23 Cheapest European Cities & Airports to Fly into in 2020

So many of us starting in the US or Canada will be visiting multiple cities when we tour Europe that we have the luxury of flying into several different destinations. But with the airline business changing so rapidly, how do we know which are the cheapest cities to fly into?

Not too many years ago the cheapest flights into Europe were almost always into the largest and busiest airports, which are in London, Frankfurt, Paris, and Amsterdam, but times have changed. Now those are sometimes the most expensive airports to fly into within Europe, so savvy travelers on multi-stop trips are better off starting elsewhere. The cheapest international flight destinations from the USA are largely in Latin America, but many of them are also the top cities in Europe.

How Was The Test Done?

For each city tested we found the cheapest fare starting from the 5 largest cities in the US (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta) along with Canada’s largest city (Toronto) in early August, and the cheapest fare in mid October. Then we averaged the two fares and then averaged the fares into all 6 cities into on Index number. The cheap flights to Europe from the USA are mainly from the east coast, as you’d imagine, but there are many great deals from other regions as well.

Needless to say, the rankings starting in individual cities can vary from the combined list, but generally they aren’t far apart. A bit surprisingly, only a handful of the cheapest flights were non-stops, so almost everyone will be changing planes exactly once in each direction over the Atlantic. The cheapest flights from New York to Europe are often non-stops, but from most other cities you have to change planes to get a decent fare.

How To Use The List Below

Especially since many of the cheapest cities below are remote, the obvious strategy is to keep going down the list until you come across one of the cities you intend on visiting. Hopefully you can then find a cheap flight and use that as a hub to explore other cities by rail or low-cost airlines.

Overall, the differences in fares from the top to the bottom of this list are not great enough to justify flying into one and then booking another separate round-trip to your final destination on a low-cost airline, though in some cases it might work out cheaper. The cheapest international flights from Atlanta are often strangely expensive because Delta dominates that airport to such a large degree.

Related information

23 Cheapest European Cities & Airports to Fly to in 2020

(prices shown are cheapest summer/autumn – average)

Paris, France

City code: PAR
Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG)
Orly Airport (ORY)

Charles de Gaulle Airport is another of Europe’s largest and best connected, plus the main hub of Air France. In our 2017 tests we found some very competitive flights starting from some cities (New York, Chicago, and Toronto), but more expensive from others. You might find that flying into another city and then moving on to Paris is cheaper unless you are starting from NYC or Toronto.

  • New York City: $264/$200 – $232
  • Chicago: $388/$366 – $377
  • Los Angeles: $707/$685 – $696
  • Houston: $660/$685 – $673
  • Atlanta: $646/$607 – $627
  • Toronto: $683/$489 – $586
  • Index average: $532

London, England

City code: LON
London Heathrow Airport (LHR)
Gatwick Airport (LGW)
London Stansted Airport (STN)
Luton Airport (LTN)

London has 4 major airports (plus London City Airport for short-haul flights) and the cheapest trans-Atlantic fares could be into any one of them. Heathrow is the busiest, but Gatwick is often the cheapest by a little. Starting with our 2016 tests, London actually had some very competitive airfares for the first time in quite a few years. If you want to start your vacation in London, then this year you should be able to get a fairly cheap flight.

  • New York City: $339/$293 – $316
  • Chicago: $477/$471 – $474
  • Los Angeles: $524/$390 – $457
  • Houston: $968/$726 – $847
  • Atlanta: $837/$682 – $760
  • Toronto: $459/$416 – $438
  • Index average: $549

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)

Europe’s 4th busiest airport has nonstop connections to destinations around the world as the main hub of KLM. Amsterdam is a good airport for bargains once again.

  • New York City: $276/$237 – $257
  • Chicago: $389/$475 – $432
  • Los Angeles: $642/$616 – $629
  • Houston: $701/$653 – $677
  • Atlanta: $689/$702 – $696
  • Toronto: $648/$621 – $635
  • Index average: $554

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels Airport (BRU)

The home of Brussels Airlines, which flies nonstop to New York-JFK, this airport is also served by most of Europe’s majors so fares are competitive.

  • New York City: $433/$272 – $353
  • Chicago: $482/$567 – $525
  • Los Angeles: $567/$543 – $555
  • Houston: $671/$680 – $676
  • Atlanta: $702/$710 – $706
  • Toronto: $498/$520 – $509
  • Index average: $554

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich Airport (ZRH)

Zurich Airport is the primary hub of Swiss International Air Lines (aka SWISS), and it’s quite surprising that they offer fairly competitive fares on incoming flights, including to many destinations in Germany as well. Beware that everything else in Zurich is incredibly expensive once you are through security.

