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1st time to Europe advise

We are in starting phase of planning a Europe adventure 9/30-10/22 2017. (21 nights) We been to Ireland, but not in Europe
We already got our airfare flying into Paris on 10/1 and flying out of Munich on 10/22. Free with points, both non-stop from PHL on AA.
We are planning to visit sights in France, Italy and Germany

Idea A
1. Paris (2 nights)

2. Caen (2 nights)
3. Cologne (3 nights)
4. Colmar (3 nights)
5. Milan (1 night)
6. Florence (2 nights)
7. Rome (4 nights)
8. Verona (1 night)
9. Munich (3 nights)

Any advise would be appreciated. We like to visit Krakow since my mother's family is from there, but I think it might be too far.

2 questions

1- if we rent a car in France can you take it (drive) into other countries we are interested in.
2- We have been reading Rick's travel guides and like some of the small hotels and B&B he recommends. How far in advance do these small place book up? How far in advance should we make reservations. We are still deciding where we are going.

Posted by
650 posts

Not to rain on your parade, but you are planning 9 hotels in 23 nights. Please consider cutting at least half and probably closer to two thirds of your destinations. Otherwise, you won't actually get to see anything but terminals and train stations.

I'd begin by cutting anyplace you don't want to spend at least two nights. Then begin considering what you want to do, where you want to go. What is it that you want to do and see in Cologne that will take more time than what you want to do in Paris?

Posted by
7172 posts

I have been to all the places you listed. I will address your itinerary after answering your two questions.

1) You might have a problem renting a car in one country and dropping in another. Frequently, huge fees are charged for this. Also, you don't want an automobile in any of the large cities like Paris, Cologne, Milan, Rome or Munich. Even in the smaller cities like Florence you may have a difficulty finding parking near your hotel.
I would advise you to rent a car only to visit areas in the countryside, like Caen from Paris. Not sure how many in your party, but if only two, you should stick to the train for this itinerary.

2) Small B&Bs that are popular can fill up quickly. Book as soon as you book your airfare. I suggest that you consider when choosing a B&B or hotel that you consider if parking is free, if you plan to arrive by car. If not, suggest a place close to the city center so you can walk to sights. Use Tripadvisor to look at reviews of your B&Bs and use the map feature on TA for checking location.

3) Not sure why you picked some of the cities for your itinerary. Nothing wrong with those places, but some are just not the best places to see in Europe, especially for your first mainland Europe trip.

Caen, is fine, if you plan to tour Normandy, but it not on its own. If you do want to go to Normandy, you can take a tour that visits the D day beaches, American Cemetery, Bayeux (to see the magnificent Bayeux Tapestry- 900 years old, about the Norman invasion of England). You can drive to visit Normandy and stay at Caen, but don't miss Bayeux. Rent a car in Paris and turn it in there unless you want to drive it to Colmar (which is on the opposite side of France).

Colmar is fine, but are you going to visit Strassbourg. Both cities are great, but not sure why they are on your list for a first trip to Europe. Also, why spend three nights there? You must be planning to see more than Colmar and even Strassbourg.

Cologne is a great city, the cathedral is magnificent, but you can see that in half a day. No reason to stay there for more than one nights. The city was bombed into dirt during WWII and only the cathedral survived virtually undamaged.

Milan is a great city, as is Verona, each has one night, but why skip Venice. Venice is a unique city with great history. Not to be missed.

Florence and Rome are two of my favorites. I would cut one night from Verona, you can see it enroute to Florence. Spend an extra day in Florence.

Munich is great, but it is some distance from Italy. Many people that go to Munich want to visit Bavarian castles, which might be better for another trip.

Remember, any time you travel from one city to another, you lose important sight seeing time. Also, if you drive, you have to face old European cities with narrow streets and sometimes hard to negotiate downtowns. If you take the train, then you have to pay for taxis to your B&B.

My first trip to mainland Europe, I planned three weeks there visiting Rome, Florence, Venice, Munich and Bavaria ending in Paris. Took the train everywhere. Of course, you may have different priorities or wants, which I understand, just think about my points and try to eliminate one or more of you places to visit.

