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Free time on the 21 Day Best of Europe

We have booked the BOE21 for this upcoming May and would like to know from those who went, what free time was available? I'm looking for specific days and hours(?) so I can use the windows of time for an opportunity to plan options. Thank you Jane for the suggestion!

Posted by
16743 posts

Tour plans can vary with the season, guide, traffic, local events, and the reservation times the office was able to secure. So even first-hand reports here may not be any more accurate than what you can glean from the published itinerary. In Venice, Florence, and Rome, your morning walking tours should be done around 13:00 or 13:30, then you're free for lunch and the afternoon.

For the May 17 departure date, I see that on Day 2 in Amsterdam, you'll see the Rijksmuseum first, then free for lunch, then canal cruise starts at 14:30, so any additional reservations would be made for pretty later afternoon. If you're arriving early to Haarlem and Amsterdam, that might be the best time to reserve something particular.

Posted by
890 posts

We had people miss part of the Paris City bus tour for their reservations at Eiffel. The itinerary was alter a bit!

Posted by
3930 posts

You're welcome!

Sorry I'm so late getting back to you, but the day turned out to be much busier than I had expected.

I'll just hit a few high points here, things I can remember without checking my notes. We had a lot of free time in Florence, Rome, and Rothenburg. And of course, Cinque Terre and Lauterbrunnen. Those last two are scheduled as "vacations from your vacation," and there are no regularly scheduled group activities, although of course your guide may arrange something optional. I remember the busiest days seemed to be Amsterdam (based in Haarlem), Reutte, and Paris. And our first day in Rome was packed with activities, which included non-skippable transit from Florence to Rome.

You should heed Laura and Diane's warnings about making reservations on days what have something scheduled. I'm not trying to discourage you from making plans or researching options, though. We had plans to see the Etruscan Museum in Rome, and had plenty of time for that (not that first day though!)

And in Florence we hoped to see the Mercato Centrale, the Duomo Museum, and San Marco with Fra Angelico's frescoes. We had plenty of time to do all those things, but we didn't need reservations for them.

We did gamble and schedule a couple of pre-paid tours in Venice, and were able to do those with no conflicts.

And do remember that individual guides have a lot of discretion on scheduling, so the daily activities listed in the prospectus may well be rearranged. People have found, however, that you can sometimes get more information by calling the RSE office to see what the daily schedule looks like for your particular dates. The office folks are wonderful, and are reliably helpful.

I see from another thread you started that you're going a couple of days early. That's a great idea. If you have any particular places you want to see in Haarlem or Amsterdam that are not on the tour schedule, those extra days would be a great time to fit them in, especially if it's something like the Van Gogh Museum that may require reservations.

Ditto for Paris at the end of your tour. I don't remember if you're staying on after the tour, but I highly recommend it.

Posted by
14 posts

I guess my next question is how to use our free time wisely? My concern is that we'll show up for the tour and be flat footed when a couple of free hours become available. I'm not looking to make any reservations with any free time, but knowing that I have options when the opportunity arises would be good. I know being new to this is probably working against me, but I'm more of a planner than a non planner.

We are also staying 2 extra days in Paris.

Posted by
848 posts

The guide will offer ideas for free times, plus you know from the itinerary where you will likely have chunks of time, and can check the guidebook for ideas that appeal to you.

I've never had problems finding things to do during free afternoons, etc. Sometimes I just want to wander, or sit in a cafe.

Posted by
3930 posts

We always enjoy reading the guidebook way ahead of time, and placing stickies on the things we'd be interested in doing or seeing. If the 2020 guidebook isn't out yet, find a recent one at your local library.

I suspect you'll find so many things that interest you that you'll have no trouble filling your free time.

And if you let us know what kinds of thing in general interest you, we'd be delighted to make suggestions. Food, beer, wine, art, architecture, history, scenic walks, people watching, hiking, music, ... the list is endless.

You might also pose the question to yourselves: why is it you've chosen to go to Europe? What draws you?

