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Rick Steves advocates smart independent travel. As host, writer and producer of the popular public television series Rick Steves' Europe, ...

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Rick Steves

Rick Steves

Rick Steves' Europe

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Sightseeing at dawn

May 26, 2015

The rising Riviera sun touches the tip of Vernazza's bell tower and greets a peaceful world. When the bells chime six, I know it's time to get up. Last night's wind is gone. There's a refreshing damp coolness in the air and a rare Italian silence. With my head down and lost in thought, I wander downhill, passing under the tracks. Then, out of nowhere, a train rips like a table saw through town. In the wake of the train, distant roosters angrily crow "kee-kee-ree-kee" (as they say in Italian) at the modern world.

  • Cash strategies for Europe

    May 19, 2015

    With the value of the euro dipping in the past few months, I've been able to experience Europe without as much of a strain on my wallet. I'm enjoying thinking of the euro as being worth a buck. I've done this in the past -- when a euro cost $1.35 -- just to con myself into splurging a bit. But now, with a rate of about $1.10 to 1 euro, that shortcut is almost honest!

  • Dresden's inspiring rebirth

    May 12, 2015

    Intriguing Dresden, Germany, winds up on far fewer American itineraries than it deserves to. Don't make that mistake. Since its horrific firebombing in World War II, the city has transitioned to a thriving cultural center that's well worth a visit. Even with only a day to spare, Dresden is a doable side trip from bigger attractions like Berlin or Prague.

  • Dresden's inspiring rebirth

    May 12, 2015

    Intriguing Dresden, Germany, winds up on far fewer American itineraries than it deserves to. Don't make that mistake. Since its horrific firebombing in World War I, the city has transitioned to a thriving cultural center that's well worth a visit. Even with only a day to spare, Dresden is a doable side trip from bigger attractions like Berlin or Prague.

  • St. Petersburg: Grand city of the czars

    May 5, 2015

    St. Petersburg continually amazes me. Once a swamp, then an imperial capital, and now a showpiece of long-ago aristocratic opulence, St. Petersburg is Russia's most accessible and tourist-worthy city.

  • Uppsala, Sweden's ancient capital and top college town

    April 28, 2015

    Uppsala, Sweden's fourth-largest city, is the best side-trip from Stockholm -- just under an hour away by train. This happy town is Sweden's answer to Oxford, offering stately university facilities and museums, the home and garden of botanist Carl Linnaeus, as well as a grand cathedral and the enigmatic burial mounds of Gamla Uppsala on the town's outskirts.

  • Speeding through Europe on a bullet train

    April 21, 2015

    European train travel is easier and better than ever, thanks to faster trains, new routes, and additional amenities to keep you comfortable and entertained on the journey. For me, there's nothing better than stretching out in a quiet car, blitzing through the European countryside, with hours of uninterrupted time to think and write.

  • Europe for the active traveler

    April 14, 2015

    Whether you're a serious athlete or a weekend warrior, those who like to keep their heart pumping while sightseeing have plenty of great options in Europe. From scenic jogs through Stockholm to paddling a boat in Hyde Park to biking through bustling Amsterdam, active travel can be better travel.

  • Exploring colorful Coimbra

    April 7, 2015

    A couple of hours north of Lisbon, Coimbra is the Oxford or Cambridge of Portugal -- the home of its most venerable university. It's also the country's easiest-to-enjoy city -- a mini-Lisbon, with everything good about urban Portugal without the intensity of a big metropolis. I couldn't design a more delightful city for a visit.

  • John Paul II: Visiting the world of a modern-day saint

    March 24, 2015

    April marks the 10th anniversary of the death of John Paul II, one of the most beloved popes of recent times. During his papacy, from 1978 to 2005, he was the highly visible face of the Catholic Church as it labored to stay relevant in an increasingly secular world. Today, he is commemorated in statues and paintings throughout the great churches of Europe, from the Cathedral of Sevilla to the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua. When I'm visiting Europe, I often run across one of these shrines.

  • Eccentric Europe: Offbeat but on-target sights

    March 17, 2015

    Way back in my student travel days, I discovered a handful of completely offbeat sights that remain among my favorite places in Europe. From sculptures of salt to sculptures of marzipan, from a wall dedicated to love and freedom to chapels decorated with bones, a carefully balanced tour of Europe mixes famous must-see sights with quirky, less familiar places like these.

  • Thriving in Europe's most expensive cities

    March 10, 2015

    Mastery of Europe's major cities -- Rome, Paris, London, Vienna -- is the mark of a good traveler. Teeming with color, energy, and cultural vibrancy, these places -- while expensive -- richly reward the thoughtful traveler.

