First trip to Europe? Focus on these 5 great cities rather than cheap ones

Rijksmuseum LawnNot long ago, I scrolled down the homepage of this website – priceoftravel.com – and noticed that almost every article had the word “cheapest” in the title. This is what happens when you run a site dedicated to researching and reporting travel prices, and certainly there is a demand for these lists and prices.

Also recently, a friend of mine who’s never visited Europe asked me which cities I recommend for a first trip. Only then did it occur to me that I actually think it’s important to start with the truly great cities first, even though they tend to be among the most expensive. In other words, articles like the cheapest cities in Europe might encourage people to go to some places for what could be the wrong reasons.

Start with Europe’s greatest cities, and work out a budget from there

For those of us who are traveling constantly it’s easy to forget that most people are lucky to visit Europe (assuming you live elsewhere) even once in their lives. Sure, many people are inspired by a first trip and will continue to gp back and explore, but others don’t have the time or the means, and their first trip might be their only trip.

For that reason, and also to help the chances for that inspiration leading to later trips, I recommend first-time visitors begin in the most famous cities, in spite of high costs and crowds.

Europe’s 5 Great Cities for visitors

1 – London

London Thames ViewThe only town that can compete with New York City for the title of Capital of the World, London is where everything comes together. And obviously as an English-speaking city (mostly), it’s among the easiest to begin adapting to the culture and style of Europe.

The main downside to London is that, until you know where things are, it feels like the most expensive place on earth. There are ways to keep London cheap if you really have to, but at first it’s probably not a bad idea to splurge and just go with the flow. Fortunately, all of the famous museums are free to enter, and there are several new free walking tours to choose from, so it’s getting a bit easier to keep expenses reasonable.

  • Backpacker Index: US$69.35 per day

2 – Paris

Paris Seine ViewDefinitely more intimidating than London, and also far more beautiful, Paris is a city that so many people gush over that you might assume there’s no way it could live up to the praise. Then you go to Paris for yourself and you start gushing yourself. Walk for thirty minutes from anywhere near the city center and you’ll keep seeing buildings and bridges and public art that will make you want to start checking apartment prices.

Every city has problems, even Paris, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being sorry they visited. While Paris is an expensive city, it’s actually a bit easier to keep costs down, mainly because the extensive Metro system means that you can still have a great and convenient time if you stay in a cheaper hotel outside of the main tourist center.

  • Backpacker Index: US$79.04 per day

3 – Rome

Rome ViewUnlike London and Paris, the city of Rome does actually seem to have a group who’ll tell you to avoid it. Rome is frustrating in many ways, with crazy traffic and a sense of disorganization that is hard to adapt to, but there’s also no denying that it’s one of the world’s greatest and most important cities.

It’s easy to tell people to avoid a city once you’ve been there yourself, but no one gives points to those who would brag about never visiting a city because they heard it was too crazy. With Ancient Rome, the Coliseum, and the Vatican just for starters, Italy’s capital is worth the hassle to see it at least once, and many people love it so much that they keep returning. Hotels in Rome are weirdly expensive, but other costs are reasonable, and it’s totally worth it at least once in your life.

  • Backpacker Index: US$80.38 per day

4 – Venice

Venice ViewSome cities are really beautiful from certain vantage points or certain angles, but Venice is beautiful from all of them. As a touristy city for several hundred years now, the biggest problem with Venice is the crowds it attracts. Even in winter, the main pedestrian routes can be so packed that it frustrates nearly everyone. And in summer, they are worse, of course.

Even though hotels in Venice tend to be quite expensive, the best way to visit is to spend at least one or two nights on the main island. You’ll find that early mornings and evenings are far less crowded, as most groups head to the mainland to sleep. Venice is also small enough that 36 hours is plenty of time to see the best bits, so it’s worth a one-night splurge for a good location.

  • Backpacker Index: US$90.26 per day

5 – Amsterdam

Amsterdam ViewSome people might not put Amsterdam on this short list of great European cities, but plenty of people agree with me that it’s another of the world’s most beautiful and interesting places. Most of the city center is perfectly preserved from its beginnings in the 17th Century, and it’s been quite wealthy ever since.

Many cities around the world boast that they have more canals than Amsterdam, but except for Venice, none are nearly as stunning. Add in the way bicycles dominate the landscape, the weirdness of the Red Light District, and its pleasant overall nature, and Amsterdam is worth a visit in spite of its relative high prices for most things.