Posted by
25531 posts

Yes, the time you will spend packing up, checking out of your hotel, driving to the next city and doing it all in reverse will really eat into every day you are switching cities--which is 8 of your 21 days. And you can hardly count the first day due to jet-lag. You definitely need to do some pruning, and you need to hold off on Poland for this trip.

I'm not sure having a car will make sense. Trains are usually faster and do not require you to spend time at car-rental agencies or looking for parking. And if you stick to trains (and buses if necessary), you won't receive $$$ traffic tickets months--or years--after your trip ends. A car might be useful in Normandy for seeing the WW II sites, but I'm not sure about your other potential destinations. Do you plan trips outside the other cities?

It is usually very costly to pick up a car in one country and drop it in another, so that's something to check out very carefully before going down that road. You probably need to tell the rental company what countries you plan to drive through, in any case.

How many people will be in your traveling party?

I think it's fair to say that the hotels, etc., listed in Rick's books tend to book up faster than others of the same caliber, for the obvious reason. But you don't have to stay in places he has recommended. You can go to a website like right now and see how many lodgings have rooms available in your price range in the cities you want to visit during the approximate time period you expect to be there. Unless you happen to hit a city with a big convention in town, I think you'll find lots of options.

Posted by
18801 posts

You will pay a big drop fee if you rent a car in Paris and drop it in Munich as it will have to be transported back to France to be rented again.

Second, most of your trip is better done by train and only a few spots will a car come in handy. A car is useless in Paris, Cologne, Milan, Florence, Rome, Verona, and Munich. It might be good to have in Caen to visit the D-Day beaches, Colmar to visit the wine villages, and maybe a day in Tuscany. The rest are all connected by frequent fast trains.

Third, I think you are short changing Paris. But that is your call.

It goes against standard forum advice, but I'd rent a car on arrival in Paris and drive to Caen. You could turn the car in at Caen when you are ready to leave and take the train to Paris. Then Cologne, then Colmar where you could rent a car for a couple of days while you are there. Take the train to Milan, then Florence, maybe rent a car for a day there, then train to Rome, then to Verona, and finally to Munich.

Lastly, unless there is something special in Cologne you want to see, I'd skip it and go from Paris to Colmar. Very good direct TGV service between the two. I like Cologne, but I would spend more time in Paris, and Florence.

Posted by
16893 posts

I would want more time in Paris and think that dipping into Germany at both ends of the trip is inefficient. A strategically placed flight could save you some time. For instance:

  • After driving in Normandy, fly from Paris to Rome, then work your way north through Italy to Munich by train. Side trips to Salzburg or Nuremberg would be easy from there.
  • If you keep the original direction of travel, then fly from Rome to Munich.

Cologne and Colmar might not look like big detours on a driving map, but check driving times at By train, it's not a very convenient route, with an average of two train connections per day, until you reach Milan. See train schedules for all of Europe on the German rail site: For flights within Europe, see

Posted by
68 posts

Thanks Geovagriffith for your advise;
We are a married 55 yr married couple in good shape
We are already locked into flying into Paris and out of Munich and staying for 21 nights.
We own a vineyard and small winery and love to see some of Europe's wine country.
Normandy is a place I always wanted to visit. My great uncle who i was named after "Joseph" was killed there on D-Day.
We are interested in Cologne area for the castles and vineyards in Rhine Valley and taking a River Cruise.
Colmar area in Alsace is where both my wife and I have ancestors from, so we like to see our roots. Also to see vineyards, historic towns and Black Forest in area

We have driven in Ireland for a two week trip staying a night or two at B&B and saw so much! We prefer driving so you can sightsee while driving and stop at any place that holds your interest. But we are limited by not speaking French, German or Italian.

We would greatly appreciate any better ideas to visit than we currently have., . We are thinking of a combination of train and renting a car.
Historic sites, vineyards are some of our highlights we like to see. Rome is a must for my wife on this trip.


