Please sign in to post.

Are the tours really strenuous?

We would love to try a RS tour but am concerned about the strenuous activity. We are active and healthy and have traveled quite a bit. Would like clarification from an experienced RS tour member about the activities being strenuous. Thanks in advance!

List item

Posted by
2102 posts

We've done two tours and never had a problem. We did Heart of Italy before his knee replacement and Greece after it. On the Italy trip he opted out of hiking the trail in Cinque Terra and on the Greece tour he skipped climbing "The Rock" in Monemavasia and climbing to the Palamidi fortress in Nafplio. He had no trouble with anything else, including climbing the Acropolis. He wasn't the only one to skip some of these and there were plenty of other things to do.

From your description, I think you'd be fine, but you can always call the RS office for more clarification.
I think you'd love the tours.

Posted by
1186 posts

I have been on 13 tours and going on my 14th tour. Yes, the tours can be strenuous. Why, because your walking, standing in museums, standing listing to tour guides, and just being out and about all day and into the evening. But I am sure you have done that on most of your travels if you are touring cities and towns ( not beach vacations). But there is down time, you tour in the morning into the afternoon with the group, but you break for lunch and you have free time to do as you wish. I am not the most fit person and I am still able to keep up. People on the tour range in ages from teens to people into their 70's and even 80's. As long as you can handle the luggage and are able to walk and stand you should have not problems. You state your active, healthy and used to traveling so again this should be a fun way to go to Europe and see many things. Many older couples have told me on the tours, they prefer to go on the week long tours so that they don't have to move hotels and move their luggage. But I have taken both week long tours and the bus tours and found the bus tours not as exhausting, because you sit on the bus and rest your body. But I love both types of tours as they are lots of fun! I think out of all the tours I have been on, the most exhausting was the week long Istanbul tour ( which was amazing and I loved it) but there was little free time ( which also worked out well due to it being Istanbul) so you were busy every minute of the day and evening!! You can't see everything, so when you need to rest on your free time, you rest. This way you will enjoy what you see and do and not just check it off the list. The tour company wants everyone to understand that there is a lot of activity involved and that they can handle the walking, bending, sitting, standing. They want people who can do this and not people who never walk or stand. So they make sure it is they explain what is expected. But if your fairly fit and like to sightsee, walk and move, it is no problem at all. I hope this helps you to understand the tours better.

Posted by
13237 posts

I agree with Patty ( and Ann who was posting while I was typing) and will also add that it also depends on which tour you are considering. Do you have one in mind?

I've done 5 and the most strenuous was the 21 Day BOE as we had 2 days (Amsterdam and Rome) where we walked 10-12 miles. Everyone kept up but if needed someone could have gotten a cab back to the hotel or train station in the case of Amsterdam. You can opt out of activities but that is easier to do on a day where you are not moving from place to place. That one is also hard just because you are moving hotels every other day for 19 days or so as well. It was also the most wonderful tour imaginable. Really. Wonderful.

The least strenuous one was probably Best of Paris. You are in one hotel all week and generally had tour related things in the AM and a free afternoon.

If you do decide to go, I usually train for my trips. My standard walk is 4 miles 3 or 4 days a week. I bump up mileage one day a week so I can easily do more if demanded by the tour.

Posted by
7898 posts

Organized tours have their plus' and minus'. Most are not really strenuous, but the tour guides will really fill up your day.

Many people as they age just don't have the mobility or physical ability to do massive walking that touring on your own requires. And that's when tours are attractive.

At one point in everyone's lives, it's either join a tour or stay home.
My wife and I are going on a Baltic cruise and Norway in a Nutshell next month. We're seeing the world while we are mobile as you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Posted by
32109 posts


I agree with the others. I've been on eight tours and there can be a fair amount of walking but it's not overly difficult (I'm in my 60's). I find the standing during local walking tours is harder for me than the walking, but there's usually a wall or a bench or something to sit on. Depending on the tour, they pack a lot in some days which means you're on the move most of the day. This is balanced by a fair number of free afternoons / evenings and one or two free days, where you have the choice of being active or just resting.