  • New York City: $454/$451 – $453
  • Chicago: $438/$638- $538
  • Los Angeles: $633/$547 – $590
  • Houston: $703/$676 – $690
  • Atlanta: $761/$774 – $768
  • Toronto: $524/$540 – $532
  • Index average: $595

Madrid, Spain

Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD)

This is Spain’s busiest airport and Europe’s 4th busiest, but being home to Iberia Airline doesn’t mean it’ll always have cheap non-stop trans-Atlantic flights.

  • New York City: $398/$257 – $328
  • Chicago: $477/$458 – $468
  • Los Angeles: $622/$570 – $596
  • Houston: $650/$622 – $636
  • Atlanta: $886/$809 – $848
  • Toronto: $779/$659 – $719
  • Index average: $599

Oslo, Norway

Oslo Airport, Gardermoen (OSL)

The good news for anyone flying from the US or Canada to Norway is that flights into Oslo are strangely cheap from major North American cities. The bad news, of course, is that certain things (food and drinks) once you are there are quite expensive.

  • New York City: $823/$387 – $605
  • Chicago: $592/$566 – $579
  • Los Angeles: $438/$472 – $455
  • Houston: $630/$814 – $722
  • Atlanta: $600/$509- $555
  • Toronto: $775/$597 – $686
  • Index average: $600

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS)

The city of Lisbon is quite a good travel bargain once you get there, but the inbound flights are now fairly expensive, unless you are starting in Toronto.

  • New York City: $413/$439 – $426
  • Chicago: $523/$497 – $510
  • Los Angeles: $550/$541 – $546
  • Houston: $801/$791 – $796
  • Atlanta: $969/$1009 – $989
  • Toronto: $386/$451 – $419
  • Index average: $614

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Václav Havel Airport (PRG)

Prague Airport is the hub of Czech Airlines, but few if any of the cheapest trans-Atlantic flights are on the national carrier. In 2013 when we ran the numbers this airport was in the top half of this list, but as of 2017 it’s one of the most expensive incoming airports in Europe.

  • New York City: $449/$401 – $425
  • Chicago: $462/$556 – $509
  • Los Angeles: $555/$602 – $579
  • Houston: $754/$836 – $795
  • Atlanta: $900/$784 – $842
  • Toronto: $603/$510 – $557
  • Index average: $618

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen Airport (CPH)

Scandinavian Airlines (also known as SAS) operates the largest of its three hubs in Copenhagen, and that leads to surprisingly low airfares, especially on its non-stop flights from New York, Chicago, and Toronto.

  • New York City: $468/$352 – $410
  • Chicago: $453/$470 – $462
  • Los Angeles: $629/$507 – $568
  • Houston: $794/$831 – $813
  • Atlanta: $764/$904 – $834
  • Toronto: $649/$679 – $664
  • Index average: $625

Milan, Italy

City code: MIL
Malpensa Airport (MXP)
Linate Airport (LIN)

The smaller of the two main hubs of Alitalia, Milan’s is now usually cheaper than flying into Rome, but if you aren’t planning on visiting Milan then flying into Rome is probably still better. Strangely, Alitalia itself never seems to have the best fares. In 2015 the city appears to have become more affordable for incoming flights, but mostly because Emirates is crossing the Atlantic with cheap fares from some cities.

  • New York City: $482/$324 – $403
  • Chicago: $556/$571 – $564
  • Los Angeles: $621/$574 – $598
  • Houston: $865/$871 – $868
  • Atlanta: $794/$781 – $788
  • Toronto: $557/$560 – $559
  • Index average: $630

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona–El Prat Airport

A bit smaller and quieter than Madrid, the Barcelona Airport has a few trans-Atlantic flights of its own. It is served by all of Europe’s major airlines, and this year it’s basically the same price as flights into Madrid.

  • New York City: $245/$225 – $235
  • Chicago: $375/$373 – $374
  • Los Angeles: $421/$389 – $405
  • Houston: $788/$803 – $796
  • Atlanta: $1354/$1478 – $1416
  • Toronto: $603/$587 – $595
  • Index average: $637

Dublin/Shannon, Ireland

Dublin Airport (DUB)
Shannon Airport (SNN)

Dublin and Shannon airports are on opposite sides of Ireland, and both are busy hubs of Aer Lingus, which offers cheap flights including those that then go onto other continental destinations. Both are similar in airfare price (with Dublin usually being just a bit cheaper) so they are combined here. Basically, if you want to start your Ireland visit in Dublin, fly into Dublin, and if you want to start your visit elsewhere, fly into Shannon.

