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Indecisive First Time RS Tourist

So I have never been on a RS tour before and am excitedly looking over the 2019 itineraries. I've pretty much narrowed down my interests to one of the Italy or Eastern Europe tours. I honestly just don't know which to select and I would love some input from those of you who have taken more tours. I am an early 30's single female so that might also be a consideration when making my selection.

Thank you!

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10674 posts

Any of those options will give you a great experience, I am sure, but since tours are often more expensive than doing it yourself (because of all the extras provided, door-to-door transportation, etc.), I'd favor a tour that covers territory that might be just a bit more of a challenge if you were traveling on your own--Eastern Europe, Sicily, southern Italy rather than a tour that is basically Rome, Florence, Venice.

I don't mean to suggest that an individual traveler cannot go to the places in the first category; I do it myself. But it's not quite so easy.

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

Thank you for your input! I'm also thinking along similar lines...I'd like to take a tour where I might be less likely to return on my own. It's a big reason I decided against England/Germany/Ireland/etc.

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4680 posts

I'm going to be a devil's advocate - given your age, why not strike out on your own instead of a tour? Millions of young people have done that, including month-long backpacking trips. I did the same in my 20s, planned my own solo trip to Southern Italy. There's nothing more rewarding than gaining the skills it takes to put together your own trips and problem-solving once you're on the ground. You could reuse those skills over and over again, and save money in the process that can fund more trips. Planning a trip to Europe is not much harder than planning one domestically, it's the same skillset.

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

This is actually a very generous birthday gift so I'm pretty much looking at selecting a tour. I'll admit, I don't think I would be too comfortable going off on my own particularly given that I've never been to Europe at all before. I'm pretty excited about going!

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3460 posts

Agree with acraven.

Also, I think your question may be slightly misdirected: I think your question is more about where you want to go, rather than which tour is best for you. Answer the first question, and that answers the second.

"Italy" and "eastern Europe" are quite different.

Questions for you:

  1. Where have you been in Europe before? What did you like/not like about those places?
  2. What are your interests/preferences (history? art? scenery? adventure? tolerance for heat or crowds?)
  3. What time of year are you looking at? Some places have significant ups/downs based on seasonality (eg Italy in August = HOT and crowded).
Posted by April
Portland, OR
684 posts

I did the Best of the Adriatic tour in 2014 and absolutely loved it! Public transportation isn’t as available there as in Western Europe, so I was so glad to have someone handling the logistics, especially going in and out of Bosnia! The food, wine, coastline, etc.....LOVED everything about this tour!

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

I have actually never traveled to Europe before so this will be my first time. I am very interested in history and I don't mind a lot of walking. I do have a history of heat exhaustion/getting dehydrated but I also live in Florida so I've learned to manage that and be aware of when I'm getting overheated. I'm open to pretty much any time of year.

Posted by LIZinPA
SE Pennsylvania
252 posts

I think a Rick Steves tour is a good way to gain the confidence for future independent travel.

My situation is different than yours--I traveled independently with my late husband and had never gone on a tour. For my first tour I was most concerned about long stretches on a bus, so I chose the Barcelona&Madrid tour, which uses the train between the 2.

That tour made me comfortable with tour logistics, at least the Rick Steves version, and I have now done 3 others which had bus time. I do still check the itinerary to see how much bus time there is, but I know that the rides are broken up nicely and it's been fine.

I'm sure you'll enjoy whichever you choose!

Posted by April
Portland, OR
684 posts

If you have never been to Europe before and you love history then I would HIGHLY recommend one of the Italy tours. We Go to Italy on our own almost every year and can’t get enough of it. Last year we did the RS Sicily tour and loved that, but honestly for your first time I would stay on the boot.

Posted by Judy B
926 posts

I recommend the Best of Italy in 17 Days tour. I took this in 2016 as an introduction to Italy, my first visit. It samples a variety of large cities, smaller towns and beautiful scenery in Northern Italy. You will begin in Varenna, a charming town on Lake Como, go to Verona, the Dolomites, the Italian Alps, do some hiking. Then on to Venice, Florence, Siena, Pisa for a lunch stop, Orvieto a hill town, stop in Assissi, 2 nights in Cinque Terre and on to Rome. It is a stunning collection of history, art and culture. Not to mention fantastic food and wine. Our guide arranged for private dinners for us with chefs who invited us into their homes.

I traveled as a solo female and found easy companions with others. I spent bus time chatting with others, and admiring the beautiful scenery and the skillful driving of our bus driver. The guide gave us lots of information on the bus, told stories and played music for us. I'm still FB friends with several and exchange cards and notes, too.

This tour will give you a solid foundation as a sampler of the delights that Italy has to offer. You will want to come back. I did, 5 months later, for a week-long RS tour of Rome.

You will love this tour!

Posted by Patricia
Milwaukie, Oregon
740 posts

If you’re interested in seeing things off the general Rome, Florence, Venice tourist track, I’d recommend the Village Italy tour. It’s a great way to see areas not seen by a lot of people and also to have experiences (truffle hunts, olive mill tour, cooking class) that might be difficult to do if traveling on your own. It was my favorite RS tour.

Posted by stan
The Heartland USA
3263 posts

I would also recommend to any first-timer to Europe, to go to Italy. We've done the Venice-Florence-Rome tour and it was exactly right for us. You can always add a few days on your own before, after, or both. But any of the Italy tours sound great.

