We want to take our first tour with Rick Steves tours this year. While I have done a lot of (work) travel in my day, my wife has done a few trips with me. We were thinking of a city tour (London, Rome, Paris) to get our feet wet for this kind of travel. Was wondering if anyone had thoughts on what would be a good beginning tour or introduction tour?
I would go with Paris or Rome. London is slightly easier since there is (mostly, lol) no language barrier! Although I love London as well!!
The great thing about a city tour is that the guides work with the group to teach you local transportation which is so helpful if you live somewhere where there is no public transit.
I did the Paris one several years ago and it cemented my love for that destination!
I agree with Pam, but I'd include London as a candidate along with Paris and Rome. And try to add some days before (to overcome jetlag) and after (to see more of the city and add a daytrip or two nearby).
I'm sure those city tours are great, but they won't include the hotel changes and bus time you have with the longer tours. If you liked a city tour, you could "step up your game" with a longer tour in a country or area that appeals to you. Again, adding days at both ends gets the tour off to a better start and gives you more time in the bigger cities where they usually start and/or finish.
I don't think you can go wrong with any of the 3.
I would go with the one that you are most interested in seeing.
London, definitely London.
I'll go in a different direction. I've only done one, so my sample size is small, but if you want to get a feel for his tours, consider a tour like Loire to the South of France. This will give you a feel for what the bus tours are like so you can determine if spending 3-4 hours on a bus some days is the right style for you. We loved it. I'm intrigued by the city tours, but one of the reasons we tried one of his tours was because it had destinations that wouldn't be easy to reach on our own.
My vote is for Paris and the Heart of France. This gives you city, and some time out and about.
I would go with the location that I’m least comfortable traveling to on my own. Either due to language or logistics challenges. For me, this would be one of the Eastern Europe trips, or one of the trips to England, Scotland or Ireland (because I don’t want to drive on the other side of the road again!). I feel like the major cities (London, Paris, Rome) are pretty easy to see on your own, with easy public transportation, English widely spoken, and plenty of private guides and tons of guide books available. Save the easy destinations for independent travel and let the tour take you to the more challenging locations.
“Paris is always a good idea!” Rick Steve’s Paris in 7 Days is an excellent tour and that’s where I’d start!
London and Paris would be a good trip--traveling between the cities on the Eurostar train in under 3 hours. Either city is worthy of as much time as you have to spend there.
An adventurous traveler could also go to Amsterdam via train easily and fly home from there.
I'd save Rome for your next trip as Italy is a full vacation to its self.
For a beginner, London is an easier get-your-feet-wet option.
France, and then Rome, are a bit more jump in, feet first.
With a Rick Steves tour, you won’t be going under in the Deep End, either way.
Cities you can easily do on your own. I would pick one of the tours that moves around so it is easy to appreciate the benefits of someone taking care of all the logistics for you. I especially love the experiences we've had that I don't think we could book on our own - in Portugal painting pottery at a pottery factory, the cork farm tour and lunch with the matriarch of the family, in Italy making pasta with the owner of the agriturismo where we were staying, having a home cooked dinner with a family in Sorrento and on my husband's 60th birthday the group tour and lunch at a winery in Orvieto and the guide surprised him with a cake, in Switzerland my husband blowing the alphorn, and so many more.
Our first tour was Heart of Portugal. Our 2nd was Best of Europe in 14 days which I think would be an excellent candidate for a first tour since it starts in Paris and ends in Rome so you can have your city experiences too. We've loved all our tours and my husband and I often talk about which was our favorite and it is impossible to pick. We've also done Southern Italy and Village Italy. This May we are doing Best of Eastern France.
I don't think you can go wrong with any of them.
You can pick any RS tour package! You don't need to limit your choices to destinations where English is widely spoken. RS's 2023 tours are filling quickly so your choices may be limited, which I think is a good thing: while your options may be reduced, the situation clearly indicates the RS organization and business model are strong performers. And you may end up going someplace you had not previously considered. Got old family ties somewhere in Europe? Go there.
The Rick Steves version of "this kind of travel" is mostly care-free. Your days are packed with pre-planned and interesting things to do, accompanied by other adventurers who can quickly become your chums.
You don't want to be disappointed or surprised so get your expectations in line. Do the (extensive but easy) research about the RS group tour philosophy, groups transportation, accommodation choices, low maintenance packing techniques, and their suggestions on how to stay healthy and happy.
You're most likely going to have a wonderful time.