  • New York City: $456/$290 – $373
  • Chicago: $561/$438 – $500
  • Los Angeles: $715/$500 – $608
  • Houston: $928/$880 – $904
  • Atlanta: $1068/$1186 – $1127
  • Toronto: $469/$418 – $444
  • Index average: $659

Stockholm, Sweden

City code: STO
Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN)
Stockholm Bromma Airport (BMA)

Scandinavian Airlines operates its second busiest hub out of Arlanda Airport so fares there are usually cheapest, but Bromma Airport is closer to the city center and its fares are usually only a bit higher.

  • New York City: $561/$364 – $463
  • Chicago: $418/$422 – $420
  • Los Angeles: $648/$553 – $601
  • Houston: $1247/$1038 – $1143
  • Atlanta: $761/$829 – $795
  • Toronto: $826/$622 – $724
  • Index average: $691

Munich, Germany

Munich Airport (MUC)

Munich’s airport is busier than the one in Berlin, so it’s actually Germany’s #2 for flights. Fares tend to be a bit more expensive than the other German airports as well, but it can still make the most sense if Munich is part of your itinerary.

  • New York City: $592/$444 – $518
  • Chicago: $433/$521 – $477
  • Los Angeles: $631/$583 – $607
  • Houston: $586/$703 – $645
  • Atlanta: $1056/$1198 – $1127
  • Toronto: $899/$914 – $907
  • Index average: $714

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD)

The cheapest fares into Budapest are often those that change planes in Moscow or Helsinki, but SWISS isn’t much more expensive for a change in Zurich and much less elapsed time.

  • New York City: $408/$551 – $480
  • Chicago: $601/$584- $593
  • Los Angeles: $635/$626 – $631
  • Houston: $827/$843 – $835
  • Atlanta: $912/$878 – $895
  • Toronto: $860/$857 – $859
  • Index average: $716

Rome, Italy

City code: ROM
Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO)

Italy’s largest airport and the home of Alitalia isn’t known for cheap trans-Atlantic flights, though it’s still a good choice for anyone starting in Rome and heading north on a larger tour of Europe.

  • New York City: $270/$219- $245
  • Chicago: $573/$543 – $558
  • Los Angeles: $952/$1395 – $1174
  • Houston: $824/$703 – $764
  • Atlanta: $1181/$1184 – $1183
  • Toronto: $607/$582 – $595
  • Index average: $753

Athens, Greece

Athens International Airport (ATH)

This airport is naturally the hub of both Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air, and prices for hotels have come down a bit, but incoming flights are rarely bargains. If you will be touring Greece along with some other European countries, it’s probably better to first land somewhere else and hop over to Greece later in the trip.

  • New York City: $526/$456 – $491
  • Chicago: $736/$757 – $747
  • Los Angeles: $717/$770- $744
  • Houston: $1081/$1000 – $1041
  • Atlanta: $809/$849- $829
  • Toronto: $677/$760 – $719
  • Index average: $762

Moscow, Russia

City code: MOW
Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO)
Domodedovo International Airport (DME)

Russia’s national airline – Aeroflot – was recently one of the cheapest in Europe, but once again it’s quite expensive to fly to Moscow, although changing planes in Moscow for another destination can still be a bargain at times.

  • New York City: $937/$495 – $716
  • Chicago: $804/$598 – $701
  • Los Angeles: $679/$577 – $628
  • Houston: $1198/$867- $1033
  • Atlanta: $1121/$850 – $986
  • Toronto: $851/$530 – $691
  • Index average: $793

Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW)

Warsaw is home to LOT Polish Airlines, but that one is rarely cheapest for trans-Atlantic flights. This used to be one of the cheaper cities to fly into Europe through, but as of 2016 it has moved to near the bottom of our cheap list.

  • New York City: $581/$537- $559
  • Chicago: $986/$893 – $940
  • Los Angeles: $956/$605 – $781
  • Houston: $726/$728 – $727
  • Atlanta: $717/$1504 – $1111
  • Toronto: $789/$530 – $660
  • Index average: $796

Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt Airport (FRA)

Frankfurt Airport is the 3rd busiest in all of Europe, making it easily the busiest in Germany, and it’s also home to Lufthansa which covers the world. And these days its trans-Atlantic flights are trending a bit pricier than those to Berlin, though the city itself isn’t much of a tourist hub so think twice before flying here.

