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Where to go for our first time to Eurpoe

I need some help deciding on where to go for our first trip to Europe. First let me start off by saying my hubby is not fond of flying, so if we're going it needs to be for a minimum of 2-3 weeks. I'm a travel lover and he's fine once we get there, it's just the journey getting there. I'm wanting to get the Biggest Bang for our bucks, want to be able to immerse ourselves in the culture and use a variety of travel modes..but mainly rental car, unless rail is cheaper. Any feed back would be greatly welcomed.

Posted by
4125 posts

Longer trips are great because (1) flying stinks, (2) flying is expensive, and (3) jet lag stinks. So get the most return on that misery by staying longer, by all means.

Here's one of the worst things you could do: Short-circuit the planning process and just go where a bunch of strangers tell you. Even nice strangers like us. Europe is a big place and you haven't even told us what you like to see and do.

Both of you need to read a few guidebooks, and also one of the best travel-planing-and-skills books out there, Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. If you have questions and ideas, this is a good place to bring them, but follow your own hearts desires.

As for questions like rental versus trains--you are not even close to there by a long shot. Set some goals first, then we can talk logistics.

You're off to a good start!

Posted by
908 posts

I'd think about what speaks to you. By that I mean is there a particular climate you like, period of history to which you're drawn, food types, art or architecture you'd like to see. Do you like quiet and bucolic vs. Cosmopolitan hip or a mix of both? Mountain hikes? Sunny seasides? Identifying how you feel about those types of things will help both of you identify a country or region

Posted by
14404 posts

Europe is not like America. Trains are frequent, fast, comfortable and reliable. Rental cars are expensive, gas is twice as much, parking and traffic in most European cities are worse than most American cities. If you plan ahead, you can buy train tickets are huge discounts.

The big decisions are when to go and where to go. They affect each other. So which is more important to you? Can you go anytime? Are there places that you have a burning desire to see? Summer is probably the worst time for most places, if you can avoid it. Plane fares and hotel rates are lower in spring and fall ("shoulder season") and usually considerably less in the winter months, except for holiday seasons. Places like southern Spain (Andalusia) and Italy can be real "bargains" from January to March. Overall, Portugal, Spain, and the eastern side (Croatia, Hungary, Czech Rep., Poland) will be cheaper than the rest. They aren't as popular as London, Paris, Rome, but they are all wonderful places to visit with lots to see and do.

Posted by
127 posts

As others have noted, your question is overly broad. It's like Europeans deciding they want to see New York, Washington DC, the Grand Canyon, Hollywood, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and Miami all in a two-week trip to the US.

Start with what is at the top of your Europe bucket list and go from there.

Posted by
484 posts

Make a list of activities and scenery that interests both of you. Maybe go to library or buy a RS travel series on DVD and watch a few. Sometimes after watching travel shows on TV, I actually cross a few places OFF my list. You may want to limit yourself to 1 - 2 countries. We are 1 country travelers ourselves. Maybe a Viking cruise or similar to sample Europe. Personally, I prefer to be "on the ground." In many ways, I would recommend Italy given how much is there. The UK is good if you want English speaking countries for communication ease. Have fun! (Rent "under the Tuscan Sun" for a sampling of Italy.). Are you golfers? Maybe Scotland is for you?

Posted by
11266 posts

I agree with all the above replies. In addition to reading about various destinations, look at travel videos (Rick's are on Hulu and Youtube, via this link from his website:

And there are no "right" or "wrong" ways to visit Europe - just the way that works best for you. If you want to see 6 countries in 3 weeks, or spend all three weeks in one city, you can. I think both of those approaches are too extreme, particularly for a first visit, but others don't.

I do agree that the first step is to decide when you are going, and/or where you want to go. Then, transportation questions like car vs train will sort themselves out. Of course, if you are determined to use one transit method, that will also determine where you go to some extent. (For instance, if you really want to drive, you'll probably want to focus more on small towns and less on big cities). In addition to car and train that you mentioned, buses work best for some places, and budget flights for others.

