We just returned from 5 weeks in Europe. The last time I did a vacation this long, I was backpacking through Europe after college and couldn't afford lots of private or even group type tours. I had a great time on that vacation, but wow, the benefits of having a passionate, knowledgeable and friendly guide makes all the difference, now that I have the money to do it. Here are the great ones that we hired this time.
Berchtesgaden: while not a day trip, we so much enjoyed Eagle's Nest Historical Tours with David Harper (it was about a 4-5 hour tour). Yes, it was a big coach, but, from my understanding, the only way to get to the Eagle's Nest is by the public transportation bus or with a tour like this. We also got to go to the site of Hitler's house that has been demolished, and saw, from the bus, a lot of the buildings that were either built during the war to support the Nazi staff there and the houses that were commandeered by them from the original owners. David did an amazing job of explaining why the Germany gov't left the Eagle's Nest intact in order to teach lessons to future Germans about the evil that happened there.
Crazy Guides Krakow: What fun this was! Our guide for a half day in a Lada exploring Nowa Huta was Tomas and I don't know how he has so much energy. He was singing and dancing in the car, all the while explaining what it was like to live in the area during the Communist era. We paid extra for the "Communist snack box" and the cheese/sausage/candies, plus the vodka was excellent. Fun, snacks and informative history all rolled into one!
Another high five for Jeremy Minsberg in Berlin (the Berlin Expert). We spent 4 hours walking with him through Berlin, and it was literally like hanging out with an old friend who was showing us his city. We had two twelve year olds with us and he kept them engaged, plus adjusted to include my 80 year old mother in law's slower walking speed. He knows so much about the city and even brought his dog to the first part of the tour, because we were missing ours back home. I want to move to Berlin so I can hang out with Jeremy more!
Quasimodo Tours of Flanders Fields: we joined Phillippe for a day long coach tour from Brugges to the World War I battlefields. Very informative and gave good visuals of what it was really like to be there fighting. We stopped at a great museum in Hooge, and saw many of the battlefields as well.
Francis Paz spent two days with us on the battlefields of Normandy, and we saw and learned so much. He picked us up both days from Bayeux and, again, kept the kids engaged and adjusted for our senior citizen. I had done a Normandy battlefields tour in my 30s, but this definitely didn't seem like the same things and at one point we were high above Omaha beach in a secluded area that I'm thinking not many guides take people to (I could be wrong). The viewpoint was stellar for explaining the battle, and Francis' knowledge of facts and figures the entire time was astounding. He also has met many veterans in person and hearing the stories they had told him added a personal touch.
And finally London Walks, which I know gets a lot of love on here, and aren't technically "day trips" but I wanted to throw it in. We unfortunately missed the group Ghost Tour we had booked, because my daughter sprained her ankle at the Tower of London that day, but two of us were able to make our private Rolling Stones in 60s Soho tour with Adam the next morning. I am a somewhat obsessive Rolling Stones fan, so it was so much fun to hang out with someone who knows more than I do, and see all the places that the Stones played and hung out in the 60s. Adam was great at answering my ridiculous amount of questions and at keeping my 12 year old son engaged. He also followed up with an email of things we weren't able to see on the tour, plus playlists for me. I want to go back to London and just pack my schedule with many, many London Walks!