  • New York City: $718/$422 – $570
  • Chicago: $435/$556 – $496
  • Los Angeles: $660/$616 – $638
  • Houston: $1400/$1610 – $1505
  • Atlanta: $1696/$1811 – $1754
  • Toronto: $380/$410 – $395
  • Index average: $893

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST)

In spite of the greater distance, Istanbul once offered surprisingly cheap fares, but those bargains seem to be gone in 2017 for the most part. There is another airport in the Asian suburbs (SAW) but its cheap flights tend to be from nearby.

  • New York City: $900/$606 – $753
  • Chicago: $940/$737 – $839
  • Los Angeles: $1031/$623 – $827
  • Houston: $1750/$745 – $1248
  • Atlanta: $1275/$747 – $1011
  • Toronto: $1103/$697 – $900
  • Index average: $930

Berlin, Germany

City code: BER
Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL)
Berlin Schönefeld Airport (SXF)
Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER)

With the rise of Air Berlin and greater popularity of the city itself, it’s now a bit cheaper in fares than flying into Frankfurt, which is particularly helpful due to Frankfurt not really being a tourist city. Tegel Airport is usually cheapest for trans-Atlantic flights, and in 2017 or 2018 or 2019, Brandenburg Airport will open to replace both of the current two.

  • New York City: $479/$405 – $442
  • Chicago: $457/$487 – $472
  • Los Angeles: $802/$628 – $715
  • Houston: $2998/$3847 – $3423
  • Atlanta: $595/$666 – $631
  • Toronto: $789/$592- $691
  • Index average: $1062

NOTE: This post was originally published in May, 2013 with 2013 data. It’s been totally updated in in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and most recently in April 2020 with current fare data.

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All Comments

  1. Laura says:

    Hi Roger,
    What wonderful information, Thank you!! 1st time to Europe 2 of us are going to, for lack of a better word, a conference just outside of Nice 1st week of Oct ’18 for 5 days. Wanting to make the most of the cost to get there, we want to extend the trip to about 12 days (I know not a lot, but all we have got) and see some of Spain, thinking Barcelona & nearby. We’re trying to figure out the least expensive way to get there & back from the western US. Any suggestions? Like flying in/out of Paris & hopping on ‘domestic’ flights to Nice & from Barcelona? Any suggestions are welcome. Thank you.

    1. Roger Wade says:


      I think trying Paris and Barcelona as you suggest are your best bets. Italy is also close by, but fares into Milan and Rome are rarely as low as into Paris or even Barcelona. The good news is that the flights within Europe between larger cities like that tend to be quite cheap as long as you buy in advance. There are also trains between all of those cities, but most of them are slower than the flights even including the airport transportation, and usually more expensive as well.

      Of the many low cost carriers in Europe I quite like Vueling for Spain and easyJet for anywhere they fly, as both are better than Ryanair. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  2. Alisa says:

    Rpger…do you habe any experience travelling through Europe with small children?
    If so…would it be easier and cheaper to take the train vs. Fly or not?

    1. Roger Wade says:


      No, I haven’t personally traveled around Europe with small children, but my brother and his family live in Germany and they traveled around a lot while his girls were small, and we have talked about it. I’ve also ridden a few hundred trains in Europe and I would say it’s far easier to take children on trains than in planes. The actual travel time can be an issue and I would probably hesitate to take a train journey longer than, say, 6 hours. But with flying you have to get from your hotel to the airport and then deal with security and all the waiting and then boarding and all of the other hassles, and then do it all again when you land. For trains you can just carry them or push a stroller aboard and you have plenty of space to organize yourselves. Many European trains also have large bathroom stalls on many carriages that serve as handicapped toilets and also changing rooms.

      Generally speaking, Europe is a very children-friendly part of the world. Children also travel free on trains up to a certain age, and unlike most planes, you can often give them their own seat as well. I’m not the top expert on the subject, but in general the train experience in Europe tends to be very relaxed and enjoyable while the airports are the same as everywhere else. Trains are usually cheaper as well if you buy your tickets far enough in advance. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  3. Nancy says:

    Hello Roger,
    I just began looking into planning a trip to Europe during the Summer of 2018 with my 20-year-old daughter. We have never been so we are pretty flexible. We would be flying from LAX and planning about a three week stay. We really are interested in seeing parts of Southern Europe and if possible a bit of Northern Europe. I am wondering if you can provide a loose timeline as I am going to try to plan this trip myself.