Ask your friends where they've been. You may or may not share their tastes, but they can give you good ideas for further research.

Do you have any special interests that would help focus a trip? It can be anything, from cars to movies to wine to bridges. This is where a forum can be really helpful. If you say, for instance, "I'm interested in car museums; are there any in or near Paris and London?" this can be the kind of information that's harder to get from mainstream travel guides.

Posted by
287 posts

I am a very visual planner. So I like finding my inspiration for travel through pictures. So in addition to what was mentioned above, I love the DK eyewitness guides. I would look for them at the library.

I also love sites like pinterest and

Good Luck! Have fun!!!!

Posted by
2779 posts

If you want to minimize flying, start by considering the cities you can reach in a single (direct, non-stop) flight from your hometown. You don't say where that is. But for instance, from Seattle we can fly non-stop to London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Frankfurt. (Also to Rekjavik but then you need another flight to get to the European continent). If you are close to LA, Chicago, or New York you will have additional choices, maybe including Rome or Madrid.

Once you determine what your direct flight choices are, you can plan a trip to fly into one city and back from another, visiting what you want to see on the way. For example, using our four cities, we can fly into London, spend a few days there, take the fast train to Paris, tour France by car or train, maybe loop into Germany, return to Paris, and fly home from there. Just remember if you rent a car that you should return it in the same country you rent it to avoid drop fees.

Posted by
552 posts

Have you seen the commercials where a person with multiple personalities is blabbing on about how intuitive his/her TV is to all the interests they have?

My cable company just set me up with this (they call it 'Contour') and now I have no free time... o_O

The VCR recently recorded 14 hours of Ken Burn's on The Roosevelt's. (I hope there won't be a pop-quiz because I'm way behind all my book club friends on keeping up with that.)

Anyway,... I made the mistake of telling this device that I 'Like' Rick Steves. Now there are 14 or 15 episodes of 'Travels in Europe' waiting to be watched anytime I find the time to do some armchair traveling. (I've seen them all before, because you can also go to your local library to check out his CD collections for any region you may be interested in.)

I say have your husband watch them with you and go wherever tempts him enough to endure the annoyance of air travel. (Sacha's suggestion of letting non-stop destinations help make your decision is also a good one.)

Posted by
2163 posts

My suggestion on where to go is...follow your heart. A place you've wanted to visit for many years, or a country that your ancestors came from--that criteria made me choose England and Scotland for my first trip abroad. I've since knocked two more off the "countries of my people" list, Estonia and Hungary, and another off the "places I've always wanted to visit", Austria. Wherever you choose, be sure to allow enough time to really get a feel for the place, so many people seem to spend more time travelling between cities/countries that it likely becomes a big blur.

Posted by
2081 posts


i agree with Adam. you need to do some homework on your end and figure out what you like to do and see.

i can bet that mostly everyone doesnt like to fly. But its part of the process so youre stuck with it until transporters are invented and then im sure others will hate that.

in my opinion, i wouldnt think about driving unless you cant live without a car under you. Yes, there are times when you need one, but if youre lucky and choose your places wisely, you can get by with out one. on my 3.5 week trip i just got back from, i did not set one foot in a car and i didnt miss it either.

The trains in Europe are nice, usually fast and comfortable. Even the older train cars have some class. all you need to do is to sit back and relax. some of the trains have food cars too so you can chow down if the need arises. In some places they offer carriage rides. If you want to get all cuddly you can do that. But they are not that different from getting from A to B in the USA other than the fact that trains are nicer and available to more places.

but i would say the more important part is to figure out where you want to go and do and see things.

happy trails.

Posted by
853 posts

You've gotten great information already, but I would also take a look at RS tours. We have travelled on our own and on 5 RS tours.

