A Day at Work: Tour Guides

Spend a day with two tour guides in Spain.
By Joe Levit
A group of people standing in a plaza listening to a tour guide
Francisco Jimenez Avolio leads a tour group in the city of San Sebastián.

Life as a tour guide is never boring. Each day brings new people to talk to and new ideas. For a better understanding of the job, Your Hot Job spoke with two tour guides based in San Sebastián, Spain. Markel Corral works for an agency that takes tourists to spots around the countryside. Francisco Jimenez Avolio leads his own small-group walking tours around the city.

Preparing for the Tour

Corral gets his day started early. After a quick shower, he grabs coffee and a sandwich and boards a bus into the city. He takes a company van to pick up his passengers for the day. “The only information I have about the guests is their names and the pickup location,” Corral says. “It’s a mystery where they’re coming from, which makes my job more exciting.”

Avolio also gets an early start. He often has multiple tours in a day, so he reviews each booking ahead of time. It’s important to learn the names of the people he’ll be walking with. He makes sure everyone knows their tour’s meeting point and start time. He tells them to get to the meeting point 10 minutes early, so things start out smoothly. 

Kicking Things Off

Corral begins his tours by driving guests out of San Sebastián, to the countryside. Along the way, he talks about the many regions of Spain. And he mentions that the Basque language, Euskera, is one of the oldest languages still spoken in the world today. Corral heads toward one of several sheep farms located inland in the mountains. At the farm, he guides visitors through the process of turning milk into cheese. Visitors see sheep being milked by machines. Then Corral talks them through a cheese tasting. Finally, he shows them where they can buy vacuum-sealed chunks of cheese to take home.

Avolio starts his tours by talking about the importance of several historic buildings. When possible, he takes tourists to an underground garage that very few people know about. Part of the wall that once surrounded San Sebastián can be seen there. Murals on the garage wall provide a visual history of the city’s development. Avolio believes that history and culture can be seen everywhere on the street. “Part of my job is to discover these places and show them to visitors,” he says.

Taking a Break

By early afternoon, it’s time for refreshments. Corral takes his tourists to a winery above the fishing village of Getaria. He leads a taste test of several local wines. Then it’s down to the village itself. Corral helps his guests order grilled fish and other seafood for lunch. “Getaria is one of the last big fishing ports of the region, and all the restaurants get the fresh fish directly from it,” he says. 

In San Sebastián, Avolio is also ready to chat about cuisine. He takes his group to one of his favorite pintxo bars in the Old Town neighborhood. Pintxos are finger foods usually served on a small bed of bread. They’re popular in the region. Avolio helps guests decide between delicacies such as bacon-wrapped dates and anchovies with pickled green peppers. “You cannot ignore the fact that the vast majority of visitors come for the food,” he says. 

Winding Down

Corral regales the group with tales about two famous people from Getaria, one a world explorer, and one a fashion designer. Having done his research, he proves a knowledgeable tour guide. 

Meanwhile, in Old Town, Avolio points out some flagpoles without flags. In San Sebastián, this indicates a cooking club. Men meet in these places to cook and dine together while catching up on the latest news. Avolio's knowledge of fun facts like this keeps his guests engaged.

Wrapping Up

Corral finishes his tours as he started them. He drives back to San Sebastián and leaves his guests where they ask to be dropped off. At home, after dinner, he prepares for the next day’s tour. “My company sends me lots of materials for studying at home,” he says. 

Avolio ends his tours by asking for feedback. That lets him know what went well and how he can improve his tours. Between morning and afternoon tours, he completes small tasks. He sends out messages to clients. He might make a restaurant recommendation, or confirm an upcoming tour. Some days, he has more time to take a break. “Going surfing between two tours helps me relax,” he says, “and be refreshed for the next one.”