    Thank you,

    1. Roger Wade says:


      You might have a look at an article I recently wrote with suggested itineraries for a first Europe visit, with other suggestions for things to add to them. In fact, I just answered a very similar query at the bottom of that article just now.

      Especially for a first visit, I recommend the famous highlights. Paris and London are both spectacular and very different from each other. Italy is wonderful as well, so Rome, Florence, and Venice probably all deserve a spot on your itinerary. After those you should consider Amsterdam, and perhaps also Berlin, Prague, and Budapest as classic cities that are all packed with highlights.

      I strongly recommend planning 3 nights in pretty much any city you visit, or even 4 nights in larger cities such as London and Paris if you have the time. I’m happy to help you more as you get your favorites together. -Roger

  4. Terry says:

    Hi Roger! I am planning on a trip to Central Europe! My friend is doing a lot of the planning and research. After reading your blog about traveling I wondered if you had any feedback about our itinerary. Any help is so appreciated.
    Please note that if we leave August 5 and return August 20, we can save up to 600$. This changes all dates below by two days.
    August 3, Friday: Leave GRR to fly to Vienna, Austria (taking Munich out of the equation) at 10 am AM, 18 hour flight, arriving August 4 at 8:30 am. NOTE: If cost prohibits, we can fly into Munich, Germany instead. Overnight in Melk, Austria
    Currently flights are $1,100
    August 4, Saturday. (If we flew into Munich) Fly to Vienna or take train from Munich which is *88 Euros
    Boat to Melk, then boat or bike back to Vienna. Bike hire network (www.nextbike.com). This is “The Wachau”, or “the most beautiful stretch of the Danube”
    August 5, Sunday
    Hang in Vienna, hike or more time in Wachau wine region
    August 6, Monday-August 7, Tuesday
    Train to Budapest stay here/Village of Eger or stay in Pecs
    Hotspring/thermal baths, Bukk National Park
    Free tours of Buda and then to Pest. Town of Pecs is great too. Lots of great bars and nightlife.
    Stay at “Backpack Guesthouse” hostel? Or Hotel Victoria on the Danube R. in Buda
    August 8, Wednesday; Croatia River trip down Danube to Vucavar, Croatia?????? ( 2 days?)
    August 9-August 11, Thurs-Sat; Train to Zagreb: A great departure point for those who need to leave early, due to the size of the airport
    Day trip to Slovenia
    August 12-14 Train to Split, which is on the coast.
    August 15-16 Ferry? to Dubrobvnik (Game of Thrones) or driver
    Kayak the Dalmatian coast!
    August 17 Flight to Munich (or Vienna, wherever)
    August 18: Sadly, flight to GRR from Munich

    1. Roger Wade says:


      Your itinerary looks meticulously planned out and I think it should work pretty well for you. Personally, as you may have read elsewhere, I generally recommend a 3-night stay in almost any city you stop in. The main reason is that going from one European city to another will take most of a day when you include everything from being checked out of one hostel until you are checked into your next one. So travel days don’t allow much sightseeing. And if you change cities every other day, you basically spend half your time sightseeing and the other half in transit.

      On the other hand, it looks like some of your transportation is also sightseeing, so it should be more enjoyable than just trains and buses. I haven’t been to every one of your stops so I can’t comment in too much detail. But I will say that Budapest is really one city and you can go back and forth all day. It’s also large enough that I wouldn’t go to Pecs on such a short stay. Also, Zagreb is a nice enough city, but it’s kind of a dud compared to Split and Dubrovnik. I wouldn’t linger in Zagreb if you can save time by moving on.

      I wish I could help more. But again, it looks like you’ve got a very detailed plan and I think you’ll enjoy it. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  5. Sarah says:

    Thanks Roger.
    Would you recommend getting a Europe Rail pass or buy the train tickets individually? We’d be taking the train for the below trips:
    – Paris to Mont Saint Michel and back
    – Madrid to San Sebastian
    – San Sebastian to Barcelona
    – Nice to Paris


    1. Roger Wade says:


      If you know the dates you’ll want to take these train rides, then buying individually as far in advance will be much cheaper than a rail pass. One annoying thing about rail passes in France is that they charge an unusually high seat reservation fee for rail pass holders on the most popular lines such as Nice to Paris. So the mandatory seat reservation might cost you €35 for that train, while buying an advanced ticket that includes a seat might only cost €60 without a pass. I’m not sure on those numbers, but it’ll be something like that.