Posted by
32104 posts


A few thoughts to add.....

I would not use a car for the trip you're proposing, for several reasons....

  • that's an enourmous amount of driving for a three week trip. You'll spend most of your trip looking at Europe through a windshield.
  • As someone else mentioned, renting a car in one country and dropping off in another often comes with huge fees.
  • For driving in France and especially Italy, each driver would need the compulsory International Driver's Permit which is used in conjunction with your home D.L.
  • There are some expensive "pitfalls" to be aware of when driving in Italy. For example, ZTL (limited traffic) areas, speed cameras, expensive parking, etc. Violations of each of these will incur hefty fines. The ZTL areas are prevalent in most towns in Italy. Do NOT drive in Florence as the town is just about saturated with automated ZTL cameras and each pass through them will result in fines, which you won't know about until several months after you've returned home.

Regarding the rest of your proposed Itinerary, some comments and questions.....

  • I agree with some of the others that this somewhat "busy" and will probably be exhausting. I would also suggest skipping one-night destinations as at best those will only allow a few hours for sightseeing.
  • What are you planning to see during your visit to Caen?
  • You might consider skipping Cologne and going directly from Caen to Colmar.
  • I'd suggest adding at least one night to Florence. There's lots to see there and it's a great "home base" for touring other places in Tuscany such as Siena or Lucca.
  • I'd probably add at least one night in Munich also, as that will provide more time for a day trip.
  • You could certainly fly from Rome to Munich, but if you'd like to use Verona as an intermediate stop, I'd suggest two nights in Verona. The trip through the Brenner Pass to Munich is one I always enjoy.
  • As you may be aware, many cities in Europe have more than one rail station, so you'll need to be aware of which ones you'll be using for each part of your trip.

If you haven't already, you might also find it helpful to read Europe Through The Back Door as that provides a lot of good tips on how to travel well in Europe. After that use the country or city-specific guidebooks to plan sightseeing, transportation, etc.

Posted by
1878 posts

I agree with those who say a car is a very bad idea for this itinerary. Since you are already locked in on flight, I suggest dropping Italy and stay four or five nights in Paris. Pick up car somewhere outside of Paris, so Normandy, then since you are interested in wine consider Burgundy on the way to Colmar. Drop car in France before switching to train for Germany. Or if you must then rent another car in Germany, but drop it before Munich. Consider Bacharach for the Rhineland. Three night nights minimum in Normandy, as someone has done it blasting through quickly, don't do it that way. One way to look at it would be you will save enough by covering less ground and avoiding drop fee to partially offset the cost of changing your flight, too (if you decided a revised itinerary required a flight change).

Addendum: It's very common when planning your first few trips to want to string together the greatest number of all the greatest places, no matter how far away they are. Don't feel bad about that impulse, but resist he temptation. Check driving times on Google maps, and add 25% to what that says. Your job in planning this trip is to fill 21 one days optimally, as someone above said, not to see everything in one trip. Also good choice to travel this time of year. Many of these places are crowded all the time, but you are way better off in October than high season.

Posted by
6307 posts

Paris (2 nights) - Caen (2 nights) - Cologne (3 nights)

This part seems mostly OK as long as you just want a very cursory look at Paris. But that trip to Cologne is a LONG one. I suggest just ONE night in Caen and Night #4 back in Paris... DROP the car in Paris - Then on Day 5 take the early-morning 7:55 train to Cologne (11:15.) Put bags in storage and spend a few hours there. Then...

"We are interested in Cologne area for the castles and vineyards in Rhine Valley and taking a River Cruise."

...take the train from Cologne to a Rhine town in the p.m. on Day 5 for 3 nights. That gives you 2 days for wine, castles, and cruises - and for a wine fest (every weekend in September in one town or the other.)

Please, don't use Cologne as a base for the Rhine. It's too far. And the Rhine towns are too lovely to stay too long in Cologne.

Do the rest by train, except for Verona. Just fly from Rome to Munich instead. That will be a nice trip.

Posted by
4132 posts

I'd scale back and save some stuff for the next trip. Think optimal experience, not most destinations.

