To some jaded people, the idea of a guided tour through Europe conjures images of a whirlwind sprint on a crowded bus to mediocre hotels and restaurants in a different city every day. But nowadays, travelers are so discerning that tour companies have to step up their game. That means comfortable travel to unique destinations, where expert guides lead small groups on unforgettable experiences.
It’s important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all tour, and you have to decide what kind of European vacation you want. The best part is that now there are more specialized tour companies than ever before, offering vacations that cater to every kind of traveler — foodies, cyclists, train lovers, urbanites, volunteers, horseback riders and so much more.
The tough part is narrowing it all down from thousands of options. So, here’s a look at how find the best European guided trips that are right for you:
Start with a budget
One of the biggest benefits of booking a package tour is that if you pick right, you get incredible bang for your buck. Reputable tour companies score deals with hotels and restaurants that can save hundreds of dollars over booking the same experiences. Of course, how many of those bucks you have to begin with makes a big difference.
For a price, luxury operators like Tauck, will put you up in the finest hotels in the best locations, providing white glove service along the way. Budget options will get you there and do the planning for you, but the groups will be bigger and you’ll have less flexibility.
Regardless of the budget, you’ll be able to find something you can enjoy. “It’s generally quite a relaxing way to see the world and everything go by and not have to worry about what side of the road I’m supposed to drive on,” said Laurence Noah, who blogs at FindingtheUniverse.com.
Do your research
Once you’re shopping around, make sure to consider not only price, but also value. The lowest price listed on a tour company’s website might not include admission fees to attractions or hotel taxes once you check in.
More importantly, it might be worth spending a few extra bucks to get exactly the kind of vacation you like, says Matt Kepnes, who runs the website NomadicMatt.com.
That includes knowing where you’re going as well as whom you’re going with.
“Most tour companies list their guest demographics on their ‘About’ page, and you can usually see from the photos of their tours who go on it,” said Kepnes. “You can also tell the audience based on accommodation. If it’s hostels or guesthouses, it’s usually for backpackers and budget travelers. If it’s fancy digs, it’s for older travelers and families.”
Pay attention to the itinerary
Think back and consider your favorite vacations over the years. Did you get a rush out of seeing the most sights you can pack into a day, or are you more of a lingerer who likes to soak up all you can of just a few? The answer to that question should dictate what kind of itinerary you should go for.
But even if you like to pack it in, be careful. Some tour companies will promise too much than is comfortable, and that often results in spending a lot of time on the bus. Seek out tours that let you stay for more than one night in each location, because otherwise you’ll spend almost as much time packing as sightseeing.
“Make sure you get a schedule of all the activities and pick a tour that is balanced,” said Kepnes. “Running around will leave you wishing you had a holiday from your holiday, but you don’t want to be sitting around all day, either.”
Check out specialty operators
Don’t forget that every vacation is made up of much more than just sightseeing, lodging and transportation. So ask yourself, what interests you most when you’re at home? Chances are, there’s a tour company that offers your hobby in your next exotic destination.
We have our own favorites, like AAA Exclusive Vacations, of course, and we partner with Pleasant Holidays and Trafalgar to offer a variety of guided tours through Europe that will knock your socks off.
Have you been on a guided tour through Europe? Share your advice in the comments below!