  • Backpacker Index: US$86.67 per day

Include the above cities as part of bigger trips

The 5 cities mentioned above are the ones that I think are the best and most dramatic introduction to Europe, and the most likely to inspire more trips, but I wouldn’t recommend just trying to see these 5 and then heading home. Depending on budget, season, and trip duration, you could add or subtract many other worthwhile cities to make the perfect itinerary.

If you’ve traveled all over Europe yourself, do you agree or disagree with the cities selected above? I can’t think of another that deserves to be in this top tier, but I’d imagine that other people might have other ideas.



38 Responses to “First trip to Europe? Focus on these 5 great cities rather than cheap ones”

Astoria Greek says:

Where would you rate Athens?

 

    Astoria,

    Very interesting question, and I would personally rank Athens #6 in this group. Historically it couldn’t be more important and its center has become very tourist-friendly as well. I put it above Madrid or Berlin or Prague as an essential European city, but I cut this list off at 5. Thank you. -Roger

     
George says:

Venice has never wowed me. It seems nice enough, but lacks interest for a prolonged stay. It’s also smelly in summer and flooded in winter, and over-touristed in all seasons.

I would rate Barcelona in the top five. Beautiful architecture, great restaurants, and friendly residents. And how can you forget about Istanbul?

 

    George, that’s interesting about Venice for you, and I agree that its weakness is that it’s too crowded all year. I think people who stay overnight on the main island can get a wonderful experience if they try. As for Barcelona and Istanbul, they’d certainly both be in my next five, but for me they don’t compare with the others for impact on a first-time visitor. It’s all opinion though, and thank you for yours. -Roger

     
Julia says:

Having traveled extensively around Europe (and living in Vienna), I would definitely add Berlin, Barcelona and of course Vienna to the list! Great cities regarding culture, food and nightlife and also budget friendly if you look around a little. I personally would leave out Rome because it is very stressful and go to Florence instead for the museums and Tuscany in general, but that’s just me 🙂

 

    Julia, thank you for your thoughts, and you make good points. Personally, I prefer Berlin to all of them on my list, but this post was meant to be about the “great” cities that will change your life after experiencing them. The sights and history of Rome are far more interesting than those of Florence, although I agree about the stress factor of Rome. -Roger

     
Susan says:

I have never been, so this list helps. They are mostly what I was leaning towards anyway with the exception of Amsterdam. My first choice is Paris, then Venice, Florence, maybe Rome, but the stressful factor has me rethinking Rome, but maybe one day in Rome would be eventful and an experience and well worth it. Something has me running from London and not sure why. The english speaking comment about London makes sense though. Maybe it should be the first stop! I wonder where you would put the French Riviera on the list? Nice and Saint Tropez?

 

    Susan,

    I’m glad you found this helpful. If you are going to Italy it would be a shame to skip Rome. A one-day visit would be far better than skipping it, but I’d really urge you to plan at least 2 days in Rome, if not 3. It’s true that it’s a bit stressful, but I really don’t think it would be a problem if you are aware of it and plan accordingly. Mostly it’s just that street traffic is somewhat chaotic, and pedestrians become unpredictable as a result. Also, the main attractions such as the Vatican Museum and Coliseum tend to have long queues, so once you reach them through the traffic, it’s still tough to relax. But the thing is, you can’t see the Vatican Museum and Coliseum anywhere else in the world, and they are so worthwhile that Rome makes my list, and everybody else’s list.

    But if you mentally prepare yourself for the crowds, and book a hotel that puts the main tourist sights within fairly easy reach, you’ll love the place.

    I’ll also encourage you to include London if you can. I understand why it might seem relatively bland compared to the others, partly due to the language and so much shared culture with the US and elsewhere, but it really does live up to the hype. Though it might feel like “Foreign Travel 101” as an easy introductory stop, once you are there it feels like a “capital of the world” similar to how New York City does.

    As for the French Riviera, it’s quite a lovely place and well worth a stop if you have time. Most people agree that St. Tropez is a bit overrated on its own, as it’s quite expensive, fairly crowded, and without much to see. The best stop for most people is Nice, which is larger, quite budget friendly, and also loaded with good museums and interesting cultural sights as well as the beach itself. Nice has a rocky beach, but you can take the train to Cannes and its sandy beach for a day trip, which is only about 30 minutes away. And Monaco is even closer by train in the other direction, and it’s so small that you can see all the main things in only a few hours. Of the three cities mentioned, Monaco is actually the most visually stunning for a quick stop, but Nice is the best place to stay.