I'd suggest trying one as that's the only way to know for sure if they're too strenuous for you. Most of us find the tours to be wonderful, and sign-up for another one soon after. I'm sure someone here has been on the tour you're considering, and can provide a very accurate idea of how strenuous it is.

Posted by
3551 posts

Been on 2 tours turkey and greece. I would call it moderate. I assume u are traveling light very imp on rs tours u handle your own luggage (unfortunately).. Can be tiring with stairs, cobbles and steep hills. Also appropriate shoes ar a must with wick away socks to prevent blisters.
If u are well traveled already u will not have a prob.
Gd advice to connect with staff at rick steves for their assurance.

Posted by
1068 posts

Been on 6 RS trips and several from other companies. I've also planned and done my own trips and found no difference in the amount of walking. Am in my sixties and walk 3-5 times a week for exercise. On some RS trips an optional activity or two can be strenuous, but most of the options are pretty doable. The tour activities are not all that hard but I have seen the occasional person struggle. IMHO if you could do what RS suggests are the activity guidelines for the day (ie, walking 2-4 miles over uneven streets etc.) you won't have any problems. You can also opt out of tour activities if you want a break.

Posted by
15 posts

I have just completed my second RS tour and I can say that "strenuous" means "a lot of walking." I had sore feet at the end of the day, but nothing more than that. I am 60 and most of the tour members were older. One had a bad hip and one had a bad knee, but everybody kept up.

Posted by
527 posts

I must say I was concerned about this on my first tour. I was 10 years younger and reading the descriptions of the tours had me a little worried whether I was fit enough. 10 tours later and I know I am, I am in my mid 50's and husband is mid 60's and we partake of all group activities. To me, they are not that strenuous, I walk 2-4 miles a day, twice a day, dependent on the weather (I have two dogs, best reason in the world to be active). If you are active, can handle your own luggage, can climb stairs (some hotels have no elevator, or you don't want to wait for it), you should be fine. ***Heat can also be a variable: it can be very draining on your energy level.

Posted by
4083 posts

If you have looked at any of the RS tours on this website, you may have already seen this (slightly edited) under activity level:

Our tours are physically active! It’s an essential part of the Rick Steves tour experience. On our (fill in the name) tour — among other things — you'll need to happily...
Carry/roll your luggage over uneven pavement (several blocks possible) and up stairways to reach your hotel; then up several flights of stairs to reach your room.
Be on your feet, walking and standing for up to three hours, indoors and outdoors, in all weather conditions.
Sleep with street noise and no (or weak) air conditioning.
After orientation and transportation lessons, be able to navigate through the city on your own.

And you have probably seen this under itinerary:

Daily Activity Key
Light = 2-4 miles of mostly level walking throughout the day.
Moderate = 2-6 miles walking throughout the day with some hills and stairs.
Strenuous = 2-8 miles walking throughout the day with lots of hills, stairs and uneven terrain.

Each day of the itinerary is clearly identified as to the activity level. Believe what they say. I have only been on the Istanbul week tour and the distances were correct according to the person in our group who was wearing a pedometer.

Also believe those who mention going up and down steep terrain and steps and walking on cobblestones and rough terrain, even in cities. And don't discount the standing and listening to what the guide has to say. Sometimes that can be more tiring than the walking.

I cannot emphasize enough how important the right shoes are for being on your feet several hours a day with few opportunities to sit and rest. I noticed on our Istanbul tour 2 women who had apparently worn the wrong shoes one day. I think one had on flats, but I know one was wearing Birkenstocks. Both had slipped their feet out of their shoes and were standing on the cool floor of a courtyard at Topkapi Palace.

The right shoes and socks for you (there are lots of threads about this topic) will make all the difference in your level of fatigue, from foot to head. Training will also make a big difference.

