(Closed) First time to Europe – where should I go?!

posted 7 years ago in Travel
  • poll: If I'm not likely to return to Europe anytime soon should we:

    Jam pack all the major cities into the one trip to get a taste of everything

    Focus on only a few cities/countries to get the most out of them

  • Post # 17
    794 posts
    Busy bee
    • Wedding: August 2015 - Backyard Forest

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    I went on a trip in 2012 and jam-packed it… spent 1-3 nights in each city.

    I went to:

    Amsterdam – amazing/beautiful city, love loved it

    Berlin – my favourite city on the tour, the culture/vibe is incredible 

    Warsaw – spent an afternoon here, don’t have much to comment on since it was pouring rain the entire time

    Krakov – really cool city, went to Auschwitz, which was far too emotional for me

    Prague – incredible! HIGHLY recommend. So romantic, such culture, beautiful. 

    Barcelona – so fun, I basically spent those days lounging on the beach

    Paris – honestly, I thought this would be my favourite stop, it was my MUST see, and it just was…meh in comparison to other cities. The Eiffel Tour was fun to see, but I waited in a 4 hour line to get to the top! I actually left early… and ended up in Belgium.

    Brussels – spent a couple hours here in a crazy adventure trying to find a hostel… pretty cool city

    Antwerpen – LOVED this city. Such amazing shopping! Tons of little boutiques with really cool style. 


    Cities I wish I had seen:

    Dubrovnik, somewhere in the Alps


    Post # 18
    348 posts
    Helper bee
    • Wedding: October 2014

    When you’re booking your trip, keep in mind that each travel day is pretty much a wash. Between waking up early to catch a train or a plane, getting transportation to & from your hotel, checking in, getting to your room, etc.  you’re pretty much going to lose the day.  So the more places you visit, the more days you waste getting around.

    I personally would always rather have more solid days in one place rather than a half day here & a half day there in a lot of places.

    As for places–I would concentrate on a few countries either relatively close to each other *or* relatively cheap to fly or take the train to and from.

    I lived in Florence so I have nothing but great things to say about it.  You can follow the Girl in Florence blog if you want to learn more about the city (her blog makes me miss it so much).  I’d probably add on Siena & a day or two in Tuscany before heading out to Verona & then Venice.  The Amalfi Coast is gorgeous but it’s also very very expensive.


    Remember, that you’re going to have a great time wherever you go. It’s easy to get overwhelmed & try to cram everything in, but this isn’t going to be your last trip there. Treat it as your first trip, rather than your only opportunity & it will make for a less stressful planning process.

    Post # 19
    14 posts
    • Wedding: April 2014

    So I’ve only been to the UK and Paris but I do recommend both. I know Scotland is a bit out of the way but the highlands are not to be missed! I loved London and Paris was amazing. We did Paris in a day because it’s all the time we had but I’d love to go back. Little tip about the Eiffel Tower, book your tickets online. We booked our for 5pm (close to sunset) and went right up to the elevator, no waiting…otherwise you’ll be in a line for most of the day.

    Post # 20
    2585 posts
    Sugar bee
    • Wedding: November 2012

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    @Cyri:  Wow, people said to cut it?!! I can’t imagine why! It was wonderful! Oh well, maybe consider it in the future. Smile You’re going to have an amazing trip!

    Post # 21
    442 posts
    Helper bee
    • Wedding: November 1999

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    @Cyri:  I think we have to choose between Seville and Istanbul at the moment. How to choose?! (but what a nice problem to have :-))

    If you love history and sightseeing, I recommend Istanbul. We had 5 full days of sightseeing there, and we didn’t get to see half of it. We’re definiely going back at some point to explore the city further.
    Also, Turkish food is delicious πŸ™‚

    Post # 22
    1835 posts
    Buzzing bee
    • Wedding: November 2012 - Oak Tree Manor

    @Cyri:  A 5-week trip to Europe sounds amazing!!! I backpacked around Europe for 3 months after college and it was incredible, I loved every second of it. I saved a lot of money by buying a Eurail pass, you should definitely look into that! Although there are a lot of cheap airlines to get around Europe, it just takes too much time to get to the airport ahead of time, worry about your bag making it okay, etc. Trains are a very leisurely way to get around – you can nap, read a book, etc. without worrying about driving or being uncomfortable the way it can be on a plane. Plus if you pass through a cute town and want to hop off, you can hop off and walk around for a bit! Some of the trains are super fast, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can get around (compared to the U.S.).