Posted by andi
franktown, colorado
1391 posts

I'm agreeing with a couple of previous posters in recommending either the Village Italy tour or the Best of Italy in 17 Days. Both are a variety of wonderful places, experiences, food and drinks. I bet you will love Italy as a first time European traveler and I think your choice of a Rick Steves tour is a good one. The guides are literally "teachers" and will teach you how to travel confidently. I bet you will make new friends traveling single with a group of like minded travelers. What a wonderfully generous gift you have received!

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
4078 posts

Have to agree with Italy being the focal point of your first trip to Europe.

Given your love of history there is absolutely something magical walking under the Arch of Titus, visiting the Colloseum, admiring David, walking into the Vatican, meandering along the canals of Venice and hopefully getting to see the Last Supper.

Beautiful countryside, people, food, sights and history. Italy has it all.

Go for the Best of Italy in 17 days tour. Why not?

Stop at your local library or Barnes and Noble and grab a few of Rick's guides to peruse. Make a list of what you have always been curious about and want to see. I will say being able to see David just before the museum opened to the public was a travel "oh wow" moment I will never forget. Venice is like no other place on the planet.

Yep, I think Italy works for the first visit!!!


Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

Thank you so much for all the input! I would definitely love to visit Italy and enjoy the food, wine, and beautiful views. I should probably clarify that, while I do love history in general, I am particularly interested in and knowledgeable about 20th century history, specifically WWII. I know Auschwitz is on the itinerary for the Eastern European tour and that's a big consideration for me. That said, Italy does seem like it would be the most enjoyable and relaxing. Perhaps not quite as intense as the EE's pace?

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3460 posts

Can't go wrong with Italy as your first trip to Europe - it's got everything, kind of a no-brainer.

That said, I'd recommend you do not do that trip in the depth of the summer hot 'n crowded season. Even for a Floridian (who is probably used to aircon being widely available), Italy in July & August gets very hot (way too hot for me) and super crowded, to the point it can really take the shine off things.

If as you say, you can go anytime, then go in May (or possibly mid-September). Thinner crowds, lovely weather, everything nice. You'll come back as one of those annoying people gushing endlessly about la dolce vita.

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

That's a great consideration...I would definitely prefer to go when it's not as hot or as crowded!

Posted by Carol
1746 posts

What a generous gift to receive! I would encourage you to get the single supplement if you are traveling alone. It will be worth every penny.

Posted by Debra
523 posts

Wow, what a lovely birthday gift!! I vote Italy, you can't go wrong with any tour. Since you are early 30's you might want to consider going in the summer. I say that because there might be younger people on the tour. The draw back to summer travel is heat. If you aren't concerned about the age of tourmates or if you are not locked into a summer travel time, then consider April-May and Sept-Oct. tour dates. My favorite tour is still Village Italy, followed by Southern Italy.

Posted by Judy B
926 posts

Another suggestion: given that you have a depth of knowledge about World War II and the Holocaust, I think you might like the Berlin, Prague & Vienna tour in 12 Days. I did this in June 2015 and learned a lot about WWII and Communism in these countries. I have some knowledge from my interest in these subjects and have read a lot about Hitler, Nazism and WWII. Berlin blew me away, seeing the places and memorials to the Jews and other murdered victims of the Nazis made history come alive for me. I know, it's a cliche, to say, history came alive. There is no other way to explain it. Then seeing the effects of Communism on all 3 of these cities was also enlightening. We visited Terezin a worker's camp, not a death camp, under the Nazis' definition. Above the entrance the sign: Arbeit Macht Frei. Chills you to your core!

Posted by princess pupule
martinez, ca, usa
699 posts

hey raysgirl
how lucky you are, nice birthday gift. i've been to italy on my own, not a tour. you will absolutely love it. like judyb, claudia and andi mentions, the best of italy in 17 days, looks great. you get to see the variety of landscapes, big cities and small villages, from north to south. since you're planning might as well see alot since you are there. middle of may or september/october is my preference. the heat, and mobs of tourists in the summer, can be horrendous. pack light since you will be rolling or lugging your bags over uneven ground, over bridges, up steep stairs in some hotels. i pack a little bottle of laundry soap or a tide pod, dryer sheet to wash in sink, on a free day you may find a laundromat near hotel, comfy shoes. also book a multi-city flight (to one city out of another, no back tracking) few days before tour, check or ask the hotel at beginning if a room available, look at times of flights arrival and departures times. if too early, waiting for check in unless they will hold your bag and departing not too early (4am-7am) finding transportation (it's possible). you may want to look at supplemental for singles like carol says. never know who you'll share a room with, peace of mind for you. please let us know what you decide, come back and ask questions and they will advise you. want your first trip to be memorable.

Posted by Tamara
435 posts

Another vote for the Best of Italy in 17 days tour. It takes you to some of the most important heart and history sites and also has a good number of smaller stops where you can just enjoy the Italian culture. Such a great trip! We loved every single day.

Posted by Rocket
San Francisco area
744 posts

In the Best of Italy vs Village Italy, I’ll have to vote Village Italy. Note that I have only taken the village Italy tour.

Venice, Florence and Rome are all connected via high speed trains and are relatively easy to see on your own. Village Italy takes you to towns that are a little more difficult to reach on your own. I really enjoyed the “experiences” on the tour.

  • Pottery making in Deruta
  • Hands on cooking class where we prepared our lunch
  • Winery visit and lunch. Winery had incredible view of Orvieto and lunch was extensive.
  • Truffle farm demo. Demo of finding farmed truffles using trained dog. Followed by wine, food and singing
  • Olive oil cooperative visit and lunch.