BTW, my husband and I were 66 and 68 respectively last fall when we went on the RS Istanbul week tour. We followed it up with 4+ weeks in Greece where we visited places with similar terrain/steps/walking/standing challenges, but we didn't spend as many hours doing it each day. He did no advance training at all and I did less than I should have (only walk the dog everyday), but we both kept up in Istanbul.

Posted by
13237 posts

Sorry to post a second time but I just want to add that I appreciate that Rick and team put the activity level on each tour day and is pretty specific about what the they mean regarding each activity level.

I have been on a couple of Road Scholar international tours and I don't know if Road Scholar was not clear enough on the physical requirements for the tours or if the tour members just grossly overestimated their fitness levels or if they just didn't read the material but on both tours there were people who had difficulty with the amount of walking, standing and flights of stairs. One tour member had great difficulty getting up the steps onto the bus and an even worse time getting off the bus. I think her expectation was that she would just fall back from the top step and the guide, leader and bus driver would team up to catch her.

On all the Rick Steves tours people were able to stay with the group and were much more fit than the Road Scholar folks. The BOE guide did have the best advice. He said "If you are having trouble keeping up, stay with me. I go at a moderate pace. The further back you are in the group the more you will have to scramble to keep up." I watched the group after that and, of course, he was so right!

Posted by
208 posts

If you are in condition to walk, stand and do stairs for several hours at a time you should be fine. If your daily activity level is sitting on the couch you will have a hard time. My next tour will be BOE14 and I will be 71. I and am very active and can walk 8 miles or more if needed Based on what you said, I would just go and have a wonderful trip. You won't regret going on a Rick's tour. They are wonderful.

Posted by
58 posts

Remember everyone is expected to be at the front door of the hotel at 8:30 a.m. to start the tours. Sometimes that can be the most strenuous part of the trip.

It's amazing how fit most of the RS tour members are!

Posted by
15477 posts

My advice would be to get in practice at least several weeks before the tour by taking long walks and going up several flights of stairs at a time. Expect to climb lots of stairs in Europe. That will also help with the uphill walking. You'll be fine.

Posted by
21 posts

I posted this very question before my RS Venice/Florence/Rome tour in May. I didn't train the way I planned to, but I did fine--in fact, I usually doubled the walking on my free time. Ten to 15 miles a day was normal, and that is NOT my activity level at home. (One 15-mile day was during a metro strike in Rome, when we'd gone to the Vatican in our free time and assumed we could get a cab back. It turned out that cabs during metro strikes are in very short supply.)

If I had it to do over, I would have practiced lugging a heavy suitcase up and down stairs at home. I could do it on the tour, but it left me out of breath. For many reasons, don't overpack! We had a bit of a hike from hotels to buses, and I was very glad I had just my small backpack and rolling suitcase. Another reason to do stairs: my room in one hotel was six or seven flights up, and there was no restroom on the ground floor. I'd go down for breakfast, then want to use the restroom before we left for touring, with very little time to do so. The amount of sprinting up stairs involved was itself a workout.

The standing may well bother you more than the walking. I have a standing desk at work so was actually OK on that front.

A few people have mentioned the importance of good shoes, and that can't be overstated. I wore ugly black Brooks cross-trainers that served me very well. Do get your shoes well ahead of time and break them in. Some of the brands that I tried based on forum recommendations turned out to be terrible for my feet (I'm an overpronator). The Brooks were great for me but might have been a bad choice for others.

Posted by
2788 posts

I just got home from my 13th RS tour in 13 years. It was Bulgaria which was probably one of the most physically active ones I have taken. Lots of walking, standing, and stairs. I will be 70 next month and did not have any trouble staying with the pack. I try to stay close to the guide so that I do not drop back like some folks seem to do. I did not do the amount of physical activity pre-tour that I should have but still managed to make it with occasionally sitting down when available. There was more "standing time" on this tour than on others which is harder on me than walking. On none of the tours I have taken have I ever felt overwhelmed by the strenuous activity. You should remember that tour members are not required to participate in every activity except those when the bus leaves.
If you ever feel that you are not up to a certain group activity you can op-out but be sure to notify your tour guide of your plans. There has always been a certain amount of free time most days when one can relax and rejuvenate if so desired.