Dan, where do you want to go? What do you want to see? That’s all that’s really important in choosing a tour. Any tour is organized in a way that first timers will enjoy it.
My first tour was South of Italy. Prior to that I hadn’t traveled in 25 years. I chose it because I wanted to see the area my husband’s grandparents were from. Last year I did South of France because my focus was on castles and antique furniture. Both tours were excellent. This year I’m taking the Berlin, Prague & Vienna tour because I want a tour that ends in Vienna so I can spend more time there.
The point of mentioning this is that my choices may not be yours. So choose what you like.
I would pick Venice, Florence, Rome OR Munich, Salzburg, Vienna depending on which area appeals to you most. You get urban areas and the feel of a city tour but also a taste of the bus aspect. Both of these are fairly short and may offer the opportunity to start or end the tour with some days on your own.
I have done both of these tours twice. My first tour was the now-defunct Venice in 7 Days. Since that was not available to repeat, I next selected VFR. I would consider this for a third time if my vaca time were relatively short. They get me where I want to be and no stress. Great things about RS tours are: the knowledgeable guides with enough time on your own to explore.
My first Rick Steves' tour was the Paris city tour. It was also my first solo trip to Europe. It was fantastic. I cannot think of a negative thing about it. My hotel was in the Rue Cler district and I walked and explored on my own and then the places we visited on the tour were wonderful. I was hooked and have since taken 6 solo Rick Steves' tours.
I think there is more value in a tour with stays in multiple towns than in a city tour. You could fly to London on your own, do some of the London Walks tours, find out when the docent tours are at a few museums, buy reserved entrance tickets for museums as available, and have much of the RS city tour experience for less. Same is true for Paris and Rome.
IMO tours really shine on the multi-city trips. Because they have their own bus they change locations when it's convenient for the tour schedule instead of when the trains run, and you avoid the hassle of driving and parking a rental car. They have outside guides meet the tour at a convenient time or your guide shows you around. Smaller cities won't have as many options for guided public tours as major cities, and towns typically have none. Tours can reserve times at museums in smaller locations, an option that may not be available for the general public.
I would take one of the tours that would be hard to do on your own. Our first was My Way Alpine, and we loved it. We flew into Prague and felt comfortable spending time there on our own before taking the train for a night in Vienna and making our way to Salzburg to start the tour.
In our four trips to Europe, we always start off with a week or so on our own (Lake Como & Venice, Dublin, Paris) before joining a tour.
Reading through the previous responses, I certainly feel many ideas are well worth your consideration tours. All offer sound advice and good suggestions.
I did my first RS tour last year. Indeed, it was actually my first tour of this kind with any operator. I have travelled extensively independently. So for this tour I opted for something I saw as more challenging to do on my own. Thus I signed onto the RS tour to Bulgaria. A fascinating tour to say the least. Biggest challenge to doing a trip like this on your own would probably be the language - how many of us speak Bulgarian? - and the fact the Bulgarians use the Cyrillic alphabet.
To the question from the OP, this tour in my view would certainly provide a good sampling of what an RS tour is like. Several cities and sites in the course of 13 days. A good taste of bus travel, sometimes several hours. The tour made what would have been challenging to do on my own into a very enjoyable experience.
While I indeed recommend the Bulgarian tour, my bottom-line suggestion to the OP is don’t eliminate something new and exotic from your options. The RS tours are all, I am sure, well organized and enjoyable. Take a leap and do something novel and exciting.
Our first Rick Steves tour was Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as mountain scenery, castles, and my husband’s German ancestry interested us so much. I would recommend taking a multi-site tour over a city tour but it is all in what you’re most interested in. Hope you love whichever one you take as much as we did!
If you see this trip as the first of more, I suggest one that moves you through multiple cities/towns. Single city tours will show you some of what RS excels at, but you'll miss how great a bus tour can be to handle logistics. I suggest Ireland in 14 days - that was our first tour with RS and we LOVED it. No language challenges, no "wrong side" driving, and hotels are selected, museum tickets are bought, often lines are skipped, etc. A multi-city tour gives you the opportunity for more time in each place than cruise stops do, and shows you where you'd like to spend more time on your own on another trip. I also echo the suggestions to spend a few days in the starting or ending city on your own.
My first tour was 17 day best of Italy. I picked it because it covered a lot of ground, I wanted an overview of Italy so I could decide on future travels, plus I was worried about language barrier. A city tour is totally fine choice as well, but in my opinion there is great value in a RS tour that covers a lot of ground - no worries about logistics/transportation.