    I’m sure you’ll have an incredible time no matter which destinations you choose. -Roger

     
luca says:

I completely agree with your list, if you did a top ten I would add Barcelona, Prague, Athens, Berlin and Vienna

 

    Luca,

    Thanks, and I couldn’t disagree with any of your next five. I’d be tempted to include Istanbul in order to make it even a bit more diverse, but then it would be hard to figure out which one of those to remove. I appreciate the comment. -Roger

     
Aditi says:

Hi Roger,

I am planning to visit Europe for the first time in May 2017 with my husband for a 15 days trip. I want to include the top 5 cities mentioned above. Can you please plan an itinerary for me which would include the top 5 cities as well as some others worth visiting, with the duration mentioned, for each city. Also, if you feel, I should cut down on any of them due to paucity of time, or as a first timer I should plan my trip in a different way covering some other cities, your suggestions are most welcome. I don’t want to rush anywhere. Totally depending on your views, as I am totally confused what to visit.

Many many thanks in advance.
Aditi

 

    Aditi,

    I’m happy that you are so open minded when planning this trip. Many people start with a very tight schedule and then struggle to change plans when they learn that they are trying to move too quickly. My general advice is to stay in each city for 3 nights, except for the largest and most sight-filled cities like London or Paris, if you have time. There are also a few cities that are small enough to cover in 1 or 2 days, as long as you don’t spend too much time in transit in and out.

    First off, it’s a shame that these 5 cities aren’t quite so easy to string together on a 2-week trip, although it could be done like this:

    Fly into London for 3 nights
    Take a train to Amsterdam for 3 nights
    Take a train to Paris for 4 nights
    Fly to Venice for 2 nights
    Take a train to Rome for 3 nights
    Then fly home from Rome, or fly back to London for a flight home that same day

    That itinerary is obviously filled with highlights, but I think I might instead suggest:

    Fly into London for 3 or 4 nights
    Take a train to Paris for 3 nights
    Fly to Venice for 1 or 2 nights
    Train to Florence for 2 or 3 nights
    Train to Rome for 3 nights

    The second version is also filled with highlights, and the overall travel time is several hours shorter on a few of the journeys. By skipping Amsterdam on this trip, and doing Florence in between Venice and Rome, you get all the best sights in Italy as well as enough time in London and Paris, with short travel times.

    See what you think about that, and I’ll be here to help more in the future when you have more questions. -Roger

     
      Johnathan says:

      Hi Roger,

      Just wanted to mention that if one did want to visit London, Paris and Amsterdam, it would be much faster to go from London to Paris to Amsterdam. Not sure if you intended to write your first itinerary in that order.

      If you were to focus on those 3 and save Italy for another trip, would you recommend adding Brussels or another city as a stop between Paris and Amsterdam? Do you have a better recommendation?

      Johnathan

       

        Johnathan,

        This list is mostly in the order that I think the cities are critical for first-time Europe visitors, rather than an actual itinerary to follow. I put Amsterdam at #5 because I think the other 4 are even more impressive and important. I lived in Amsterdam for a while, and I’m based in London at the moment, even though I’m an American, by the way.

        So yes, you are right that the Eurostar from London to Paris is very efficient, and then the high-speed Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam, changing in Brussels. I sort of have mixed opinions on Brussels. My uncle lives there and I’ve visited several times, but I find most of the city to be a bit generic, expensive, and mostly focused on business and government employee travelers. On the other hand, the main city square (called the Grand Place) is quite amazing, and the historic area surrounding it is definitely worth seeing.

        As a result, my common recommendation is for people to stop in Brussels and leave their bags in the train station, and then go out and explore for a few hours and have lunch or dinner. After that, get on the train to Bruges, which is 1 hour 7 minutes away on a direct train. Bruges is an almost perfectly preserved medieval town that will remind you of a smaller and more mellow version of Amsterdam. It’s really nice, and it’s cheaper than Brussels. You can see most everything there in about two days. There are a few other Belgian towns to consider such as Antwerp or Ghent, but Bruges has more hotels and more sights by far.

