Rick Steves Travel Blog: Blog Gone Europe

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’ve been giddier than usual this week as I’m finalizing my travel plans for 2014. I’ve got an amazing itinerary promising four months of fun and learning–and there’ll be lots of great new information to share. I’ll be vigorously posting almost daily from some of my favorite European destinations. And for the next week or so until I fly away, we’re running video clips to get us all in the mood.

My first stop is Portugal, one of Europe’s most unsung, misunderstood, and underrated destinations. It’s quirky, cheap, accessible, and you’ll rarely find tourist crowds. This clip of Lisbon’s salty Alfama quarter reminds me why Portugal is one of my favorite corners of Europe.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.


I’ve been giddier than usual this week as I’m finalizing my travel plans for 2014. I’ve got an amazing itinerary promising four months of fun and learning–and there’ll be lots of great new information to share. I’m flying away in mid-April and finish my adventures in mid-August. Of course I’ll be packing very light. But I’ve always got room for my Facebook friends to stow away. I’ll be vigorously posting almost daily from the tiled delights of Portugal to the off-beat corners of Italy’s Cinque Terre; from the fjords of Norway to the salt mines and jazz cellars of Poland. If you have any traveling friends who you think might enjoy coming along for the ride, please let them know so they can “like” this Facebook page.

For the next week or so until I fly away, we’re running video clips to get us all in the mood. To kick it off, here’s one of my favorite short videos. It reminds me that travel is not a check list of blockbuster sights–it’s the magical serendipitous moments.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.


Here’s an exciting chance to support a good cause as part of your upcoming travels. To recognize our rail-pass sales success last year, Rail Europe has provided us with 30 Eurail Global Passes–specifically 15-day flexipasses, which give you first-class rail travel anywhere in the countries covered (that’s most of Europe) for any 15 days out of a two-month period, and are regularly priced at about $1,250.

I’ll give these passes for free to the first 30 travelers who each send us a $925 donation check for Bread for the World. Every cent of your check will go directly to support this great organization, and you’ll save about 25 percent over the normal price for this pass. Over the past 10 years, this annual initiative has raised $313,500 for Bread for the World. With your help, we’ll raise another $27,750 in 2014.

Bread for the World is a collective Christian voice speaking up for the needs of the poor and hungry in our country and around the world. In the last few years they have been heroic and very successful in helping to draw a “circle of protection” around our nation’s most vulnerable as our government chooses cuts on social services over higher taxes.

As our government strives to cut its deficit, many legislators are targeting programs that are vital to homeless, hungry, and “working poor” Americans struggling to feed and educate their children while keeping them healthy. Bread for the World reminds our legislators of the human consequences of their votes–of their real-life effects on the poorest and weakest of our citizens. That’s why I’m particularly enthusiastic this year about giving you a rail pass as thanks for generously supporting Bread’s mission.

If you’re interested in Bread’s work, visit their website [bread.org]. And if you (or anyone you know) care about the struggles of hungry people–and would like to get what amounts to a free Eurail pass for helping out–consider being a part of our 2014 initiative. Visit our website for all the exciting details (please note that your order must be made with our mail-in Charity Pass Order Form). Thanks.


This year I capped our annual tour alumni reunion and guide summit by sharing my “Irreverent History of Europe Through the Back Door” talk.  (Watch the full lecture here.) While not designed for general consumption, our guides and those who enjoy our tours find this candid (and occasionally sordid) peek into the anals of Europe Through the Back Door history both fascinating and entertaining. The talk is a sweep through the story of our company—from my student vagabond days to the early mini-bus tour days and through the evolution that led us to where we are today. I was having so much fun sharing old stories from our “Europe Through the Gutter” days that the spirit moved me to do something I’ve never done in public: yodel.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.


Every year since the turn of the century we’ve been giving away a free tour for the best electronic scrapbook created by one of our tour members. It’s amazing how much fun people have on our tours…and it’s also amazing how well they can capture that experience in their writing, photos, and web design through these lovingly and artfully put-together scrapbooks.

My staff reviews the many submissions we get from our alums each year (we had more than 70 this year), and I get to weigh in on the finalists. This year, each of the top scrapbooks was great. Last year was a tie (and we gave away two tours). This year, while each of the finalists was wonderful, the winner was clear: Mike and Nicole Goodman shared the fun they had on their 2013 Europe in 14 Days tour.  They did it in a way that made me nostalgic for the joy I had leading great tour groups for 25 years.

Enjoy checking out our winning 2014 scrapbook entries. You can get some clever ideas about constructing your own electronic scrapbook. But, be warned: It may get dreams of joining one of our merry tour groups stuck in your mind.

First Prize (1 seat on any 8-21 day tour or 2 seats on any 7-day city tour)

Mike and Nicole Goodman: Europe in 14 Days

Our jury was especially impressed with the way the Rick Steves tour experience was thoroughly (and chronologically) captured. The Goodman’s scrapbook is easy to navigate, and their slideshows were interesting and well-designed. They also included lots of great group shots and provided good tips. Their “do something normal” theme was fun and original. Take a look at their first place scrapbook.