As was mentioned, 2023 tours are filling up quickly, so your choices may be simply limited by your intended travel dates. You can easily see what is available on their search page - pick 2023 tours at the top, and then click on the "status" column heading to sort what tours are available or have limited seating. A large share are already waitlisted (full).
Like a previous response above, I'd suggest a 14 day trip so you can also see how the tour bus works (or won't) for your style of travel. I went on the 14 day Europe trip for my very first trip ever to Europe. It started in Paris and I arrived 3 days earlier to do my own exploration. My 2 years of h.s. French from over 25 years ago = not fluent AT ALL, but I didn't really have any issues as long as you start with "bonjour". Plus, the Europe tour will take you to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy so you can decide which ones you may want to come back and explore further. Have fun!
I agree with many of the responses you’re receiving to try one of the multi-city locations since transportation is provided with the tour. I had been to Europe with a 4-H program after high school. My husband’s first time in Europe was us taking the RS Germany, Switzerland, Austria tour. Our next one was the 17-day Best of Italy tour. Both of those showcased the advantage of his tours - a wonderful variety of experiences, some city, some gorgeous countryside & mountain destinations, and at least one small intimate town, and we learned so much about how to travel, how to enjoy the local culture, and enjoying a nice variety of food. We did little planning for that first trip and still had a fantastic time.
I have taken the RS Paris tour, and it is a nice tour with great sites in lovely Paris. You just won’t get the amount of variety of landscape & experiences on a 1-city tour. If you decide on this type, let us know, and we can suggest a location nearby the city you choose to spend a couple of days before the tour to broaden your experience and get over jet lag.
To summarize, it’s your choice, and anyone of the tours you choose will be great! So pick what appeals to you. All of the tours have newbies in them. : )
I would recommend doing a tour that visits more than a big city. I live in a small city (65,000) and I think the best parts of Europe are the small towns. I like the big cities because they have great museums, but the smaller towns have the charm. My first tour was Italy in 17 days and it has a nice mix of smaller towns and big cities. The scenery covers gorgeous Tuscan views, lakes, beaches, mountains and vineyards. There is history, beautiful churches and great art. The food is outstanding! The wine is fabulous and inexpensive. Another thing that you miss out on when you take the “city” tours is the time creating new friendships with your tour mates. You don’t really develop the relationships when you don’t have bus time and multiple meals together.
So I would seriously consider a tour that takes you out of the city.
Rome. Definitely Rome.
I like the RS single city tours like Rome, Paris, Istanbul, etc. or the two or three cities tours because they minimize the amount of packing and unpacking I have to do. But, I will warn you that after getting used to unpacking for three plus nights at a time, you will be spoiled.
It is such a personal decision but I can telll you my first group tour was Jordan, with a different company. I have now done about a dozen group tours and travelled on my own. Will hit country 50 in April. I had travelled some before including spending a summer working in London in universtiy and did the student backpacking highlight on my own, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin...
I did a Rick Steves tour of Portugal in the fall and doing one in France in May. I think that something more than a city based tour is best. You get the feel of a group tour and ease of not having to plan buses and trains and your own hotels.
Look at what county interests you and see what is offered.
If you decide to do a city tour I would suggest either Rome or Paris and then London on your own. London was the first place I spent any time in outside of Toronto and found it easy to navigate.
Enjoy what ever trip you choose and enjoy your travels. Once you start it is hard to stop.
Our first, after years of independent travel, was Venice-Florence-Rome. What we liked about it was it covered the three great cities of Italy, and we learned a lot about the country. London & England we can (and did) do on our own.
I've done 8 RS tours. For a beginner, I would recommend either a city tour (you stay in the same hotel for the week) or something like the Florence, Rome, Venice tour, where you spend more than just two nights in each place. For a beginner, doing a multi-city tour might be a bit hectic. Up early, travel, check in at destination, have that night there, the next day and evening and then move on. In some cases, on a very short travel day, you may just stay in a place for one night. I've enjoyed the multi-city tours, but they could be tough for someone not use to that pace.
I think you can't go wrong with any of the cities. But is there a city you've always wanted to see? Just because Rome is a little more chaotic than Paris or London, I might do a RS tour of Rome. London is really very easy to do on your own and Paris is pretty much the same.
As I tell people who ask what to see when visiting a particular city-why did you choose it to begin with?