  • The Peloponnese: Greece's unspoiled escape

    March 3, 2015

    While most travelers to Greece head for the islands, I head for the hills -- the mountains and valleys of the Peloponnese. Attached to the rest of Greece by a thin isthmus, this rugged land has always seemed isolated from the rest of the country. And while it holds some of Greece's greatest ancient monuments -- such as Olympia or Mycenae -- there's a lot more to this region.

  • Travel as a political act

    February 24, 2015

    The great value of travel is the opportunity it offers you to pry open your hometown blinders and broaden your perspective. And when we implement that world view as citizens of our great nation, we make travel a political act. Here are my top ten tips for doing just that:

  • Eat, view, save: scenic dining in Europe

    February 17, 2015

    I'm all about traveling efficiently -- and a great way to do that is by savoring local cuisine as you soak up the splendor of the place you came to see. While view restaurants often come with a steep price tag, I've learned to find scenic places to eat where the food is delicious, affordable, and memorable.

  • Historic, heroic Gdansk

    February 10, 2015

    A port city on the Baltic Coast of Poland, Gdansk is truly amazing -- and amazingly historic. From its medieval Golden Age to the headlines of our own generation, big things have happened here.

  • Romantic Europe: Places in the heart

    February 3, 2015

    I love it when I convince people to engage with the Europe I show them. But when they become engaged with each other in Europe ... I like it even more.

  • Europe's smart harborfront makeovers

    January 27, 2015

    If there's an industrial wasteland where a great European city hits the water -- London, Berlin, Amsterdam, you name it -- it's slated for a major makeover. Derelict areas on the wrong side of the river -- what we in the USA might call "the wrong side of the tracks" -- are being rejuvenated with modern buildings and fresh greenery.

  • What's new in Germany and Austria for 2015

    January 13, 2015

    Germany and Austria are a work in progress -- each country has great and innovative museums and galleries to share its culture with its many visitors. Here's the latest for 2015:

  • What's new in France and the Low Countries for 2015

    January 6, 2015

    France and the Low Countries have a wealth of art, history, and tasty treats to share with visitors. While you'll never experience it all (thank goodness), if you're up-to-date, you'll get the most out of your time. Here's the sightseeing news for this year.

  • What's new in Italy and Spain for 2015

    December 30, 2014

    Spain and Italy are working hard to accommodate hordes of travelers hungry to experience their delightful cultures.

  • Having fun with travel cliches

    December 23, 2014

    In my work throughout Europe, I struggle almost daily with this issue: When is a tourist experience actually a unique slice of a culture, and when is it a tired cliche kept alive by the travel industry? Amped-up Spanish flamenco bars, dirndl skirts in Germany, ape tours of the Rock of Gibraltar -- when does something slip from being authentic to cheesy?

  • There's no place like Rome for the holidays

    December 16, 2014

    I find the holiday season in Rome a joy: crisp air; stylish big-city Italians cupping hot cappuccino in corner cafes; and hurried shoppers bundled up with panache, thoughtfully pausing at grand manger scenes. The season here stretches for over a month -- not to maximize shopping days, but to fit in the season's many holy days.

  • 10 tips for a very Parisian Christmas

    December 9, 2014

    Paris celebrates Christmas with its typical urban flair: extravagant lighting, yummy window displays, and ice skating in the heart of the city. If you go, here are 10 ways to have a "Joyeux Noel" in the City of Light ... without breaking the bank.

  • Pondering German history in Nurnberg

    December 2, 2014

    From a traveler's perspective, Nurnberg -- Bavaria's second city -- has it all: excellent museums, thought-provoking history, glorious red-sandstone Gothic architecture, and a charming Old Town encircled by a nearly intact medieval wall. It also boasts Germany's largest (and most famous) Christmas market, along with the country's tiniest (and most beloved) sausage.

  • Naples: Italy in your face

    November 25, 2014

    Crammed with chaos, Naples is appalling and captivating at the same time. It's Italy's third largest city, along with being its most polluted and crime-ridden and densely populated. But this tangled mess still somehow manages to breathe, laugh, and sing with a joyful Italian accent. It's the closest thing to "reality travel" in Western Europe -- fertile, churning, exuberant and fun.

  • Porto: Portugal without the tourists

    November 18, 2014

    Porto ages happily on the Douro River, along with most of the world's port wine, near where the river meets the Atlantic. Porto comes with a steady sea breeze and a seagull soundtrack. Discount airlines like Ryanair now fly straight to the city, putting it within easy reach of budget travelers.

