Tips & Favorites

Listen to Rick, he makes it so easy!

From the moment we committed to our trip, we found everything we needed right on their website and our account.  Communication was quick and easy. The staff were incredibly friendly and answered all of our questions by both phone and email.  Documents on the site were very well organized and detailed.  You can tell that Rick Steves knows what they are doing. (I realize I refer to Rick, as I write, but I really mean the whole organization, because it takes real teamwork to make any organization successful.)

Tip #1 That We Followed And Needed - Arrive A Day Early


When we finally left, we were at the very back of the plane, but we are on our way!!!!!

Our friends were flying from Boston, MA and us from Charlotte, NC into Milan.  We scheduled flights from each city to New York so we could fly together on the same flight out of JFK to Milan.  Well, that was until NY experienced torrential rains and the city shut down as we were sitting in the Charlotte airport.  Twenty minutes later our friends had the same experience sitting in Boston. UGH!!!!! Delta was able to reschedule us, the following morning, to fly to Atlanta and then into Milan where we arrived mid afternoon.  Our friends ended up flying from Boston to Portugal and then to Milan. Their luggage got lost in Portugal and didn't arrive until the following day. More UGH!!!! Fortunately, all turned out because we had added an extra day to the front.  We did lose site seeing in Milan, but better lose that than the beginning of our vacation! Rick Steves knows what he's doing!

Tip #2 Bring A Carry On And Stay Light


Bring a carry on and weather appropriate clothing.  Bring a good pair of walking shoes.  John and I both invested in a pair of Keens which we found to have much better support than normal tennis shoes.  We were very glad we did. I logged in over 85 miles over our trip. My feet never hurt even after days with 10+ miles.  Our trip was in October, and we did wonder about "appropriate" clothing for the fall in Europe. At that time of year, we were going to be in the Alps and by the ocean which I felt required different types of clothing.  My personal issue: I don't like to be cold but love hot, hence my conflict. I solved my problem by bringing a lightweight jacket and a couple of sweaters, one light and one a little heavier. We both brought a couple pairs of light weight pants and lighter shirts/tops that we could wash in the sink in the hotel, not knowing where the nearest laundry would be. (Bring some laundry detergent with you.) John says he wishes he would have brought another pair of shorts as our weather was unusually warm on this trip. We also brought a pair of sandals for the beach and lounging and our tennis shoes in case our other shoes got wet. In addition, I also brought a foldable bag that I carried in the bus for my purse, kindle, sweater, extra phone batteries, etc. It also served to carry souvenirs as we travelled. Note: Most of our hotels had elevators but two did not and we had to climb steps with our bags.

My Keens were both

comfortable and waterproof.

Tip #3 Plan Ahead And Make Reservations For Dinners


Rick's Book is an incredible resource whether you are on one of the Italy tours or if you are planning your own adventure independently.  Make sure it is with you as you will want to reference your "side tours", your arrival destination, hotels (for the independent travelers) and especially, the restaurants! We realized early on, like the first night, that if you want to sit down for a nice dinner, you want to make a reservation ahead of time.  Breakfasts are included and we found them to all be very good, with an array of options at all the hotels we stayed in.  For lunch we would grab a sandwich, small bites in a cafe or pizza (with gelato for dessert) wherever we were.  But we wanted to have a nice sit-down dinner with a glass of wine at the end of the day.  Because we had internet on our bus, we were able to research and make reservations by contacting the restaurants website as we traveled.  This also gave us peace of mind the upon arrival we could relax knowing that was one less thing to worry or think about.  And, by the way, every restaurant we ate at was delicious!!!!

Tip #4 Consider Buying Souvenirs In Smaller Venues 


When and where to buy souvenirs is always a struggle.  Do you want to carry them around with you if purchased at the beginning of a 17-day tour or wait till the end?  We decided to purchase things as we went on this trip, as we knew we were going to multiple locations and wouldn't be able to go back once we left.  We also had limited space with only a small suitcase each and a carry on so things had to be on the smaller, lighter side.  And of course, most destinations have specialty items such as stained glass in Sienna or Murano glass in Venice that you will pay more for in a different city if you wait.  Point of the story? We were glad we did as when we arrived in Rome, similar things would have been available, but at an increased price. We also found that many shops throughout our tour will also ship your purchases to you, for a cost. This is a great idea if you're planning on buying wine, ceramics or other breakable objects.

Tip #5 Drink The Local Wine By The Glass Or Liter



Italian wines are celebrated worldwide for their diversity, quality, and rich history. Italy is home to a vast array of grape varieties, wine regions, and winemaking traditions, resulting in an incredible range of wines to consider. Explore the local wines as you travel through Italy. But don't think you have to buy by the bottle.  There are excellent local wines that you can purchase by the glass or liter.  When dining or stopping for a glass midday, ask for the "house wine".  Many establishments have their own local wine which are inexpensive and delicious. The house wines are also much less expensive, in many cases, than purchasing a bottle.  We had many wines by the liter or glass what were priced anywhere from $4 to $6 a glass.


