Tourist Guide: Everything you need to know about this Ancient Profession

At least once every year, people travel to another country, place, or city. Moreover, many have opted for a guided tour at least once in their lifetime! They usually spend either a day or some hours listening to a guide and following them around. They ask many questions to learn about the place they are visiting. This particular guide is usually the first person they meet locally and the only individual they trust as soon as they reach their destination. They may have wondered about the guide’s story and whether they have another job. Very few people understand that a tourist guide is an official job and they only know how to do one thing perfectly- guiding. This article has all the information required to learn about this job.

What is a Tourist Guide?

The European Committee for Standardization (CEN), basically defines a tour guide as a person who assists tourists from another city or country by offering them information about the place’s cultural, historical, natural, and contemporary heritage. This job is carried out in the language of their choice and usually takes place at educational, religious, and historical sites and other tourist attractions. Normally, this person possesses qualifications specific to some area and relevant body issues such qualifications.

For the word ‘guide,’ the Greek variant is “xenagos”, which is derived from the Hellenistic verb, meaning then (and later) to basically assist foreigners in finding their path both literally and figuratively. This is achieved by hosting them, usually, so they survive till they become completely integrated into the local. Xenagos, in ancient Greek, basically meant the leader of mercenary troops as well as the guide providing information to foreigners.

Tourism and Guides in Ancient Greece

Tour guides were available right from the 4th century BC. Travelers back then were always in search of something exotic and distant, and as a result, they would travel to Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt. Traveling was especially rampant in the 2nd century AD. There are two conditions required to travel: free time and money.
Many high-ranking Romans took the road and found inns that matched their special needs during the Olympic Games.
In the ancient world, Athens was one of the most famous sights, along with Delphi, Corinth, Epidaurus, and Olympia, and the popular Zeus of Pheidias.

Among the first “tourists” was Herodotus (5th century BC), who is commonly referred to as the father of history. Herodotus was believed to have come from a wealthy and educated family, and he grew up respecting Homer and all legends. Herodotus was a frequent traveler and enjoyed the customs, traditions, and culture of various areas that he would visit. He even toured Sicily, Egypt, and Persia.

Since the era of Herodotus, Olympia was populated with the explainers, who knew everything about the monuments, treasures, and artifacts, and they often spoke to visitors about historical events and the associated myths. The explainer (exigitis in ancient Greek) was basically like a host to every person who would visit their region. These people were aristocrats and followed the sacred rules, and always had advice regarding worship and issues of religion. It was a little later that this became a profession.

Another renowned “tourist” is Pausanias, who is quite popular among archaeologists and Hellenists. In fact, he was the Greek world’s “first guide,” and he lived in the 2nd century AD, describing Roman Greece. This particular figure also wrote the first Travel guide book ever- the “Description of Greece” or “Greece tour.” This specific book had ten volumes and was very expansive. Every volume threw light upon a particular region of Greece, and many cities were explored, including Athens, Olympia, Delphi, and Mycenae. The trek eventually ends up at steep roads on hilly mountains, where the traveler came across isolated, small villages. This book was written after 20 years of research when Pausanias traveled on foot.

It is commonly accepted that Pausanias describes everything he saw with his own eyes and not something that he read somewhere or heard from someone. He started his journey in his homeland Ionia (Asia Minor) and crossed the Aegean to end up at the Peloponnese, which was the Roman Empire’s state machine.

To describe entire Ancient Greece, he took the help of the Pax Romana. In fact, it is very crucial to note that Pausanias also explored Egypt, Italy, and the Middle East. In history, he is believed to be the first-ever person to have written or seen the ruins of Troy and Mycenae.


When completing the first serious excavations in Athens, Delphi and Olympia, the archaeologists looked through his books. James Fraser was among the people who translated his work into English (1898), and he has stated that the ancient ruins of Greece would have been a mystery without his books.