And I agree with you it's good to have some kind of general idea of what you'd like to do in your free time. But as LIZinPA suggested, allow time to just chill. And rest. This trip is a marathon, and you'll be glad of the occasional afternoon to sit in a park or a cafe. My husband and I general shut down fairly early in the evenings, retiring to our room with our guidebooks, maps, and a bottle of wine. It works for us!

Posted by
890 posts

I’m not sure what the tour offers now that you can’t visit Notre Dame! We went to Sacré-Cœur during our free time in Paris, and our friends took a Seine cruise. In Florence, I climbed the dome, in Rothenburg we did the Night Watchman tour and walked the wall. Our bobsled type ride was changed due to rain, I cannot remember what it is called, but was while we were visiting Neuschwanstein Castle.
I wouldn’t worry too much about not having anything to do on your free time. Often you will need to meet up for dinner together in the evening. Your guide will help with options.
It’s a great tour and very active. I slept well after so much activity!

Posted by
111 posts

While I like planning, I find that not planning too much on this tour helped. We saw the Van Gough and Resistance Museum in Amsterdam pre-tour. That day with the group was packed, though plenty of time for lunch, snacks, etc. Bacharach offers opportunity to explore on foot Our day from Rothenburg to Austria was busy and our guide offered to arrange a night of beer and music in a local bar. In Venice the post dinner time was for wandering and enjoying StMarks after dark. We opted for the gondola ride with our group. We had been to Venice before and didn’t want to see museums. I wanted to see a church and we got lost twice and had lunch—loved it. We had the morning off in Florence and had to check out the Mercato. We had been to Florence before and had no “must sees”, so spent free time wandering and searching out gelato. In Rome we chose to go to the Vatican on our free afternoon (2016 the Vatican was dropped from the itinerary). Our guide also arranged a group pizza dinner that we joined. We hiked on our days off and Paris was busy.
By not planning too much we were able to enjoy optional group activities and our group. It added to our enjoyment. There were people on this and other RS tours that preplanned most of there free time, too.
Realize that you will be bit by the travel bug and want to go back and explore more in depth.

Posted by
16 posts

I second the relax and rest advice above. When we did the 14 Turkey tour back in 1998, we were completely exhausted by the end. We slept late on our last morning, before exploring Samos and then doing a 10 day relaxing car trip around the Peloponnese peninsula.

Posted by
14 posts

Unfortunately, I'm not the relax and take easy sort of person. I'm more of the action plan type.

To us, this trip is a bucket list trip. Having never been to Europe, I'm open to most everything. I would lean towards history and scenery rather than food or wine.

Arriving 2 days before the tour, I have already planned out those days. Hopefully I will be able to use Jane's notes and the itinerary to locate free time for ideas.

On the a related subject, does anyone have a general idea of the cash they budgeted for this trip per person? From reading, getting money from an atm can be a challenge. I may get a cash card or bring some from home rather than risk my debit card.

Posted by
3930 posts

Brian, I didn't actually keep track of how much we spent, but I just went back and checked to see how much we took out of ATMs in euros. We were in Europe about 30 days, 20 of which were on the tour. We withdrew about €2000 in that time. We ended up with about €500 that we brought home with us, but we took about €200 with us to start with. I'd say about during the 10 days we were on our own before and after the tour, we probably averaged about €75 per day. Maybe less, because that doesn't include hotels, but it does cover restaurants and museums. So for the duration of the tour, we probably spent about €50 per day - roughly. That's for two of us.

You could spend a lot less, or a lot more. As they say around here, YMMV. It's actually quite easy to spend less; the breakfasts provided are mostly quite hearty, and half of your dinners are provided. They all have copious amounts of food. And walking around enjoying the passing parade is free!

We allowed ourselves one true splurge meal, just before we left for home. Since we had had so much ATM trouble, when we finally did get our debit card to work, we stocked up on euros. So for one of our last meals in Europe we opted for a lovely restaurant (in Leiden) and both chose the chef's tasting menu, with wine pairings. For one glorious evening, we got to see how the other half lives, and why.

And I can probably assure you that our ATM woes were not typical. Most folks had no trouble. There was one time a number of years ago when nobody in our group could get their debit cards to work in Venice for about 36 hours. But that's rare.

