Rick Steves' Best of Europe in 21 Days Tour, Day by Day
Our classic, three-week Best of Europe tour packs more travel thrills into a single vacation than you can imagine. Starting in the Netherlands with your Rick Steves guide, you'll experience the best of Amsterdam, Germany's Rhine Valley and Romantic Road, castles and forests of Austria's Tirol, canals of Venice, Renaissance Florence, the art and history of Rome, seaside villages of the Cinque Terre, the majestic Swiss Alps, country charms of France's Burgundy region, and the City of Light — Paris. Here's a fun sneak peek at what it's like to discover Europe on a Best of Europe in 21 Days tour. Let's go!
Days 1 & 2: Welcome to the Netherlands
We'll start in quintessentially Dutch Haarlem, a quick 30 minutes by train, bus, or taxi from the Amsterdam airport. We'll meet at our hotel at 3 p.m. for an orientation and chance to get acquainted, followed by a walking tour of this charming town and a traditional rijsttafel dinner together.
The next morning we'll hop aboard the train into Amsterdam, and get an introduction to this progressive, artistic city on an informative walking tour of Amsterdam's historic streets, lined with teetering, gable-topped houses overlooking centuries-old canals. We'll continue our tour on a relaxing canal boat before breaking for lunch on your own. This afternoon we'll tour the remarkable Rijksmuseum, featuring masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer. Afterward, you'll have free time to visit the nearby Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, or whatever strikes your fancy. Your evening is free to more adventures in Amsterdam or back in Haarlem.
Days 3 & 4: Dutch Treats and Rhine Views
We'll travel to Arnhem's open-air museum this morning to see what life was like in this corner of Europe centuries ago. We'll wander among the quaint houses, village storefronts, and working windmills, followed by a traditional Dutch pancake lunch. Then we'll work our way down to Germany's castle-studded Rhineland, enjoying dinner together at our half-timbered hotel, nestled in the medieval village of Bacharach on the Rhine.
The next morning we'll take a walking tour of the village of Bacharach with an entertaining local guide. At nearby St. Goar we'll hike up the hill to tour the mighty medieval Rheinfels Castle, and enjoy its commanding view of the Rhine Valley. We'll then board a boat for a relaxing Rhine River cruise, passing picturesque villages and feudal castles, followed by free time for dinner on your own.
Day 5: Medieval Rothenburg
We'll get an early start today, arriving in Rothenburg, Germany's best preserved medieval town, just before lunchtime. After a helpful orientation tour, the afternoon is yours to see the best woodcarving in Germany (Riemenschneider's altarpiece), walk the medieval wall, tour the Crime and Punishment Museum, or hunt down the best apple strudel in town. This evening, we'll tag along on the legendary Night Watchman's tour.
Days 6 & 7: Germany's Bavaria & Austria's Tirol
Today we'll make a 21st-century pilgrimage to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial near Munich, where we'll learn powerful lessons about the Holocaust and World War II. We'll then drive across the Bavarian countryside to visit Germany's greatest Rococo-style church, the Wieskirche. Winding our way toward Austria, we'll arrive at our rural Tirolean guest house in time for a traditional dinner.
The next morning, it's a short drive and a half-hour hike to "Mad" King Ludwig's deservedly famous Neuschwanstein Castle. We'll tour the castle and have time for lunch. Afterward you'll barrel down the Tegelberg summer luge track (weather permitting). This afternoon you'll be free to visit another nearby castle, take a stroll in the woods or just relax at our peaceful hotel before dinner together.
Days 8 & 9: Italy's Incomparable Venice
We'll take a scenic, all-day drive to Venice today, stopping en route for lunch together in a characteristic Italian-Tirolean village. In Venice we'll park our bus and board a vaporetto boat for a Grand Canal ride to our hotel in the historic heart of this seductive city. Tonight we'll take an alleys-and-canals orientation stroll to our first Italian dinner together. Afterward your guide will organize an optional gondola ride for this unique Venetian experience. If the moon is out, it will hit your eye like a big pizza pie.
The next morning our local guide will take us on a winding walking tour through Venice, blending historic and modern-day stories of this one-of-a-kind treasure, and giving us a local's perspective on Venice's fascinating past…and its uncertain future. We'll finish our morning walk in St. Mark's Square, and the mosaic and marble-filled St. Mark's Basilica. The rest of your day is free to visit the Doge's Palace or the Titian- and Tintoretto-packed Accademia art gallery. Better yet, get lost (remember, it's an island) exploring the alleys, cruising the canals, and "crawling" the pubs.
Days 10 & 11: Wonders of Renaissance Florence
An early-morning vaporetto ride will reunite us with our bus and driver. We'll drive straight to Florence, meet our local guide and hit the ground walking with a Renaissance tour of the city's historic center. We'll see and learn about Brunelleschi's magnificent cathedral dome, Ghiberti's Baptistery doors, and other creations that helped define this world-changing era. We'll end our walk at the Accademia Gallery to marvel at works of sculptural genius: Michelangelo's rough-hewn Prisoners and his greatest masterpiece, David. We'll have dinner together tonight.