        The only downside of visiting Bruges before Amsterdam is that the architecture is pretty similar since they were built up in the same era. In other words, Amsterdam would seem a bit more spectacular coming straight from Paris rather than from Bruges, but I’d still recommend Bruges if you have two days or so. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

         
Ina says:

Hi Roger, I’m planning on a 2-3+ week trip to Europe for the first time next year. First stop would be Vienna then hopefuly Italy, France, Spain and Greece. London is out of the picture, unfortunately, cause I would need another visa for that. I don’t know how to go about my trip. I just want it to be a relaxed one and not rushing from city to city. It is also important for me to experience the culture through their cuisines. Can you suggest an itinerary for me? Any suggestions about the places I want to visit? Thank you!

 

    Ina,

    Particularly if you want to do a “relaxed” journey, you’ll want to plan on at least 3 nights in each city you visit. That gives you two full sightseeing days in each place because the travel day will take most of your daylight hours in almost all cases. And on a relaxed trip, I’d allow 4 days in Paris, partly because you mention food and it has so much exceptional food that 7 or 8 meals isn’t nearly enough.

    And rather than planning on countries you want to visit, it’s much easier and more helpful to think about the cities. In Austria you’ll start in Vienna and if you want to do another stop it should be Salzburg. In France you won’t have enough time to see more than Paris in 3 or 4 days, but fortunately it’s so wonderful that it will be enough. If you want to go to Spain, the fastest trip I’d recommend would be 3 nights in Barcelona and 3 nights in Madrid. Each is a large city loaded with great attractions, and they are very different from one another.

    The fastest Italy trip that I recommend is 1 night in Venice, 2 nights in Florence, and 3 nights in Rome. That is a lot of rushing, so 7 or 8 days is much better if you have the time. And as for Greece, the only must-see place is Athens, but it’s quite out of the way and I don’t think you’ll have time on this trip. Aside from Athens many people also go to one or more of the islands, but they are more about relaxation and partying than about culture and food. So I’d save Greece for a future trip.

    With all of that in mind, you have to decide which cities you really want to visit, and will have time to visit. Once you have that list I’ll be happy to help you sort out the itinerary. And it’s also best if you can plan cities that are within 5 or so hours of each other by train. If they are farther apart you’ll probably want to fly, and that gets a little complicated and less pleasant than doing it all on the train.

    So think about it, and I’m happy to help you once you have your priority list and total time frame decided upon. -Roger

     
Rajatha says:

Hi Roger,

My friends and I are planning a 2 week trip and we were hoping to cover France, Italy and Netherlands. I’m not entire sure of how to get from one place to the other. I’ve read quiet a bit about Eurail and from what I understand its pretty expensive. Are there any other options on how to commute? And it would be great if I’d get some advice as to where to begin our trip and where to end it. An itinerary would help.

Thanks a tonne.

 

    Rajatha,

    The best way to get between those places is by train. Europe has an extensive rail network, and fares are surprisingly cheap if you buy your tickets at least a month or two in advance. It’s easy to confuse the European rail network with “Eurail Passes”, which are prepaid ride passes that are good for people who want to make plans as they go, but quite expensive compared to individual tickets bought well in advance.

    It’s probably easiest to fly into Amsterdam and spend a few days there. Then take the high-speed train to Paris (3 hours) for a few days. After that take a train to Milan or Venice in Italy. From Paris to Italy it might be cheaper to fly, so compare both options. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
Koyel says:

Hi Roger,

Am planning to visit Europe in January 2017. This would be my first time in this beautiful continent. I have 18 days in hand. But my Schengen Visa does not cover UK. So i have roughly chalked out an itinerary which looks like this-
Rome-Venice-Florence-Zermatt (via Milan)-Interlaken-Luzern-Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam. I would also like to include Vienna if possible. Do u think its Doable? Am open to make changes in the tour plan. Kindly suggest me an itinerary that wont be too hectic but also would let me see as much as possible. Really exited since this would be my first time in Europe.

Thanks a lot. Koyel.

 

    Koyel,

    I’ll be happy to try to help. The fastest trip through Italy that I recommend is 3 nights in Rome, 2 nights in Florence, and 1 night in Venice. Aside from that, I usually recommend 3 nights in almost any city in Europe with only a few other exceptions. So right there you’ve got 6 days spoken for.

    You might check my comments on where to go in Switzerland. I don’t think I’d recommend including Zermatt on a trip like this. Instead, I’d go for 2 or 3 nights in Interlaken and 2 nights in Lucerne. At that point you are at 10 or 11 days.

