BACKGROUND: Although preoperative education decreases the anxiety of patients and family members, the usefulness of a preoperative tour of the ICU has not been studied. In this study, the effect of an ICU tour on the anxiety levels of patients (n = 92) and family members (n = 91) before and after cardiac surgery was examined. METHODS: Using a pretest-posttest quasi-experimental design, patients and family members were assigned to a control group, which received preoperative teaching only (patients, n = 48; family members, n = 48), or to an experimental group, which received preoperative teaching with an ICU tour (patients, n = 44; family members, n = 43). Patients and family members completed two measures of anxiety, the State Trait Anxiety Inventory and a visual analog scale, before and after the intervention. After their first postoperative visit, family members completed the measures again. Repeated measures analysis of variance was used to compare anxiety levels after the intervention. In addition, patients completed the Patient Perception of the ICU Tour Questionnaire after transfer from the ICU. RESULTS: Although patients and family members had a decrease in anxiety after cardia surgery teaching, the decrease was not due to an ICU tour. However, the majority of patients who toured the ICU perceived the tour as beneficial and recommended a tour for future patients. CONCLUSIONS: ICU tours are included in many cardiac surgery educational programs. The majority of patients in this study perceived a benefit or a future benefit from an ICU tour, even though the tour did not significantly reduce the anxiety of the patients or family members.