Posted by
3500 posts

I will be taking my 10th RS tour soon (Best of Italy) and can say I have never had any issues with the mandatory activity levels. Over the years there have been a couple optional things I opted out of due to having issues with climbing stairs or other vertical inclines, but those were when I did not prepare for the trip in advance by walking and climbing stairs enough. Over all, most of the "strenuous" days are just a matter of opinion. Some have left me winded, some left me wondering what we missed because the activity was not strenuous at all.

How to prepare for your tour? Whatever walking you do daily -- double it! :-) And don't forget to have good walking shoes that are well broken in but not broken down.

Posted by
333 posts

Ive only done the 21 BOE (May) and I have to say that the tour was more strenuous than I anticipated and when I questioned other tour members- they said the same thing. While most had no problem with walking 10+ miles a day (and we had probably a week or betters worth of days where the step counter was over 10 miles), it's more of a challenge when those miles are hilly, cobblestones, or involve lots (and lots) of stairs. A common exclamation on our tour was, "Look! More stairs!" You can't escape them! Even in the hotels, you are constantly dealing with flights of stairs. We had one couple leave the tour because it was too much. Everybody else managed, but at various rates of speed. Several would opt out of certain things, like deciding NOT to visit Hoenschwangau Castle after the climb to Nueschwanstein Castle, or NOT taking the scenic hike before the castles and NOT climbing the new trestle bridge in Reutte. On my tour we usually had two groups, the main group and the tortoises who were usually a good half hour behind the rest on big walks. But we all had a great time and we all saw the main things. You just have to recognize your abilities and your limits. The problem is not usually distance, it's the ever present stairs and the hills. Most will have no problem, but like I said, even the fittest in our group said they hadn't expected it to be quite as strenuous as it was. Everybody slept well!

Posted by
260 posts

Just got back from our sixth (or seventh? can't recall!) RS tour, this time the Loire/Southern France trip. This seems like the least strenuous of all the trips we've taken, and it was also the oldest age group on any trip we've taken. I seem to remember that all of the other tours (Italy, France, Adriatic, Belgium/Holland) seemed a bit more strenuous. But nothing a healthy person couldn't easily handle.

Posted by
4398 posts

I would definitely stress, whether in a tour group or traveling independently, to not underestimate the amount of standing and stair climbing you will do!

Unless you live in a 7th story walk-up you will feel each and every stair step. And you will do way more standing; I've yet to hear someone say that walking is worse than standing. Wear shoes that have a thick-enough sole to prevent feeling every cobblestone.

You will most likely 'feel it' at the end of each day! BUT you aren't participating in extreme adventure sports, so don't worry about that type of training. Just lots of walking, standing, stairs, and cobblestones.

If you drink alcoholic beverages, you might do some elbow-bending training ;-)

Posted by
4398 posts

Also, have you watched the Tour Experience video? You can watch the entire 45-minute video, or just the 2+ minute section on what the strenuous-ness (a new word!) level is like (the last video clip). Hopefully those videos will be helpful!

Posted by
39 posts

As you can see from the diversity of answers provided by our tour members the activity level will vary from Tour to Tour and Day to Day and Site to Site. And it encompasses not only the amount of walking and climbing you will do but also the amount of standing you might incur when you are with the group. Say, for example, when visiting a museum. So, in general, some things will be easy and others may be a little harder. But nothing should require a person to be in extraordinary great physical condition (though it is always good to be in shape, right). Many people on our tours are in their 50's and 60's and even 70's so we know they can be done by an older crowd. Our tours do ask of the person who goes on them to be able to handle an active day but are not so physically demanding that it will put the average active person out of action for the next day. I would say to the couch potatoes, or those that don't get any exercise and who would like to take one of our tours, to get up and start getting energetic before you go on one. There is nothing but a positive benefit for you from doing that. And then, when you go on the tour, the activity level of the day won't impact your enjoyment of the wonderful places you are visiting. If you would like to discuss anything in particular pleas contact us in the tour department. Cheers.