    You’ll want at least 3 nights in Paris, and 4 would be better. I just returned to London again from Paris, and Paris is such an amazing city that you don’t want to rush through it. You could spend 1 night in Brussels in order to see historic center, but you could even do that in a few hours on your way to Amsterdam. If you spend 3 nights in Amsterdam, you’ve got a pretty much perfect 18 days, and you’ll be fairly worn out at the end of it. Vienna is out of the way and I’d save it for another trip. This itinerary would work pretty well, and that is only if you are willing to move quickly through Italy like that. It might be even better if you spend 8 days or so in Italy, and perhaps save Amsterdam for a future trip. I hope this helps and feel free to ask other questions if you have them. -Roger

     
      Koyel says:

      Roger,

      Thanks a ton for your help. Now am more confident about making this trip. Just went through your write-up about the places to visit and stay in Switzerland. Following your advice would directly go to Interlaken and Lucerne from Italy and stay in each city for two days. Would save Zermatt for a future trip. I would like to ask you, do you think in this trip it would be more convenient to include Germany’s famed black forest for a couple of days (maybe Gengenbach?) instead of heading to Brussels and Amsterdam? That way can i save up on my travel time and get to see more? As suggested by you i would also like to add a day or two to Italy. What do u suggest?

       

        Koyel,

        The Black Forest is one of those odd attractions that is famous but not very interesting. There’s really nothing special about it, aside from a few small towns that sell many cuckoo clocks to tourists. Have a look at my article on where to go in Germany and maybe you’ll get another idea.

        On the other hand, Amsterdam is an amazing and beautiful city, so if you have time to get there I’m sure you’ll be impressed. Hotels there are expensive and the trains to get there aren’t cheap either, so I won’t blame you if you saved it for a future trip. But if you do get there you’ll love it. Brussels has a beautiful historic center around the main square called the Grand Place, but aside from that it’s mostly an expensive city for business travelers and bureaucrats.

        If you can stay another day or two in Italy, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it a lot. It would take at least 10 days in Italy before you’d start to be ready for another country. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

         
Jennifer says:

Hi, I will be traveling to Europe for the first time with my best friend in 2017. Since, it’s not a trip we will likely be able to do again for a long time. We are trying to make the best of it. Unfortunately we can only go for 1 week. She would like to go to Italy or Paris, but I want to know what you believe is best to do for a week. We will be leaving from NYC and planning on going in October. We haven’t finalized the dates yet.

Thanks for any and all advise.

 

    Jennifer,

    If you’ve only got a week and you want the best possible Europe experience, I recommend two possible choices. One would be to fly to London or Paris and spend 3 or 4 days there and then the remaining days in the other, after taking the Eurostar train between the two. Both are spectacular cities that are very different from each other, with more than enough top sights to keep you busy for 3 or 4 days.

    The other choice would be to spend the week in Italy. You could fly into Rome and spend 3 days there, then take a train to Florence for 2 or 3 days, and then another train to Venice for 1 or 2 days. Those are Italy’s Big Three, and again, they are all fantastic and all different from each other. It’s much more complicated to combine Paris and one or two cities in Italy in one 7-day trip. Whichever you choose this time, you can keep the other on your list for your next trip. Let me know if you have any questions about this and I’ll be happy to help. -Roger

     
stephen says:

hi rodger, id like to see your itinerary for things to do and see in each of these cities. ones that are touristy must sees and also the ones that are must dos that maybe aren’t so touristy.

Also id like to know your thoughts on a separate Ireland, Scotland type trip.

 

    Stephen,

    Without knowing your tastes I couldn’t type out an itinerary, and I generally don’t do that anyway because it’s so personal. I’d check the wikitravel.org page for each city, as well as lonelyplanet.com and even TripAdvisor for ideas, and then focus on the ones that appeal to you.

    For example, in Paris, you’ll obviously want to photograph the Eiffel Tower, but I’m not much of a fan of the experience of going up in the thing. Many people would disagree with me though. And in Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum is very popular, yet I’m not really a fan of his popular works, so I find it disappointing. The Reichsmuseum is fantastic though. If you have any specific questions I’ll be happy to answer or give my opinion.

    As for Scotland and Ireland, they are quite different from one another. In Scotland you’ll want to go to Edinburgh, which is really an excellent city for tourists for 2 or 3 days. After that the best place to go is Inverness, which is a lovely town and also the gateway to the Scottish Highlands. You can take many different tours from Inverness, including ones to the Isle of Skye. It’s also just a bit north of Loch Ness, and that might be one of the world’s dumbest tourist destinations. It’s a very deep lake, though not very photogenic. And if you don’t believe in the Monster stories, it’s just a hustle and waste of time.