There may be similar experiences on the Best of Italy.

The tour starts in Padua. It’s easy to fly into Venice. Few days earlier to see the city and then hop on a train to Padua. Coming in early does allow you to get over jet lag prior to the tour start.

I like shoulder season so early May to mid June is ideal for me. Tours at this time of year do tend to have a 55 to 70 age demographic.

I have been on the Best of the Adriatic tour and it’s a great tour too. You really can’t go wrong with any of these tours.

ETA: Not sure if you have taken group tours before, but VI is 14 days vs. Best of at 17 in case you’re not the group tour type.

Posted by traylaparks
1233 posts

Especially if Italy is your choice, for the price of an escorted tour, you could have an amazing trip on your own - with better hotels.

I have met solo travelers in your age group on small-group minivan tours of special sights - that way you get the best of both worlds. You can travel independently and enjoy bits of companionship with other travelers on day tours.

Posted by Continental
New York, NY
1780 posts

RaysGirl, I do have to ask if you are a baseball fan, particularly Tampa Bay. :-)

What time of year would you be traveling? In summer, Italy will be as hot as can be and, unlike Florida, you won't find much air conditioning if any. In March/April, Italy will be DELIGHTFUL while parts of the Eastern Europe tour itinerary could be icy/dreary. Food for thought.

Posted by SA
338 posts

Our first tour with RS was Venice/Florence/Rome we went in late Oct & had a varied age group. Ranged 20-70. I know you said you have narrowed it down but the Best Of Europe 14 days can’t be beat for most bang for your buck. As another person mentioned if WWII is of interest seeing Munich where it all started is very interesting. We went to Normandy on our own before the tour started in Paris. Enjoy!

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10674 posts

This thread is a very good indicator of why Italy is so crowded during peak season: Everyone loves it, including I. But I'm on about Day 88 of a trip to former Iron Curtain countries, and they are fascinating, too. Decisions, decisions.

Posted by ibkc
1 posts

I’ll give you a very honest and simple answer. Italy! With any luck, Reiner will be your guide. Enjoy!

Posted by Patty
Steilacoom, WA, USA
1172 posts

I love Italy, loved our RS Heart of Italy and will probably take another RS Italy or Sicily tour next year, but I'd vote for one of the Eastern Europe tours. It would hit your historical interests, as well as seeing places you might not want to do on your own in the future. After you've gotten comfortable with European travel, you may feel comfortable doing Italy on your own or with friends. I encourage you to read the tour reviews for the tours you're considering and maybe even call the RS office to sound them out based on your age and interests.

You can't go wrong and will have an amazing adventure whatever you decide!

Posted by CindyP
Northern New York
32 posts

Another vote for Best of Italy in 17 Days. This was our first RS tour and we basically just fell in love with Italy. It gave us such a wide overview of many different areas and we have since gone back and enjoyed various areas on our own. The tour gave us the confidence to do that. If you like art, architecture, mountains, lakes, seaside ports, quaint villages and world class cities, you will have the time of your life!

Posted by Jean
Mill Creek, Washington
2280 posts

My comments would be almost identical to CindyP except that it was our second RS tour. It’s a fantastic trip from beginning to ending! You will learn so much about traveling during the trip and then can return on your own. We’ve been back to Italy several times and have seen most of the places on our own that are on the Village Italy itinerary. As much as they are wonderful, the Best of Italy is the cream of the crop of what you probably think of when you’re picturing being there.

Posted by aquamarinesteph
Southeastern USA
672 posts

If it were my first trip to Europe, I'd head to Italy. I can travel on my own now? But it took a little practice + some tours to give me the confidence to do so as a woman in another country. And Italy is very tourist friendly.

You can't go wrong with a RS tour. But for my first dip into the tour factory, we did the Rome/Florence/Venice tour. It's a great introduction to Italy, and it leaves you with TONS to see later - either on a tour or on your own.

Just so y'know - you'll be fine if you do a tour on your own. I've yet to see - with any tour company - that solo travelers were left to their own devices. And you'll come home knowing that you accomplished something you hadn't previously managed.

I hope you have a wonderful time!!!

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

Thank you all so much for the wonderful comments and insight! I really appreciate the thoughts particularly from those of you who have taken similar tours. Italy definitely sounds like it might be the best fit for me.

I am a Tampa Bay Rays fan, yes =)

Posted by stan
The Heartland USA
3263 posts

RaysGirl85, please follow up and report back on how it went after you take your trip. Its always good to hear recent experiences.

Posted by Judy B
926 posts

Yes, please report back to us on your decision and your trip experiences.

Posted by Mimi
Morrison, CO, USA
769 posts


My husband and I have done 3 RS Italy tours, some others in France and have done the Eastern Europe tour. You were getting a lot of responses, but I decided to chime in when you mentioned that you like WWII history. I think you would enjoy the EEurope tour especially. For a first timer to Europe, you would learn a lot of travel skills. Another thing is, many of the guides lived through communism. Etelka, our guide, was excellent!!! She related many things about how she grew up and was so engaging and helpful. Besides Auschwitz, we enjoyed Schindlers Factory museum.

For a first trip to Europe, traveling with a RS guide to multiple countries explains how to travel in many places and you can learn a lot. It will make independent travel (later if you decide to) a lot easier and more comfortable. We usually travel to Europe in mid to late October and enjoyed the weather at that time. I much prefer cooler temps than heat!

