madrid & Seville
Group tours are great for solo travelers who want the camaraderie of other travelers with the same interests for shared adventures. The one downside to most group tours is the dreaded “single supplement,” where a solo traveler might be charged a supplement that can almost double the cost. Not so with EF Go Ahead Tours, one of the best tour companies for single travelers, whose Solo Tours include a private room at no extra cost. The feedback we’ve gotten about EF is that their tours are “well-run and precisely organized.” Itineraries for their solo trips range from Egypt to Japan to most of Western Europe, like our sample Spain trip that includes both cultural and culinary highlights, including a cooking class.
- No additional costs for a private room
- Invite six friends on a tour, and you’ll earn a free spot
- Travels to a wide array of destinations
- The solo itineraries are so popular that most 2023 trips have a waitlist
Best for in-depth itineraries
Sample trip: Best of Italy
When you want to see the best of a destination and know you’re not missing any “must-see” spots, Insight Vacations has you covered. A recent traveler told us she picked this Best of Italy 11-day trip through Italy “to see everything” and wasn’t disappointed. Another highlight of Insight is its wide selection of tours in smaller European destinations, such as Slovenia and Finland.
- Comprehensive itineraries that include all major attractions
- Free time and choice of activities for a more individual feel
- Tours offered in smaller European destinations
- Larger than average group size
Best for getting beneath the surface
Sample tour: The Rockies and the Badlands: Geology and Dinosaurs in Canada
GeoCultura company grabbed my interest for its focus on geology—what’s happening not only on the surface of a destination but underneath it as well. Trips led by professors and specialists in the world of geology, paleontology and archaeology “dig in” to all the layers of a destination, so to speak. For the Rockies and Badlands tour, a guide who teaches “geology for non-geologists” at Canada’s Mount Royal University leads the quest to explore sedimentology, trace fossils and traverse diverse landscapes.
- No single supplement for solo travelers on many tours
- Shorter itineraries available for long weekend getaways
- Guides who are notable experts in their fields
- Tours only available in England, Europe and North America
Best for accessible travel
Wheel the World
Sample trip: Costa Rica, a natural paradise
One of the best tour companies in the accessible travel category, Wheel the World offers a platform of accessible tours, experiences and accommodations for disabled travelers. From international surf trips to rainforest tours, the company offers adventure trips in 40 destinations around the world and on every continent. Group tours are led by guides specially trained by the company to provide assistance to disabled travelers, and all itineraries have been tested to make sure they’re accessible, have adaptable bathrooms and provide the best travel experience. The Costa Rica trip, for example, includes amphibious wheelchair use in Arenal’s hot springs and use of trekking wheelchairs to explore Manuel Antonio National Park.
- Large selection of destinations
- Can plan quick trips for individual travel
- Small group size, often 10 people or fewer
- Trips fill up fast
Best for curated itineraries
Sample trip: Namibia flying safari
Not all tour operators have large group tours. Audley Travel is a good example of a company that offers full-service trips that can be individualized for independent travelers. For example, I recently explored Namibia on a bucket list eight-night itinerary to four different Natural Selection safari lodges. Audley handled all the details, including international routing that was way more involved than I could have figured out on my own. I followed their itinerary, however I didn’t travel with a group, but instead with individual travelers who were following the same itinerary. (In other words, there is no tour leader and travelers are free to customize their itineraries.) In other cases, the company will create custom itineraries, and they do have some very small (around eight people) adventure mobile safari tours too.
- Highly personalized trip itineraries
- Options around the globe
- Skilled in adventure travel trips
- Limited option for group trips