Rick Steves Best of Europe


By Rick Steves

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Hit Europe’s can’t-miss art, sights, and bites with Rick Steves Best of Europe!
  • Expert advice from Rick Steves on what’s worth your time and money
  • Itineraries for one to four days in the top destinations in England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland
  • Rick’s tips for beating the crowds, skipping lines, and avoiding tourist traps
  • The best of local culture, flavors, and haunts, including walks through the most interesting neighborhoods and museums
  • Trip planning strategies like how to link destinations and design your itinerary, what to pack, where to stay, and how to get around
  • Over 100 full-color maps and vibrant photos
  • Coverage of London, Paris, Provence, the French Riviera, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, the Swiss Alps/Berner Oberland, Munich, Rothenberg and the Romantic Road, the Rhine Valley, Berlin, and Amsterdam
Experience the best of Europe with Rick Steves!



Map: Top Destinations in Europe






The Netherlands


Designing an Itinerary

Trip Costs per Person

Before You Go

Travel Strategies on the Road

Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and the Roman Colosseum. Yodeling in the Alps, biking down cobblestone paths, and taking a canal ride under the stars. Michelangelo’s David and “Mad” King Ludwig’s castles. Sunny Riviera beaches, medieval German towns, and Spanish streets teeming with people after dark. Europe offers a rich smorgasbord of cultures: pasta and tapas, strudel and scones, Dutch pancakes and Swiss fondue, Parisian crêpes and Tuscan grapes.... Follow your tastes and sample a little of everything for an unforgettable trip.

To wrestle Europe down to a manageable size, this selective book features its top destinations—from powerhouse cities to sleepy towns and cliff-hanging villages.

To help you assemble your dream trip, I’ve included advice on what to see and do in each destination, plus how to connect destinations by car or train. Whether you have a week or a month for your trip, this book will show you the best that Europe has to offer.


London, a thriving metropolis, teems with world-class museums, monuments, churches, parks, palaces, markets, theaters, pubs, and double-decker buses.


Barcelona is the center of Catalan culture, enlivened by people-friendly zones, a fun-to-explore old town, sandy beaches, and colorful works by native sons Gaudí, Picasso, and Miró.


Paris, the stylish world capital of food and culture, features the Eiffel Tower, grand boulevards, cutting-edge architecture, corner cafés, chic boutiques, and incomparable art at the Louvre and Orsay.

Provence is home to Arles (with Van Gogh sights and a Roman Arena), Avignon (with the famous bridge and brooding Palace of the Popes), the ancient Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, and the beautiful Côtes du Rhone wine road.

The French Riviera, a tempting stretch of sun-washed resorts, stars the elegant city of Nice, with its relaxed vibe, delicious seafood, and inviting beaches.


Rome is truly the Eternal City, studded with Roman remnants (Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon), floodlit-fountain squares, and the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.

Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, offers the masterpiece-strewn Uffizi Gallery, Brunelleschi’s dome-topped Duomo, Michelangelo’s David, and Italy’s best gelato.

The Cinque Terre consists of five idyllic Riviera hamlets along a rugged coastline, connected by hiking trails and dotted with vineyards and beaches.

Venice is a romantic island city, powerful in medieval times and famous for St. Mark’s Basilica, the Grand Canal, and singing gondoliers.


Munich is a bustling city with a traffic-free center, excellent museums, Baroque palaces, stately churches, rowdy beer halls, and the beautiful English Garden.

Rothenburg, a medieval, half-timbered town encircled by a walkable wall, is the highlight of the Romantic Road route, linking time-passed towns in the lovely countryside.

The Rhine Valley stars a mighty river steeped in legend, lined with storybook villages and imposing castles.

Berlin has thought-provoking museums, gleaming architecture, and trendy nightlife, plus evocative sections of the Wall that once divided the city and country.


The Swiss Alps’ best chunk is the Berner Oberland, featuring sky-high mountains, cliff-hanging villages, thundering waterfalls, scenic hikes, soaring lifts, and cogwheel train rides.