  • War rooms: Europe's military museums

    November 11, 2014

    In honor of Veterans Day, I've been thinking back to my recent stay in the Rhineland. A monument below my hotel window remembering Germany's war dead still had an unused panel. My hunch is that it'll never be used. Germany, mighty today without the help of its military, has a profound distaste for war. Like so many nations, it rose by the sword ... and then fell.

  • Local guides bring meaning to your travels

    November 4, 2014

    For the past 30 years, whenever I've been asked to state my occupation at a border crossing, I've said, "Teacher." People may find my TV shows to be entertaining or my guidebooks practical, but my passion has always been to teach, whether it's about art, culture, or nuts-and-bolts travel skills. My fundamental cause is that good travel teaches people to better understand the world they live in.

  • The Dingle Peninsula: Pure Ireland

    October 28, 2014

    In Ireland, you drive on the left. For that reason, I take my time in a car there, especially when doing a do-si-do up and over scenic mountain roads. I slowly weave down the dramatic Conor Pass, spilling out into the rugged Dingle Peninsula. My Irish dreams have long been set in this lush spot. I last wrote about Dingle five years ago and recently went back for a long-overdue visit. I'm excited to be enveloped again by 40 shades of Irish spring green.

  • Top 10 European tourist traps

    October 21, 2014

    I love Europe, but my responsibility as a travel writer is not to just rave about everything, but to also help overwhelmed travelers sort through the superlatives and smartly allocate their limited vacation time. So here -- in no particular order -- are my top 10 tourist traps.

  • Sensory Amsterdam

    October 14, 2014

    Good travelers travel with all their senses, taking in a place's sights, sounds, and flavors to get the full experience. So, this past summer in Amsterdam, I engaged all my senses to connect with the culture.

  • History comes alive in modern Athens

    October 7, 2014

    Once famous for its sprawl, noise, graffiti and pollution, Athens has been cleaning up its act. New driving laws, along with a marvelous subway system, have made the city less congested. While it used to turn my hanky black in a day, the air now seems much cleaner. And while before, it felt as though there was one blade of grass for each of the city's three million cars, today it's much more people-friendly, with welcoming pedestrian streets and squares filled with benches, inviting cafes and grassy parks with shade-giving trees.

  • Playful Padua

    September 30, 2014

    I'm in Padua (just half an hour from Venice, but a world away), and I really like this town. Padua's museums and churches hold their own in Italy's artistic big league; its hotels are reasonably priced and the city doesn't feel touristy.

  • When to splurge in Europe

    September 23, 2014

    I've always been a fan of budget travel tips. For 30 years I've written and lectured about ways to stowaway, picnic and get special deals to be able to afford international travel. My feeling has long been that "you experience more by spending less." While that's still true, over the years I've realized that you can also justify splurges as good values when you consider the experience gained and the time saved.

  • Exploring Frankfurt, Germany's hub

    September 16, 2014

    Though it's often avoided by tourists (who use only the city's airport), Frankfurt's modern energy makes it a unique and entertaining city. Linking the wine-and-castles stretch of the Rhine to the north with the fairy-tale Romantic Road to the south, Frankfurt is just a 12-minute train ride from its airport, and even a two- or three-hour visit can make a powerful impression.

  • Scotland's independent streak

    September 9, 2014

    My fondest memories of travels in Scotland are in the pubs with folk bands stomping the paint off the floor as locals came together with the same twinkles in their eyes. This is an example of a time when I really feel I'm in Scotland instead of Britain. Home of kilts, bagpipes, whisky, golf, and haggis, go-its-own-way Scotland boasts a culture that stands apart from the rest of its British brethren.

  • Roamin' through Roman ruins in Provence

    September 2, 2014

    Deep in the south of France, Provence offers an almost predictable palette of travel experiences: oceans of vineyards, fields of scented lavender, adorable villages, and intoxicating bouillabaisse. But the area is also crammed with ancient history -- the Roman ruins here are some of the best anywhere. Many scholars claim the best-preserved Roman buildings are not in Italy, but in France.

  • Cycling through Stockholm

    August 26, 2014

    Stockholm is one of Europe's most beautiful cities. One-third water, one-third parks, one-third city, on the sea, surrounded by woods, bubbling with energy and history, Sweden's stunning capital is green, clean, and underrated.