During the early and mid-19th century, the tours of English lords were usually incomplete without the volumes of Pausanias. In fact, many travelers used his books. When the 19th century began, new travel guide books were written again, and by the twentieth century, it was established by archaeologists that Pausanias was a reliable guide.

Modern Times

When it comes to modern tourist guides, there are basically two lines of origin: the pathfinder and the mentor. These basically form the backgrounds of the guide’s roles of the leadership and the mediatory spheres. There have been reports of organized train trips from England to France inspired by Thomas Cook, which led to mass tourism and packages for recreation travel. In fact, even until the end of the 19th century, one continuous business activity in the world was organized trips and guided tours. Italy is said to be the first country of the Mediterranean which was open to tourism.

As the Second World War ended, tourism development was promoted by the Greek state, and this basically led to the development of roads, hotels, bungalows, motels, and facilities of organized camping. During the same time, Greece saw schools of tourism professions, while simultaneously, cruises also started on the islands.

A particular law basically ruled the profession of tourist guide since 1930. But in 1977, a new law was created. Especially after the war, this profession began to grow, with the tourism in Greece. Not just that! The new schools for tour guides definitely promoted tourism. The first such schools began in 1931 in Greece. There were neither schools nor professional guides till then, just explainers. These were people with some amount of knowledge, who informed visitors about their country and knew a foreign language. Before 1931, there were only 70 licensed interpreters, and the first registered guide was believed to be Anastasios Christou, who was born in 1894. He became a guide in 1926, and he spoke French and English. It was after 1960 that Greece realized that it needs proper schools for tourist guides, as tourism grew at a quick rate.

Hermes and the Guide

Greek tour guide

In 1935, the Greek photojournalist Vasilios Tsakis visited the Archaeological Museum of Athens. In one room, there was a replica of the statue Hermes of sculptor Praxitelis, a statue depicting the ideal beauty of the ancient Greeks. The statue, dating back to the 4th century BC, was discovered in the temple of Hera in Olympia and is exhibited in the Archeological Museum of Olympia. The sculpture shows Hermes resting on a tree trunk and holding the little Dionysus in his left hand. Among the visitors, the photojournalist distinguished a young Greek man who toured a group of people. As the party approached the statue of Hermes, the photographer took a photo of the young Greek guide Nikolaos Zafeiropoulos standing next to the statue of Hermes. The resemblance between the guide and the Hermes statue is remarkable.

Education of tourist guides in Greece

For touring in Greece, one must have a license as this specific profession is regulated by law. To become a tourist guide in Greece, it is mandatory to go through 2.5 years at the National School of Tourist Guides, which the Ministry of Tourism runs. It is compulsory to attend, and both theoretical knowledge and educational visits/excursions are a part of the course.

The courses include history, archeology, and various field trips, combined with modern topics, including the history of art, geology, first aid, economy, traditions, mythology, religion, flora, tourism, etc. It is mandatory to make about 100 days of visits to archaeological, historical, ecological, or other places of interest in Greece. The aim is for the guide to present properly about Greek culture and the country. It requires the person to thoroughly know at least one foreign language, so they can directly communicate with foreign visitors. Once a person graduates, they will receive their guiding diploma along with the professional identity of tourist guide for Greece by the Ministry of Tourism. The Guide Schools function in Athens and Thessaloniki, and the islands of Crete, Lesbos, Corfu, and Rhodes.

Law 710-77 provides their professional rights, and a license is mandatory to practice this profession. With a license from the Ministry of Tourism, they can work anywhere in Greece. Today, Greece is home to 3000 licensed tour guides who can assist people speaking in various tongues, as combined, they know over 30 different languages. Many are University graduates like Archaeologists or Historians. Every year, the tourist guides are trained through seminars that are related to topics of historical and cultural interest, so they always have interesting information for tourists.


To offer perfect service to every visitor, the tour guides in Greece usually hold high levels of education. They have an understanding of historical and natural sites, including museums, monuments, archeological sites, monasteries, caves, national parks, wetlands, etc.