      Rail passes are typically good value for longer trips where you want to be able to make your mind up as you go. For shorter trips and especially if you can pick your travel dates in advance, buying individual tickets online will be cheaper. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  6. Sarah says:

    Thanks for your prompt response Roger!
    I think we’ve worked out where we want to go, but need to work out if it’s best to do Spain first or France first. Going to France first will allow us to leave our large luggage with my family before going to Spain (saving effort and extra baggage cost when flying), however, we will lose an extra day from travelling. What are your thoughts on the below two itineraries?
    Date From To
    2/08/2017 Melbourne London
    6/08/2017 London Belfast
    10/08/2017 Belfast Madrid
    12/08/2017 Madrid San Sebastian
    14/08/2017 San Sebastian Barcelona
    17/08/2017 Barcelona Paris (need to be in Paris for wedding on the 19th Aug)
    23/08/2017 Paris Mont Saint Michel
    24/08/2017 Mont Saint Michel Paris
    27/08/2017 Paris Nice
    29/08/2017 Nice Paris
    30/08/2017 Paris Melbourne


    2/08/2017 Melbourne London
    6/08/2017 London Belfast
    10/08/2017 Belfast Paris
    11/08/2017 Paris Mont Saint Michel
    12/08/2017 Mont Saint Michel Paris
    21/08/2017 Paris Madrid
    23/08/2017 Madrid San Sebastian
    25/08/2017 San Sebastian Barcelona
    28/08/2017 Barcelona Nice
    29/08/2017 Nice Paris
    30/08/2017 Paris Melbourne

    Which do you think is the better option? Cost and time wise with the to and from. Are we cramming too much in?


    1. Roger Wade says:


      I think either of those itineraries would work well. You’ve got a rather long stay in Paris in the second one and I’m sure you’ll have time to do another little nearby trip or two. As I mentioned, Paris honestly feels half empty in the middle of August, which is great in some ways. Another minor thing to consider is that Spain is usually boiling in August, and it gets a bit cooler later in the month, while Paris is usually mild, and so is most of France. So saving Spain for later might be better in that sense.

      Lastly, I’d recommend you check those trains from Paris to Nice and back. Since millions of people will be returning to Paris and other big cities at the end of August, those could be booked or really expensive. And check hotel rates before you book that as well. Nice is really lovely and worth a stop, as long as it’s not insanely crowded and priced only for the rich. Mont Saint Michel is a great idea, and again, there are many other good choices that you might also consider. Just remember that all French beaches are packed in August, but that still leaves most of the country. Bon voyage! -Roger

  7. Sarah says:

    Hi Roger,

    Thanks so much for all your insightful information! Hoping to get some tips from you. I’ve booked flights for my Europe trip in August (2nd – 30th) and now trying to put an itinerary together – feeling a bit deflated as I can’t work out the best/time efficient route, and can’t work out if it’s better to fly or train it between some cities!
    We will be arriving in London at 19:00 on August 2nd and plan to spend 4 nights there before flying to Belfast for 4 nights. My partner has family in Belfast, which is the reason why we want to stay there for 4 nights.
    From there we plan to fly to Spain on the 10th Aug. We originally thought of visiting Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona (then taking the high speed train to Paris). However, some friends have recommended we skip Madrid and see other cities instead. So now we’re thinking of San Sebastian, Seville, Granada and Barcelona. Do you think this is do-able in 7-8 nights?
    We then plan to go to France and visit Paris, Marseille, Nice and Lyon. We have a wedding to attend in Paris on the 19th Aug so trying to work our itinerary around this.
    In your opinion, can we fit all these cities into the 4 weeks? We only need to keep Belfast and Paris in there, and London as our flights are booked to fly into London and out of Paris. Are you able to recommend an itinerary for us and whether we should fly or take the train?


    1. Roger Wade says:


      I see your dilemma. I’ve actually yet to make it to San Sebastian, though I’ve heard it’s nice and do want to visit myself soon. But I’ve been to pretty much every other tourist city in Spain and easily the top 2 are Madrid and Barcelona. Both of them are very large and very different from each other, so I highly recommend 3 days in each. You definitely want to take trains in Spain, and book as early as possible for cheap fares on the high-speed trains between major cities.

