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What Is an Audio Tour?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

An audio tour is a sound-based guide to a location. Depending on the design, this may consist only of spoken words or may include music and other effects. Many earlier audio tours were simply recorded tapes that relied on the user to play and pause as needed, but more recently designed systems can identify the location in which the tour apparatus is being used and play automatically. It is common to find audio tour systems available in museums and sites of historical relevance, but there are also tours available for cities and other geographic sites. There are various devices that can be used to deliver audio content for this purpose, including smartphones, tape players, and even special audio devices used only for tours.

In its most basic form, an audio tour is a recording of information about a location. This information depends on what is at the location and what the tour's designers find most relevant. An audio tour of a museum designed for children might be very different from one designed for adults. Just like any tour, these recordings typically seek to both provide information and entertain.

Audio tours of the Forbidden City are available.
Audio tours of the Forbidden City are available.

With advancements in technology, audio tours can often incorporate more detailed information. Tours that know specifically what a guest is looking at can provide information about that object rather than just the highlights. Length becomes less of a consideration on this segmented type of audio tour, as the guests control what information is provided and can easily move on as well.

Most audio tours for large and popular museums are available in multiple languages, some of which can be useful when signs are not in the tour language. This technique can allow a guest who does not understand the country's language to enjoy the museum and benefit from informational content. Audio tours in this case are often used when a live tour guide is unavailable or too expensive to provide.

While it is common for a specific location to offer audio tours tailored to its attractions, some companies provide many different audio tours for various locations. These audio tours usually conform to a common style and may be designed for travelers or visitors. This is sometimes a difficult feat for audio tour designers to accomplish, as constant monitoring must be in effect to take into account changes at the location. For this reason, it is common for tours that are not designed by the site's management to focus primarily on very permanent historical features that are unlikely to change rapidly.

Discussion Comments


There are actually sites on the internet where you can download tons of different audio tours for free. People do them in their spare time and then offer them up as podcasts. They might include a walking tour of downtown Boston or a tour for a museum that does not offer audio tours. The potential is limitless and you will probably be surprised at the things that are on offer.


@summing - I like audio tours and I have taken a number of them that have enhanced the experience of looking at art. My only complaint, and this is significant, is that when every one looks at the art as part of a carefully guided tour then everyone sees the exact same thing in the art. It kind of takes away the mystery for the viewer and it restricts their means of seeing the picture. It trains the eyes in places they would not go normally.

This is a small and maybe too picky complaint. But if there is an exhibit that I am excited about I will go through once on my own and then go back to do the audio tour.


They offer a number of different audio tours at the big art museum in town. I love them and I always get one for the rotating traveling expeditions.

When you take the audio tour they give you an iPod and you can start and stop the tour at your leisure. You end up learning so much more about the artists and their work than you would normally from just reading the cards.

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    • Audio tours of the Forbidden City are available.
      By: Ilia Torlin
      Audio tours of the Forbidden City are available.