The following morning is on your own. You can sleep in, get an early start and scramble to the top of Brunelleschi's dome, or browse through Florence's colorful food and craft markets. After lunch, we'll tour the wealth of Botticellis, Leonardos, and Raphaels in the greatest collection of Italian paintings anywhere — the Uffizi Gallery. This evening is free to make your own discoveries.
Days 12 & 13: Eternal Rome
This morning we'll drive straight to the heart of Rome. After a quick lunch and transportation lesson, we'll focus on Renaissance (Catholic) Rome at the sprawling Vatican Museums. We'll visit what seems like a limitless collection of treasures as you make your way to one of the world's most famous works of art: Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. We'll then introduce you to the greatest church in Christendom, the awe-inspiring St. Peter's Basilica, home to Michelangelo's Pieta. Tonight we'll celebrate la dolce vita Roman-style, with an after-dinner stroll through the floodlit heart of the city, lacing together the lively campos, classy piazzas, and the splashy Trevi Fountain.
The next day we'll uncover Ancient Rome as a local guide takes us through the monumental Colosseum, history-drenched Roman Forum, and the magnificent Pantheon. You'll have the rest of your day free to explore more of the Eternal City on your own (don't forget to taste some refreshing gelato along the way)!
Days 14 & 15: Italy's Cinque Terre
We'll drive along Italy's western coast today, with a refreshing stop at an enchanting hill town. This afternoon's destination is Italy's dramatic Cinque Terre: five perfectly preserved fishing villages, laced together with hiking paths that meander between vineyards and the deep blue sea. As we approach the Cinque Terre, we'll park our bus and take a short train ride into seaside Monterosso al Mare, where we'll sleep.
Ahh, the next morning you'll wake up to a "vacation from your vacation" in our Mediterranean getaway. Pick a Cinque Terre village and spend your day exploring the stairways and alleyways, sunning yourself on the rocks, or sipping a cappuccino and catching up on your journal at an outdoor café. Or, if you're looking for lots of exercise, fresh air and panoramic views, start your day early and hike the cliff-side paths that connect the towns.
Days 16 & 17: The Heart of the Swiss Alps
Today we'll catch an early train back to our bus and head over the hills, past the farms and along the pristine lakes of northern Italy into the Alpine wonderland of Switzerland. After a breathtaking drive into the very heart of the Swiss Alps, we'll arrive at our creaky chalet in the magnificent Lauterbrunnen Valley.
The next day is all yours to enjoy some of Europe's most dramatic scenery. You may want to join your guide for an optional mountain excursion that combines the local narrow-gauge railway, a gondola lift, and a spectacular Alpine walk above the tree line, surrounded by a panorama of cut-glass peaks…or ride a gondola lift up to the Schilthorn at 10,000 feet, loiter in the thin air, and hike down…or wander through the valley and walk to the thundering Trümmelbach Falls, a unique set of waterfalls encased behind the valley walls. We'll have dinner together tonight.
Day 18: A Hearty Taste of Burgundy
Today we'll say auf Wiedersehen to the Alps and bonjour to la belle France. We'll drive into profoundly French Burgundy for a look at small-town France. We'll have an orientation walk through the heart of Burgundy's inviting wine capital, Beaune; visit the famous Hôtel Dieu medieval hospital; then enjoy a wine tasting together.
Days 19 & 20: Our Grand Finale in Paris
This morning we'll drive straight to Paris, where you'll have an orientation of the neighborhood markets and cafés to find lunch on your own. After checking into our nearby hotel, we'll have a transportation lesson and Métro ride to the historic heart of Paris: the Ile de la Cité. Prepare to be awed by the brilliant stained-glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle, and enlightened on a historic walk through the Latin Quarter, ending at the resilient and still-stunning Notre-Dame Cathedral. Your evening is free for dinner and more Parisian discoveries.
The next day provides a busy, star-studded finale for our tour. Our morning is devoted to Europe's greatest museum — the Louvre — where you'll come face-to-face with timeless treasures that include the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and hundreds more. You may wish to round out your Paris sightseeing with a walk down the Champs-Elysées, or perhaps a visit to such legendary museums as the Orsay and Rodin — the choices are endless. This evening we'll have our final dinner together, sharing memories and toasting our newly made friends. Salut!
Day 21: Tour Over After Breakfast
Breakfast is provided, but there are no group activities today. If you're staying on in Paris, today would be a great day to hop on the train and tackle the sprawling palace and grounds at Versailles. If you're headed home, it's a breeze to reach Paris' airports by taxi, shuttle, or public transportation. Au revoir!
Learn more about our Best of Europe in 21 Days tour.