Rome is a showcase of Western civilization, layered with elements of the city’s 2,000-year-old history. Among the traffic-choked 21st-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.
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.
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:
The last time I visited St. Petersburg, in the 1990s, the Russian city was gray and depressing. But during a recent visit, I found a town that sparkles.
While Germany sits in the driver’s seat of Europe’s economy, it doesn’t take a cultural backseat either. Following are a few of the latest developments.
For travelers, Great Britain is a work in progress, richly rewarding those who visit with up-to-date information. Here are a few important changes to be aware of for 2014.
France is always working to show off its rich heritage in innovative ways. You’ll see some impressive changes this year.
Even when it’s hot, crowded or on strike, Italy is lots of fun. More than any other Western European country, though, travelers to Italy need up-to-date information to travel smart, saving both time and money. Here are a few updates to help you make the most of Italy in 2014.
Before Columbus, many maps of the world showed Jerusalem as the center of the world. Jerusalem – holy, treasured, and long fought over by the three great monotheistic religions – has been destroyed and rebuilt more than a dozen times. Its fabled old-town walls corral a tangle of colorful holy sites, and more than 30,000 residents – most with a deep-seated reason to live so close to such hallowed ground.
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.”
With each trip I take, I make it a point to bring home cultural souvenirs – gold nuggets of experiences I'll remember all my life. Whether it’s sitting and talking with a Muslim at the Great Mosque of Granada in Spain, waving a flag at an Irish hurling match, or getting naked with Germans at a spa in Baden-Baden, it’s experiences like these that give each trip that extra sparkle.
They say that for every church in Rome, there’s a bank in Milan. The economic success of postwar Italy can be attributed, at least in part, to this city of bankers, publicists and pasta power-lunchers.
We have New York, but England has old York, one of the country’s top tourist destinations outside of London. The town offers a captivating tour of historic sites mixed with an easygoing pedestrian ambience – all lassoed within its formidable medieval wall.
Seville, the capital of Spain’s southern Andalucia region, is as soulful a place as I’ve ever been. It’s a wonderful-to-be-alive kind of town, buzzing with festivals, heat, color, guitars and castanets.
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.
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.
Coming from a picnicking, backpacker travel heritage, it has taken me decades to recognize the value of a fine meal. Now I can enthusiastically embrace a long, drawn-out “splurge meal” as a wonderful investment in time and money.
Orvieto is one of the most striking, memorable and enjoyable hill towns in central Italy. Less than 90 minutes from Rome, Orvieto sits majestically high above the valley floor atop a big chunk of “tufo” volcanic stone, overlooking cypress-dotted Umbrian plains. A visit here will reward you with a delightful, perfectly preserved and virtually traffic-free world highlighted by a colorful-inside-and-out cathedral and some of Italy’s best wine.
For some time, I’ve been wanting to return to the Algarve, in southern Portugal, my favorite stretch of Iberian coastline. Warm and dry, the south coast stretches for some 100 miles, with beach resorts along the water’s edge and, farther inland, rolling green hills dotted with orchards. The coastline varies from lagoon estuaries in the east (the town of Tavira), to sandy beach resorts in the center (from Faro to Lagos), to rugged cliffs in the west (Sagres).
Driving in Europe can be scary – a video game for keeps, and you only get one quarter. European drivers can be aggressive. They drive fast and tailgate as if it were required. They pass where Americans are taught not to – on blind corners and just before tunnels.
Many people travel across the Atlantic in search of "Old World" Europe and to witness traditional culture in action. But with most of Europe firmly entrenched in the modern world, travelers are getting fewer opportunities to glimpse the old way of life.
I'm in Volterra, my favorite small town in Tuscany, sitting under rustic, noble stones at the base of a palace that made commoners feel small six centuries ago. Bats burst through the floodlights amid ghostly towers held together with rusted iron corsets. These stones have soul. The countless peasant backs they bent so many centuries ago gave to future generations the architectural equivalent of fine wines — something to be savored and pondered in solitary moments like this one.
Europe is safe when it comes to violent crime. But it's a surprisingly creative place when it comes to travel scams. Pickpockets and con artists target Americans — not because these crooks are mean, but because they're smart.
Electronic communication, such as disposable mobile phones, cheap and easy Wi-Fi, and social networking, is revolutionizing the way we travel.
Watching "Rick Steves' Europe" with my friends, I always wish I could take them behind the scenes to show them the "glamour" of filming. It takes six days to film a 30-minute television episode , and it is an exhilarating and exhausting scramble from start to finish.
Touristic, glorious, and romantic, some of Germany's best attractions are in Bavaria. My favorites are three of King Ludwig II's castles: stocky Hohenschwangau, his boyhood home; the nearby and fanciful Neuschwanstein, his dream escape; and Linderhof, his final retreat.
Despite France's reputation for fine restaurants and grand cafes, one of my most memorable meals was actually a picnic on a bench in Chartres. Munching my baguette with Emmentaler cheese and sipping my box of juice in front of the floodlit cathedral, I acknowledged the bum on the next bench.
Turkey is changing fast. And it's modernizing fast. For my vacation this year, I hit the road in Turkey, with romantic memories (a few years old) of horse-drawn carriages and villages with economies powered by hay, dung, and ducks. While that rustic old world is tougher to find, the deep traditions and warm hospitality of the region are as endearing as ever, especially if you venture past the predictable sights and tourist zones. Turkey has a sparse and frustrating train system, but flights are cheap and competitive bus companies provide easy, comfy, and inexpensive connections throughout the land.
Each July, a million revelers pack into Pamplona, Spain, for the raucous Festival of San Fermin. They come to this proud town in the Pyrenees foothills for music, fireworks, and merrymaking. Bu t most of all, they come for the Running of the Bulls, when fearless (or foolish) adventurers — called mozos — thrust themselves into the path of six furious bulls.
At Europe's lively open-air markets and bazaars, bargaining for merchandise is the accepted and expected method of setting a price. Whether you are looking for doorknockers or hand-knitted sweaters seize the chance to bargain like a native. It's the only way to find a compromise between the wishful thinking of the seller and the souvenir lust of the tourist.