Posted by
14 posts

We just returned from the best of Venice, Florence, and Rome and we walked about 8 - 10 miles a day (according to my fitbit), a little less on travel days. We tended to be active on the free afternoons, so you could cut that distance a bit by staying in, but you won't want to. There were also a lot of steps to climb, many of them steep and/or uneven, and rough surfaces (cobblestones and larger stones) to walk over. We had a range of ages on our tour, and everyone was able to keep up. In preparation we walked 5 miles, three or four times a week, and climbed stairs whenever we could. I took some Advil at night and that kept my legs from feeling too sore.

Pack light for this tour - the bus was unable to get close to any of the hotels we stayed in, so there was always a walk of a few blocks. Fantastic tour - I would highly recommend!

Posted by
1 posts

It probably depends on what tour you choose. We did our first tour to Spain in late Sept. It was quite nice, not too hot. The My Way tour we took let us decide the activities and recommended things to see. We paced ourselves but still wound up walking miles! My fitbit tracked up to 22,000 steps and 30 flights of stairs in a day. Other tour-mates did more. But as I said, we could pace ourselves on a My Way tour. I dropped out of a couple of things my friends did but we all had a good time. Even cobblestones were fine with the right shoes. Pack light. If you want to take your closet with you be prepared to be able to move it up hills and through narrow streets. We managed with a rollaboard and light carryon each. The guide had laundry recommendations about Day 7 that people took advantage of. So unless you think you'll need to layer, pack light. That is so good when you have to walk to/from the coach and hotel - which is usually in a downtown, pedestrian-only location. There were 4 of us 59+ in age traveling together and we did just fine.

Posted by
58 posts

I'd ask yourself the following questions:
1) Can you walk for roughly 30 minutes straight?
2) Do you have issues going up hills?
3) Do you have issues standing?
4) Do you have issues carrying your own bags?

I suspect when they categorize the different days on the tour schedule as light, moderate or strenuous they're being careful as much as they are helpful. It's no secret that Rick Steves' seems to cater to a slightly older crowd, so they need to take that in mind. On the recent 14 day tour of Ireland, I had no issues whatsoever, aside from the rocks in some locations being a bit slippery (Ireland in October), but other people on the tour elected not to do certain things (walk across the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, travel up the Cliffs of Moher or some of the other more difficult terrain. When we do our little group orientation walks, we always do them slowly enough that everyone stays together. On this tour, we never walked more than 8 miles in a day & it was all broken up with plenty of rest or time on the bus in between to recharge.

If you're in doubt, try a shorter one & see how well you do.

Posted by
399 posts

I do not believe I would call the tours strenuous, but they are certainly not for couch potatoes who want everything done for them, and think that riding in a bus in the best way to see things. You should take seriously the admonition to be able to carry your bag up five flights of stairs on your own, be able to walk a few miles on dirt paths and cobble stone streets, etc.

On the last tour I took we had a number of folks who either did not read that and thought for some reason it did not apply to them. Several simply had to opt-out of many of the daily activities, a few found fellow tour members who were able to help them climb stairs, carry their luggage, and walk about various ruins. While I was sorry for their suffering I also wondered about the fairness of asking their fellow tourists to give up their plans in order to be an almost constant escort.

Active healthy people should have no problems unless you seriously over pack. :-(

Posted by
4637 posts

It is all relative. There is an outdoor club in Seattle called Mountaineers. Among other activities they do hikes of different categories: easy, moderate, strenuous, very strenuous. Hikes in their easy category are still more strenuous than the most strenuous day on the Rick Steves Tour. I agree with others that standing is more difficult than walking.