The Netherlands

Amsterdam is a progressive world capital with magnificent museums, dreamy canals, Golden-Age architecture, and the eye-opening Red Light District. Nearby Haarlem is a cozy, small-town home base alternative to big-city Amsterdam.


Approach Europe like a veteran traveler, even if it’s your first trip. Design your itinerary, get a handle on your budget, make advance arrangements, and follow my travel strategies on the road. For advice on money, accommodations, transportation, and staying connected, see the Practicalities chapter. For cuisine tips, see each country’s introduction.

Designing an Itinerary

Decide when to go. Peak season in much of Europe is June through September. For Spain and Italy, the best travel months are May, June, September, and October, which combine the convenience of peak season with pleasant weather (July and August can be sweltering along the Mediterranean). During peak season, it’s best to reserve rooms well in advance, particularly in big cities. Throughout Europe, spring and fall generally have decent weather and lighter crowds. Winter can be cold and dreary, though big cities stay lively year-round.

As a general rule any time of year, the climate north of the Alps is mild (like Seattle), while south of the Alps it’s like Arizona. If you wilt in the hot sun, avoid the Mediterranean in summer. If you want blue skies in the Swiss Alps and Britain, travel during the height of summer. (For climate specifics, see Wunderground.com.)

Choose your top destinations. The cosmopolitan cities of London and Paris are a must for anyone (and could merit a week apiece, if you’ve the time). Historians revel in Rome and romantics linger in Venice. If you’d like to storm some castles, explore the Rhine Valley. Art lovers are drawn to Florence’s Renaissance treasures, and foodies savor France. Munich wins the award for the best beerhalls and oompah bands. For a mix of art, tapas, and irrepressible nightlife, experience Barcelona. Hikers make tracks to the Swiss Alps and Italy’s Cinque Terre. To feel the pulse of 21st-century Germany, head to Berlin. Amsterdam, featuring Rembrandt, Anne Frank history, Van Gogh, and marijuana cafés, has something of interest for everyone. If medieval towns are your passion, walk the walls around Rothenburg. Beach baskers unroll their towels in the Cinque Terre, Barcelona, and the French Riviera. Photographers want to go everywhere.

Draft a rough itinerary. Figure out how many destinations you can comfortably fit in the time you have. Don’t overdo it—few travelers wish they’d hurried more. Allow sufficient time per place. As a rough guideline, figure about three days for most major destinations and two days for smaller ones (take more time if you want to relax or explore). Any four or five of my recommended destinations (for example, London, Paris, the Rhine Valley, Swiss Alps, and Venice) would make a wonderful two-week trip. To reduce culture shock, start in London.

Staying in a home base—such as Arles, Munich, or Florence—and making day trips can be more time-efficient than changing locations and hotels. Minimize one-night stands, especially consecutive ones; it can be worth taking a late-afternoon drive or train ride to get settled into a town for two nights.

Connect the dots. Link your destinations into a logical route. Determine which cities in Europe you’ll fly into and out of. Begin your search for flights at Kayak.com. Even if you fly into a cheap flight hub like Frankfurt, you don’t need to begin your trip there (there’s a handy train station at the airport). For a gentler start to your trip, you could take a train to a nearby, smaller town for your first stop (such as a Rhine village).

Decide if you’ll be traveling through Europe by car, public transportation, or a combination. Trains connect big cities easily and frequently. Regions that are rewarding to explore by car (such as Provence) have options for nondrivers, such as minibus tours, public transit, or taxis. A car is useless in cities.

Budget flights link many destinations. If your dream trip features Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin, and Barcelona, take planes instead of trains. To search for budget flights within Europe, try Skyscanner.com.

If you’re on a tight budget, consider long-distance buses, which connect countries cheaply and slowly; Eurolines is one of several international companies.

Regardless of how you travel, allow at least a half-day to get between destinations. To determine the approximate length of train journeys, see the train chart in the Practicalities chapter (also check schedules at Bahn.com). For driving distances, try ViaMichelin.com.