Second Prize (a $500 gift card good toward a tour or Rick Steves Travel Store purchase)

Danielle Gale: Turkey in 13 Days

Danielle’s layout and photography caught the jury’s eye. Her captivating four-minute video at the beginning of her scrapbook captures the essence of the tour. Her narrative was interesting, and she gave good tips and insights. The Top-10 sidebar was especially informative, and her people pictures were great. Take a look at her scrapbook.


Third Prize (a $250 gift card good toward a tour or Rick Steves Travel Store purchase)

Martta Howard: Adriatic in 14 Days

When you review Martta’s scrapbook, you can tell she paid close attention to her guide. Her scrapbook has a clean design and is full of friendly and informative writing. Our judges liked her layout and were impressed with her tips and photos. Her use of step counts was unique and potentially helpful to others. View her scrapbook.


Fourth Prize (a $100 gift card good toward a tour or Rick Steves Travel Store purchase)

Suzette Bartlett: Europe in 21 Days

Suzette’s scrapbook reads like a little magazine. Her layout includes sidebar sections on food, travel tips, and “wow” moments which are creative and fun to read. The judges also liked the summaries of what she did, what she’d do differently, and her favorite moments for each destination on the tour. View her scrapbook.


Last night my staff and I met at a local restaurant for drinks and appetizers to celebrate an amazing-to-me milestone: We just sold a Rick Steves Tour to our 16,000th traveler this year–the most ever! What was supposed to be a quick, work-night happy hour became a celebration with many of us toasting late into the evening. My web producer (you know who you are!) even confessed to being a little hungover this morning.

I feel honored to be surrounded by talented professionals who I also consider friends. This video–taken at a staff party a few years ago–shows just how much fun we have together. This milestone would not have been possible without their dedication. I’m grateful they’re also a lot of fun. And I’m grateful we can still get out of the office and let our hair down. (After all, as a traveler, you’d want nothing less for your tour guide.)

I’m one of those 16,000 travelers. And, in a little more than a month, I’ll be meeting my guide, our bus driver, and my group somewhere in Europe (I’m keeping the tour I’m signed up on a bit of a secret) and kicking off a delightful European vacation.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.


I have a lot of fun and rewarding projects on my desk–and one that I am particularly passionate about is our free app, “Rick Steves Audio Europe” (shown in this video). Why am I so in love with this thing? Because it’s packed with practical information (both self-guided audio tours of Europe’s greatest cities, galleries, and museums, and the very best of our radio interviews organized in country-specific playlists) that will make people’s trips more meaningful. It’s free. And tens of thousands of travelers are using it. Any time I drop into the Pantheon in Rome, St. Mark’s in Venice, or Versailles outside of Paris, I see travelers using our app. They’re having a great time immersed in the cultural wonder of the sight…and I am literally in their ear (my voice is anyway).

Each year we add to the material already available with Rick Steves Audio Europe, and last week we spliced in about 20 new tours and interviews. We added three new self-guided audio tours covering Prague, Berlin, and Edinburgh. This brings to 44 the number of guided tours on the app. And, after reviewing last year’s weekly, hour-long public radio programs (“Travel with Rick Steves” can be enjoyed weekly on over 200 public radio stations around the USA or as a podcast), we chose to include the interviews listed below.

Learn how to download the (free and easy) Rick Steves’ Audio Europe Travel App. It is such a treat for me to be able to interview such beautiful minds and inspirational travelers and an even bigger treat to be able to share these conversations (so beautifully edited by my radio production team) with you.

New radio interviews spliced into all the existing ones on the Rick Steves Audio Europe app include:

“Ever-Evolving Berlin” – Fabian Reuger
“Beauty in a Broken World” – Terry Tempest Williams
“Another Helping of Italian Culinary Favorites” – Fred Plotkin
“How to Eat Like a Parisian” – Mary Bouron
“A Taste of Basque Country” – Francisco Glária and Agustín Ciriza
“Living as an Italian Woman in the 21st Century” – Francesca Caruso, Nina Bernardo, and Lisa Anderson
“Joanna Lumley’s Nile” – Joanna Lumley
“Rome after Dark” – Francesca Caruso and Gene Openshaw
“Destination Space Station” – Cady Coleman
“Modern Sweden” – Åsa Danielsson
“Italy’s Decadent Desserts” – Fred Plotkin
“Respecting the Pasta” – Alfio Di Mauro
“Food Markets of Paris” – Marjorie R. Williams
“Walking Budapest” – Eszter Bokros and Cameron Hewitt
“More Loire Valley Chateau Country” – Danielle Farineau
“Exploring Brittany” – Virginie Moré and Mark Seymour
“The French Cheese Plate” – Kathe Lison
“The Mountain” – Ed Viesturs
“Italian Rails” – Tim Parks
“Amalfi Coast” – Ann Long and Aldo Valerio
“Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation” – Madhur Jaffrey
“Monuments Men” – Robert Edsel
“Doc Martin’s Cornwall” – Martin Clunes
“The Whole Fromage” – Kathe Lison
“Marrying into France” – Sarah Turnbull and Nina Sovich

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.