Whatever you decide I hope you have a great time.
And if you have questions for me please send me a private message


Posted by khrystia
Ottawa, ON, Canada
65 posts

I'm going to disagree with most of the above replies and suggest that because of your interest in 20th century history and WWII you should take the Eastern European tour. However, in the end, you are the one who has to make the decision about where to go. Read up on Italy and Eastern Europe, watch some videos, read trip reports and if you read or see something that makes your heart skip a beat and makes you think "I have to go there / see that!", then I think you will have your answer.

Posted by andi
franktown, colorado
1391 posts

I'm just feeling too lazy this morning to read back through all the replies to your questions so will just add this: take a look at the Tour Scrapbooks posted on the Rick Steves site. I'm sorry if it's redundant! Here's the link-
You can search out those that deal with the tours you might be interested in taking and in the process, maybe another will grab your interest! They are fun to look through and give a great look into a RS tour experience.

Posted by Ann
New York
981 posts

Have you looked at the RS videos that are posted on YouTube. They are free and there are several. Just google Rick Steves Italy or Eastern Europe or Rome or wherever and lots will pop up. This may help you determine where you want to go to narrow down what you think you really want to see. You can also find his videos for free on this website.

You can also look at the past years Rick Steves scrapbooks that show what people did on their tours and where they went. Filled with tons of information.

Very hard to ask what tour would be best for you even if you narrowed it down to Italy or Eastern Europe. A picture as they say is worth a 1000 words and so true. I never considered Ireland until I started looking at the RS scrapbooks, I was a bit tired of all the churches and museums, which I love but wanted something different. I found it by looking at the scrapbooks.

Whatever tour you choose, it will be wonderful.

Posted by Valerie
13 posts

Hi. I highly recommend taking the Best of Eastern Europe tour which I took in May 2017. I’m also very interested in history and I found this tour fascinating both in terms of the history and the cultures of the various countries we visited. Our guide talked about his experiences growing up under Communism. Our tour did go to Auschwitz and nearby Birkenau neither of which I’ll ever forget. The tour also included Prague, Kraków, Budapest, the beautiful Plitvice Lakes Forest, Rovinj (a former fishing village in Croatia, beautiful Lake Bled as well as other interesting and fun locations. This is also a great trip to do as a tour because it’s far easier to deal with the multiple currencies and languages, transportation and other logistics when RS and your guide has done the coordination for all those aspects for you vs you trying to deal with all that on your own.

Posted by emoore1
42 posts

My daughter was 34 when we took our first Rick Steves tour. She was sure she would hate it since her idea was that she'd be stuck on a bus all day with sedentary old people. She quickly changed her mind about the participants and the activities. Well we both loved that tour and have taken six since. Probably the favorite was the Eastern European one which we took when it was a 16 day itinerary. I'd recommend it because of the variety. We've also done a couple in Italy, the Adriatic tour, the Germany-Austria-Switzerland tour, and the Heart of France one. They've all been memorable in different ways. Wherever you choose to go you will meet some incredible people. Have fun!

Posted by MarieM.
Oroville, Ca
9 posts

Well RaysGirl85.....Ask and you shall receive! So many comments already and I'm sure you need one more...Whether you choose Italy or Eastern Europe you cannot go wrong. All fabulous. My husband an I have gone to Italy and we have gone on the Eastern Europe trip as well. So far we have been on five RS tours and Eastern Europe is still our favorite! Have fun making your decision!

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

I've been giving it some thought and I'm leaning pretty strong towards the Best of Italy. I do have a great interest in modern history and was really considering the Eastern European tour largely for that reason. However, I've also been considering what sort of vibe I want for my trip and I'm not sure I want some of the heavy aspects like the Auschwitz visit to be part of my trip. I'm not 100% sure yet but that's definitely what I'm thinking at this point. Plus, I've had the opportunity to look through some albums and Italy looks absolutely stunning =)

Posted by roxasamonte10
Irvine, CA
28 posts

I went on the Venice, Florence and Rome tour for my first ever Rick Steves tour, even after having visited smaller Italian cities like Genoa, Pisa and Chianciano Terme. I chose VFR just to "test the waters," so to speak and enjoyed every minute of it. While I think solo travel is a lot of fun, I really was impressed with my tour mates, which only helped brighten my travel experience. I'm thinking Village Italy or maybe Prague-Budapest might be good options for you?

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
5412 posts

Although I have not visited Auschwitz I have visited Dachau and Matthausen (both on different RS tours). I wasn't sure what my reaction would be but it was not as devastating a reaction as I thought. The 2 I've seen emphasize the aspects of it being a Memorial to those who were murdered and I felt there was an underlying theme of "We can't ever let this happen again." I felt the information provided at both the camps was sensitively but realistically presented. I think one of the most shocking things to me was how close the city of Dachau was to the camp.

On a personal note, you'll see I live in Idaho and I feel compelled to visit concentration camp memorials in case anyone ever admits in my presence they are Holocaust deniers. I want to be able to say...I have been there. I have seen them. They were real.

Sorry to go OT on you but I wanted to say this just so you don't feel the Auschwitz visit is a barrier to enjoying the whole trip.

On the other hand, I'd choose Best of Italy in a heartbeat, lol! I am not sure if all tours stop at the American Cemetery outside Florence or not. My Village Italy tour did and that was a very moving visit. It's got a mix of big cities and smaller towns which I find I like in a tour.