  • Swiss bliss: Hiking the Swiss Alps

    August 20, 2014

    This year, a highlight of my European summer was the day I spent hiking in the Berner Oberland region of the Swiss Alps. I was with a wonderful group of traveling friends, all eager for a ramble in the high country.

  • Communicating in Italy

    August 12, 2014

    I am terrible at foreign languages. Despite traveling to Europe four months a year, I can barely put a sentence together anywhere east or south of England. But with some creative communication, I manage just fine to write guidebooks, produce TV shows and simply enjoy Europe on vacation. But nowhere do I have more fun communicating than in Italy.

  • Evolving Lisbon -- trolleys, fado and Old World color

    August 5, 2014

    Portugal's capital city of Lisbon feels to me like Europe's San Francisco -- it has rattling trolleys, a famous suspension bridge, a heritage dominated by a horrific earthquake, and lots of fog. And like San Francisco, it's a charming mix of now and then.

  • Pondering Britain's stone circles

    July 29, 2014

    Grand, centuries-old cathedrals distinguish Great Britain's cities and towns, providing spiritual nourishment to those who visit. These places of worship seem ancient almost beyond imagination. But long before Gothic cathedrals, long before recorded history even, Britain's stone circles were this land's sacred spots.

  • Being spontaneous in your travels

    July 22, 2014

    Twenty years ago, I was on a train heading to Rothenburg to update the ultimate medieval town in Germany for my guidebook. I knew the town well and was anticipating a happy homecoming. The cute lanes would be filled with my readers, who cheered me on. I loved going to Rothenburg.

  • Understanding French culture

    July 15, 2014

    I love France -- it is one of Europe's most diverse, tasty, and exciting countries. It brims with the good life and a special appreciation for culture, music, art, food, and wine.

  • Tips on tipping in Europe

    July 8, 2014

    Here's a tip. Don't stress over tipping.

  • A day visiting new and old in Salzburg

    July 1, 2014

    Recently, on one busy day, I revisited highlights and found new sights in Salzburg, a Baroque showpiece. Austria's fourth-largest city -- with 150,000 residents -- is divided into old and new. The Old Town, between the Salzach River and Salzburg's mini-mountain (Monchsberg), holds nearly all the charm and most of the tourists. The New Town, across the river, has the train station, a few sights and museums, and some good accommodations.

  • Touched by history: Meeting a witness to WWI assassination

    June 24, 2014

    Sometimes history punches you right in the face, and there's no time to duck. It happened to me when I was a teenager in Vienna, accompanying my parents on a business trip. My dad's local contact -- Dr. Radler -- piled us into his Mercedes for a Sunday morning spin. We sped to a Danube village in time to see the entire population -- kids in lederhosen, sturdy moms and dads, respected grandparents -- tumbling out of the onion-domed church, across the square, and into the wine garden.

  • Aarhus: Denmark's second city

    June 17, 2014

    Aarhus, Denmark's second-largest city, calls itself the "World's Smallest Big City." I'd argue it's more like the world's biggest little town: easy to handle and easy to like. A pleasant three-hour train ride from Copenhagen, Aarhus is well worth a stop.

  • The many layers of Istanbul

    June 10, 2014

    I first visited Istanbul in the 1970s. Some of my most vivid memories of that trip are of the colorful locals. Scruffy kids sold cherry juice and old men would grab huge cucumbers from wheeled carts, then peel, quarter and salt them to sell for pennies. While the 1970s magic in many places has been plowed under by modern affluence, today's Istanbul is every bit as rich and rewarding as it was back then.

  • Travel smart with your smartphone

    June 3, 2014

    I love all the technology that makes travel easier than ever. Even when you want to get away from it all, it makes sense to take your smartphone (or tablet) with you. You can keep in touch if you want to, plus you'll have instant access to resources that can enrich your trip. I wouldn't leave home without mine.

  • Going Dutch ... in Holland's polder country

    May 27, 2014

    Today my long-time Dutch friends, Hans and Marjet, are driving me to polder country -- the vast fields reclaimed from the sea where cows graze, tiny canals function as fences, and only church spires and windmills interrupt the horizon.

  • Renting a car for your European trip

    April 29, 2014

    Even with Europe's super-efficient public transportation system, there are times when it makes sense to rent a car. Having your own wheels is ideal for getting to more remote or rural places (that aren't covered as well by public transportation): England's Cotswolds, Norway's fjord country, Spain's Picos de Europa mountains, France's Normandy beaches, Tuscan hill towns...