      Seville and Granada are both nice and worth visiting as well. You could do them in 2 nights each if you were committed to hurrying along. But generally I recommend staying 3 nights in all but the smallest towns. The main reason is that when you move from one town and one hotel to another, even if the train ride is only 2 or 3 hours, it still ends up taking most of the day. In other words, it’s hard to do much sightseeing in one city when you woke up in a different one. For that reason a 2 night stay is only one solid day of sightseeing, while a 3-night stay is 2 solid days of sightseeing.

      As far as France is concerned, I think it’s worth mentioning that Lyon and Marseilles are big cities, but not really tourist cities. If you have specific things in mind that you want to see in either of them then that is great, but I wouldn’t recommend going to them unless you do. It’s a bit like going to the US and visiting Detroit and Dallas and skipping New Orleans and Miami Beach.

      Also, August is the month that most French office workers have the whole month off. So Paris will feels half empty and hotel prices there are strangely cheap in mid August, but Nice and the nearby beach towns will all be backed with the Parisians and other French people. Hotels in Nice will also be packed and fairly expensive. Nice is a really interesting city, and it’s great that it’s only 20 minutes by train away from Cannes and Monaco, but I don’t know if I’d go there in August (or probably July either). I’d probably head to the Loire Valley or Avignon or Burgundy, rather than those other big cities or beaches.

      Hopefully with all my rambling you can figure out something that will work for you. I recommend taking the train whenever possible, and buying tickets early from the official rail companies to get the best fares. I’m happy to help more if you have further questions. -Roger

  8. Taylor says:

    Hi, Roger! Very interesting and insightful information! It’s helped me by reading other people’s questions as well. I’m planning a trip to Europe next fall. Planning on going for a month. I know you want to take time and see everything slowly, but I also want to try and shove as many places in as I can. I know it will be impossible to see all the places I do want to see in that amount of time. Ireland is my top choice. I’d like to see Scotland, England, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Austria, and Greece as well. Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark would be nice. But I know it will already be impossible to see all the others I want to see. I’m open to other places and taking some of those out. I know some places (like Germany) are massive and there are so many different places to see. Some places I’d like to spend more time than others. But like I said… I do want to try and cram in as much as I can. What’s the best way of going about this? Is there a route that’s better to take than any other? What’s one of the cheapest ways for me to do this? Thanks a ton!

    1. Roger Wade says:


      I’m glad you find this information useful, and I can totally understand the urge to want to cram in as much of Europe on one trip as possible. I even sympathize with it more than many other travel writers, to the point that I wrote an article about why fast travel might be best for some people. If you ask some travel writers (and travel snobs), they recommend staying a month in any country you set foot in, or you really can never claim to know the place.

      That said, there are major downsides to trying to cram too much in. The main problem is that it takes anywhere from 3 to 7 hours to get from one major tourist city to another by train or even flying. Once you factor in the time it takes to check out of your hotel and get to the train station early enough to make your train, and then the time finding your hotel in the next city and checking in and getting a bit settled, you are looking at 5 to 10 hours in most cases. If you change cities every two days, it means spending most of one of those days in transit. If you try to change cities every day, it literally means spending most of your daylight hours on trains and in train stations, rather than the things you’ve flown all that way to see.

      With that in mind, my recommendation is to stay exactly 3 nights in most major cities, or even 4 nights in the larger ones such as London or Paris. A few cities are small enough to see in a day or two, such as Venice or Bruges or Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany. And there are a few other cities that are close enough together on high-speed trains that 2 nights is still okay. The 3 major tourist cities of Italy are all about 90 to 120 minutes apart by train, so doing Florence in only 2 nights is still okay.

      Then you have a place like Ireland, where Dublin is actually only worth a day or two because the real charms of the island are in the scenery and small towns for the most part. The best way to visit Ireland in a hurry is to fly into Dublin or Shannon and then rent a car or take trains to 3 or 4 towns over a week.

      In Switzerland you can see the best highlights in Interlaken for 2 or 3 nights, and Lucerne for 1 or 2 nights, as described in this article on where to go in Switzerland.

      Aside from those two, I generally find it better to think in terms of cities rather than countries. In other words, you want to visit London (3 or 4 nights), and if you want to visit something else in England it would probably be Bath (2 nights) and/or York (2 nights). I recently wrote a long article on where to go in England, Scotland, and Wales, which might help. In Scotland you want to go to Edinburgh, and maybe to Inverness if you want to visit the Highlands. In France on a first trip it’s probably best to just hit Paris for 3 or 4 days and then move on.