    If I were you I’d pick 4-5 countries and stick to those. Sounds like you’re definitely interested in France and Italy. Since those are both on the Mediterranean, I would personally either focus on the Mediterranean and western Europe, or else cut out Spain/Portugal/Greece and do 1 week in France, 1-2 weeks in Italy, 1 week in Belgium/the Netherlands, and 1 week in Eastern Europe. Keep in mind that some citieis are much larger than others – Florence is awesome but a lot of people will tell you that 2-3 days in Florence is plenty, whereas it’s impossible to get a flavor of Paris in 2 days!

    Try to develop an itinerary with the least amount of travel possible. It’s easy to book an open-jaw flight – where you fly from the U.S. to one European city, and fly back from another. (I flew into Athens and flew back from Amsterdam.)

    Here’s my recommended itinerary:

    Fly into Amsterdam. Spend 4 days in Amsterdam (you’ll need to recover from jet lag!) Day trip to Utrecht or Haarlem.

    Take the train to Bruges. Spend 2 nights in Bruges. (The most romantic city ever, with canals just like Venice only much cleaner and less crowded/stinky!)

    Train to Paris. Spend 5 nights in Paris. Make a day trip to Versailles. Rent a car to drive around the Loire Valley and see chateaux all day.

    Train to Nice. Spend 3 nights in the French Riviera. Day trips to Monaco, Cannes, and nearby beaches.

    Train to Milan. Spend 1 night in Milan. (It’s a cool city, but pretty modern and won’t charm you as much as Florence and some of the more classic Italian cities!)

    Train to Florence. Spend 4 nights in Florence. Enjoy Tuscany! Lots of cool day trips. My fave day trip is Bologna.

    Train to Cinque Terre. Spend 2 nights in Cinque Terre. (Sooo awesome!)

    Train to Rome. Spend 5 nights in Rome. You can see Pompeii in a day trip.

    Train to Amalfi Coast. Spend 3 nights in Positano. It’s gorgeous, you’ll love it!

    Fly to Munich. Spend 4 nights in Munich. Day trip to Neuschwanstein, it’s a really really cool castle. Day trip to Dachau. Maybe a day trip to Salzburg so you get a taste of the Alps? (If you like the movie Sound of Music, it was filmed there!)

    OR, instead of Munich, fly to Budapest, and do Budapest -> Vienna (2-3 days) -> Prague.

    Fly or train to Prague. Spend 4 nights in Prague. Then fly home! Prague is a large enough city that it’s easy to find flights in and out of, although you’ll probably have a stopover in Paris or Berlin.

    Okay, I will be 100% honest about Switzerland – it’s SUPER expensive (it will eat into your budget so quickly! even just bottled water is expensive, let alone food and lodging). I’m from Seattle, and the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest are just as beautiful as the Alps. I was not too impressed, although I’m an avid hiker and had a lot of fun hiking around the Alps. Switzerland is a super super cool place, but if you’re so short on time and interested in getting a taste of other cultures – like French culture, Italian culture, Eastern Europe, all of those things you always hear stories about and see photos of – I would skip Switzerland. It’s beautiful, friendly people, great food, but it’s expensive and most of the big attractions are outdoors things you can do in the U.S. The cities are cool, but hoenstly after the other cities you mentinoed wanting to see, they will all start to blend together.

    Also, I would skip the UK. It’s pretty out of the way. I didn’t make it there on my backpacking trip, and I really didn’t feel like I missed out. I’ve been there since, and I loved England and Ireland, but I wouldn’t spend your precious travel time trying to fly to and from the UK.

    Post # 23
    3339 posts
    Sugar bee
    • Wedding: April 2013 - Rhode Island

    I recommend limiting your travels to one or two cities.  Europe can be overwhelming on a first visit, especially if you’ll be going to non-English speaking countries.

