How good is Rick Steves?

Aug 17th, 2005, 12:12 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2005
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How good is Rick Steves?

As an Australian I have only come to know Rick Steves through this message board (his travel books are not widely available here). I did however track down his book "Europe through the Backdoor" through my local library which makes quite good reading.

My question is:

Which of his guide books are an absolute must ( any?) to take on a trip to:

Rome ( 8 days)
Florence ( 3 days)
Venice ( 4 days)
Paris ( 3 days )

Did any work particularly well? I've been considering the one about museums. I haven't seen them in any bookstore but my husband is travelling to the States soon so I can give him a shopping list.

I don't want to take unnecessary weight!

"Pack light, pack light, pack light !"
lavender is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 02:41 AM
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Rick Steves Guidebooks are my favorites; although I realize they may not be for everyone. If four star hotels, expensive fine dining, and escorted touring are your preferences, then RS's are not for you. If you are the do-it yourselfer type, who looks at a hotel as a necessity for sleep to accomodate your touring, expecting good value, then you may want to look at RS.

His itienerary's are concise, practical, and the sites are rated, described, and with an irreverent sense of humor, let's you know which ones can be skipped. He provides historical perspective,

Of the guidebooks you've listed, I've used them all. How familiar are you with the four cities? I would recommend taking Rome because you are there the longest. I personally have trouble not getting lost in Venice. There is so much to see and do in Paris. You could probably get by without the book for Florence, but once you use RS, you enjoy using them.

If you could only take two, I'd suggest Rome and Paris. If only one, Rome because of the longer time.
kjosker is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 05:41 AM
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Try his website.
At many US book stores you can find last year's travel books at a discount. Prices and some opening times will be out of date but most info remains the same year to year. He probably has an Italy book if you don't want to buy one for each city.

There are many other tour books in the US such as Fodor's and Frommer's.

I don't like to carry travel books either as they are too heavy. I usually copy the pages I need or just tear them out of the book.

I understand Rick has a ciccetti/pub crawl for Venice that might be fun. I used two of his restaurant suggestions in Barcelona this year and they were both great.
kybourbon is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 05:47 AM
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I used his Rome book last year when I was there and liked it. As mentioned, it is a bit more for the budget traveller as expensive hotels and resturants are not his thing, but he has good directions and commentary if you are a do-it yourselfer.
nlmb is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 05:51 AM
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I assume you could order any of his books through Barnes and ( or amazon. You can also order them from his website, so getting the books should not be a problem. However, as the others said, carrying too many guidebooks can make for heavy traveling. You could buy the books and tear out the pages you want (Rick Steves even offers to send you a new book if you tear out his pages, then send them all back to him after your trip). Some websites have pretty much their entire guidebooks on line so you can download and print the info you want(Frommers, Rough, etc) but Rick Steves does not. But a combination of these techniques is probably best. I do agree that Rick Steves has some very valuable, down to earth information in his books that is not available in others.
isabel is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 06:48 AM
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Rick Steves guidebooks, like all others, have their strong and weak points. We've used them alot and found the restaurant and hotel recommendations hit or miss. The maps are iffy at best, but I love his walking tours and they have become a tradition on our trips. Also, his book Mona Winks provides great "walking tours" through many of the major European museaums hitting on the highlights, if you don't have the time or desire to spend all day in a museum. Given where you are travelling, I would especially recommend it for the Louve, Uffuzi and other big museums in the cities you are visiting.
swalter518 is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 07:39 AM
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I think Steves is an excellent resource. For myself I never travel WITH guidebooks, rather read them ahead of time, take notes, and copy of a few maps or key pages. My first trip to Venice and Paris both I did with no special research or guidebooks in tow, since a free map upon arrival was all I needed to figure out the key spots I wanted to see. As others have mentioned in your situation I'd take Rome. I think Europe thru the Backdoor is wonderful for general ideas and trip planning, but not necessary to tote alone.
suze is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:03 AM
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One of the critical areas where his information changes is hotels/places to stay. Once he mentions a lodging place, it becomes so popular that he has to seek out other lodgings, so keep the old volumes because those "pensiones" do tend to change! Found out the hard way when I lost the volume in which I had marked the place we had reservations, bought another volume and couldn't find the marked lodging in the newer volume!

