Rick Steves' Travel Blog

I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick

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I’m in London at my favorite wine bar, Gordon’s Wine Bar. Just imagine dropping into this place — a five-minute walk from Trafalgar Square — for a candlelit evening of tasty cheese and port, sitting under 500-year-old arches.

You need good information to eat well, economically, and memorably in a city like London. My passion is to find places like Gordon’s Wine Bar and to pack them into my guidebooks. When I’m on the road, researching and updating my guidebooks, eating and drinking in places like this is part of the job…and part of the fun.

This is Day 86 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Hello from London! I’m in South Kensington, my favorite home-base neighborhood. I just used an automated machine in the Tube station to get my Oyster card — a transit pass that gives local commuters (and travelers) access to the London Underground for about half-price. I saw how befuddled some tourists were with it, and I remembered that I, too, am hesitant to dive into a big city’s public transit system — until I actually do, and then everything goes much smoother.

In this little clip, I’ll show you how simple it is to push the buttons, slide in your money, and get a card loaded up with credit for lots of rides. Remember, with my Oyster card, I get six rides on the Tube for about the cost of one taxi ride…and I never need to wait in traffic. Plus, I’m in the fray with all the locals, and that’s more fun. (BTW, when you leave London, be sure to return your Oyster card. You’ll get a refund for your £5 deposit, and for any unused credit still on the card. It works great.)

 

This is Day 85 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





I’m at the University of Cambridge today with my TV crew. We’re visiting Corpus Christi College’s Parker Library, a temple of high-mindedness. As we filmed this venerable study hall, we listened to the oldest two-part harmony ever written. And I got to thumb through a collection of letters written by towering historic figures — kings of England, Holy Roman Emperors, and great reformers. Holding in my fingers letters actually written by Martin Luther and Charles V, for the first time in my life I wished I could read Latin.

One thing I love about travel: It inspires us to be thoughtful. I’ve long believed the best investment our world could make for peace and prosperity would be to collectively establish a fund that would give every American high school graduate money for a one-month trip overseas. It would cost peanuts relative to the expense to our world of Americans being so untraveled.

This is Day 84 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





I’m in England, filming a new show about Oxford and Cambridge. My goal this week is to get footage that will help our public television viewers decide which of England’s great university towns is best for their itinerary. (On a short trip, you shouldn’t visit both…that’s redundant. Do one or the other, and save time in your itinerary for something entirely different — like hiking through the Cotswold villages or exploring the castles of North Wales.)

In this clip, we’re filming in Oxford’s Weston Library, where the venerable Bodleian Libraries display their greatest treasures.

Cambridge and Oxford have a wonderful centuries-long competition as England’s top two universities. Tomorrow, we’ll be showing off Cambridge’s remarkable answer to this room of iconic treasures. What’s your favorite: Oxford or Cambridge?

This is Day 83 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Hello from England! I’m here with my TV crew (Simon and Peter) to produce an exciting new public television show on Oxford and Cambridge. Today, we’re just outside of Oxford at my vote for the finest countryside palace a tourist can see in England: Blenheim Palace.

When filming in England, I’m generally stressed about the drizzly weather. But here, it’s crystal clear and the morning light is particularly fine. And that puts me in a very happy mood…just hanging out in the Duke of Marlborough’s backyard, feelin’ groovy.

This is Day 82 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





I had an awkward experience the other night in Kinsale, on Ireland’s south coast. I just can’t shake it, and I would love to hear your thoughts. Did I do the right thing? What would you have done?

After blitzing the town to check out all its restaurants for my guidebook, I settled into my favorite (Finns’ Table) to enjoy a nice, peaceful meal. And for the entire dinner, all I could hear was the conversation of some American tourists at the table next to me: an angry, wealthy man and his resilient wife.

There was no way to avoid hearing him cuss and berate her as he complained about money, taxes, bad service, and the horrible Irish weather. Why was she getting a massage?…he got the wrong tee time at the golf course…their kids were ungrateful. When he had something mean to say, he’d lean forward and — as if his words were leather gloves — he’d slap her repeatedly across the face with them.