    In Ireland it’s worth spending one or maybe two days in Dublin, but Dublin is not nearly as interesting as most people expect, and the rest of Ireland is lovely and charming. So the advice there is to spend only a day or two in Dublin and then head to Galway and the sights around there, or Kilarney or Cork, or any of the other smaller towns. Renting a car for a tour of Ireland’s scenic areas and small towns is ideal, although you can see a lot on train or bus trips as well. Again, let me know if you have any questions. -Roger

     
Cliff says:

Hi Roger, I’m thinking about traveling to Europe next year with my wife. I came across a “Best of Europe in 21 days” tour on a very familiar Europe traveler’s website. You know guy I’m talking about, right (His name rhymes with Stick Reeves? Anyway, his tour includes: Amsterdam, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and France. It also includes 4 of the 5 cities you listed (no London). I was wondering if you think if that particular tour is a good value at $5,000 per person + airfare? I don’t mind paying top dollar for something valuable but I don’t want to get ripped off. I think you’re much better equipped to make a call than I am. Thanks for the article, and thanks in advance if you have time to respond! 🙂

 

    Cliff,

    I’m a big fan of Rick Steves myself, although I’ve never done any of his tours. I’ve never heard anyone say that his tours are extremely overpriced or a ripoff of some kind, and I’ve always assumed that the quality is fairly high.

    That said, US$5,000 per person does seem high for 21 days on the ground. That is obviously just under US$500 per day for two people sharing a room, although it also includes breakfasts, probably many other meals, attractions, tour guiding, and trains between cities. Really it boils down to how keen are you to be guided in this way. Many people love it and prefer it, and if it sounds like something you’d enjoy then I’d think this Rick Steves tour would be a great choice.

    However, if you planned all of this independently you could do it for far less with unlimited freedom. You can get perfectly acceptable and well-located hotel rooms in all of those places for around US$200 per night for two people including breakfast. You might spend more in Switzerland and Venice, and a bit less in other places. Traveling through these cities is very easy, even if English is your only language, so you can have great experiences without worrying about a language barrier.

    Personally, I absolutely love planning these trips and improvising a bit while I’m there. But for some people it feels like a huge chore. I’m very confident that you’ll love the trip whether you go with a tour or plan it yourself, and you’d even be able to afford some splurges by doing it yourself because you don’t have to pay a tour guide or the company they work for. And speaking of Rick Steves, I’m a huge fan of his books and have used them on my first trip to pretty much all of these places, so I highly recommend buying his books or ebooks for the planning process. As he says, the US$20 you spend on a good guide book can save you US$1,000 when you are there, including all the time savings. You can get electronic versions of his books on sale for around US$10 each at times, and that would be money very well spent.

    If you do end up planning your own trip, I’m happy to help if you have any questions. -Roger

     
Anit says:

Hi..planning our first trip to Europe in mid june 2017 for 15 days and need some help with planning. Our itinerary must include Switzerland as that has been on my fathers bucket list. We will be traveling from Singapore..a family of 6. What cities would you recommend we include and in what order so that I can check multi city flight options accordingly ? I have read that London requires a separate visa and if that’s true then we might skip London and focus on other cities. thanks in advance!

 

    Anit,

    If you want to save the UK for a future trip, you can still have an excellent visit to Europe. And if you definitely need to include Switzerland, I will provide my best recommendation below.

    I’d fly into Paris and spend 3 nights there. Then take a train to Interlaken in Switzerland for 2 or 3 days. Then take a train to Lucerne for 1 or 2 days. In other words, I recommend 4 nights in Switzerland, and 2 or 3 of those nights in Interlaken. See my article about where to go in Switzerland for the specific details on how to plan that.

    After Switzerland you have 8 days left, so take a train from Lucerne to Venice. That journey will take 6 hours and 48 minutes, and it’s amazingly scenic.

    Spend 1 night in Venice, as you can see the main sights in less than 24 hours, and Venice is so crowded that spending more than that can start to give people a headache. Then take a short train ride down to Florence for 3 nights, and then finally another train to Rome for the final 3 nights.