      Again, in Italy you really want to visit Rome, Florence, and Venice, even on the shortest visit in 6 or 7 days. In Greece you’ll want to go to Athens for 2 or 3 days, and if it’s in warm season you should also visit at least one major island. In Spain you need to visit Barcelona AND Madrid for 3 nights each, because they are both very large and very different. If I were you I’d save the Nordic countries for a future trip. Not only are they very expensive, but the main cities (Stockholm, Copenhagen, Reykjavik etc) are all quite far apart, so it’s hard to rush between them.

      So what I’d recommend is to think more in terms of which cities you want to visit, and if you only have a month you should try to figure out which 10 to 12 of them that are fairly close together, that you’d like to visit. Once you do that you’ll probably figure out a logical itinerary, and I’m happy to help you with that as well. The more cities that you can string together by 2 to 5-hour train rides, the more enjoyable it will be. Flying within Europe is similar to in the US and Canada, where even a 1-hour flight will take at least 5 hours from city center to city center, and often longer. The trains are generally very scenic and enjoyable, while flights are stressful and confusing with all of the transport to and from required. Let me know if you have other questions as you get this together more. -Roger

  9. Sam says:

    Curious how you made this list – I am from NYC and live in Madrid and frequently find flights for $500-600 nonstop/roundtrip from NYC-Madrid. I use Skyscanner for searching and always find cheap flights that way, over $900 for a flight to Madrid is absolutely insane, I’ve never seen that. Perhaps in the high summer months, but I have been living year for a year and a half and never seen prices that high when I’m looking to travel or searching for friends/family to come visit. Maybe you might wanna add what dates you were searching for/what you used to search! Anyway still an interesting list, I’m sure it did take a lot of work. Just adding for others that might be interested that Madrid is really quite cheap to fly into if you know where to look =)

    1. Roger Wade says:


      I’m glad you found this interesting. We are in the process of running tests for a 2017 version, which should be in place in a week or so. Actually, the methodology is explained near the top of the article. I think this was last run in late 2015, and at that time all US to Europe fares were higher.

      The main point of the article is to show how they rank compared to one another. As fuel costs have come down, all the flights have become cheaper, but the ranking won’t change much. It’ll be interesting to see what the upcoming update shows. -Roger

  10. Tabatha says:

    Hello and thanks for posting this site. I’m ready to pull my hair out first trip. Staying 16 days trying to get in Germany. Amsterdam. London. Paris. Ireland. Or Scotland. Any help is appreciated. I’m going to spend around 3 days in each place hit the highlights so that would be helpful too also have a 7 year old going is why I want him to see places. Via train bus whatever we won’t be able to make it back here again is why I’m trying see so many. And I’m flexible the real 3 that have to be are London Germany and Amsterdam my friend loves there. Any help please tha ask again

    1. Roger Wade says:


      The 3 days in each destination is ideal, so if you are doing a 16-day trip you’ll want to choose exactly 5 places. London, Paris, and Amsterdam are perfect for a first visit, and you can easily take the train between them quickly. It starts to get complicated when you mention Germany, Ireland, and Scotland, because each is filled with destinations and you can only really choose 1 or 2 of them.

      If you choose Scotland, you could take a fairly inexpensive train (if you buy early) to Edinburgh from London. Edinburgh is Britain’s clear #2 destination and it’s a lovely city that is quite different from London. You could also go from there up to Inverness to spend a few days in and around the Scottish Highlands.

      Ireland would be tricky for you because most people want to start in or just stay in Dublin, and it’s kind of a dud. The best type of trip to Ireland is maybe 1 or 2 days in Dublin, and then 5 or more days traveling the countryside and going to the smaller towns and villages. Ireland is a gorgeous and friendly country, but not really easy to see in 3 days.

      Germany is perhaps even trickier because it’s so large and has so many worthwhile places. The best and most popular place to start is Berlin, and you can get from Amsterdam to Berlin by train pretty easily. After Berlin you could go to Munich, but you might be better off going to Prague or somewhere else instead. Have a look at my article on where to go in Germany, and you can decide.

      So you could actually fly into Edinburgh then take a train to London then another train to Paris then a train to Amsterdam and a train to Berlin and they fly home from there. Or you could skip Edinburgh and then do Prague or Munich after Berlin. Think about which specific destinations appeal to you, and I’ll be happy to help you sort out the itinerary. -Roger