In detail, the tour guides explain the history and the value of every monument and heritage site, especially in relation to the traditions, customs, and traditions of the locals, along with the interesting aspects of the inhabitants’ modern life. They work in tandem with travel agencies, which organize tours.

The tour guides constantly travel with the tourists and usually, they travel in the countryside where the weather is extreme. They have to walk a lot. Several nights a month, they spend away from their home, and they do not follow specific routines. They do not have holidays. The guides must work to capture the attention of their audience to ensure that the tour remains interesting. This is why guided tours are usually successful only if they are planned properly based on the visitors’ requirements.


In Greece, the tourist guides associations safeguard and advance the labor, economic, and insurance interests of their members, and they promote the country’s tourism.Today, six associations are concerned with six parts of Greece.
In Greece, the first Union of Guides that was founded was the “Union of Guides, Thessaloniki “(U.G.T.) in 1956. The Union worked to help authorize the guides so they can guide across Greece, and this was accomplished in 1981.

In 1957, the “Association of Licensed Tourist Guides of Athens” was acknowledged, and the” Association of Qualified Tourist Guides of the Dodecanese” was founded in the year 1961 in Rhodes, Greece. The body basically covers every tourist guide in the various Dodecanese islands. In the same year, the “Professional Tourist Guide Association of Crete & Thera” was also established.

In 1965, the “Ionian Islands & Western Greece Union of Tourist Guides” was founded, which was a union based in Corfu island, Greece. All the 7 Ionian islands were covered by it, along with the prefectures of Western Greece. In 1994, the “Qualified Tourist Guides’ Association of the N.E. Aegean Islands” was established in Lesvos island.


The “Union of Guides, Thessaloniki “(U.G.T.) helped in the formation of the “Panhellenic Guides Federation” in 1985, which was crucial for the unionist progress of the profession across Greece. For a while, the Panhellenic Federation of Tourist Guides (POXEN) has been expressing discontent, ringing the alarm bells for the tourism diplomacy of Greece.

Each year, one association holds the Panhellenic Convention-Seminar of Guides along with the Panhellenic Tourist Guides Federation, and the local Prefecture and Municipality authorities, and many individuals contribute to it. Across the country, several Tourist Guides partake in it.

Every tourist guides association is a part of the Panhellenic Tourist Guides’ Federation, which helps represent the “European and World Federation of Tourist Guides’ Associations”.

“FEG” represents the tourist guides in Europe, which is nothing but the European Federation of Tourist Guide Associations. Here, every country has its own tourist guiding qualifications, and even in every country, the qualifications may vary with each region. Wherever a person enrolls in a course, they will notice that the curriculum is in line with these ethics.

FEG is traced back to 1986 when it was established in Paris for representing the profession at the European level. The aim was to make sure that Europe becomes popular as the hub of good service to all visitors to Europe and to help promote the bonding of professional tourist guiding links across the continent.

The World Federation of “Tourist Guides Association“(WFTGA) is a not-for-profit entity aimed to promote training and ethics in this profession.

Each year, World Guide Day is celebrated on February 21st to popularize this profession. This is done by offering free guided tours in archeological and historical sites. In fact, this is an initiative of WFTGA, which first began in 1990 and saw the participation of 15 countries.

Starting then, tourist guides have been helping their local communities and holding tours for the public. Every year, this day increases awareness, and both the state and central governments usually contribute to this day.

Guides are fond of those who enjoy their tours, are accepting of other cultures, and are understanding about things, like a traffic jam. Only the people on tour can help make it successful. Guides truly enjoy showing people around and educating people. So use them like they are your best “guide book” and local friend to learn about this place and enjoy your holiday! If you follow these directions, you will definitely have the best out of your guide.

Similar to everything else, experts are important during guided tours! Remember that guiding is illegal without a license. Guided tours with trained guides with expertise ensure a better tour experience.

Photo credits:Vasilis Doukakis-Corfu,eltpics on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC,Marie-Lan Nguyen,Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Poster,logo:“European and World Federation of Tourist Guides’ Associations”.