Plan your days. Fine-tune your trip; write out a day-by-day plan of where you’ll be and what you want to see. To help you make the most of your time, I’ve suggested day plans for destinations. But check the opening hours of sights; avoid visiting a town on the one day a week that your must-see sight is closed. Research whether any holidays or festivals will fall during your trip—these attract crowds and can close sights. For the latest, visit each country’s national tourism website: VisitBritain.com, Us.France.fr, Germany.travel.com, Italia.it, Holland.com, Spain.info.com, and MySwitzerland.com.

Give yourself some slack. Nonstop sightseeing can turn a vacation into a blur. Every trip, and every traveler, needs downtime for doing laundry, picnic shopping, relaxing, people-watching, and so on. Pace yourself. Assume you will return.

Ready, set... You’ve designed the perfect itinerary for the trip of a lifetime.

Trip Costs per Person

Run a reality check on your dream trip. You’ll have major transportation costs in addition to daily expenses.

Airfare: A basic round-trip flight from the US to Europe can cost about $1,000 to $2,000 total, depending on where you fly from and when (cheaper in winter). Save time in Europe by flying into one city and out of another (e.g., into London and out of Rome).

Average Daily Expenses Per Person: $160

Cost Category Notes
$45 Meals $15 for lunch, $30 for dinner
$75 Lodging Based on two people splitting the cost of a $150 double room that includes breakfast
$30 Sights and Entertainment This daily average works for most people.
$10 City Transit Buses or Metro
$160 Total Allow about $200 for London, Paris, and the Swiss Alps.

Car Rental: Figure on a minimum of $250 per week, not including tolls, gas, parking, and insurance. Weekly rentals are cheapest if arranged from the US. Note that some cities—especially in Italy—restrict or prohibit driving in the center. Italy and Spain technically require drivers to carry an International Driving Permit ($20 at AAA.com).

Public Transportation: Depending on your itinerary, it can be worthwhile to buy a rail pass to save money. For a Europe-wide trip, a Eurail pass is generally a good choice. Rail passes normally must be purchased outside of Europe; exceptions are German and Swiss passes, which can be purchased on site.

Keep in mind that many fast trains (such as France’s TGV, and the Eurostar linking London, Paris, and Amsterdam) require seat assignments, and advance booking is strongly recommended (doable through RickSteves.com/rail).

Budget Tips: Cut your daily expenses by taking advantage of the deals you’ll find throughout Europe and mentioned in this book.

Buying a city transit pass (for multiple rides or all-day use) lessens your cost per ride.

Avid sightseers get combo-tickets or sightseeing passes (such as the Paris Museum Pass) that cover multiple museums. Or ask at sights if you’re eligible for a discount, often available for youths (up to age 18), students (with proper I.D. cards, www.isic.org), families, and seniors, though some discounts apply only to citizens of the European Union.

Some businesses—especially hotels and walking-tour companies—offer discounts to my readers (look for the RS% symbol in the listings in this book).

Book your rooms directly with the hotel. Some hotels offer a discount if you pay in cash and/or stay three or more nights; check online or ask. And even seniors can sleep inexpensively in hostels (and some have double rooms). Or check Airbnb-type sites for deals.

It’s easy to eat cheap in Europe. You can get tasty, affordable meals at cafeterias, local chain restaurants, and ethnic eateries. Groceries are everywhere; cultivate the art of picnicking in atmospheric settings.

When you splurge, choose an experience you’ll always remember, such as a concert, gondola ride, or alpine lift. Minimize souvenir shopping. Focus instead on collecting vivid memories, wonderful stories, and new friends.

Before You Go

You’ll have a smoother trip if you tackle a few things ahead of time. For more information on these topics, see the Practicalities chapter, and check RickSteves.com for more travel tips and helpful travel talks.