And one of our tour mates this year didn't bring her debit card, and didn't know the PIN for her credit card. (And later her phone was stolen, to give her the trifecta.) So bring at least one extra card, and be sure you know your PINs before you leave the States. My friend called her bank from Paris, but they wouldn't give her her PIN over the phone.

Posted by
569 posts

there are as many ways of planning for free time as there are travelers. Some people read the guidebook on the way to the next location or just depend on the guide to give suggestions. What I like to do is read the guidebook in advance and mark things I might be interested in doing, far more than I actually will do. Then depending on time, weather, energy level, we can decide which one(s) if any to do. It's also a good idea to expect a bit of serendipity; the guide might announce a bonus location to visit, an optional wine tasting or walk, etc. So you may not want to be too rigidly tied into free-time plans.

As for getting money from an ATM, haven't had any problems in over a decade of travel. I always use the ATM of a real bank, located on their exterior, during business hours in case the card gets swallowed. But as I said, they just give me euros and my card back, never an issue.

Posted by
7606 posts

"From reading, getting money from an atm can be a challenge. I may get a cash card or bring some from home rather than risk my debit card."

It's pretty easy to get local currency via ATM in Europe. For your Switzerland days, on the way from Cinque Terre to Switzerland the guide will discuss this on the bus and suggest how much you should get from the ATM so you have enough but not too much.

I bank with a small local credit union and generally have no problems using that debit card. I notify them before I travel and have found it is best to go in and do this face to face. The only issue I've ever had is that somehow UK is on their countries likely to have "fraud" so there is an extra step they have to take. It works better if I go in and mention this if I'm going to UK. The first time I went in and told the teller I was going to England and she said - OK that's not on the list. I said - I thought UK was on the list she says - it is but not England. Small, kind, geography lesson followed. Ask to see the list of countries that your bank/credit union have as possible fraud issues. I've NEVER had an issue with fraud using my debit cards in Europe (I have had in Target in the US)!

I do take 2 debit cards (the local CU and my money market) in case there are issues. I have 2 credit cards as well. I travel solo so feel I need this security.

I have read anecdotal things about pre-paid cards. The fees are generally WAY more than you think and sometimes people report they are unusable. I have no personal experience with this in Europe but have had problems with pre-paid VISA cards being accepted at restaurants and gas stations in the US. Please research this carefully before you decide on this option. Really, I've never seen anyone post anything positive about pre-paid cards either here or on Trip Advisor. Pre-paid cards are something AAA used to push - not sure if they do any more but proceed very cautiously. Really, ATMs work fine.

I think Rick suggests 50E a day per person for incidentals. I don't spend that much as a solo traveler. Sometimes I don't eat full meals so you may spend more than I do. I think I averaged about 23E a day and that included days where I spent 5 or 6 Euro as well as days where it was much more expensive (maybe 110E or so on the Switzerland day for transportation to go up the Schilthorn and then go up to Mannlichen to hike.) I'd have that amount in mind and then assume it will be much less.

Do be ready to do anything extra the guide offers. On the "free day" in Switzerland, my guide offered to take anyone who wanted up to the Schilthorn in the AM and then hiking on the other side of the valley in the afternoon. He purchased the tickets and we repaid him. He also organized a few extra dinners plus as someone mentioned above a gondola ride in Venice.

I'm a planner but this trip was early on in my RS tour "career", lol! I didn't plan much until Florence but I'd been to Florence, Rome and CT with previous RS tours so kind of knew the lay of the land and what I wanted to see. I generally plan more now. I have found I like to spend more time in Cathedrals and Museums. I'll do the guided part with the group then often will return on my own to see the venue in more detail. I'd probably not book anything ahead for the tour days. Since you are staying extra in Paris I'd do the Eiffel Tower on one of those days - you'll need to book ahead if this is something you are interested in. On your pre-tour days, be sure to get tickets to the Van Gogh Museum well ahead of your travel time if this is of interest to you.

You'll have a wonderful time!