Posted by Alt5280
Centennial, Colorado, USA
15 posts

Well going against the grain, I suggest the longer Eastern European tour. I have been on both the discussed Italy and Eastern European tours. In reality you can’t go wrong on either as a primary learning experience for European travel. But, I opt for the EET because or the variety of cultures and experiences one can be presented. Prague, Budapest, Krakow, Lake Bled, etc. etc. are all distinct. Your emotional gambit runs from doing the fun of hot springs baths of Budapest to the solemnessness of Auschwitz. We were blest with Peter as our EET guide who poured out history and personal experiences of living under communism. The Italy tour is in my mind a wonderful variation on a single theme. I can not say “no” to either, but the range of variety on the EET far exceeds the Italy tour.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
11288 posts

I've been on 3 RS tours, several other tours and I've traveled a lot on my own. I think that qualifies me to tell you what you should do (that was meant to be both honest and facetious).

I don't think you'll find that any tour is more intense than another. They are all well-paced with a good mix of group activities and free time. I would not let a half-day visit to Auschwitz put you off the Eastern Europe tour. It does sound like it would most fit your interests and it's one that takes you to places you are not as easily going to get to on your own. Also going to a death camp as part of an RS tour insures you'll have a support group with you. I believe you said you were considering Italy because you might not get back there. From all the comments I've read over the years here and all the conversations I've had with many friends, no one goes to Italy once. The major cities are very easy to see on your own, so if you decide to take one of the Italy tours, choose one that goes to out-of-the-way places, I'd recommend South Italy, Sicily, or even Village Italy since they go to places which are more difficult to get to without renting a car. I think April is likely to be a very good time for Italy, before the weather gets too hot and while the wildflowers are in bloom.

Posted by Jane
Sapulpa, OK, USA
2417 posts

RaysGirl, I haven't followed the whole thread, but a couple of later posts caught my eye. First, you can't go wrong with Italy. Everyone loves Italy.

But your concerns about Auschwitz may be valid. I've only been to two concentration camps, Auschwitz and Dachau, and I've been to each of them twice. Auschwitz is much more intense than Dachau. Although people were killed at Dachau, and the living condition were appalling, it was not a death camp. People were not sent to Dachau to be killed. Auschwitz, on the other hand, was a death camp. There was no other reason than extermination for people - including children and the elderly - to be sent there.

It's been many years since I was there, but the images are still seared into my brain. The exhibits are heart-rending and horrifying.

I'm not saying you shouldn't go; frankly, I think everyone should see it at least once. But if you are extraordinarily sensitive, you might want to forgo the experience.

By the way, skipping a sight is always an option on a Rick Steves tour. You can tell the guide you cannot or do not want to participate in an activity, and it's okay.

Posted by TravelingMom
332 posts

You asked for opinions, so here goes. The Eastern Europe tour ( which is actually Central Europe) will expand your horizons instead of just entertaining you. My own children are your age and have both traveled extensively abroad. They both attest to the fact that visiting places with history relevant to current issues in the US like prejudices based on religion has made them more aware and compassionate human beings.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2540 posts

As an independent traveler who has never taken a tour (but had a steep learning curve as I hadn't been to Europe until I moved here in my early 30s) I'm going to say go with the "Eastern" (i.e. Central) Europe tour for sure.

It's not that Italy isn't wonderful, but as someone who has navigated the Balkans by bus, survived driving in Prague, and done my best to try to translate in Posnan, pretty much anyplace east of Germany is going to present some challenges for a first-time traveler without a tour. Not that it can't be done, or that people don't do it all the time, but it does generally just require a higher level of travel skills to do without a lot of added extra stress.

Now if you were considering the villages of Italy my answer would be different, but for the Best of Italy, these are some of the most visited tourist sites in the world that have massive tourist infrastructure to enable people to see them. It's much, much easier to visit these places independently. Add that to your historical interest in 20th century European History and I think the Eastern Europe tour makes far more sense for you. Just another opinion!

Posted by heather
398 posts

If I were you and wanted to expand my horizons and go to a place I probably wouldn't go solo, I'd go for the Best of Turkey tour. I was luck enough to go with my parents(I'm in my 40s) to Istanbul and Ephesus/Izmir and it really got us out of our comfort zone and we learned a lot about a country that is not a Christian majority democracy. The Turkish people for the most part were wonderful and on a tour you would learn so much more about the history and culture.

Second choice would be Eastern Europe as not as many Americans have visited and you would learn more about WW2 from a different point of view than Western allies. As for concentration camps, while not "fun", I've visited holocaust museums in DC and London and I can say that while sad to read, they have never ruined any vacation. IMO, Italy and Western Europe can be done easier on your own and you will find many single women traveling alone in these countries.

Posted by vickie.santos
33 posts

Though you can't go wrong with Italy, if you want to experience different countries and cultures I would highly recommend the RS 21 Day or 14 Day Best of Europe. We did the 21 Day Best of Europe tour last September and it was amazing! Though it was fast paced, there was plenty of time to explore on your own. Our group included all age groups starting with travelers in their twenties. We had brief stays in The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. We visited castles, museums, historical sites and more. After this wonderful introduction to Europe, we now have an idea of what countries we would like to visit again .

Posted by lisa
akron, ohio
432 posts

I will throw in my 2 cents first Rick Steves tour was the Eastern European one. Like you, I went as a single, loved the history of WWII, and really wanted to see the countries that are included on that particular tour. I absolutely loved it! To me, I could not have picked a better tour to be my first one. I have traveled to Europe many, many times and always planned my own trips, but for some reason always was a bit intimidated to plan a trip to Eastern Europe, hence the tour. I promise you, should you choose it, you will not be disappointed. Regarding your hesitation about Auschwitz, I did not find it overly oppressive and it is only one part of one day of the entire trip. There are so many more delightful experiences during the trip that it doesn't have to define the entire trip. Definitely take the opportunity to visit Schindler's factory museum while in Krakow. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. This tour is so great that I have considered repeating it.