I worried that she (an older woman with a family, and presumably accustomed to a fancy lifestyle) really had no escape…and he knew it. I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about this man’s frustrations. I also couldn’t help but focus on how they were spending probably five times per day what my readers spend — staying at a golf resort, for example, rather than a characteristic B&B. And yet, he was miserable.

Finally, he asked a rhetorical question and I couldn’t help myself. I’ve never done this before, but I entered their conversation and answered it. And then I said, “Excuse me, but I’ve never shared a dinner with such a selfish and angry man. For the last half hour, I’ve had no choice but to learn the financial details of what must be, for you, a miserable existence. And I’ve never encountered a man who was ruder to his wife. If I was her, married to you, I’d walk right out of this restaurant and jump into the harbor.” That made waiting for my rhubarb crumble awkward. But I’m glad I said it. I hope it helped his wife in some way to hear that even a stranger was appalled by her husband’s disrespect.

Have you been unable to escape a mood-dampening conversation in a restaurant? What is the appropriate thing to do in a situation like this? Was I wrong to speak up?

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This is Day 81 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Eating is a big part of any good travel experience, and I just wrapped up two weeks of good eating on a Best of Ireland tour.

Whenever I’m in the British Isles, my body jumps up and yelps for a good old-fashioned “fry.” This big fried breakfast (traditionally what a farm worker would eat to get him through a day in the fields until dinner) is jokingly referred to as a “heart attack on a plate” or a “plate of cardiac arrest.” I eat about two eggs a week at home. In the British Isles, it’s an egg a day.

I’ll enjoy this high-powered start to my day for a few more days…but I’ll be in fried-breakfast land for a total of thirty days this trip. Thankfully, these days it’s easy to find healthy alternatives.

Ireland is one of those places that surprises travelers with its fine cuisine. A good menu should have a few choices and feature local and seasonal ingredients. The restaurants we visit on our tours typically provide a three-course menu, and our guide is careful to explain any local specialties we should be aware of (in this case, the seafood chowder, pan-fried hake, and banoffee pie…all big hits).

Kinsale is one of Ireland’s gourmet capitals, and Jim Edwards is one of Kinsale’s leading restaurants. If you’re traveling on your own, this would be offered as an early bird special (three courses for about $38 if you order before 7 pm).

By the looks of the dishes we’ve been enjoying, there’s no shortage of seafood off the coast of the Emerald Isle…and the cake-like soda bread complements it wonderfully. A plate like this makes a fine quick lunch. (We do our best to minimize chain restaurants and French fries on Rick Steves’ Europe Tours.)

This is Day 80 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





At age 62, I’ve been traveling in Europe as a teacher for 40 years. That’s long enough to see some of my very favorite people slowing down and retiring. Don Herlihy is dear to my tour-guiding heart — and one of the most inspirational guides anywhere in Europe. He’s one of those guides who, with the power and love of his own personality as a local teacher, can make a good town into a great stop. For several decades, Don has shared stories and memories about Kinsale with my Ireland guidebook readers and tour members. Now he’s slowing down and has apprenticed Barry Moloney.

Barry Maloney, Don Herlihy, Rick Steves

While our Rick Steves’ Europe Tours guide Declan Field could have done a fine job taking our group on a historic Kinsale walk, there’s something special about having a local guide walk you through his or her home town. Our Kinsale walk with Barry was one of the best hours in our two-week Ireland tour.

Barry Maloney giving a tour

While seeing my old favorites hang it up saddens me, I’m always encouraged by the vigor, creativity, and freshness the next generation brings. Don’s legacy is in very good hands with Barry.

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This is Day 79 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





Ireland is enjoyable for many reasons: the cool weather (even in July); the sparse population (both of locals — more than eight times as many people live in England — and of tourists — there’s never a real crowd issue); and the joyful people (good-humored and easy-going). Another bonus is that in Ireland, as I like to say, I enjoy the sensation that I’m understanding a foreign language. What is it about Ireland that brings you back?

I’ve just wrapped up two weeks in Ireland with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours. Here are some of the highlights of my trip.

I love a good sheepdog demonstration. While traveling through the British Isles with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, I’ve seen them in the Scottish Highlands, in North Wales, and now here, in South Ireland.