If this is your first trip, you are going to be on a learning curve. You'll make a few missteps and won't be moving at top speed. If you construct an itinerary that is too tight, even a small snafu can through the whole thing off. Add to that you have not nearly exhausted the charms of any of your destinations before you leave.

I don't mean you should stay until you have seen everything, just that you should stay until diminishing returns sets in.

As for the sightseeing traveling ratio, do the math. 2 nights in Paris = 1 day, really. 1 day in Verona is barely worth stopping, let alone traveling vast distances to get to.

Posted by
1825 posts

You have 5 full days of travel not counting arrival and departure. PLUS 9 hotels in 21 days. Everyone's travel style is different but that trip doesn't sound like fun to me. Since you are locked into Paris and Munich...skip Cologne. Paris with a day trip to Normandy. Train Paris to Colmar and since you are into wine drive south through Burgundy. Long train ride (Dijon or Lyon) to Milan and work your way down to Rome. Fly to Munich from Rome. That would give you only two long travel days and the rest will be three hours or less which just burns half a day.

Posted by
4637 posts

As others say: only two nights in Paris? If you want to rent a car then Paris to Caen and Normandy beaches then if you are into vineyards and wineries why not to stop at Burgundy area then Colmar. I would skip Cologne, you want to see castles and vineyards on Rhine, that's actually south of Cologne. I would consider river cruise between Bingen and Koblenz, that's where it is the most beautiful. I would skip Milan, fly to Venice (probably from Frankfurt) then by train to Florence, rent a car and see some Tuscany wine area. From Florence by train to Rome, skip Verona, fly from Rome to Munich.
Most first-timers to Europe underestimate distances and want to see too many destinations in a relatively short time. It's better and less exhausting to concentrate on one geographical area like you did in Ireland. If you want to stay in Rick Steves recommended small hotels and B&Bs then book it as far ahead as you can.

Posted by
11613 posts

I understand how you feel about the places on your list. It's a faster pace than I would take, but some good advice so far. Fly from Roma to Munich, definitely.

I would plot out the places that are true priorities for you both, add a night to each of them, fill in remaining dates with your other choices. I would not stay in Koln if you want to see the prettier parts of the Rhine.

Posted by
1904 posts

We love driving in Europe, on our own schedule and explore at will. But, that is countryside, not for cities. Do you really want those cities or are you talking about the countryside near those cities?

You are very spread out and I can't imagine doing the whole thing by car, you also want to return the car to the same country. Look closely at a map, check the drives times to see what is really reasonable. I would think you would really need to fly for some, like down to Rome, and you wouldn't want a car in Italy unless you are doing the countryside. I would suggest you look at it closely and try to make changes to make the trip more reasonable time wise.

We have rented in Germany and driven into Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and back into Germany to drop the car. It is really much easier to do that. Or rent in one country, drop at the border and take a train across and pick up another car. There are some countries you can not take a certain rental cars into from another country. For instance, we HAD to rent from Avis to take our car into Slovenia. So, make sure you ask when you rent.

This sounds like a great trip, but I would really suggest you look at it closer to see if you really want it as planned.

Posted by
15477 posts

Two thoughts to add. The first is short and sweet: LESS is MORE. While the temptation is always to want to see more, the truth is that the more time you spend IN places and the LESS time you spend getting from one to another, the more you can enjoy them. You can never see it all, so instead of trying to see all you can, endeavor to enjoy all you see.

Second - about Normandy. Friends of mine went to Normandy mostly at his request (ex-Army, interested in military history). When they arrived, she mentioned that an uncle (or cousin?) had died there during the invasion (before she was born). The woman in the office looked up the name and took them to his grave with a small ceremony. I've heard hjim relate the story twice and both times her eyes welled up with tears. It turned out to be the most memorable part of her visit to France and a wonderful story to bring home and share with all her family.

