11 Best first-time Europe itineraries for 1, 2, or 3 weeks

After two dreadful years of the combination of closed borders and closed attractions, the summer of 2022 is finally a time where planning a trip to Europe is possible again. It’s true that airfares are going to be high in general, but there are still many places in Europe where bargains are standard and you can do a holiday for far less than you would actually spend in the US, Canada, or Australia.

This site is known for its Europe Backpacker Index, which is a handy tool for sorting out the top destinations by price, but we also try to help with suggesting itineraries that are efficient and economical as well. A key part of planning a successful first-visit to Europe is choosing cities that are either close together or at least easy to reach from one another. You’ll find 11 of the best and most classic first-time Europe itineraries below.

2022 COVID update

As of June 2022, most of the best countries in Europe for first-time visitors have lifted all COVID restrictions, including vaccine mandates, so if you focus on those countries you can move around just as you would have in 2019. This includes, the UK, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Czechia, Hungary, and all of Scandinavia. Let’s hope that the rest of the countries are able to join that list soon as well.

There are 11 starter itineraries described in detail below

  1. Classic London and Paris
  2. England and Scotland
  3. Paris and Italy
  4. Mediterranean cruise
  5. France, Belgium, and Netherlands
  6. Paris and elsewhere in France
  7. Italy
  8. Spain
  9. Germany
  10. Switzerland
  11. Best of cheap eastern Europe

For each itinerary there are suggestions of other destinations that are easy to add on to the main cities.

Note: This article was most recently updated in June, 2022

Building the best itinerary for your first trip to Europe

Below there are 11 popular itineraries for one week in Europe. If you’ve only got a week then choose one of them and assume you’ll return again to conquer more of this amazing part of the world. If you’ve got more time then you can choose from some of the top add-on suggestions for each one.

Start in the most famous cities

Your first visit to Europe is no time to try to be different or edgy. I recommend that you focus on these 5 great cities before you start branching out into cheaper or more obscure places.

Keep your travel days to a minimum

The closest major European cities are at least two hours apart by high-speed train, and from the time you check out of one hotel until you are checked into your hotel in the next city, it’s going to be 5 or more hours in most cases. A travel day isn’t much of a sightseeing day, so if you change cities every day or two, you’ll have very little time to see the things you’ve actually gone all that way to see.

Spend 3 (or 4) nights in almost every major city

Cities like London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin, Madrid, and Barcelona are all large and packed with world-class things to see and do. Since the day you arrive and the day you leave will offer little sightseeing time, you need at least two full sightseeing days in order to even see your choice of the top sights.

So many first-time visitors are initially planning on spending only 1 or 2 nights in major cities that I wrote a detailed explanation of why 3 nights is ideal for almost all European cities, even if you want to see as much as possible.

3 (or 4) nights will be enough for any city on your first trip

Most first-time visitors are tempted to move too quickly, but it can also be a mistake to move too slowly. It’s really amazing how much you can see in two full sightseeing days. If you spend too long in one city you’ll end up seeing things that are way down your list, while you could be in another city seeing things at the top of your list there.

Choose cities that are easy to reach from each other

Since traveling from one city to another will take at least half a day, you don’t want to waste more time by visiting far-flung cities. Krakow and Lisbon are both fantastic cities to visit, but they are on opposite ends of Europe.

For your first trip it’s best to visit cities that are no more than a 5-hour train ride apart.

Choose cities that are connected by reasonable train rides rather than flights

To build on the point above, finding cheap flights within Europe is easy, but train travel is about a million times more enjoyable and less stressful. You’ll enjoy the train rides almost as much as the cities, so focus on places that are within 5 hours of each other by train.

Start with one of the classic itineraries below, and then add to it if you have more time

If you only have 7 days then you’ll find a list below of classic itineraries that are well-suited to a first visit to Europe. Hopefully you have more than 7 days though, and if you do you can add in one or more of the suggested add-on cities to build an itinerary that appeals most to you.

Best 1-week itineraries for the first time in Europe

Itinerary 1: Classic London and Paris

Fly into either city and take the 2-hour Eurostar train between them

Honestly, unless you have a specific reason why not, this is probably the best one-week itinerary for most first-time visitors to Europe. If you can read this article then London will be easy for language reasons. It’s packed with famous sights and it’s a major world capital.