Make sure your passport is valid. If it’s due to expire within six months of your ticketed date of return, you need to renew it. Allow up to six weeks to renew or get a passport (www.travel.state.gov).

Arrange your transportation. Book your international flights. Figure out your main form of transportation within Europe. Consider whether to get a rail pass, order train tickets for longer trips (to get advance-purchase discounts), rent a car, or book cheap European flights. (You can wing it once you’re there, but it may cost more.)

Book rooms well in advance, particularly if your trip falls during peak season or any major holidays or festivals.

Make reservations for major sights to avoid wasting time in lines. For example, you can reserve in advance for the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, and more (specifics are included in this book). Some sights require reservations, such as the Borghese Gallery in Rome.

Consider travel insurance. Compare the cost of the insurance to the cost of your potential loss. Check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowners, or renters) covers you and your possessions overseas.

Call your bank. Alert your bank that you’ll be using your debit and credit cards in Europe. Ask about transaction fees, and get the PIN number for your credit card. You won’t need to bring along any European cash for your trip; instead, withdraw the local currency from cash machines as you travel.

Use your smartphone smartly. Sign up for an international service plan to reduce your costs, or rely on Wi-Fi in Europe instead. Download any apps you’ll want on the road, such as maps, transit schedules, translation, and Rick Steves Audio Europe (see sidebar).

Pack light. You’ll walk with your luggage more than you think. Bring a single carry-on bag and a daypack. Use the packing checklist on here as a guide.

Travel Strategies on the Road

If you have a positive attitude, equip yourself with good information (this book), and expect to travel smart, you will.

Stick This Guidebook in Your Ear!

My free Rick Steves Audio Europe app makes it easy for you to download my audio tours of many of Europe’s top attractions and listen to them offline during your travels. For this book, my audio tours cover major sights in London, Paris, Berlin, Munich, the Rhine, Rothenburg, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Amsterdam. Sights covered by my audio tours are marked with this symbol: . The app also offers insightful travel interviews from my public radio show with experts from Europe and around the globe. It’s all free! You can download the app via Apple’s App Store, Google Play, or Amazon’s Appstore. For more info, see www.ricksteves.com/audioeurope.

Read—and reread—this book. To have an “A” trip, be an “A” student. Note the opening hours of sights, closed days, crowd-beating tips, and whether reservations are required or advisable. Check for any changes at RickSteves.com/update.

Be your own tour guide. As you travel, get up-to-date info on sights, reserve tickets and tours, reconfirm hotels and travel arrangements, and check transit connections. Find out the latest from tourist-information offices (TIs), your hoteliers, by checking online, or by phoning ahead. Upon arrival in a new town, lay the groundwork for a smooth departure; confirm the train, bus, or road you’ll take when you leave.

Give local tours a spin. Your appreciation of a city or region and its history can increase dramatically if you take a walking tour in any big city or at a museum (some offer live or audio tours), or even hire a private guide (some will drive you around). If you want to learn more about any aspect of Europe, you’re in the right place with experts happy to teach you.

Outsmart thieves. Pickpockets abound in crowded places where tourists congregate. Treat commotions as smokescreens for theft. Keep your cash, credit cards, and passport secure in a money belt tucked under your clothes; carry only a day’s spending money in your front pocket. Don’t set valuable items down on counters or café tabletops where they can be quickly stolen or easily forgotten.

To minimize potential loss, keep expensive gear to a minimum. Bring photocopies or take photos of important documents (passport and cards) to aid in replacement if they’re lost or stolen.

Guard your time and energy. Taking a taxi can be a good value if it saves you a long wait for a cheap bus or an exhausting walk across town. To avoid long lines, take advantage of the crowd-beating tips in this book, such as visiting sights early or late, or reserving tickets in advance when possible.

Be flexible. Even if you have a well-planned itinerary, expect changes, closures, sore feet, drizzly days, and so on. Your Plan B could turn out to be even better. And when problems arise (a bad meal or a noisy hotel room), keep things in perspective. You’re on vacation in Europe.

