Rick Steves’ Guidebooks for Berlin and Iceland

Last month, my family and I spent a week in the capital of Germany followed by a week driving the Ring Road of Iceland. Whenever I travel to Europe, I like to utilize Rick Steves’ guidebooks as I find his books to be informative, well-formatted, and filled with walking tours of the featured destinations. The latter part is a particularly important aspect of a guidebook for me as I find walking to be one of the best ways to see a city, particularly if you want to escape the tourist mindset.

34849318Nonfiction — print. Steves, Rick and Cameron Hewitt. Rick Steves Berlin. Rick Steves, 2017. 320 pgs. Purchased.

The guidebook for Berlin contains multiple walking tours around the tourist sites and through particular neighborhoods that Steves suggests demonstrate the uniqueness of Berlin. I marched my dad and brother through all but two of the walking tours included in Steves’ guidebook, and I loved how each walk is structured to lead right into the next.

Unfortunately, that particular structure became frustrating as we tried to find places to stop for lunch and dinner. Food recommendations are buried in the back of the book rather than integrated into walks and activities, and we ended up either having to go out of our way to visit one of his recommended restaurants or take our chances with those we found ourselves.

The guidebook appears to have been created for a traveler who plans to spend only one or two days in the city. We were there for seven days: three dedicated to tourism and four dedicated to a conference I was attending with breaks for visits to museums, if possible. With the walks merged together and Steves dismissing most of the museums as tourist traps or a waste of time, we felt like we had seen Berlin well before our trip ended.

We ended up ignoring his warning that Treptower Park is a waste of time (unless you enjoy Soviet architecture), and I was disheartened to arrive at the park and realize Steves was dismissing a major military cemetery as a waste of time. As an American, I know many of us have a complicated past with the Soviet Union, but I felt like his approach to this beautiful park and its moving monument would be akin to dismissing Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. as a worthless excursion. If nothing else, the information boards around the site discussing the complicated history of this location are worth reading to understand how Germany continues to grapple with its past.

35960146Nonfiction — print. Steves, Rick and Ian Watson with Cameron Hewitt. Rick Steves Iceland. Rick Steves, 2018. 472 pgs. Purchased.

When I visited Iceland for the first time in 2015, Rick Steves had yet to create a guidebook for the country. It seems odd to me that he and his company wouldn’t release one until March 2018 given how tourism has quickly become a major part of Iceland’s economy. It seems everyone I follow on Instagram has or is going to visit Iceland!

We decided to tact Iceland onto my work trip to Germany a little over a month beforehand, and I ended up relying heavily on Steves’ guidebook to plan our drive around the Ring Road. Thankfully, other than two closed restaurants, the guidebook never steered us wrong. It even worked out that his suggestion of driving north and then south worked out as we cleared out of North Iceland right as the police advised people not to travel north back to Reykjavik.

Structurally, I wasn’t a fan of the way he split out the South Coast from the larger Ring Road section. I understand that the South Coast is a popular, standalone day trip from Reyjkavik for travelers with limited time in the country. (My brother and I visited the South Coast in 2015 during our three day trip to Iceland.)

But the South Coast sections includes stops that are difficult to add-in (time wise) if you’re following the Ring Road section. The structure of the South Coast section also assumes you’re driving from Reykjavik rather than from Hofn, the last stop in the Ring Road section, requiring the reader to work backwards. I spent much of our day in the South Coast checking and double checking Steves’ suggestions against our GPS to make sure I wouldn’t send us backtracking on an already long day of driving.

As frustrating as the South Coast section was, I found the rest of the book to be far more helpful than I remember the one I used in 2015 being. At one of our hotels, we spotted Steves’ guidebook sitting on the dashboard of nearly every car in the parking lot. It’s clearly deserves its popularity!

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