If you decide the tours are not for you they may give you some ideas of where you want to go. Just keep in mind, if you follow one of his tours on your own it should take you a little longer. Since they have transportation all worked out and local guides that take them around part of the time when they are in a new location. If you do decide to go on a tour,I would highly suggest that you go into your first location a day or preferably two days ahead. Give you time to get over jet lag and relax and also more time to see the first location. Also suggest that in many locations you stay an extra day or two to finish up seeing the sights that you didn't have time for on the tour.

Let us know if you are interested in museums, churches, wine tasting, hiking, or whatever, that way we can make better informed suggestions. Also, do you have a certain time of year that you have to travel or are you flexible?

Have fun planning,

Posted by
3 posts

First me take the time to say thank you to every single one of you who have responded to my query. While I know my inquiry was broad and a bit obscure you have all given me great starting point to start off with. I don't have any particular time of the year that I am restricted to so that is not an issue. Money is definitely a big thing I will most certainly start saving up more than what I already am and I will use some of the websites and books each of you recommended.I have definitely thought of using RS tours as a first time option. I like the suggestion mentioned by Mimi to add a couple extra days on my own or I should say on our own to explore prior going with the group. Ray, I have heard the trains in Europe are very efficient and if they still allow us to go everywhere we want then I can see why not to rent a vehicle Christa I totally agree and think we will concentrate our first visit on one location/area of a country instead of multiple countries. Bill you made me laugh...that's a great idea though and will have to try it. Actually the first time I brought up travel to the hubby he said why, when I can google it. ((Sigh)) it's been a long journey and always a bit of a struggle to get some where but each time we get to our destination he has a great time. Sasha, we live in San Antonio, TX so not much in the way of direct flights and he gets restless on direct flights to Seattle when we go see family BUT I'm hoping upgrading seats and/or some ambien could help. Susan, thanks for the virtual tour website I will be checking it out. Phil, I like the Map idea and actually something I've been wanting to do... Map is ordered. Harold I will be looking into YouTube. Barb I recently looked at the Viking Crusies. Did you enjoy it? It may be the best way to ease my hubby into travel. Sean I will start a bucket list. Chani, you mentioned seasons like Jan to Mar, what about late Sept to Nov? Rachel...while we like the city were more hiking, fishing and a pub like atmosphere. Adam I will look into the RS Europe Through The Backdoor.

Thanks again everyone for your input. I value all of it.

Posted by
484 posts

I did not do a Viking cruise, but my parents did. To save money and still have good weather, longer days, travel in shoulder season. The RS tours are very good from what I have read, but expensive. I never did a RS tour. From what you wrote above - consider the UK or someplace like Switzerland/Austria/Germany. In Scotland - you can take a multi day tour with a company like Rabbie's TrailBurners, then do the rest of your trip on your own. That way, a tour makes you familiar with a place and you can still travel on your own. Have Fun! The planning is part of the Journey.

Posted by
19 posts

Hi Jeanine!
I think I'm gonna have to agree with Susan, and some of the other folks that have commented here -- I'm also mostly drawn in by great images and I even (sometimes) structure my trips around destinations I've found good photos of online. From my experience, sitting down with your travel buddies/family and deciding on something you want to see is in itself a really fun part of the whole process.
As for your question on timing: for Sept to Nov, you are most likely be able to get better deals on accommodation, since it's almost off-season. On the other hand, consider the fact that temperatures are bound to drop during that period, and according to the countries you wish to visit, you should do some research on this too.
Hope this helps! :-)

Posted by
11613 posts

Sometimes I just google "images" for a place and start there. I got to Sansepolcro, Italy because of the slide of a painting I saw in an art history class. I look at a map and if I like the name of a place I'll start looking into that. Any method is good, I love the map suggestions for plotting distances. Rome2Rio is great for this.