    That trip is filled with many of Europe’s best highlights and allows enough time in each place. Buy those train tickets about 3 months ahead of time and you’ll find that the fares will be surprisingly low. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
      Amit says:

      Thanks Roger…appreciate the response! I’m sure I’ll have more questions as I wrap my head around the logistics and I thank you in advance for indulging me. Some quick questions

      1. Would you say that the difference in scenery in Lucerne outweighs the logistics of traveling from interlaken to Lucerne?
      2. If we do include Lucerne and considering that we are going to be covering few legs of train travel.. Paris-Interlaken-Lucerne-Venice..is it good idea to buy rail pass or individual tickets? Would you recommend a website for train tickets or for buying attraction tickets?
      3. Depending on inbound flight tickets, if I find tickets to Zurich cheaper as opposed to Paris.. would it be worth starting from these as opposed to Paris and in that case logistically would you do Paris immediately after Interlaken/Lucerne?

      I will review your article on Switzerland in detail…would you also have good recommendations for reasonably priced hotel/apartment for the 6 of us in Paris/Florence/Venice/Rome?

      Ps. Btw just curious that despite Florence not being in your list of top 5, I notice you’re suggesting more time there as opposed to Venice? Just want to make sure I’m reading it correctly.

      Thanks a ton!

      Amit (pardon typo in previous message)

       

        Amit,

        It’s my pleasure to help.

        1. If you have 2 or 3 days in Switzerland, I’d just focus on the Interlaken area. If you can spare 4 days I’d add 1 or 2 days in Lucerne. They are very different from each other. Interlaken is where you get the best Alpine views and experiences, and Lucerne has a stunning location on a beautiful lake with plenty of other sights and attractions nearby. It just depends on how much of your trip you want to do in Switzerland.

        2. Rail passes tend to be best for trips longer than two weeks where you also want to make plans as you go to some degree. For a trip like yours you’ll be best off planning your whole itinerary in advance. And if you buy train tickets 2 or 3 months in advance, they’ll be cheaper than any rail pass as well. The tickets for domestic Swiss train rides are always the same price, but the others are cheaper the earlier you buy. The best site for most of these will be sbb.ch, which is the official Swiss rail site. For the tickets in Italy you should use Trenitalia.com, which is the official Italy rail site. For the ticket from Switzerland to Italy you should be quoted the same price on both, but comparing them is still probably wise just in case.

        I’d start in Paris and then go through Switzerland on your way to Italy if you can. If you started in Switzerland and then went to Paris, the train ride to Italy is nearly a full day. You could fly from Paris to Venice, however, so that’s something to consider. You’d miss the amazing Alpine scenery of the train from Lucerne (or Interlaken) to Venice though.

        Italy’s “Big 3” cities are Rome, Florence, and Venice. Rome is a bit hectic but it’s packed with great sights. Venice is small and very crowded, so it’s best to spend only 1 or 2 nights there. Florence is the heart of Tuscany and in between the other two. It’s less crowded and hectic than the other two, and it’s also packed with top sights. So while Florence might not make my Top 5 in Europe list on its own, it’s a wonderful stop on any tour of Italy, and it’s conveniently right between Rome and Venice.

        Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

         
Amit says:

Thanks a ton Roger! If you have some hotel/apartment options in these locations please do let me know.

Many thanks again for your friendly suggestions!

Amit

 
Paige says:

Roger,
It looks we are going to Europe for 3 months. It will be my husband, 2 year son and i. I’m wondering if we should start in the UK and head east, and fly home from budapest or should we start in budapest and end in the UK/Ireland? Would it be more than enough time to see greece, budapest, italy, france, London? I would love to add spain and amsterdam, but with a 2 year old i keep trying to keep us from moving every 3-5 days. Any input would be greatly appreciated

Thanks
Paige

 

    Paige,

    Part of my answer about which direction to go in would depend on what time of year you are planning this for. Budapest has fairly harsh winters and it can get quite hot and somewhat uncomfortable in summer. London and most of the rest of the UK has fairly mild winters, and mild summers as well. So with that in mind, you might want to go in a direction that maximizes your good weather.

    The other side of that, however, is that London can get really expensive for hotels in summer (because it’s the only decent season), while Budapest is much cheaper all year. Also, Greece typically means a stop in Athens, which is a pretty good year-round city, and a stop on one or more of the Greek Islands. Those islands mostly operate between early May and late October. If you visited outside of those months you’d be almost alone and disappointed.