Connect with the culture. Interacting with locals carbonates your experience. Enjoy the friendliness of the European people. Ask questions—many locals are as interested in you as you are in them. Set up your own quest for the best dessert, grandest viewpoint, funniest sign, or the perfect sidewalk café. Slow down, step out of your comfort zone, and be open to unexpected experiences. When an interesting opportunity pops up, say “Yes!”

Hear the Swiss cowbells? Taste the beer-hall pretzel? Feel the magic of Venice? See the lights of the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night?

Your next stop. . .Europe!

Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.

I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through tours, my public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.

This book offers a balanced mix of the best of Europe’s exciting cities and small-town getaways. It’s selective: There are dozens of walled towns in Europe, but I’ve chosen only the most delightful: Rothenburg. And it’s in-depth: My self-guided walks give insight into each city’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.

I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of my money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.

We visit Europe to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.

Judging from the positive feedback I receive from my readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.

Happy travels!


Hilly England occupies the lower two-thirds of the island of Great Britain (with Scotland in the north). England is the size of Louisiana (about 50,000 square miles), with a population of just over 55 million. England’s ethnic diversity sets it apart from the rest of the United Kingdom: Nearly one in three citizens is not associated with the Christian faith. The cradle of the Industrial Revolution, today’s Britain has little heavy industry—its economic drivers are banking, insurance, and business services, plus energy production and agriculture.

London is England’s—and Great Britain’s—cosmopolitan capital. For the tourist, London offers a little of everything associated with Britain: castles, cathedrals, royalty, theater, and tea.


British cooking embraces international influences and good-quality ingredients. It’s easy to eat well here. Even in London, plenty of inexpensive choices are available.

Pub grub is the most atmospheric budget option. You’ll usually get reasonably priced (£8-15), hearty lunches and dinners under ancient timbers. Meals are usually served 12:00-14:00 and 18:00-20:00—with a break in the middle. There’s generally no table service. Order at the bar, then take a seat. Either they’ll bring the food when it’s ready, or you’ll pick it up at the bar. Pay at the bar (sometimes when you order, sometimes after you eat). Don’t tip unless it’s a place with full table service. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s OK to share a meal.

Classier restaurants have some affordable deals. Lunch is usually cheaper than dinner; a top-end, £25-for-dinner restaurant often serves the same quality two courses as lunch deals for about half the price. Many restaurants have early-bird or pre-theater specials of two or three courses, often for significant savings, if you eat before 18:30 or 19:00; these deals may be offered daily or only on weekdays.

Ethnic restaurants add spice to England’s cuisine. At Indian restaurants, an easy way to taste a variety of dishes is to order a thali—a sampler plate, generally served on a metal tray, with small servings of various specialties. Many Chinese and Thai places serve £6 meals and offer even cheaper takeaway boxes. Middle Eastern stands sell gyro sandwiches, falafel, and shwarmas (grilled meat in pita bread).

Chain restaurants abound, serving a variety of good-value meals, from sandwiches and salads (Pret à Manger, Le Pain Quotidien) and burgers (Byron) to sushi (Yo!, Wasabi, and Itsu), Indian (Masala Zone), Thai (Thai Square, Busaba Eathai), and more (Wagamama, Côte Brasserie, Ask, Pizza Express, Eat, and Loch Fyne Fish).

At tearooms, popular choices are a “cream tea,” which consists of tea and a scone or two, or the pricier “afternoon tea,” which comes with pastries and finger foods such as small, crust-less sandwiches. Two people can order one afternoon tea and one cream tea and share the afternoon tea’s goodies.

Tipping: At pubs and places where you order at the counter, you don’t have to tip. At restaurants and fancy pubs with waitstaff, tip about 10-12.5 percent. Most restaurants in London now add a 12.5 percent “optional” tip onto the bill. Tip only what you think the service warrants (if it isn’t already added to your bill), and be careful not to tip double.


On Sale
Apr 20, 2021
Page Count
1024 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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