Posted by
8397 posts

Jeanine, I am late to your thread, but I have a suggestion. Perhaps you would consider doing a Rick Steves trip solo. If your DH is not that wild about travel (even tho he likes it when he gets there cheering up someone who is not really into travel is exhausting), you can find supportive guides, fun travel companions and awesome sights with this kind of group. I have just done 2 RS tours solo and had a wonderful time! I did note that some of the people on the trips did not really want to be there and that curtailed some of the activities the companions were interested in. Just roll this idea over in your mind and see if it is something that would work for you! Also, you would just have to save 1/2 the money...or you could save it all and do Rick's 21 day Best of Europe!

Posted by
14404 posts

Jeanine, you asked about the time of year to travel. I would first list some destinations that really tug at you, then you can get better advice on when to go. Also you wrote "while we like the city were more hiking, fishing and a pub like atmosphere." Consider Ireland. I just spent 2.5 weeks there and the scenery is beautiful and the pubs are the best ever. It's easy to talk with the locals, since they speak English (more or less). Everyone was friendly. Also, it's at the west end of Europe, so maybe a little less air time. If you think you can handle driving on the "wrong" side of the road, by car is the best way to get around much of the country. It's easy to combine Ireland with Scotland and/or England.

Posted by
1614 posts

I would start in zengland, or if you want, Ireland. It's good to speak the language on your first trip. I would choose southern Germany as a second place.

Posted by
806 posts

Jeanine, I've done three different river cruises, all with Grand Circle Travel, and enjoyed them all. I think they're a bit less expensive than Viking, but we had great food, great local guides and program directors, a nice cabin, etc. Our tours were Vienna - Amsterdam [Danube, Main, and Rhine rivers], Budapest to the Black Sea, and the Rhine-Mosel cruise from Basel to Antwerp. We have usually gone in October, which lowers the price a bit. PM me if you'd like further information.

We have also done one RS tour. I would disagree with the poster who said these tours are expensive - the big difference with other tours is that there are basically NO extra fees for excursions or for tipping. Tips were several hundred dollars additional on our GCT cruises, plus we usually did 3 or 4 of the excursions at $60-120 each. We found the RS tour an excellent value and also great at teaching new travelers how to manage on their own; most days have some free time, but the tour leader was GREAT at giving us a wide range of options and telling us how to get where we were trying to go. We also enjoyed the other travelers on our tour. We flew in a week early and did some driving around on our own to visit my husband's ancestral villages in western Germany, then dropped the car and met up with the tour; this meant we got over our jet lag, but it would also work to arrive a day or two early and then stay a week or so on your own.

Good luck with the decisions and have a great trip!

Posted by
400 posts

Bravo to all the people that offered great suggestions! I was a bit leery to read this post 'cause I posted a similar question a few years ago and was vilified for "not doing my research" first. I did all the big touristy things on my maiden voyage, hitting London, Paris and Rome among many other cities with the idea that this would be my only trip abroad. Using mostly memories from high school text books, and then watching Rick Steve TV shows, I planned a linear trip, starting up in Scotland (because of the weather and because English was spoken), and slowly made my way down to finish in Greece, trying to travel in a straight line to avoid wasting time. All in all, it was a great trip. Made it back 3 years later and now I am planning another one in a couple of years. Good luck!

Posted by
2081 posts


i can see how people would "vilify" you for not doing your homework. With the world (google) at your finger tips its not that difficult to do SOME homework. But i can see how in the instant gratification world we live in people want it now and yesterday.

Before my first solo trip to Europe, i INVESTED in Rick Steves "Europe Through the Back Door" book and read it several times since knowledge has a tendency to leak from the space between my ears. I use most of the ideas/principals in his book, but i also do more homework and use other resources including alot of "googling" to search for information. A co-worker loves to read and hes been a wealth of info for ideas and such. I also pick an choose what works for me an how i travel. Not someone else.

To me doing some minimal homework/research isnt that difficult and makes life easier for the next journey.

happy trails.