1st Trip Help! Euro 2013 Winter

Hello all! This December I am going to take a 16-18 day (December 22-January 5-8) with my girlfriend before we start our graduate school programs in February. This will be her first time traveling to Europe, (first time traveling ever) but she is very adventurous and outgoing! We will be backpacking and attempting to stay on a "slimmer" budget. I am in charge of planning the majority of the trip so any advice from anyone would be valued and greatly appreciated! As of now, our "rough" itinerary is: Prague (Dec. 22-25/6) Vienna (Dec. 26-28) Overnight Train to: Milan (Dec. 29-Jan 1/2) Southern France: Marseille? Nice? Montpellier? (Jan. 1/2-Jan. 3/4)
Barcelon (Jan 3/4 - End) However, after some extensive perusing through these boards I now feel that this route flawed from a time/travel and budget standpoints (due to travel) My goal was to get the Europe Christmas feel in Prague/Vienna before moving to more temperate weather in Italy/France/Spain. Again, any feedback/advice/comments/tips on the itinerary, winter travel, train travel, or anything else you can think of will be greatly appreciated! Cheers! And have a wonderful day!

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

You have a number of places, and lots of moving means lots of money. All of Europe celebrates Christmas, so you could go almost anyplace. You will probably need a variety of clothes as well. I would not expect it to be too warm however, even in the south. You maybe need to narrow it down a bit and decide where you want to fly in and out of. I would try to pick two countries... maybe Spain/France and see what kind of itinerary you can come up with. If it were my first trip I would skip Milan, Vienna, Marseille... only because there are so many more beautiful places for a first trip. You could also focus on France/Italy and have a great trip.
Do you already have your flights???

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

There is no right and no wrong. If you have a good time or not, for the most part, is up to what you make of where you are. Looking for more temperate climate in January never made a lot of sense to me. When I go to coast of Spain or France I want to go when I can enjoy what most people go there for...the coast. I doubt I would find more enjoyment in on the Spanish coast because at 45F it is warmer than the coast of New Jersey where it is 35F. Check more than temperature. Check participation. I would rather be in 30F dry weather than 45F wet weather. For my enjoyment you started out in the right places with Prague and Vienna but then you took a wrong turn. I would suggest you look at Berlin, Prague, Vienna and then Budapest. It's going to be cold, possibly real cold. There is probably going to be a few feet of snow on the ground; but it's Christmas for goodness sakes! It should be cold and there should be snow! Embrace it and enjoy it. Go to the Christmas Markets, go to Concert Halls. These places have been dealing with winter weather since the beginning of time and they have developed great ways of dealing with it. I spend about every other Christmas in Budapest so I can help you with that part and there are a lot of good folks here that can help you with the other cities.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

22 December, Arrive Berlin 25 December, Train to Prague because dang near everything is closed so you might as well spend the day on the train. Then have reservations someplace for a Christmas dinner in Prague. (4.5 hours, morning train) 29 December, Train to Vienna (4.5 hours, morning train) 31 December, Train to Budapest (3.5 hours, morning train). Celebrate New Year's in Budapest.
4 January, Home

Posted by Steffen
San Diego, California
2 posts

Thank you all for your replies and advice! I have definitely been convinced to rethink the whole trip. No flight tickets or rail passes have been purchased at all as of yet. James, I like your plan of Berlin-Prague-Vienna-Budapest. I also see the value in your point regarding weather and participation and wet/dry factors. Would you suggest staying within those cities for the time spent there or taking day trips from those cities to other smaller areas? That route seems great but if anyone has any feedback on a route that heads west from Berlin, possibly down into France, I would love to compare that as well. Again, thank you so much for your help!

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3509 posts

Also check if things are open in Prague on Dec. 26. I know that everything is closed that day in Budapest.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3509 posts

Keep in mind that these are the shortest days of the year. In Budapest you'll have about 8.5 hours of daylight, in Berlin 7.5 hours, but in Barcelona over 9. For me, that means sticking to ruban locations where there are things to see and do after dark. Then choosing your location should be based on what kinds of things you want to see. You could start with 2-3 days in one of the northern cities with nice Christmas markets and maybe snow, then spend Christmas day either on a train to Italy or a cheap flight to Spain. Either one of those will have tons of sightseeing. Spain is cheaper, but both have excellent rail systems so it is easy to see a lot of places in a short time.

Posted by Roy
Auburn, AL
803 posts

Christmas markets are nice, but, considering the weather in Europe, including the southern countries, at that time of year, I would rather be in San Diego.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

I would also include big cities... maybe think about Paris and London and then you could spend a bit of time in the countryside from either city to soak up a bit of Christmas ambience and maybe a market or two. Paris does have a market, just don't know when it closes. I have also enjoyed New Years in the Cotswolds one year and it was great fun.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
648 posts

I spent one Christmas in Stuttgart when the only open place we could find to eat was the bowling alley on the US military post. But then, we weren't in any touristy part of town. Back when I lived in Nuremberg, just about everything did shut down for a week or more between Christmas and New Year's. You may want to do some research on what will be going on in your chosen cities during the time of your trip. If you two are people who like to hit the mountains in the winter, this may not matter to you, but it will be very cold for someone from San Diego in most parts of Europe, even the Cote d'Azur. One place you can check for temperatures, rainfall, snowfall, is Weatherbase. I think the easiest way to use this is to scroll down to the bottom of the page to the Vacation Finder. There you click on the month you want to go and put in some preferred temperatures (or leave the box at "don't care"), and then click on to your chosen location(s). The data is organized by country and it spits out a list of cities. For more detail, you can click on the city you want and see a monthly weather averages summary. At the right of each category, you can click on a little chart symbol which will graph the data for you. I found it easier to arrow back to the list of countries to get the data for the next location. In general I'd say that Christmas in Europe is far more low-key than in the U.S. For the vibe, I'd be sure to start the trip somewhere with a good Christmas market, and I think all the options you're considering probably do have that.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

"...on a route that heads west from Berlin...into France...." You mean to Paris? Here is where you can pick your own route. Berlin-Köln-Paris, Berlin-Duisburg-Köln-Paris. I would suggest going Berlin-Frankfurt Hbf., then Frankfurt Hbf to Paris Est. Both legs on the ICE if you time it right.

Posted by Dawn
Denver, CO
258 posts

Here are a couple more possibilities - train travel time to each city is in parenthesis: Arrive Prague Vienna (4.5 hours) Salzburg (2.5 hours) Munich (2 hours) Paris (6 hours) OR Arrive Prague Vienna (4.5 hours) Salzburg (2.5 hours) Venice (6 hours)
Florence (2 hours) There are just so many fun possiblities, it will be hard to choose! Enjoy the planning, that's half the fun!