    I’ve been to Europe several times, but my honeymoon was my DH’s first trip abroad.  We went to London and Paris.  We had a great time and actually loved London more than Paris.  Mostly because food in Paris was ridiculously expensive and coffee is non-existant.  They only have these tiny overpriced shots of espresso, and my DH requires like 100 oz. of coffee per day.

    But I digress.  I recommend London, England & Edinburgh, Scotland & anywhere in Iceland.  Paris is great if you want to go to France.  Definitely take more spending money than you think you’ll need.  The exchange rate to the Euro is better than to the British Pound.  But the food was still way more expensive in France than England.  It was crazy.

    If you do go to London, I HIGHLY recommend the English Bus for day trip tours.  It was the highlight of our entire 2-week trip!  Also, the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour in Leavesden was amazing!!!  (If you’re into Harry Potter).  Good luck and congrats!

    Post # 24
    3941 posts
    Honey bee
    • Wedding: October 2011

    I would also recommend choosing two cities and spending the most time enjoying those places.

    If you’re only seeing two, choose culture rich and different cities.  I would advise against English speaking countries. Visit places you would get the most out of different languages, foods, customs, etc. 

    Although I have never been, Italy does seem like a good starting point.  Although, I absolutely adore Seville and Vienna.

    *I hear Prague is amazing as well.  It’s only my top “to go” places.

    Post # 25
    1030 posts
    Bumble bee
    • Wedding: August 2013

    @Cyri: Love prague! Love florence! Switzerland was amazing, but might be hard to fit in on a whirlwind trip. Also my fav parts of switzerland were the scenery and hiking. If you want cities and more achitecture, id save switzerland for another time. 

    Post # 26
    1247 posts
    Bumble bee
    • Wedding: April 2014

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    @Cyri:  we spent 5 weeks in Europe last year and managed to do a week in England with family, then a 13 day Topdeck tour (we had an awesome time on this – great people!) that went to Paris, Bordeaux. Carcasonne, Barcelona, Nice, Lucerne (we stayed up a mountain at Mt Rigi on Lake Lucerne –  absolutely stunning), Florence and Rome. We then did our own thing with a rail pass and went to Venice, Salzburg, Linz ( to visit friends), Krakow (FI’s mum is Polish and it was important to him to see Auschwitz) and Berlin. We had to get a plane from Kraknow to Berlin. We had a great time and it was a relatively fast paced trip but that works for me. I had been to England many times before and seen some of Europe so it wasn’t my first time. I definitely recommend Brugges inBelgium if you can get there – it’s a town that has been kept largEly as it was hundreds of years ago – all cobblestone streets, no neon etc. super romantic!

    Post # 28
    154 posts
    Blushing bee
    • Wedding: June 2014

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    @Cyri:  Interlaken is touristy, but for a reason – it’s like being stuck in the middle of all these gorgeous, famous mountains! I’d definitely go here – and I’d strongly suggest, if you have your own wheels, to take a drive around Lake Thun /Thunersee – in stead of the highway you get to see amazing views of the lake, and the drive is really an experience in itself, particularly on the north side driving through Sigriswil. Thun is also a very charming city in its own right – more so than Interlaken itself which is a tourist trap (for a reason I suppose, but trust me, the city is nothing compared to other swiss cities)

    Lucerne in my opinion is strongly overrated. Yes, it has that bridge, whatever. All swiss cities will have an amazing old town (altstadt) with a river or a lake or something. I’ve been there 2-3 times and mostly remember asian tourists getting off coaches to buy rolexes, but it’s lovely if you sail there on one of the lake ferries but there are MANY spots I’d prefer to go over Lucerne. I’d never take any of our guests to Lucerne if they were first time visitors with limited time unless they were dying to go for some weird reason. A couple of options for daytrips I’d suggest in stead – and have done several times with SO and visitors:

    – More mountains followed by a classic Swiss cheese fondue? Go to the French part to visit Moleson and nearby village of Gruyere. the swiss are masters of building stuff onto mountains – Moleson is a mountain and you go up by gondola – the view is ABSOLUTELY breathtaking and you can go about for a little walk and have a glass of wine. When it’s time to go down, stop by old village Gruyere on your way, it kinda looks like a fort and there’s an old castle you can visit (not really sure how to explain it) – plus it’s the hot spot for gruyere cheese, so a perfect place to eat a fondue.  

