European tours with cool people
February 26, 2014 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Mr. Liet and I would like to go to continental Europe this summer, hitting a bunch of cities over about two weeks. We're looking at tour groups, because we want everything taken care of in advance and we want to be guided to the coolest stuff. However, we're young and active and want to tour with other young, active people too.

Neither of us are particularly social, so the idea of a tour group is a little scary, much less one filled with less active people who aren't much fun to hang out with.

On the other hand, I don't like the idea of going forth on our own, not knowing where to go and what to see. (Yes, I've seen this old question and I'm aware that Ask MeFi is likely to encourage us to go on our own anyway.)

I'm particularly interested in something like Rick Steves' 14-day tour -- that's the one I have my eye on. They also have a less organized tour, but I'm afraid we'll spend all of our time waiting in lines that the tour group would be able to bypass. The Rick Steves tours are appealing to me because it sounds like they're off the beaten path a bit, and they emphasize how much walking and other activity is included.

Any suggestions for other tour companies or endorsements for Rick Steves? Again, we're primarily looking for a good social atmosphere, since we'll be stuck on a bus and having dinner with these people for two weeks.
posted by liet to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
My roommate booked a Contiki tour on the whim. It was filled with 18-19 year old Australians but super fun. It might be 'too' fun for you guys (or young), however.

I'm not a tour person at all (the fun part for me is doing all the work), but the few tours I've taken with a smallish group (10-15 people), I've found that it's very social. You may not mesh with everyone but you'll always find a couple, or group of people that you can hang with, and may even make some buddies--and going with people of varying ages is an eye-opener in itself.

In this case, the Rick Steve's may be up your alley..
posted by sandmanwv at 7:47 AM on February 26, 2014

I had a really good experience with Explore, visiting Turkey. The programme was really varied and well-implemented and it was a staggeringly nice group of people. They don't seem to do a pan-European tour but these two are multi-country, at least.
posted by runincircles at 8:03 AM on February 26, 2014

I've never done it but my family & friends have enjoyed Gap Adventures.

They've recently changed their name to G Adventures (GAP clothing didn't approve).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2014

I'm afraid we'll spend all of our time waiting in lines that the tour group would be able to bypass.

I don't know if this is an option logistically for you, but if you can push your trip back to September, the crowds will have thinned out.

Also, some popular sites (e.g., Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna) allow you to make reservations in advance, thus avoiding the whole show-up-and-wait-for-hours factor in the first place. Rick Steves' guidebooks are good at pointing out where this is an option.

Either or both of these might make one of his "my way" tours a more appealing option for you.
posted by scody at 8:31 AM on February 26, 2014

In my experience as an expat working in the tourist industry in Europe about 15 years ago (so yes, old info!), the people doing the Rick Steves tours tended to be mid-30s to early-50s, physically active, extremely nice, and generally appreciative of the sort of ironically cheesy humor that's in his books and tv shows. And yes, they were more interested in "the real X" rather than just checking off a list of tourist sights. Basically, laidback appreciative people who seemed more interested in their destination than many tour group participants I've met (or traveled with).

I didn't work with a lot of people on group tours, but the Rick Steves tourists were definitely my favorite.
posted by jaguar at 8:44 AM on February 26, 2014

We had a really good experience with Monograms a Cosmos/Globus brand.

You get a package tour, with transfers, breakfast, included tours, and tickets to attractions, but you're not always packing around with a bus load of old farts.

We did London. We flew in on United (Ugh!) were transfered to our hotel, Hilton Metropole, and got tickets to the London Eye, a half-day tour and free drinks. We could talk to our representative in the hotel and she would recommend day trips, and things like that.

That half-day tour was GREAT! We opted to do a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath, and that was marvelous too.

It was the perfect mix of having someone to check in with and whose recommendations we could trust, without having to deal with a group of people we might grow to hate.

It was affordable, convenient and I would use them again in a heartbeat!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:46 AM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding St. Peepsburg. I highly recommend looking at G Adventures. I've traveled with them 3 times on their sailing trips and I've met many awesome people, both the other guests and the tour guides. They do small group tours so you won't be on a bus with 100 other people. The other travelers I've met have been all different ages (20s to 60s) of the active, travel savvy sort rather than "white sneakers and giant camera." The tour guides are pretty good at knowing where the cool stuff is, and will probably go out partying with you every night if you want. (YMMV of course.)

Whenever I think of a new place to travel, I check to see if G runs a tour there. And this is coming from a former diehard solo traveler. I'm not that social either, but I found the trips to be low-pressure from a social standpoint.

And if you ever get a chance, you should really take one of their Greek sailing trips.
posted by cabingirl at 11:40 AM on February 26, 2014

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