Posted by
2445 posts

"Two thoughts to add. The first is short and sweet: LESS is MORE. While the temptation is always to want to see more, the truth is that the more time you spend IN places and the LESS time you spend getting from one to another, the more you can enjoy them. You can never see it all, so instead of trying to see all you can, endeavor to enjoy all you see."

I am going to memorize your words so aptly put! In my opinion, this is the point of travel.
Thank you,
Judy B

Posted by
68 posts

Thanks for ideas so far, we are still thinking and open to ideas and willing to change
Time to next location
1. Paris (2 nights) 2hr 5min Maybe change to (4) nights and day trip to Normandy area(Caen)
2. Caen (2 nights) 7hr 6min Normandy beach sights and Le Mont-Saint-Michel
3. Cologne (3 nights) 4hr 46min maybe change to 2 nights Koblenz area-wine and castle area
4. Colmar (3 nights) 6hr 19min family roots, vineyards, black forest, charming villages
5. Milan (1 night) 1hr 48min nothing special cutting ride from 8 hr plus, willing to change
6. Florence (2 nights) 2hr 12 min history & art
7. Rome (4 nights) 2hr 50min 1 day church related, 1 day old rome and maybe 1 day Pompeii excursion
8. Verona (1 night) 6hr 44min nothing special only to cut drive time to Munich ,willing to change
9. Munich (3 nights) not necessary Munich city more Bavaria area dd extra night(4) from Koblenz

To us traveling to one location from one location to another is interesting way to see area, especially if you can get out if something hits yours fancy to explore. We would prefer minimum stay 2 nights at each location, but dont see how it work work for this
Traveling is not tiring event to us. You only live once

Posted by
6163 posts

Look like you're determined to do this trip by driving. So what do you plan to do with the car in the big cities? It's a lousy way to get around in them, and you'll have to park it somewhere, and it won't be free. Driving does free you from train and flight schedules though. And expect a big dropoff charge if you drop it in a country where you didn't rent it. Try Auto Europe for some scenarios.

Posted by
3956 posts

Caen is worth two nights as a base for a one-day tour to the Normandy invasion beaches. The well-regarded peace museum is worth a visit and also organizes day tours, but you could commute easily to Bayeux for a day tour from there. A well-informed guide will make the experience come alive in ways that no solo visit, unless with a major in history, really can.
I'd eliminate both of the one-nighters in favour of more in-depth stays. For my tastes, Paris needs more days, at the expense perhaps of taking a day off Cologne and Colmar.

Posted by
18801 posts

I still think marrying your self to a car for the whole time, rather than giving freedom, will result in being slavery to a machine. A big headache. The title of your post is "1st time in Europe Advise", but you don't seem to want to take any of the advice given. That's OK. I never post my trip plans here, as probably everybody will tell me I'm doing it all wrong.

Posted by
68 posts

We are not set on car 100%. I think it would have to be a combination of trains, buses and maybe rental car for a couple days here in there. Would never want to drive in Paris, Florence or Rome.
In area like Alsace,Black Forest or Bavaria I don't think you would see much without a car
We still don't understand train tickets yet. Buying a pass compared to single fares.

Posted by
25531 posts

Don't rush to get a rail pass. They are costly. Italian trains are comparatively cheap, and a lot of your itinerary is within Italy.

If you're the type of traveler who intends to have his itinerary (at least the dates and cities, if not the specific sights) locked down way in advance, you can buy your long-range rail tickets around the time they first go on sale, when they are very inexpensive.

I spot-checked fares for some of your legs for travel dates in early March and found you could buy tickets at these prices today:

Paris-Caen 15 euros
Caen-Cologne 50 euros
Cologne-Colmar 117 euros (there might be a deal I'm missing)
Rome-Verona 20 euros
Verona-Munich 39 euros
Colmar-Milan 33 euros

Posted by
451 posts

You have this labeled "Plan A." What is Plan B?

I agree with the others that this is too busy. Personally, I would cut Italy completely and see it on a separate trip, this frees up 8 nights. I would visit the Loire Valley Castles after Caen and then head to wine country say Burgundy, then jump to Germany.

This is how I would arrange it for you. I would leave Rome in and remove the rest of Italy, it is good for another trip.