Posted by
1065 posts

On our trips to Europe (usually about 30 days in length) we spend about 300 to 400 euros in cash. We use our credit cards for everything except small purchases (10 euros or less). There really is no need to carry a large amount of cash. We also have never had a problem getting cash at an ATM.

Posted by
111 posts

We have been on our own several times and on RS tours with time before and after on our own. Our first trip my ATM stopped working. Turns out it expired on September 1. My husband had a different card and covered for us until his bank worried due the number of withdrawals. An easy phone call helped. We had our 18 and 20 year old kids with us and I was able to transfer from my Wells Fargo account to theirs for withdrawal. This was 2006 and I feel that ATMs have only improved.
Also, when on RS tours, we find we take out less, but our lodging and transport is prepaid, so that’s a big part. Unless you splurge on meals 50-100 €/day for 2 is reasonable. A few extras—gondola ride in Venice, the Schilthorn and the Tremmelbach falls in Switzerland and the Eiffel Tower.
If you are like most, you will return! We did almost yearly since 2006.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks all for the education. So I will use an ATM when we arrive in Amsterdam. Is it advisable to use the ATMs in the Schiphol airport like the ABN AMRO Financial Center in the arrival terminal or wait until after we check in to the hotel?

Posted by
7606 posts

I’d wait until you get to the hotel. That might mean that you’d need some cash on hand for transportation from the airport to the hotel. You may be able to get foreign currency from your bank. They may need to have a few days to a week lead time and the exchange rate will not be as good as when you get on the ground in Europe but I like to have some cash in my pocket to start with. Before I was traveling frequently I’d get about 200€. Now I just make sure I pull out money before I travel back home so I’ve got starter money for the next trip. I want enough to get myself from the airport into town and get a meal or two before I hit the ATM. I do not know what the ABN AMRO Financial Center is.

The reason I don’t use the airport ATMs is that I’m usually feeling a bit fuzzy after the overnight am not as on guard as I should be. I travel solo so no one to watch my back so to speak. I’m also concerned I’ll not withdraw from a bank owned ATM and instead get one from one of the foreign exchange companies that has a worse rate.

Posted by
918 posts

Brian, I am also a planner. Before our BOE 21 day I had researched each city where we would stay for more than an overnight for extra things to see/do so I never felt left hanging or only having guide recc. of things to see. That was good for Florence because I wasn't thrilled with the suggestions given. We're not big foodies so we didn't plan around restaurants but just found something to eat somewhere. The guide did have a few excellent dinner suggestions but did not arrange optional additional meals together. I did not make any reservations or pre-purchase tickets to museums, etc since I wasn't sure of how much time we'd have or when the free time would actually begin. We didn't always follow our extra plans as a few times we joined with tour mates who had plans for something else that we found just as interesting.
We spent 10 days in Amsterdam and Haarlem before the tour began. I did not take euros with me but used an ING (bank) atm upon landing at Schipol. My favorite atm's to use in Amsterdam proper are ABN AMRO as they let you choose how many bills of each denomination you are going to receive. I always use the one in Dam Square. I think I used a Tiger atm once and it all came out in 20's and 50's - meh.
You're going to have a great time on this tour!

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you for your reply Nance!

If you would feel comfortable sharing your research, I'd love to compare it to what I've looked up so far.

I went to the Denver travel show because I wanted to ask RS if we were not wine drinkers, would we be considered grumpy people if we didn't feel like watching others enjoy their drinks. They said we would be fine. lol
Brian

Posted by
2902 posts

Let me tell you, when you are a non drinker, you can get pretty popular on a Rick Steves Tour if the group meal has “a glass of wine each” included and the rest out of pocket! I learned to find out what my table mates were drinking, ordered the same, and then passed the drink onto to them for their refill.

There has been a wine tasting scheduled for the group on both the tours I was on. The locations are generally quite beautiful and the company always excellent. Plan on wandering around a bit if you get bored.

Posted by
3930 posts

Brian, it is not unusual for there to be non-drinkers on RS tours. Nobody thinks anything of it, even at group wine or beer tastings. Enjoy your beverage of choice, and don't feel self-conscious whatever that beverage may be.