Paris is actually far more beautiful than London and the food is famously much better as well. Since Paris gets so many tourists from non-French speaking countries, it’s easy to get by on just English, and the Metro system makes it fast and easy to get around.

Best add-ons to London and Paris

The only efficient way to get between London and Paris is on the Eurostar train, which runs between St. Pancras station in London and Gare du Nord station in Paris. The earlier you buy tickets, the cheaper they will be. Unlike other trains in Europe, the Eurostar (which of course runs through the Channel Tunnel) has airport-style security and you have to be there at least 30 minutes before departure.

Itinerary 2: England and Scotland

London to York: 2 hours
York to Edinburgh: 2 hours 30 minutes

If you prefer to focus your first Europe trip on England and Scotland, you can have a great time and save the Continent for next time. London is the obvious place to start and spend 3 or 4 nights before taking the train north.

York is a small Roman city with intact city walls and one of the most famous cathedrals in Europe. Edinburgh is not only the capital of Scotland, but it’s easily the second most interesting city in all of Britain. If your time is short, skip York and spend more time in Edinburgh.

If you prefer to focus on the south of England on your first trip then the best option is to go to Bath or nearby Bristol after London. Bath is another of England’s top destinations and it’s a gorgeous city that has been a spa resort for many centuries. It’s also reasonably close to Stonehenge. You can also easily get to Cornwall in England’s southwest corner from Bath, and that’s a whole different and fascinating experience (with nicer weather than up north).

Best add-ons to England and Scotland

If you think you want to spend your whole trip in Britain you should have a look at our article on the best itineraries in England, Scotland, and Wales.

Itinerary 3: Paris and Italy

  • Paris (3 or 4 nights)
  • Venice (1 night)
  • Florence (2 or 3 nights)
  • Rome (3 nights)

The fastest version of this extremely popular itinerary that I recommend is 9 nights, but if you skip Florence you could actually do this in 7 nights if you had to. Paris is obviously the best first place to start exploring France and 3 or 4 nights there will feel like a very complete first visit.

From Paris you can easily fly to Venice (or nearby Treviso) where you should try to spend about 24 hours. Venice is small enough to see in a full day, and so crowded that most people are satisfied to leave after that day. The key is to stay in the main part of the main island so you can enjoy Venice before the cruise passengers and day-trippers arrive, and also after they leave for the day. Two nights in Venice would not be wasted time, and it’s possibly the most gorgeous city in the entire world, but you can see the best of it in a bit over 24 hours.

Florence is a highly recommended stop after Venice, as it’s the capital of the Tuscany region and also arguably Europe’s most important city for a couple hundred years. Rome also lives up to the hype and spending a day in the Vatican City will be a highlight even for non-Catholics, but it’s also a crowded and busy city so three days is usually enough for most people.

Paris to Venice flight: 1 hour 35 minutes
Venice to Florence: 1 hour 53 minutes
Florence to Rome: 1 hour 16 minutes

You can of course instead fly from Paris to Rome and then go north to Florence and then to Venice and fly home (or back to Paris) from there, and it would be just as enjoyable.

Best add-ons to Paris and Italy

France

  • Nice/Cannes/Monaco (2 or 3 nights)
  • Avignon (2 nights)
  • Bourges (2 nights)
  • Bordeaux (2 nights)
  • Aix-en-Provence (2 nights)
  • Reims (2 nights)
  • Dijon/Burgundy (2 nights)

Italy

  • Milan (1 or 2 nights)
  • Lake Como (2 nights)
  • Siena (2 nights)
  • Cinque Terre (1 night)
  • Naples/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast/Pompeii/Capri (3 to 5 nights)
  • Sicily (3 to 4 nights)

Itinerary 4: Mediterranean cruise

If you’ve decided to finally explore Europe for the first time, it’s quite possible that you haven’t considered doing it on a cruise. The best place to start would be one of the cruises that leaves from a popular port in the Mediterranean (and the adjacent seas). Barcelona and Venice are among the most popular departure ports and you can find cruises that go west or east from those places as well as cruises that drop you in another part of Europe or cruises that return to the departure port.

In spite of the reputation of cruises to be floating buffets, they can actually be an excellent way to visit a great number of amazing European cities in a short time. The ship typically is in port from the early morning until mid evening, often giving you the opportunity to have dinner in the city (unlike Caribbean cruises). Better still, the cruise ports are often near the center of town, so you can just walk off the ship and do sightseeing on foot or by public transportation.