I gave the London volume to a younger relative earlier this summer and she says it was great!
easytraveler is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:12 AM
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I found his specific books on Florence and Venice extremely helpful. Especially the self guided tours of the museums and other places of interest. He also gives itineraries for how best to use your time in 1-4 days in each city, which is helpful in planning.

I haven't really used his recommendations of hotels or restaurants so I can't offer any advice there.
Statia is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:19 AM
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I find his philosophy of travel and specific info regarding sites very useful. However, I tend to shy away from his restaurant recommendations as they seem to be crowded with other Rick Steves fans from the US.
Like all travel books/guides, Rick Steves books has their strong and weak points. I use a variety of sources when planning a trip. I take notes or rip out sections of a guide book that I want to bring. I do not carry whole travel books with me.
Happy travels!
fun4all4 is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:22 AM
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I have found his hotel recommendations to be among the best I've found in any guidebook, including Karen Brown.

His restaurant advice... mixed. We usually don't follow it.

His recommended city walks - fabulous.

Also, I've found the information in his guidebook (phone numbers, open hours, admission prices, etc.) to be the most current.
TexasAggie is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:24 AM
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There have been quite a few discussions of Rick Steves on Fodors, so you might want to do a search to get the varied opinions.

I agree with those who like his walking tours of various city neighborhoods. In Paris we especially enjoyed his tours of Montmartre and the Left Bank. Also, he has good tours of some museums that don't offer a lot of help to English-speaking visitors -- for example, the Carnavalet and the Invalides in Paris.

We have gotten some good and inexpensive hotels from his books (some hotels even give "Rick Steves discounts"), but his restaurant suggestions have been less successful for us.

Re "Mona Wnks", the museum guide -- I believe he has discontinued that book, and there hasn't been a new edition in a few years. We used to recommend that book, but since it hasn't been updated, and museums do move things around from time to time, I would suggest just getting the book(s) for the cities where you'll be visiting the museums. The info was basically the same -- that is, the Louvre tour in "Mona Winks" was the same as the Louvre tour in the Paris book. But the Paris book would now have more current info.

I'd suggest, based on your itinerary, that you get the Paris book and the Italy book. You might just want to photocopy the sections from Italy on the cities you plan to visit so you don't have to carry around the whole book.
nonnafelice is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:35 AM
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The last time I was in the U.S., I sat down in a bookstore with the RS guide for Paris. I was not particularly impressed. His restaurant recs ranged from mediocre to poor, his maps left a lot to be desired, and he focused on only "his" areas of Paris. As for the hotels, they are so well known now, you don't need the RS guides for info. Moreover, his hotel recs are not always the best value. For example, by checking the Sofitel web site, I have been able to find 4 star rooms for just $20 to $30 more per night than some of the 2 star and 3 star hotels in RS.

The info about the museums, etc., was interesting, but overall, we found TimeOut Paris just as interesting and with better coverage of more than just limited specific areas of Paris.

The obsession with the rue Cler, for example, is a mystery to me. Yes, it's nice, but so are many other market streets in Paris.

He has a niche market and does cater well to his core readership. You have to decide if your travel preferences mesh with his.

FYI, kjosker, one can enjoy staying in nice hotels and eating at good restaurants and still be an independent traveler.
BTilke is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:40 AM
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His obsession with Rue Cler is simple: he gets everything free there (wink, wink).
Robespierre is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:54 AM
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I give him "high" marks...Hhe always has the straight dope...if you know what I mean.
KidsToLondon is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 08:59 AM
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If you have never been to Europe and want little more than a "been there, done that" superficial look, his books are well suited for that purpose. If, for example, you regard the only relevant parts of The Netherlands as Amsterdam and Haarlem, you may become a devoted fan.

If, however, you want to dig a little deeper, you will be frustrated and disappointed. His travel philosophy, literally, is that he decides what is a waste of your time. Consequently, his books are not even remotely comprehensive (if you want comprehensive, I recommend the Michelin Green Guides, especially the regional volumes).

