I am a big fan of using audio for learning experiences. As an instructional designer I understand the efficacy of this approach and as a tourist I appreciate its convenience. So when our friends, who were with us for part of the recent Europe trip, introduced us to the Rick Steves Audio Europe App I jumped at it. Being able to stay visually engaged with a place while getting audio information about it allows a greater appreciation than trying to look back and forth between info plaques and the thing you are suppose to be seeing. In addition to the inconvenience of trying to look between an object or scene and a plaque, in many places there will not be plaques in English or even plaques at all. This is particularly true of places like gardens and churches. For these reasons I found the Rick Steves app to be extremely valuable while traveling in Europe.
Rick Steves is an American who is an expert on European travel. He has written numerous guide books and also runs his own tours. His audio guides are very informative and tell you just where to look and what you are looking at. Of course we all know, much to my chagrin, that you can’t learn everything about a place when you visit it, and Rick does a good job of condensing down the information and sharing a good amount with you.
The key to using the app is to be patient with it. It’s far from perfect as an app and of course there is no way for Rick to know what might be going on when you are at any particular location in Europe. Despite its failings the information is very useful and I found myself wishing that I had Rick Steves’ audio guides for many places where there wasn’t one available.
If you decide to use this app while you are traveling in Europe I highly recommend that you download everything you need before you leave your own internet, as I do with most apps you use for traveling. Download anything that you think might need, it is far better to have some audio that you don’t listen to than not have one downloaded that you end up wanting. I would recommend downloading everything available for each city you are visiting and double check that it actually downloaded.
One of the problems is that you can’t always tell if a certain location have an audio guide available because some places are hidden inside of larger guides. For example we did not think that there was one for Notre Dame until we downloaded the Paris walking tour guide and found that it had its own tracks. Since you can’t see the individual tracks until you download the guide its hard to know which ones you are going to need. It’s not the best user experience, but the content is good.
Speaking of the user experience I’ll just point out a few things that are likely to be frustrating so you are prepared for them. The first is non-standard audio controls, this just means that it doesn’t use the iPhone’s regular audio controls so that when you turn on your phone’s lock screen you can’t use options like the 15 second skip back and forward controls. The second is the maps, in every guide Rick will tell you there is a map available, these are just simple PDFs which might be helpful in a pinch, but you are probably better off getting a map from the info desk of whatever location you are visiting.
One issue that we encountered was trying to all stay in the same place on each guide. In hindsight my suggestion is to not worry much about it, if you start at the same time then you are mostly going to be near each other. I also highly suggest using headphones with a play/pause button so that you can easily stop the audio when needed and then start it again without having to dig out your phone. As way of a word of caution to Android users, it appears the Android version of the app does not allow for playback at double speed.
Aside from the audio guides to specific places that are in the app Rick also has a number of interviews he has done with experts on a particular location. These can be good to listen to when you are traveling to or from a place to give you more context and understanding, but if you have a limited amount of storage on your device definitely prioritize the actual audio guides.
In summary this app really is a must have for visiting Europe. Even though many of the places you go might offer audio guides of their own they are normally harder to understand and require an extra purchase whereas this app is free, so you should use it wherever you can.