Mediterranean cruises usually start at 7 nights but can go up to 3 weeks, which can provide an amazing tour of the entire region without having to pack and repack your bags more than once. They also can provide excellent value, especially compared to the price of taking trains or flights and finding new hotels in every destination.

Alternative to consider: a river cruise

As alluring as cruising the Med may be, a river cruise on the Rhine or Danube might suit you even better. River cruises all over Europe have been booming in popularity lately and for good reason. They are typically more expensive than Med cruises on huge ships, but they also allow passengers to see more because they only hold a few hundred people and they often dock literally in the middle of the historic cities they visit.

AmsterdamBudapest, and Prague are some of the most popular river cruise ports, but there are dozens of others including many smaller towns in France where few other tourists will be when you stroll off the ship. There is little or no entertainment on the river cruise ships, but passengers don’t miss it because the entire day and into the evening is spent just steps from local cultural offerings and restaurants.

Itinerary 5: France, Belgium, and Netherlands

Paris to Brussels: 1 hour 22 minutes
Brussels to Bruge: 58 minutes
Bruges to Amsterdam: 2 hours 45 minutes
Amsterdam to Paris: 3 hours 17 minutes

If you want to save the UK for a future trip, starting in Paris on a first Europe visit is ideal. You’ll probably land in the morning so you’ll have almost 3 full days for Paris sightseeing. After that you can hop on a high-speed train for 1 hour 22 minutes to reach Brussels, or go straight to Amsterdam in a bit over 3 hours total.

Spending 4 nights in Paris and 3 nights in Amsterdam would be a great trip, but if you want to see something else you’ve got a couple options in between. My advice is to spend an afternoon looking around the Grand Place (main square) in Brussels and then hop a 58-minute train ride to Bruges for a night or two. Brussels isn’t a great tourist city, but Bruges really is so it’s a better option for most people. Whatever you choose out of this group, you can be back in Paris on another high-speed train for your flight home.

Best add-ons to France, Belgium, and Netherlands

Itinerary 6: Paris and elsewhere in France

And a choice of:

  • Nice/Cannes/Monaco (2 or 3 nights)
  • Avignon (2 nights)
  • Bourges (2 nights)
  • Bordeaux (2 nights)
  • Aix-en-Provence (2 nights)
  • Reims (2 nights)
  • Dijon/Burgundy (2 nights)
  • Normandy (2 nights)

France is such a rich country for tourism experiences that you could spend a month there and still feel like you are missing significant sights. Obviously you’ll want to start in Paris, and then after that it’s just a matter of what interests you most and how much time you have.

While Nice is a wonderful tourist city for a look at the French Riviera, the other larger cities of Lyon and Marseilles are probably better saved for a future trip because they are light on key sights compared to many smaller towns. Wine lovers can rent a car or take trains into Bordeaux or Burgundy. Since you can get between most of these towns by train in 2 hours or less, spending only 2 nights in each one is a reasonable option if you want to see a lot in a short time.

Normandy is an interesting choice and easy to reach in only about two hours by train from Paris. Some visitors like to see the famous WWII beaches and memorials, while others (especially in summer) like to check out one or more of the beach-resort towns. Deauville is one of the more famous of those, and it’s also famous for its horse race track and as one of the epicenters of the industry in Europe.

Best add-ons to Paris and elsewhere

Itinerary 7: Italy

Rome to Florence: 1 hour 16 minutes
Florence to Venice: 1 hour 53 minutes

Especially for first-time visitors to Europe, Italy might be the most popular destination of all, and for good reason. The country has a famous “Big 3” destinations in Rome, Florence, and Venice, which are all teaming with worthwhile sights and they are conveniently located fairly short train rides from each other. Rome is by far the largest of those and it’s packed with great sights, but it’s also a bit chaotic, so 3 nights is a good stay for a first visit.

Venice is small enough that you can see the main sights in about 24 hours, and it’s so insanely crowded that many people tire of it after about a day as well. It’s better to pay more for a hotel to be on the main island and visit quickly than to save money with a hotel on the mainland where you’ll be in crowds going back and forth as well. Florence is the most relaxing of the 3, and also a great base for side trips to Pisa, Siena, and Cinque Terre, just to name a few.