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

Thank you so much for the overwhelming response! I'm really touched by how many people have given me input and shared experiences from their own trips. Right now, I'm thinking that, unless something majorly changes my mind, I will probably choose one of the Italy trips. It has been a tough decision but, for a variety of reasons, I decided that might be the best choice for me at this point. I'm so excited to travel and get lots of pictures and share my experiences with you all next year!

Posted by sat13trv
1 posts

Hello- You received a ton of input, and maybe you’ve made your decision your decision already but I have to weigh in too :) because Ricks fans also love talking about travel. I very highly recommend taking one of the Best of Europe trips. It is a perfect way to get a sampler as you cover many miles with very little stress. The Northern Europe cities which were not really high on my list before going are now some of my fondest memories. Our guide Ben Cameron was amazing, the best I’ve ever encountered! France , Italy and England are really easy to do on your own but the tours are just more efficient for getting around and getting into sites. Also don’t be concerned about sharing a room if you are traveling alone, it’s really not an issue. There were 3 of us singles on our trip so we rotated with one of us getting our own room in each city but it’s not like you spend much time in the hotel anyway - the fun is outside!!! Wherever you go it will be magical! Happy travels.

Posted by jamev13
59 posts

My own personal thoughts: The first time we went to Europe we purposely chose a 16 days broad based tour on a cruise ship that commenced in Rome and ended in Greece with a stop in Malta. We saw many different and diverse cities/towns along the way and got to experience the differences in cultures and how things were done in Europe. That made us more comfortable to return to Europe on our own with cities in which we wanted to spend more time. We actually returned a year later and started in Paris to Normandy to Lake Como to Venice on our own and it was very easy to navigate on our own. Of course, we always had our RS guidebook with us and his suggestions made things much easier. I think a single person would fit in well and enjoy any RS tour; but, I would pick one that does not include just one large city. Do the best of Spain or Italy and get a feel for how European travel is done. We had quite a few singles on our last RS tour and they were simply one of the family pretty much by the second day of the tour. We are off tomorrow on another RS tour with at least 3 singles in the group and we are sure it will be great. I think you learn more, definitely actually, on a group tour than you would on your own anyway; plus, no waiting in lines and no guessing where to eat.

Posted by hitchcocksl51
4 posts

I recommend Paris and the Heart of France tour because of your interest in WW II history. Our tour of the Normandy invasion beaches is still the standout experience I have had on all of my RS tours (going on my 8th next month). I also found this tour to be one of the most varied in terms of things you see/do - and - one can never beat spending time in Paris!
Wherever you chose - have a fabulous trip!

Posted by Carol
Steilacoom, WA, United States
7 posts

Dear RaysGirl85, I did not go to Europe until I was 53 and used RS books to plan a 2 week trip in April for myself, my husband and son, a great time to travel. We chose Italy (the food and sites!) and have been back several times, including our first RS tour of Southern Italy, which was fabulous! We have now been on 8 Rick Steves tours and if I was to pick one or two, they would be Turkey and Sicily, although we loved most of them. The Eastern Europe tour was my least favorite, principally because there was too little time in each destination and too much bus time and I say that with the experience of any tour we have taken including bus time. I think it is fairly easy to do cities on your own using guides (Paris, Rome, Florence), hence we pick tours covering more ground and usually add on some time on our own. One of our best trips was Eastern France which we loved; however, being that you are interested in World War II (and Eastern Europe did not provide much of that with the exception of the concentration camps), I recommend an extension of a one day or two day trip tour addition to Normandy. We stayed in Normandy for 3 days and drove to Bayeux and also took a tour with one of the Normandy tours of the battlefields and memorials. It was very moving and chilling to see those cemeteries of the casualties, both German (separate cemetery) and Allied, row upon row of chalk white crosses in a beautiful setting. They are all revered and the monuments are inspiring; wars should never be fought again is the message. One of the difficulties of a Normandy tour is booking one, though, as it is on some people's bucket list and the good tour guides are booked early; I wound up emailing guides referred by the previous booked guide, recommended by the booked guide before that and the get the picture! That said, I think the experience is wonderful. There is even a small museum in Reims on Franklin Roosevelt Way that is the site of the surrender signing of World War II, a visit easy to make on your own at the start of the big tour! If WWII is something you can save for later, any Italian tour would be great and it sounds like Village Italy is wonderful----we sort of made up our own Village Italy tour with friends prior to the Sicily tour one year! I do want to say that May and September are great travel months for weather, BUT it is very true that most of the travelers are older and that is one big reason RS has become so popular---boomers!! Good luck!

Posted by lchadwick1112
3 posts

I did my first RS tour last year as a 60th birthday present to myself. I chose the Village Tour of Italy, my first time in Europe as well. Traveled solo and made lifelong friends. I'm very adventurous and strike out on my own here in the States frequently so the idea of traveling alone was not concerning. This trip was a wonderful introduction to what life in Italy would be on a day to day basis. There is no possibility that I could have arranged all the wonders that we saw and did on my own. Am planning another trip to Italy next fall on another RS tour. Cannot wait. It will be hard for any tour to beat the Village tour in my book so I look forward to that challenge! Good luck to you RaysGirl85.