His hotel recommendations are questionable, but I have found that this is true of other guide book series as well.

He also has the annoying habit of interjecting self-righteous political commentary. Of course, many of us in this forum are guilty of that offense, but we aren't charging for it.
smueller is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 09:02 AM
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We used Rick Steves' books for France last year and found his advice the most helpful out of the three guidebooks we used, except for his restaurant suggestions - purchase a Michelin guide for restaurant recommendations, especially in Paris. And make dinner reservations in advance, especially for weekends!!! Rick Steves is excellent if you're independent and dislike mainstream tours. We found we agreed more with Rick's opinions than even the guidebook associated with this forum, sorry guys . But that's us - and every traveler is different. You may have a different perspective but I think in general, Rick Steves offers wonderful suggestions and thorough research. We had stayed in a 16th century castle converted to a Bed & Breakfast near Beaune Rick Steves had recommended that was FANTASTIC. It wasn't in any other guidebook. The elegant French woman who owned it told me that when Rick had come to visit (he actually does stay where he recommends) had never told her who he was until the morning he left and then he asked her permission to put her lodging in "a little travel book" that he writes... she agreed, not recognizing his name and then forgot all about it until suddenly (coincidentally when the 2004 France book was released), she started to get a lot of reservations. She's thrilled; and so were we, since we still had the place to ourselves and were delighted in every aspect. We think Rick Steves is wonderful; his travel shows on PBS are great too. You can log onto his website and watch some video clips from previous episodes. It's a great way to help you decide where you want to go and what you want out of your visit. I still use other resources, but personally find Rick Steves the best of all. Good luck; it's fun planning especially when you discover your expectations were exceeded and I think Rick Steves is a perfect source for just that.
scubapuppies is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 09:31 AM
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I like Rick's books and find them to be a great starting point for trip planning, but even Rick will tell you that he doesn't try to be comprehensive, and suggests that you also consult other, more comprehensive travel guides.

He is definitely opinionated, and I don't agree with the politics (I'll be interested to see Rick's reaction if the Euro currency ever falls apart), but I like some opinionated commentary to compare with the rather bland summaries of sites that are found in most comprehensive guidebooks.

I like detailed city maps, so I would only use Rick's for planning purposes. I also wouldn't necessarily tote around the book--the museam guides that are most useful can be cut out or copied to make them more useful.

I tend to agree with the caution regarding his hotel and restaurant reccommendations: in my opinion, they give you a good flavor of the market for budget conscious travellers (and he does mention some "splurges" that might suit those on a less of a budget), but they have the drawbacks of being very specific to Rick's particular tastes and flooded with Rick's devotees.

If you haven't the first clue about what to see in a city or country, Rick's books are a great planning tool. If you already know where you want to go and what you want to see, then they aren't quite as good of a deal, and even less so if you are going places/doing things not covered in his book.
twk is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 10:05 AM
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I don't care for Rick Steves books myself, and I have read some. SO, I would say none are an absolute must to take with you. I think other guidebooks do a better job of most things.

However, the hotels shouldn't be an issue in deciding as once you are going, you will have made your choices on that point, anyway. His maps are terrible. His books aren't very comprehensive in discussing the city, either -- at least the Paris one with I've seen. They only talk about a few areas that he likes.

I don't like his opinions about must-sees, either, or his ratings of places. We just don't have the same taste on those things, that's the problem which you can't know.

I could be wrong on this and others should correct, if so, but I don't remember him having much on the history of the place, either, which is one main thing I use a guidebook for.

I would agree that the Rome one would be the best choice if you are going to take one, as you are there the longest, and I really don't like his Paris book.
Christina is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 10:18 AM
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For someone who has never been to Europe, they are very good. A lot of how to do info. Watching his videos on PBS first got me interested in traveling to Europe.

As for his hotel recommendations, I find that many of his hotels are listed in Frommers, Fodors, etc. Seems like all the travel guides focus in on a few hotels. Nothing extraordinary from one to the other.
Ronda is offline  

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