Exactly one generation ago, I was giving talks all over town for free to let people dreaming about European travel know how to travel smart…and to talk up my guidebooks and tours. Today, my son Andy is doing much the same thing.

For 20 years we took Andy to Europe every year for a family vacation and to break up the time I was away from the family while working. I didn’t think Andy was paying attention. Now, just a few years out of Notre Dame, Andy is essentially living in Europe and running his own tour program (and I’m keeping a wary eye on what could become a formidable competitor).

Actually, as his dad, I am really proud of what Andy’s doing as he teaches college kids how to get the most travel experience out of their foreign-study semesters abroad.  Andy spends the early part of each semester on a blitz tour of European campuses that host Americans, giving his student travel talks to new arrivals. School administrators welcome Andy onto their campuses because they understand that there’s a huge educational potential in their students taking full advantage of the three-day weekends (there’s no class on Fridays) by traveling–and Andy can teach them how. With discount airlines these days, a cheap, three-day weekend anywhere in Europe is simply a matter of going online and booking a discount flight and a youth hostel.

Of course, like me, Andy’s teaching has an ulterior motive–to let potential tour members know about the tours he offers: three-day “Weekend Student Adventures” to cities like Barcelona, Budapest, Paris, Rome, and Krakow (for around $250 each). Andy and his band of student guides have enriched the study-abroad experiences of literally thousands of American students who have signed up on his WSA tours.

If I may be a proud dad, check out this video clip of my son teaching at a campus in London.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.


Mark your calendar for tomorrow’s live streaming travel classes (March 22, 9:00 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. Pacific Time). While I’m teaching Spain, Germany and Britain, a talk I’m particularly excited about is Cameron Hewitt’s amazing cruising talk. It’s actually three classes (roughly an hour long each) starting at 1:00 PST and taught in rapid succession: Cruising 101 (travel skills), Mediterranean Cruise Ports, and Northern European Cruise Ports.

A few years ago, after decades of having a bad attitude about cruising, I noticed cruisers using my guidebooks in European ports. I was impressed by these smart travelers’ determination to have a meaningful and culturally engaging experience while taking advantage of the economy and efficiency of cruising.

So I sent one of my co-authors, Cameron Hewitt, on several cruises to research and help write two guidebooks: Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports and Rick Steves’ Northern European Cruise Ports. Retooling our existing chapters on the great ports and adding everything a cruiser would need, Cameron did a great job. I followed after him to put my own touches on his writing. And the resulting new guidebooks are among our most popular.

Tomorrow, Cameron’s cruising talks will be jam-packed with practical tips about how to get from the port into town, and what to do with your limited time once there. While I’m proud of all of our travel advice, I think our cruising material is especially important. Cruise lines have no incentive to help you have a good time on your own in port. They’d rather you buy an excursion or stay on the ship to spend more money. So if you’re a Rick Steves traveler who wants to enjoy a cruise, you have to arm yourself with good information before you set sail. That’s where this class comes in.

If you or a friend plans to visit Europe on a cruise, don’t miss this talk.

Check out the full schedule!



A few months ago, after a year with lots of travel in Palestine and Israel as I scouted and filmed my upcoming TV special on the Holy Land, I gave a talk about the region in my hometown of Edmonds, Washington. I enjoyed a very enthusiastic audience — both in person, and watching the streaming lecture online. Since many were unable to attend or view my talk, by popular demand, we’ve post-produced it to offer it here on our blog page.

This was my first time giving this talk, and it was a fun challenge to deal with contentious issues in a balanced way. While this video is fairly long, it’s packed with lessons. These issues are important, and (as with my Iran project a few years ago) I am so impressed by how little most Americans — myself included, before this trip — really know about the Holy Land.

I’d love your comments on this talk…but only after you’ve actually watched it. When the topic of the Holy Land is raised, many of us just spout off our preconceived ideas. And many of these ideas we hold very strongly, even though they are a result of American media rather than actually visiting the region in person. Our challenge is to hear both narratives and understand the context of the region’s challenges and the baggage of the people who live there. I hope this talk helps do exactly that.

The TV special I produced, “Rick Steves’ Holy Land: Palestinians and Israelis Today,” will air on public television stations across the USA this fall.

(By the way, the streaming of talks like this one is a new era for us as travel teachers. In the spirit of this talk, we’ll be streaming nine hours of travel talks — five of which I’ll be giving personally — for free this Saturday, March 22nd, starting at 9:00am Pacific Time. Learn more on our Live Webcast page. Don’t miss it!)

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.