Posted by Mary Lou
Orland Park, IL
21 posts

My first trip to Europe was when I was 53 and went to Paris on my own. Was scheduled for a tour with another company but it got cancelled so I just made my own reservation at the hotel we were to stay at and spent a week in Paris. Traveling solo is a wonderful experience. Traveled back many times and then decided to do a RS tour. Did the Heart of Greece because I knew Greece would be more difficult to navigate and I didn't want Santorini or Mykonos. It was fabulous! Then did a My Way of France and leaving for Best of Paris in September. You cannot go wrong with any choice of a RS tour. There are young and old and couples and singles. Enjoy whichever one you choose!

Posted by Alan
Indianapolis, IN, US
5 posts

I will play devil's advocate here and recommend the RS Best of Paris in 7 Days tour if you are limited to summer. I say this because it is likely to not be quite as hot in Paris as it will be in Rome, Venice, Florence, etc. Since you are interested in history (as am I), there is plenty to see there: the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, Versailles, Notre Dame, Montmartre & Sacre Coeur, and plenty of other places there as well. Plus, you can take a side trip on your own over to Normandy to see the WWII historical sites, if you wish. The Best of Paris in 7 Days tour is my only RS tour so far, but I will book more in the future, perhaps next summer. I went on that tour in 2016 during the week of Bastille Day (14 July). On the night of Bastille Day, many of our group sat in the Parc du Champ de Mars which runs from the Eiffel Tower down to l'Ecole Militaire to see the fireworks launched from the Eiffel Tower. Before the fireworks begin, there is a two-hour concert (in 2016 it was performed by the National Orchestra of France). There will be lots of people there, and you might not see anything of the concert, but the park has surround-sound Bose quality speakers so you can hear everything. I went to Normandy last summer with another tour because it enabled us to spend 3 entire days there. I highly recommend the International Peace Museum in Caen.

Having said this, if you can go to Europe in the spring or autumn when it isn't so hot, then by all means, consider Italy.

Posted by Scott
Everett, WA, US
79 posts

I'd split the difference between and go on Best of Adriatic. I don't think you will be dissapointed.

Posted by Jackie
Nanaimo, BC, Canada
59 posts

If you like WWII history, consider France. We did Paris and Heart of France, and the trip from Reims to Marseilles. There was a lot of WWI and WWII history on these tours. Many countries have WWII sites to visit. Is there a particular one you want to see?
Italy in 17 days was our first RS tour. Loved every minute of it. We have just returned from Southern Italy and Sicily. Another poster said you never go to Italy just once. Oh, so true. I cannot get enough of the place.
So, I guess you need to decide the purpose of your trip. History? Travel to places hard to do on your own? Consider the weather as well as the destinations.
The singles we travelled with are still Fb friends years later.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3460 posts

The OP has never been to Europe before.

For a first timer, it's best to knock off one of the big, signature countries. Start with Italy or France. Maybe Germany, Netherlands, Spain, UK. But not Eastern Europe - even though I just did some of Eastern Europe and agree it's a lot more worthwhile than most people think.

This is a first trip. On a first trip, go to Italy or France, people, not Croatia or Estonia. Hey, I loved Croatia and Estonia, but I'd never suggest that for a first trip to Europe - no offense, but that's crazy!

OP: You have plenty of time to knock out trips to more exotic places. Start with the basics. Go to Rome. Go to Paris. Go to London, Madrid, etc. You have plenty of time to get to Ljubljana and Krakow.

Posted by Jane
Sapulpa, OK, USA
2417 posts

I'm with David on this one. As much as I love Eastern Europe, I don't think that's where I'd send someone for a first taste of Europe. Italy is wonderful, France as well. Have you considered a city tour (or two)? Our first two RS tours were Florence and Rome, and we couldn't wait to try more.

Village Italy is amazing. We also loved Best of London, and the Villages of South England.

Posted by cala
Birmingham, AL
1130 posts

I also agree with David. We are going to Croatia, et al next year but it will be my 13th trip-after doing all the biggies at least 3 times. I do see a 4th trip to Italy in the next 5 years.

Posted by susie
Qualicum Beach, Canada
13 posts

Don't automatically rule out France. I recently returned from a best of Paris 7 day tour. I left my husband at home and travelled solo, paying the single supplement to have my own room. It was fantastic! It was my first RS tour but will certainly will not be my last. You get the feel of a great city with guidance and suggestions of where to go on your own time. Never ran out of things to see, and even when I was lost...many times, was able to communicate with the people on the street who helped direct me to my metro entrance. Paris is so organized, and the RS tour guide so helpful, it would make a great first foray into Europe. Just saying!

Posted by Tom
Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A.
37 posts

After five tours, we are still amazed at our luck in choosing Venice-Florence-Rome for our first RS trip. This tour is one of the rare three-nights-in-each-city routes available. With an early arrival in Venice (consider three days earlier than the group) and three extra nights in Rome, you have a very relaxing pace. Within days our guide had us well oriented to the nuances of ordering in Italian cafes and restaurants, mastering vaporettos, ferries, buses and trains - generally getting “out-and-about” on our own.

Following Rome, we confidently headed off to Pompeii, Naples and Ischia, thanks to all we learned during the tour. As for time of year, consider studying the cruise ship schedules so you can avoid Venice when multiple ships are in port. (Some calendar dates have NONE in port.) Also consider improvised window screening for springtime mosquitoes (a real nighttime nuisance in Venice) or bug repellent.