    Another factor that I consider, if weather isn’t an issue either way, is that I personally prefer to stay in the expensive places first and end in the cheaper places. It’s a strange phenomenon that if you get used to US$5 dinners early in the trip and near the end you are paying US$15 for pretty much the same thing, it can be frustrating. On the other hand, it can be really fun to do it in reverse. So if weather isn’t a big issue, I’d start in the UK and head east from there.

    If you have 3 months in Europe you’ll have more than enough time for everything on your list. If your 2-year-old allows you to change cities every 4 days on average, which is reasonable, then you can visit about 22 cities. You could visit 2 or 3 cities in the UK and even a week in Ireland (don’t stay long in Dublin though), and you could visit 3 or 4 cities in Italy, and 2 or 3 in Spain, and 2 or 3 in France, and Amsterdam, and 2 places in Greece, and still have time for Budapest.

    I’m happy to help you further on this, so let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
Valerie says:

Hi Roger!
I will be traveling to Europe for the first time with husband our toddler and 65 yr old mom. We are flying into London dec 28 and out from Paris Jan 11. (Booked this way due to lower flight rates) would love to visit Rome & Barcelona as well ( and IF there’s extra time possibly visit Venice or Madrid ). Would you be able to to suggest an itinerary please. We would stay on London for NYE. Mom suggests we pay for tour/ hotel package but they are running about $3000+ per person which think I can find hotels and possibly do our own for much less. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!!!!

 

    Valerie,

    I’ll be happy to help. In the 14 days you have you should hit 4 cities, and perhaps a short visit to a 5th one. Three days per city is ideal for most European cities, as it’s long enough to see the main sights and short enough that you can squeeze quite a bit in to a trip. There are two easy and logical choices for this trip, but combining them together is a bit tricky.

    Your first logical choice would be London for 3 or 4 days and then fly to Madrid, then three days later take the train to Barcelona, and three days later take the high-speed train or fly to Paris for your final four days.

    The second logical choice would be to start in London for 3 or 4 days and then fly to Rome for 3 days and then take a train to Florence (you’ll love it) for 2 or 3 days and then a train to Venice for 1 day, and then a flight to Paris for your final 3 or 4 days.

    In other words, it’s very easy to combine Spain OR Italy with London and Paris, and both of them are wonderful. Being honest, Italy is a more popular choice for most first-time visitors and I do think it provides more bang for your buck, and much better food as well. But Spain is also wonderful and those two big cities are quite different from each other, and quite lovely. The weather in Spain might also be a bit nicer than in Italy, though not by much. In Spain you’ll encounter some situations where the person you are speaking to speaks little or no English, so if you know Spanish it can help. That is less likely in Italy, since its tourism industry is powered by English-speaking tourists, so English-only is a bit easier there.

    If you did want to do Rome and Barcelona on the same trip you could do it. You’d be flying between all of your cities, except for perhaps Barcelona to Paris by train if you like. The European train system is wonderful and a lot of fun. That ride in Spain is only 3 hours, and in Italy those rides are each around 2 hours, so you still have a lot of sightseeing time left.

    You definitely don’t need a package to do a trip like this and you’ll save a lot of money planning it on your own. I’m happy to help you sort out more of the details once you lock down your itinerary. The train journeys and flights are cheapest if you book as far in advance as possible, so I’d try to get those booked soon. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger

     
      Valerie says:

      Hi Roger!
      Thank you so much for your quick and helpful reply!
      My husband and mom really want to go to Barcelona and I want to go to Rome so I think we are going to try the last option. Ideally I would love to do that Italy/Florence/venice easier combo but since we might not be able to visit Europe anytime soon after I want everyone to be happy. You mentioned a train from Barcelona to Paris. What is the train called and will that be better than flying? Would it be wishful thinking to add Venice for one day before or after Rome? I can spend two days in Rome. Fly or train? After searching hotel rates obviously the closer to London city center the more expensive. We could technically get two rooms for the price of one if we stayed further. Do you think that during NYE it’s better for us to to stay closer to Big Ben etc. We don’t have tickets yet to the fireworks but would like to see them even if it’s from afar. Not sure if there’s a lot of traffic or hassle to stay further due to holiday. (We live in LA traffic is a nightmare and metro gets packed ) people have mentioned getting a train pass but since we are going to different cities (flying) which pass would it be worth it? yes I agree I could save money by planning separate. I was thinking of doing a hop on hop bus for a day where we go. Sorry for so many questions! Im hoping to book everything sooner vs later for deals! thanks so much for your help!

       

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