Our Best of Ireland in 14 Days Tour bus stopped at the Kissane Sheep Farm. John Kissane’s family has raised sheep here for five generations, and now his little son is at his side, learning the trade. We got to know the family, learn of their livelihood, and watch highly-strung sheepdogs race around according to John’s call.

As one of the brothers sheared a sheep effortlessly, he told us the wool industry is so bad these days that the farm survives only with the help of money generated by showing off the tradition to visiting tourists. While they normally do demonstrations for tours, individuals can call and arrive when a demonstration is scheduled and, for a small fee, join in.

You probably don’t think of gorgeous Art Deco stained glass when you think of Ireland…unless you’ve seen windows by Harry Clarke. When in Dingle or Cong, don’t miss his sweet, jewel-like images enlivening the windows of churches lucky enough to have his work.

There are plenty of “falconry exhibits” around Europe where you can watch the trainer work with his birds. But at Ireland’s School of Falconry at Ashford Castle (near Cong, in the west of Ireland), each member of our tour group got to actually feed and flip the bird…twice! Caryn’s face shows the both intimate and intense experience we had getting to know our hawks.

The streets of Ireland come with a fun and positive energy. Here’s the scene in Dublin.

In Ireland, you never know when you’ll be blindsided by something clever or funny…like when it came time for me to give back some of that beer in my favorite Dingle pub.

This is Day 78 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.





For 25 years, I led our tours. Now I enjoy taking them. Every year I thumb through the Rick Steves’ Europe Tours catalog and see which tour fits my latest travel dreams. This spring, I enjoyed our Sicily tour (I wrote about my Sicily experience in earlier blog posts), and now we are wrapping up a great two weeks in Ireland.

One thing all of our tours have in common: great travel buddies. We learned long ago that if you promote your tours in the right way, you scare away the high-maintenance travelers — and the fun, easy-going people you’ll enjoy sharing your trip with end up on the bus. That was certainly the case with this merry band of Rick Steves travelers. Diana, Bob, Dan, Marlene, Marcia, Clare, Ed, Taffy, Cindy, Eddy, Demi, Keene, Jennifer, Mike, Kathy, Larry, Chuck, Lynda, Clark, Rebecca, Caryn, Pat, Tom, Ron, Susan, Kathy, and Mike — thanks for joining us, and happy future travels!

Rick Steves with tour group

We had two guides with us on this trip: The very experienced Declan (with well over a decade of Rick Steves guiding experience) and Dara (after learning from the masters on several apprentice tours, he’s about ready to lead on his own, and will graduate after this last learning tour).

Being Rick Steves on a Rick Steves tour, I was constantly brainstorming with Declan and Dara about ways to bump up the vivid, experiential nature of the tour. For me, it’s the little things that add a lot. Here, after an appetizing cultural intro, Dara is handing out an assortment of local taste treats in an inviting basket (rather than passing around a grubby bag).

Dara with cookies

With the wind blowing hard enough to nearly fly us like kites, and the dramatic Cliffs of Moher stretching in either direction, Declan fortified us with a wee bit of Irish cream before setting us loose to join the gulls high above the crashing surf. (I love Irish weather. Even in July, every day on this tour was broken clouds, a good breeze, and temperatures in the 60s — notice we had the right clothing.)

Tour group at Cliffs of Moher

Declan posted our itinerary every day. And every day, I marveled at the great efficiency of having a bus driver to do the driving and parking, and a guide to line up each day’s plan. Not a moment was wasted, and we knew exactly how to get the most meaning and fun out of each experience.

itinerary

You’ll notice that we were staying in a B&B in the town center (beyond where the bus could enter), so we had a shuttle to move our bags to where it was parked. Our first stop was at a remote memorial at the site of the assassination of Michael Collins. Rather than sit for lunch in a big formal restaurant, we had free time at midday in the delightful town of Kenmare. After that, a farmer and his border collies were ready for us, with a sheepdog spectacle and a close shave. We were in Dingle with time to relax before a town walk, dinner together, and an evening full of live trad music in the pubs. Lots of experiences and stress-free efficiency — that’s the beauty of Rick Steves’ Europe Tours.

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This is Day 77 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.