    – Montreux & the Chillon Castle (also french part): on the lake shore of lake geneva you’ll have a beatiful stroll among the shore, you can even go on a day trip with the ferry across to the French city of Evian (yes like in the water you know) – but more important there’s the chillon castle a 10 min bus ride from the city. This castle is gorgeous and open to visitors like the one in Gruyere. Montreux is also known for is famous Jazz festival so maybe it’s on when you visit! The song smoke on the water was written here, inspiration taken from the lake. Vevey (where Chaplin lived and died) is the next town over by train as well.

    – Or go to the Italian part of the country to visit Locarno and nearby Valle Maggio and Lago Maggiore! Having spent many childhood summers in Italy, this is my favorite part of the country so far. The language, the prices, the food… Wow. If you’re into a little outdoorsiness this is a great place. The valley offers many great hiking options and even one of the worlds highest bungee jump spots made famous from some James Bond film. The lake is surrounded by beautiful, winding roads, palm trees, a backdrop of mountains that look like no-where else in the country – more like rolling green hills, and the climate is just milder and better due to being south of the alps. Isole de Brissago is a small island that you can visit on the lake – it’s basically lake a huge, beautiful garden. Locarno has an annual film festival too. 

    I guess I’m saying that if you want to make the most of your time here, I’d see different parts of the country and not just stay in the German speaking part – the cultures are totally different. And I really really don’t think Lucerne is that special compared to other places here. Also note that there are MANY cities that will provide the same old charm as Lucerne – Thun, Fribourg, Bern are the ones I know and love the best. Fribourg in particular has my heart as the city has enormous elevation differences making it something totally different for me personally, I’m from the flat lands haha  (though many cities here have that, I just love the French part.) I think especially if you’re not going to France or Italy, some of these options would be worth checking to give the feel that you’re in Europe. I’d probably go for Moleson/Gruyere if I were to pick one of these, it’s a really good day trip, and it gives you a view that is just jaw dropping – unless you go up Jungfrauhoch in Interlaken (exxxxpensive, haven’t done it, supposed to be gorgeous too). Sorry for the long rant, but it’s such a beautiful country and I hope you have a great time here!

    Post # 29
    240 posts
    Helper bee
    • Wedding: September 2014 - Hired hall


    If you are going through Germany at any point, I would recommend Munich if you have the time, lovely place! Also Amsterdam is beautiful (it’s not all weed and prostitutes, although the red light district is interesting lol). Of course I’ll recommend London as I think it’s awesome (I live there :-P) 

    I’ve never found Paris to be THAT great to be honest, but maybe that’s just me. If you are going near Italy, could be interesting to take a trip to the ruins in Pompeii. I’ve never been but my parents went, and I have always wanted to go, it looks so interesting! 

    Post # 30
    1030 posts
    Bumble bee
    • Wedding: August 2013

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    @Cyri:  Haha of course! 

    If you like scenery, (that is totally me), then i recommend the west coast of ireland hands down, northern scotland, switzerland, (theres a town called interlaken between two beautiful lakes. Its a bit touristy, but you can hop on the ferries or the trains and get anywhere real fast too! no hiking necessary), and cinque terre & near sienna (tuscanny) in italy. 

    Those are my fav scenic places in the world, so far. πŸ™‚

    Post # 31
    1988 posts
    Buzzing bee

    @Cyri:  I am a big outdoor/nature fan. Switzerland is awesome!!!

    I loved Venice too. And I really like Spain. I spend summers in Germany but to be honest, Munich for example, is not that interesting to me. Frankfurt either. But the country side in the Bavaria area is amazing! And not expensive at all!

    The pictures are from Grindelwald, Switzerland. I go there every year because it’s Sooo pretty! 

    The topic ‘First time to Europe – where should I go?!’ is closed to new replies.

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