  • England's cute and cozy Cotswolds

    April 22, 2014

    England's Cotswolds villages -- while just a couple of hours' drive away from London -- feel like a world apart. This tidy little region of characteristic old towns and gentle green hills is perfect for travelers looking to balance urban Britain with some thatched cuteness.

  • Europe's powerful artistic experiences

    April 15, 2014

    My TV crew and I often enjoy the rare privilege of filming inside Europe's great museums and palaces on days when they are closed to the public. For this honor, we sign up months in advance, often pay dearly, and never regret it. While the logistics of setting up shots can sometimes be a headache, this comes with the immense joy of being all alone with magnificent art. This past year I've been alone with Klimt's sultry Kiss in Vienna; I've stood silent and solitary before the mysterious Mona Lisa in Paris; and I've marveled at Leonardo's Last Supper in Milan and Michelangelo's David in Florence.

  • Cruising the northern seas

    March 18, 2014

    Cruising in Europe's Baltic or North Sea can satisfy even an independent traveler like me. Stepping off the gangway, I'm immersed in the vivid life of a different European city each day. I've toured some of the world's top museums, taken a Scandinavian-style coffee break while people-watching from a prime sidewalk cafe, lingered on a surprisingly sunny and sandy Baltic beach, and enjoyed some of Europe's most expensive cities on the cheap from my big ship home-base.

  • Why I love eating in Italy

    March 11, 2014

    When I'm in Italy, I generally only eat Italian food. I doubt there's another country in Europe (except France) that could hold my palate's interest so easily.

  • Reims: A bubbly day trip from Paris

    March 4, 2014

    France's bustling, modern Reims greets travelers with cellar doors wide open. As the capital of the Champagne region, it features a lively center, a historic cathedral, and, of course, Champagne tasting. And thanks to France's slick, high-speed rail, it's just 45 minutes from Paris -- making it an easy day trip.

  • Rome's inspiring Baroque sights

    February 25, 2014

    Rome is a showcase of Western civilization, layered with elements of the city's 2,000-year-old history. Among the traffic-choked 20th-century boulevards, you'll find marble ruins of ancient times, early Christian churches, grand Renaissance buildings and statues, and a wealth of Europe's most sumptuous, inspiring sights -- its Baroque treasures.

  • Glasgow: Scotland's second city

    February 18, 2014

    Lately, I've really been enjoying what I consider to be the "second cities" of Europe, such as Naples in Italy, Marseille in France and Hamburg in Germany. These places often have a rough, Industrial Age heritage and a rust-belt vibe that keeps them honest, unvarnished and nonconformist. Even though Glasgow is Scotland's largest and most populated city, I consider it to be that country's second city behind Edinburgh, which wins first place for its capital status and tourism appeal.

  • Navigating European airports

    February 11, 2014

    Sometimes I wonder why I lug my bag through airports, following my own recommendation to pack light enough to carry on and avoid checking any bags on international flights. It can be a drag, dragging your bag through airports. But when scrambling with last-minute changes in flight plans, those without checked bags are far more nimble. Over the years I've learned some tricks on dealing with European airports. Here are a few of them:

  • What's new in France in 2014

    January 14, 2014

    France is always working to show off its rich heritage in innovative ways. You'll see some impressive changes this year.

  • Child's play in Europe

    December 3, 2013

    When parents tell me they're going to Europe and ask me where to take their kids, I'm sometimes tempted to answer, "To Grandma and Grandpa's on your way to the airport."

  • Flying Europe's low-cost airlines

    November 5, 2013

    These days "budget European travel" includes point-to-point flights within Europe. When I started traveling, no one spending their own money bought one-way air tickets within Europe. It was prohibitively expensive. Nowadays, before buying any long-distance train or bus ticket, I look into flying, and routinely, it's cheaper to fly than to make the trip on the ground — especially when you consider all the advantages of flying.

  • Warming up to Iceland

    October 29, 2013

    Iceland is trendy these days. Its powerful loneliness and mighty features can be ideal for exotic film locations — so parts of "Game of Thrones," "Batman Begins," "Prometheus," and the upcoming "Noah" were filmed here. Some of my readers have been nagging me to add it to our guidebooks and tours. But until this summer, I'd never visited.

  • El Salvador: Lunch in the barrio, dinner at the mall

    September 30, 2013

    While Europe is my passion and the focus of my work, Latin America has long held a fascination for me. I took my first trip to the region (to Nicaragua and El Salvador) in 1988, during El Salvador's civil war. I returned to both countries in 1991, after the war ended, and again to El Salvador in 2005. Here are some impressions I brought back from my most recent visit last Christmas.

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