Posted by
7606 posts

"Third-ing" Carol and Jane - really no one cares. I'm happy to give my glass to someone else as long as they don't start assuming it will happen. Occasionally I will drink a glass of wine, sometimes not at all.

I've not had issues on Rick Steves tours with someone assuming they could have my glass of wine but I did on a Road Scholar tour, so I worked out a better strategy on seating for future meals on that particular program with that particular participant.

Posted by
3930 posts

Pam, when you and I finally manage to take a tour together, can I sit by you? :-)

Actually, most of the tours we've been on - maybe all of them - have had non-drinkers, and I've never seen them pass their wine or beer to other tour members. They've always just said "Pas pour moi" or "no, grazie," or whatever, and ordered cola or water.

Posted by
7606 posts

Yes, Jane, please! Sit next to me!

I've not had as much of that on the RS tours as on this last Road Scholar tour which sort of got out of hand - with the person actually asking the guide to get the waiter to come back to give her "my" glass of wine. It was extreme. It was a tour that had wine with every group meal so I started ordering a glass of rose which I knew she did not like and tried to arrange seating so I was not near her. There were clearly some alcohol issues there which I've never seen on a Rick Steves tour.

Posted by
16743 posts

I'd like to mention that beverages other than water are not routinely included in Rick Steves Tour meals, aside from an event that's billed as a wine tasting.

What's included (or easy to include) depends a lot upon the country. Italian restaurants often design group meals with fewer options for what you'll eat and drink, and the wine comes along with it, in the form of bottles or carafes to be shared by the group. In the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and France, you may have more choices at dinner, including what you want to drink and pay for. The "one drink included" scenario sounds most likely to me for a final dinner in Paris, for example, but guides have some freedom in meal planning and I haven't quizzed them about what they all do in beer halls, etc.

It may cost your guide extra to secure you a soft drink, so discuss that possibility with them before you accept a glass of wine and pass it to someone else. At the end of your first orientation meeting is a good time to touch base with the guide.

Posted by
3930 posts

Laura is, of course, right. We've been on a couple of RS tours where wine was included at every group dinner, but on most if you wanted it, you had to pay for it.

We were on one tour where wine was included, and at a dinner that consisted pretty much of only wine and light plates, we kept reordering until we got cut off. That evening our guide had made a big show of showing us how to get back to the hotel from the bar; by the end of the evening, we understood why he had done that.

No, most tours do NOT include alcoholic beverages with every meal. I think out of 14 tours (so far) I can only think of two where wine was incluso.

Posted by
14 posts

I'm Looking into the 60 day window for Eiffel Tower admission tickets. Thinking of going in the evening to see sunset and city lights. Does anyone have any insight to this activity?

Also assumes the trip is not cancelled. :)

Posted by
3930 posts

brianlajoie, we also have a RS tour booked this May, and our local travel pal Kim and her husband do, too. We're all hoping the tours don't get cancelled. Keep a good thought!

Posted by
73 posts

Brian,
About the Eiffel Tower. For a past May tour, I reserved online when the window opened for my dates. I have read it opens 60 days in advance, but for me that did not happen. I kept checking and it wasn't until 30 days ahead that the calendar opened when I went. Just keep checking. There seemed to be times of the day that were blocked out. Given the choices, I picked around 7:45 or 8 pm thinking I would be there long enough to enjoy it after dark. That didn't happen since sunset wasn't until way past 9 i think. The one plus was there was no waiting in line or crowded elevator going up the tower at my time. The observation desk was not overly crowded. But when I was ready to leave, lots of people started to arrive and I was glad to have missed the onslaught. I still could watch the tower lit up at night once I was on the ground, even if it was from afar. Others on our RS tour did not get prior tickets and where unable to get last minute ones that worked with the tour's free time.

About wine. I enjoy wine with dinner, usually one or two glasses. I can't remember how often it was included in group dinners but often enough to satisfy me. I think some others enjoyed non alcoholic drinks but I did not really pay attention. I just went with the flow.

About money, for me I like to bring Euros from home to get started. I don't bring a debit card although I know some people's ATM cards are also debit cards ( I bring 2 ATM cards) and two credit cards.