Paris 3, nights
Caen 2, nights
Ambiose in the Loire Valley, 3 nights, Castles
Bacharach, 3 nights this is a small town on the Rhine River
Colmar, 3 nights
Fly to Rome,
Rome, 4 days,
Flight or train to Munich
Munich, 3 nights, one day trip to Neuschwanstein.
Depart from Munich,

You can rent a car in Paris when you land and return it in Colmar, both are in France so no high return charges. If you fly out of Paris to Rome, you still drop the car back in France.

Once you have your itinerary decided go ahead and book accommodations.

Posted by
650 posts

You are still spending most of your time on the road, often to little purpose. I suggest something like this:

Paris 4 nights
Caen or Bayeux 3 nights (take the train and take guided Normandy tour or rent a car)
Rome 4 nights (fly from Paris)
Florence 4 nights (train from Rome art plus train day trip to Lucca or Siena and guided wine tour)
Koblenz, Cologne, or other town in region 3 nights (fly to Frankfurt and rent car)
Colmar 3 (drive)
Munich 4 (drive and return car)

You might take day from Munich and add it anywhere you'd like to spend more time.

Train passes won't be cost effective.

Posted by
6307 posts

It doesn't matter to me whether you drive or take the train, but you do not need a car for this trip if you prefer to take the train

"You will only 'need' one (a car) in Koeln to go along the Rhine and in Colmar."

Actually, there are train lines on BOTH sides of the Rhine River with regular service to all kinds of Rhine towns!

Left side rail route:
Right side rail route:

In area like Alsace,Black Forest or Bavaria I don't think you would see much without a car...

To reach Colmar you take the train via Freiburg to Breisach and transfer to the Euregiobus. See map at top of this page:

The Black Forest is well covered by train service... you're talking about a one-day outing there from Colmar, right? Now Colmar is not a good base for seeing the Black Forest, actually. Freiburg wouldn't be bad - you could visit Colmar and the Black Forest fairly easily from there by train or by car Anyway here's a map of the Black Forest. Not all towns are noted but all the dotted lines are rail lines that criss-cross the Black Forest:

Bavaria is dense with rail lines as well. But you have just 3 nights in Munich, so I wouldn't expect to see much of Bavaria by car either.

From the clues you have left, the one place where a car might be most helpful is in Colmar, assuming you intend to explore your roots in that area.

Posted by
1825 posts

The best advice I got on this forum when I was a 1st timer to Europe.......Don't plan like it's your last trip to Europe.

Posted by
15477 posts

About a car. . . you've been to Ireland, which is quite hard to get around using public transportation. Ireland is unusual in that respect. Continental Europe and especially the countries you are visiting have excellent rail connections throughout. Train stations are in town centers, where driving is awful and parking is both hard and expensive. . . and not just in the biggest cities. Trains are comfortable and relaxing and they travel as fast or faster (high speed trains get up to 160 mph and more) without traffic delays.

One place that sounds like a car would be advantageous is Normandy - and quite possibly better to take a train there and only use the car in the area.

The other is Alsace/Black Forest. You can drive back and forth between France and Germany without a problem. Just return the car in the same country. It's not a bad idea.

Posted by
1904 posts

I think you are moving too fast, even if traveling isn't too tiring for you, there is so much to see and experience I think you are selling yourself short. You only live once, so do it well so you can really experience each location. From our own experiences, we found that we don't like anything less than 3 night stays unless we are in a tiny village, and we'd likely only put one of those stops in a 4 week trip. Like you, we love a car ride and don't mind driving as seeing all new areas are wonderful. But, it is really inconvenient to have a car while trying to visit cities. Better to park outside and take public transport into the city. So, then if you need to do that, why bother with a car? We often rent a car for a month, driving about, but Italy is our least favorite place to drive. I'd advise a train for Italy. And, as others have said, the public transport is very easy going from city to city. It is the countryside where a car is wonderful.

I'd really look this over and see what else you can come up with. I think csu and Jen both posted a good plan.