Going to Italy? Here are the best first-time Italy itineraries for 3 days to 2 weeks (in much greater detail)

Best add-ons to Italy

  • Milan (1 or 2 nights)
  • Lake Como (2 nights)
  • Siena (2 nights)
  • Cinque Terre (1 night)
  • Naples/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast/Pompeii/Capri (3 to 5 nights)
  • Sicily (3 to 4 nights)

Itinerary 8: Spain

Madrid to Barcelona: 2 hours 30 minutes

Spain is another huge country with many things to see, but on your first visit to Europe it’s best to focus on its two huge cities. Madrid, which is the capital, and Barcelona, which is on a northern Mediterranean beach, are very different from each other and not substitutable for each other at all. A day trip on a 33-minute train ride from Madrid to Toledo is very worthwhile, although there are many other options.

A huge part of Spain’s tourism industry is built around its southern beaches and islands such as Ibiza, Mallorca, and Tenerife (in the Canary Islands). For most people it’s best to ignore those places on your first trip because none of the beaches are special enough to spend days on them compared to the culture of the cities.

Best add-ons to Spain

Itinerary 9: Germany

  • Berlin (3 nights)
  • Munich (2 or 3 nights)
  • Rothenburg ob der Tauber (1 night)
  • Füssen (1 night)

Berlin to Munich: 6 hours 2 minutes
Munich to Rothenburg ob der Tauber: 2 hours 56 minutes
Munich to Füssen: 2 hours 4 minutes

Germany is a popular first-time Europe destination for those with family and/or roots in the country, even if other people save it for a 2nd or 3rd trip. Berlin is the capital and the most interesting city in the country by quite a bit, and it’s also pleasantly affordable compared to the other large cities in Germany. Munich is wealthier and more relaxed, and different from Berlin in many other ways as well.

Those two cities are the keys to a Germany visit, and after that you’ve got a wide variety of choices. I cover most of the popular choices in my article on where to go in Germany, which covers several smaller towns that are major highlights.

Best add-ons to Germany

Itinerary 10: Switzerland

Zurich Airport to Interlaken: 2 hours 10 minutes
Interlaken to Bern: 53 minutes
Bern to Lucerne: 1 hour 50 minutes
Lucerne to Zurich Airport: 1 hour 3 minutes

If you aren’t much of a city person at all and you have a much stronger desire to see beautiful scenery and landscapes, then Switzerland could be a good choice for your first visit to Europe. The large cities here such as Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, and Basel are all fairly dull and very expensive, so it’s better to minimize your time in any of them and head straight to the smaller scenic towns.

Interlaken is the best hub for the most dramatic Alps views and experiences. The one-hour cable car ride up to the Schilthorn observation deck is something you’ll never forget, and the only thing that might be more dramatic is the train ride up to the Jungfraujoch station, which is the highest in Europe. Lucerne is almost as beautiful with a scenic lake at its heart and also great mountaintop views nearby. If you do want to see a Swiss city then the capital of Bern is the most interesting and photogenic on a short visit. Read more about where to go in Switzerland for even more ideas.

Best add-ons to Switzerland

  • Munich (3 nights)
  • Paris (3 nights)
  • Italy (as long as you’ve got)

Itinerary 11: Eastern Europe’s best cheap cities

This isn’t really recommended for a first trip to Europe unless you are a backpacker who is sure they are going to be able to visit Europe again when they have more money. If you can get a cheap enough flight, the 3 best cheap European cities to visit are Prague, Budapest, and Krakow, which are all around half as expensive as most of the other cities on this list.

Each of these cities is beautiful and historic, but English is less widely spoken so they can also be quite a bit more challenging for a first-time visitor. Another difficulty is that the trains between them are still quite slow compared to the high-speed rail in the West, so it takes most of a day from one to another, and a bus is often a better choice.

Prague to Budapest: 6 hours 41 minutes
Budapest to Krakow: 9 hours 54 minutes (flying might be better)

Best add-ons to cheap Eastern Europe

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All Comments

  1. Tina says:

    Hello,
    For 14 days in April 2023 we would like to do Venice, Paris, Normandy, Prague, Amsterdam and Brussels, is that doable?
    Thanks!