Tip #6 Take Advantage Of The "Aperitivo Tradition"


In Italy the Aperitivo tradition is as much about socializing as it is about enjoying drinks and food. It's a time to catch up with friends, engage in lively conversation, and unwind after a busy day. "Aperitivo" typically takes place in the early evening, usually between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM. Alongside drinks, the classic being an Aperol spritz, or Campari, "Aperitivo" also features an array of complimentary appetizers or "stuzzichini" (little snacks) to nibble on. These can range from simple offerings like olives, nuts, and potato chips to more elaborate spreads featuring cheeses, cured meats, bruschetta, crostini, and small sandwiches. These were the "stuzzichini" we had in Sienna with our spritzes, or in our case limoncello spritz (they are very addicting).

Tip #7 Download Tours and Interviews 


Download the Rick Steves app for your phone in advance of your trip. Rick Steves Audio Europe playlist of self-guided walking tours and interviews is a must on your vacation.  These files offer a wide range of topics, including walking tours of cities, museum visits, and historical sites, allowing you to enhance your experiences with informative narration and local insights. We downloaded all the tours for the cities we were visiting in Italy and took advantage of them throughout our vacation.  This was particularly helpful when we got to Rome where there were so many historical sites to visit. Each audio tour is well organized and loaded with useful information on the topic at hand.  The app also has additional information like travel lectures, skills & tips, travel news, and connections to the other countries his company supports.

Some Of Our Favorite Things About Our Rick Steve's Tour


Our Tour Guides


A tour guide can make or break a tour experience.  When you are depending on their support and experience for a 17-day tour you just hope and pray that they are knowledgeable and know what they are doing.  This was Daniella.  From our first group meeting and throughout the tour, she was always available to answer any questions, help with any issues and to give suggestions for places to eat or to visit with our free time. She has an extensive background in art, the history of Italy and all the towns we visited.  Each region we visited has its own unique story to tell. The tour guides in the towns of Verona, Assisi, Siena, Florence and Venice also had an excellent command of the English language, including a good sense of humor and a passion for their community they wanted to share with us.   

Our Venice tour guide, Ilaria, was incredibly knowledgeable and interesting.

Free Time


Rick Steve's has the right combination of tour vs free time down! You know that feeling you get when you walk into a furniture store, or a car dealership and you get attacked at the door and then followed as you walk around? Well, no one, that I know of, wants to feel like they have someone else taking up every minute of their time. Especially on vacation! Throughout our tour we had just the right amount of informational material weaved into free time for exploring.  Each night Daniella would post the itinerary for the following day.  (Note: We always took a picture of it for reference later.) In the bus the following day, Daniella would give us more details such as arrival information, ideas for lunch and a time and meeting place for the walking tour. She would also give us a brief overview of the city, some of the history and highlights before our arrival. Daniella was always available but did not dominate our time. She was always available for help and support with questions.

Breakfasts and Hotel Rooms


Again, Rick Steves did their legwork when it came to choosing our hotels.  Every hotel we stayed in was clean and had friendly staff.  The rooms were a fine size with a bath/shower.  Most, but not all had elevators.  All our breakfasts had a hot element, bacon, sausage, eggs, and then a selection of pastries, cereal, yogurt, fruit, sliced meat and cheeses.  We started every day with a full and satisfying meal.

The Bus

On our tour we moved between our destinations on a full size Alterini coach bus with our driver Roberto. The bus was very clean, comfortable and had internet which made our travel very easy!  As there were only 26 of us on the tour we had plenty of room to pick our seats, based on our personal preferences (I get car sick easily, I know.... even as an adult) so there were plenty of seats at the front.  Others chose to spread out in the back or sit closer to the middle where the second door was located. Roberto was very pleasant and friendly and got us from one city to another safely! He was pretty impressive with his ability to maneuver tight city streets and the switchbacks through the mountain roads!

Tour Organization


This particular tour was so well organized and well thought out.  We spent two nights in each destination, so we never felt like we were on a hamster wheel constantly running.  As mentioned in another section, we knew each evening what the following day's itinerary entailed.  This information had also been shared verbally during the day with us, but having it posted made you feel very informed.  We also really liked the mini stops in smaller cities, Verona, Assisi, Lucca, Pisa, where we could get off the bus and spend a few hours, have a mini tour and lunch. These stops were unexpected for us when we started the tour (according to the initial itinerary of the tour on the website) but also what made our Italy experience all that much better.  The amount of time in each of these cities was just right with time to relax and wander.