Before my first European backpacking tour in 2013, I spent hours pouring over various guidebooks in the Barnes & Noble travel section. Having read The Lonely Planet and Frommers guides before, I wanted an easier-to-read format packed with tips and important information. I stumbled upon Rick Steves and since then, have used his trusty guidebooks to collect and organise information for my trips.
While the best travel guide (in my opinion) in most ways, Rick Steves does have his flaws. This quick synopsis covers exactly why.
Why I chose Rick Steves over other big players (i.e. Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, etc.):
- The guides are written more like storybooks, making them both informative and fun to read.
- They are less conspicuous than the large and bright blue Lonely Planet guides, and much more subtle than the vibrant orange Rough Guides.
- The format is easy-to-follow and information is well organised. For me, Lonely Planet’s formatting makes it hard to figure out or even find what I’d truly like to eat, see, and do in each location.
- Rick Steves includes a great self-guided walk for each city that help you get your bearings, learn about the history, and explore the streets.
- His rating system is easy to understand and there is plenty of detail to back up his decisions.
But, as much as I enjoy Rick Steves, it isn’t to say that Ricky and I haven’t had our differences.
Flaws I’ve found with Rick Steves:
- He loves art and history museums and castles. He gives detailed information and huge ratings for castles and museums, which is great if you feel then same. But, if long tours and sore feet aren’t your thing, consider supplementing one of his guides with another publisher for a well-rounded look at destinations.
- Information is not always up-to-date, so make sure to check your itinerary before traveling.
- In some areas, his guidebooks have created such an influx of tourism that they’ve lost some of their original charm (Bruges, Belgium, is a prime example of this).
- He romanticizes locations, and can make even the dirtiest neighborhood sound charming.
- Like any guidebook, he is not above commission, so take recommendations that say “just show this book for a discount” with a grain of salt.
Plus, several times during my first European tour and subsequent holidays, he led me astray.
Not-so-great guidebook experiences:
- Wandering for 2 hours in the rain in London looking for a hostel on an incomplete map.
- Purchasing an expensive and overly advertised schneeball snack in Rothenburg, Germany, only to bite into a hard, fried pile of tasteless dough.
- Searching for a sweets shop in Austria whose entire existence is either debatable or completely impossible to locate.
- Sleeping head-to-foot with strangers in a bunk bed in Swiss hostel.
- Anticipating a great visit to a Copenhagen museum and arriving to find it had burned down.
Choosing a guidebook is a personal decision, and the one you pick can influence how your actual visit will go. In the end, nothing beats chatting with locals to find the best things to see or simply getting lost in a new city, but a good guidebook is an amazing starting point for both information and inspiration.
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