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Tina,

      Yes, that’s definitely doable. The only tricky part is that Prague and Venice are quite remote from the others so you’d be best off flying in and out of those. You could start in Paris for 3 or 4 nights. Normandy, as you probably know, is about two hours by train from Paris and you can actually visit many interesting parts of it as day trips by bus or train. Some people like to visit the WWII beaches and other people like to visit the beach resort towns such as Deauville (definitely not beach weather in April though). It depends on what you want to see and do.

      Then you can get back to Paris and take a train to Brussels, which takes a bit over two hours. I’d spend maybe two nights there. I personally find it a bit dull compared to the other ones on your list. Then a train to Amsterdam in about an hour and spend 3 nights or so there.

      From Amsterdam it would be best to fly to Prague or Venice and then fly to the other one, and then home from there (or maybe back to Paris for a round-trip flight home. Prague is definitely worth 3 nights, but Venice is small enough that 2 nights is probably sufficient. As always, I hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

      1. Tina says:

        Thanks Roger! I really appreciate the help.

  2. Ian Cunningham says:

    Definitely enjoyed reading your information. We are planning a trip in 2023 and have 14 days. I’d like to visit London, Edinburgh, Paris and Barcelona. Do you think this is possible? Fly into London, spend 2 days in Scotland, then travel to Paris, a few days in Spain and then fly out of London. Day 1 & 14 are traveling days for flying out.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Ian,

      Yes, I definitely think that is doable. My advice would be to spend at least three nights in London and then take a high-speed train to Edinburgh, which should be booked well in advance, and spend a couple days there. The other option would be to go to Inverness, which is the main town in the Scottish Highlands and a great place to see the amazing scenery. Edinburgh is quite like London, at least on the surface.

      From Edinburgh you could fly to Paris and spend at least 3 nights there. You could then take a fast train down to Barcelona for a few days in Spain. I don’t think you have enough time to visit Barcelona AND Madrid, so I’d choose just one. I’m happy to help more if you have any other questions. -Roger

      1. PRASAD says:

        I would like to sugget Mr. Ian that 3 days in London is not at all sufficient. Atleast he should keep four days. First two days he should spend visiting three best museums- British museum, V&A museum and Natural History museum. They are wor5ld class museums. On these two days only, he can see Buckingham palace( preferably he should be there by 10.30, not to miss Change of guards ceremoney),Hyde park, Famous Trifaulga square and Picadelly squares,which could be seen even in the evening, after seeing museums. On the third day he should move around Parliament house, seeing Westminist3r’s Abbey Church(filled with many artistic pieces and graves), Churchill war museum, Take a round in London Eye, etc. On the fourth day, he can visit Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, take a cruise trip from there,on the Thames, and get down on the other side, and visit Tower bridge, Cathedril etc. He can take a train that night to Edinburgh. Two days are enough for Edinburgh.I did so in 2016.
        Comment*

  3. Valerie says:

    Just reading your blog and it has been very helpful. Just looking for some itinerary help. We are planning a trip to Central Europe hopefully for next year. We are planning on approx. 3 weeks and are thinking of visiting: Berlin, Munich, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg and maybe Budapest. Any thoughts on the best order for ease of travel. We are debating between taking a train or renting a car. Any thoughts, if this is to much, any places we should add or just any ideas. Like I said we are just at the beginning of planning so any advise would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Valerie,

      First off, I’d definitely do the train instead of renting a car. Renting a car for some types of Europe trips can be a good idea (going between small towns or nature areas etc), but for going between large cities a car is a liability. There are very few worthwhile attractions that have parking (free or paid) so you’d end up having to pay maybe US$25 per day or more to park your car for a few days while you are sightseeing, and then do it over again in each other city. On the other hand, trains are really a joy in most of Europe, and if you buy your train tickets far enough in advance, they are pretty cheap as well.

      It mostly depends on which city you can most easily (or affordably) fly into and then which city you can fly out of. In many cases it’s much cheaper to fly in and out of the same city, so you’d end up doing a loop. But if you could fly into, say, Krakow, and out of Budapest, you can save time by not having to backtrack. It’s usually easier to get the best airfares into the bigger airports, so Berlin and Munich might have the best deals. Once you get that sorted out it’s pretty easy to figure out the best order to go in. I’m happy to help if you have any other questions. -Roger