- 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.