Rick Steves London is an annually updated travel guide to the capital aimed at North American visitors.
During the ten years I wrote the About.com London Travel site I reviewed many London books and travel guides and I found this to be the most accurate, honest and informative so I was thrilled to get sent the 2016 guide as I had last seen it in 2010.
Rick Steves is an American author and much-loved European travel expert who travels around Europe for about a third of the year, every year, which explains why he knows it so well. Better than most who live here, I’d say.
Rick Steves offers facts with an opinion which I do feel helps you make informed decisions on what to do or see. His advice can be quite candid, as well as humorous, and I liked the informal and accessible descriptions. Describing number 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives, as “fairly impressive digs” did make me smile as did calling pickpockets “fast-fingered riffraff”.
At over 600 pages this is still a lightweight book as the paper is thin. The Pros of that means it’s light so you can carry around every day but, of course, the Cons are that thin paper could rip more easily (although my well-thumbed copy is holding up well).
The hand-drawn maps keep everything simple and are easy to follow. They reminded me of something a good friend might scribble for you on the back of an envelope. (Bear in mind though, it does mean the colour is restricted to the few street maps at the start of the book and the rest of the photos are black and white.)
The book opens with a wonderfully atmospheric introduction and news that the Rick Steves Audio Europe app is totally free and includes self-guided audio tours of attractions and neighbourhoods.
And early on the book reminds the reader that every trip needs ‘slack time’ so assume you will return. That’s really good advice as when you read the book you, of course, want to visit a long list of places but that’s unlikely to be possible in a one or two week holiday.
There are excellent daily budget suggestions (in US dollars) and good advice not to skimp on sightseeing as that’s why you want to come here.
And I smiled when I saw a bigger recommendation for watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony than visiting the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace as I’m all for free and frugal fun in London. It was good to see Fun London Tours gets a mention as I too really enjoyed their Changing of the Guard Walking Tour.
As with any guidebook, use the information in this book as an introduction and not the final word on the subject.
What I Like
- This guidebook covers much more detail than other guidebooks such as church and castle architecture explanations, and even his personal recommendations from the Thorntons Continental Assortment box of chocolates.
- More than just information, the book includes self-guided walking tours and tours inside the major attractions as well as shopping walks so you see the best places.
- There’s a wonderful vocabulary list with lots more than you would usually find. This list includes “put a sock in it” (shut up) and “snogging” (kissing, making out).
- There are some Rick Steve exclusive discounted accommodation rates too.
- And I was pleased to see it mentioned that the stereotype of “bad food in Britain” is noted as woefully outdated.
The book covers a very good history of Britain and has a wonderful explanation of ‘What’s So Great About Britain?’
“The Britain you visit today remains a global superpower of heritage, culture, and tradition. It’s a major exporter of actors, movies and theater; of rock and classical music; of writers, painters, and sculptors. It’s the perfect place for you to visit and make your own history.”
What I Would Change
I spotted a few things to be updated but the Editorial team have let me know they are already working on the 2017 edition and those points will all be included.
I would note that alcohol and smoking are not just bad ‘tube etiquette’ but they are both banned. Smoking has been illegal on London Underground since 1984 and drinking alcohol on the tube has been illegal since 2008.
The book bravely names The Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden as the oldest pub in London but others would dispute that.
Would I Recommend?
I enjoyed Rick Steves London in 2010 and I still think it’s a great London travel guidebook. You will find great tips and well organised walks for the budget-minded, time-conscious visitor to London.
Rick Steves London is available from Amazon and good bookstores.
Disclaimer: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a review copy for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, AboutLondonLaura.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.