Note on Pompeii: it can be done as a packaged day trip from Rome but it deserves at least a night or three. Also consider a day trip from Rome (on the local commuter train line) to Ostia Antica. It is incredible - easily as impressive as the better known “Vesuvius-buried” cities but with a beach and plenty of shade trees. (Rome is also a great jumping off point for a few nights in Orvieto, a beautiful traffic-free walled city.)

Posted by Laura
5 posts

Hi Tom,
I will be going to Venice for the first time next year. Do you have a link to the cruise ship schedules?
Would you explain more about the window screens?
Thank you :)

Posted by Tom
Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A.
37 posts

Private message has been sent regarding cruise ships and mosquitoes.

Posted by Jane
Sapulpa, OK, USA
2417 posts

We were warned this past spring to keep our windows closed in Venice because of the mosquitoes. It was so stuffy I opened ours wide, and we only had 2 all night. Same way some years ago in Florence (this year as well.) Very few actually made it into the room.

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

So I've pretty much decided on the Best of Italy tour and I've narrowed down a target range of September/October 2019. Does anyone have any input on which of those months/dates would be preferable? There are so many trip options that I'm not sure if any one (or several) are preferable over others.

Posted by Judy B
926 posts

I went on the last tour in October in 2016. A perfect time for the best weather in my view, not too hot and fewer crowds. We did have 2 days of rain in Venice, the Aqua Alta. Venice is on my list to revisit! We had a little snow in the Dolomites, a little rain in Varenna, but for the most part, perfect weather. I loved this tour! It was such a great intro for my first time in italy. 5 months later, I came back to Rome for the 7 Days tour of Rome and learned so much more about this amazing city.

I'm sure you will be glad you made the decision to take this tour!

Posted by GoodmanTX
104 posts

RaysGirl - David from Seattle's advice regarding your query is excellent (above).
Start with the basics and the top sites (Paris, Rome, etc.) and top sights (Tour Eiffel, Colosseo, Vaticano). They're top for a reason.
Best of Italy would be a good choice. Maybe even better, consider The Best of Europe in 14 days or the 21 day version for a first trip. You will get look at several different countries (including Italy), cultures, history, and cuisine. Don't just consider places you don't think you would want to return to; you won't know until you've actually been there. Travel with an open mind to what you will see and experience. I have never been to any country, city, or even village in Europe that I didn't want to return to and see more of or just spend more time there, soaking it in (and have done so several times).

For any European tour outside of Scandinavia or Russia, avoid summer. For any tour in Italy, Greece, or southern Spain, October is more comfortable for me than September (and I live in Texas!).
Pay the single supplement. I've taken 5 of my RS tours solo; I didn't pay the single supplement on the first two and luckily got a private room the first time as I was the only solo male that tour, but I had to share a room (not bed) with another solo male the second time. The only way to ensure a private room when travelling solo is with the supplement. The cost of the single supplement is high but worth it to me to have the convenience of getting up and going to sleep undisturbed when I choose.
All the hotels were fine with me and the beds were all full size/double. I don't know your size, but I suggest you enter and exit the bathroom and shower when you first check in to each or your rooms on the tour. I was assigned a room in Rome where the bath was an add-on and it was a tight squeeze for me to get in and out of. But that was the only one. If you find one too difficult, immediately go to your RS guide and request a different room. They are accommodating.
I hope you will have a great time. Happy travels!

Posted by RaysGirl85 OP
12 posts

I was definitely considering October largely for the weather. I'm pretty sensitive to heat (although I do live in Florida) and I know we'll be outdoors quite a bit so I'd prefer cooler weather!

Posted by Bob
Manchester, CT, USA
644 posts

I'm sure you have heard about the value of arriving in Europe at least a couple of days before the tour starts. I also think it is nice to stay on for awhile after the tour ends. Many people on RS tours leave for home on the day the tour ends, sometimes having to wake very early to catch a flight. We prefer to have a leisurely breakfast on the last morning of the tour, say goodbyes to tour mates and the tour guide, and stay on for at least another day. To leave for home early on the last morning sort of breaks the magic spell that surrounds the tour experience.

Posted by Jane
Sapulpa, OK, USA
2417 posts

Bob, you are so right. I've been struggling a bit with that. We're doing two tours back-to-back in 2019, and I'm trying to figure out how long to stay after the second tour. Our problem is, by then we will have been gone a month, which is pushing it for us (personal and family obligations here.) But I don't want to just hop the plane the last day. I'm playing with dates and itinerary to try to come up with something doable. I should probably just pick a return date and stick to it.

Posted by jlschandler
577 posts

We've been to Italy three times in the month of September. We like the predictable warm weather, but if you are sensitive to the sun, October would be a good choice. Our first trip to Europe was Italy (Tuscany) and when looking back, we were so happy with our choice! I think you will be pleased.

Posted by gmillergang
8 posts

You will love the Best of Italy tour! My husband and I went this past September 7-23. We had fantastic weather, sunny every day except for some rain on the way to Orvieto and a bit of rain the next morning. Weather was hotter than average but maybe mid 80s tops and cooler in the Dolomites, perfect for hiking.

All the hotels had strong air conditioning and the bus was great. We didn't feel like too much time on the bus. Our first RS tour and we loved our tour group and Marianna, our wonderful guide. So many sights to see and such a variety. Group dinners were excellent and breakfast buffets as well. We are definitely planning another trip in the future. I was the youngest woman on the tour at 50 and the youngest man was 52. So a range of 50 to probably mid to upper 70s.

Best vacation of our life and I've been to a lot of places. You won't regret it!