23 days / 2 brothers / Europe by Train

My brother and I want to see Europe by train! I'm 34 he's 23. We have from 7/31 to 8/24 to bounce around and have some fun. I love music, architecture, museums, food and wine/beer. He loves photography, music, museums, churches, food and wine/beer. Here's our preliminary plan (we have our flight into london already, and train from London to Brussels tickets booked as well...everything else is up for changes/ideas/suggestions: London - 2 nights + PM train to Brussels Brussels - 1 night + PM train to Amsterdam Amsterdam - 2 nights + train to Koln to NightTrain to Vienna Vienna - 3 nights + NightTrain to Rome Rome - 4 nights ?Fly/Train? worthwhile by train or waste of a day+?) Barcelona - 4 nights + NightTrain to Paris Paris - 4 nights (Train arrivals are mostly morning times/departures are late afternoon for NTs. Except London to Brussels to Amsterdam) I figured NTs would allow a bit more time in each city, and lessen the day train travel time. Is this too agressive of a outline? Any suggestions or ideas for us?
I'd love to squeeze in Tuscany for the food/wine & history too? We are both very flexible people. Usually my travel plans are my arrival date and departure date...anything goes in between. From what I've read/learned about Europe, planning pays off. Thanks in advance for your help/ideas!

Posted by Andreas
Frankfurt am Main, Germany
2511 posts

The two of you like wine and beer and you're not going through Germany and the Czech Republic? Köln is a beer city, it's got a Roman museum, the 2nd largest Gothic cathedral in the world, one of the best night life scenes in Germany... And the vinyards of the Mosel river valley and the Rhine river valley are nearby...

Posted by Rob
Southern California, Ca
9 posts

Ron, Thanks for the reply. I have been consuming as much info/guide books/TV shows, and online content about what to do/see. I have read RS Europe through the back door and RS Best of Europe. I will likely read a few of his country books too, as well as a few other brands to get a broader base of info. We are not much into staying in London for too long, as we would rather spend more time in and around Italy, Barcelona, Paris, and ideally Vienna too. (our family heritage is Italian/Spanish) We are also into music, hence wanting to make it to Vienna and see the Concert hall, and catch a performance or 2 (bummed the orchestra is on leave at during the summer - which is making me lean towards cutting Vienna out and the distance...but I don't know??) Is Vienna a worthy stop on our itinerary?
I appreciate the idea of having flexible schedules. We wanted to make room reservations at our destinations, but not much else and just see what happens when we are there. Andreas - thanks for the suggestion. We have a stop over in Koln enroute to Vienna. I love Gothic Cathedrals and great beer. We're not much into night life (clubs, discos etc...but who knows). Any good Concert Halls in Koln? What's the best way to get from Rome to Barcelona? Train or Fly?

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Hello Rob. If you desire to be at Italy and Spain, and you desire to see Paris, why will you fly to London ? And why are you going to Brussels and Amsterdam and Koln ? If you travel to all of those places, you will not have enough time for enjoying being in Italy and Spain. Italy is more than Rome. Spain is more than Barcelona. And, in your proposed itinerary you would be at London and at each of the cities in northern Europe for a very short time, you would probably not enjoy being at any of those places. And, I do not recommend traveling in a train all night. Most people would not get a good night's sleep in a train.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2174 posts

I'd do the following modifications: - stay on extra night in London, take the first train in the morning to Brussel, visit it as day-trip then take the last Thalys high-speed train (it's around 9PM I think) to Amsterdam - instead of losing 18h en-route, fly between Amsterdam and Wien - it makes no sense to lose 28h travelling between Roma and Barcelona. Take a flight.

Posted by Tom
Easley, SC, USA
268 posts

Hi Rob, You have a great idea! I love seeing Europe from a train window. I did that for a month last April (made it all the way to Istanbul!) and I'll do it again this coming summer. I have a couple thoughts for you. I, too, love classical music and opera, and I'm also bummed out that none of the big names is in season when I'll be there this time. I heard some amazing performances last April in Berlin, Leipzig, Budapest, and esp in Prague, which I'll never forget! I found them ahead of time using a website called (I think) www.bachtrack.com. It lists an amazing range of performances, times, locations, and often the major ions on the program, for classical music, opera, theater, and other genres all over the major cities in Europe, incl where you'll be, and where you might decide to go. I.e., if the Vienna Phil is not in Vienna, but they are at the Salzburg Festival, for example, why not see if you could catch them in Salzburg! It's a quick train ride from Vienna and it's also one of the neatest smaller cities in all of Europe, not to mention the home of that Amadeus guy, as I recall! Also, maybe see what's on in Milan, vs. Rome. Just some thoughts... Have a great time! Tom

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

Young and single men with a little of the Bohemian spirit might think of Amsterdam, Munich and Prague as must sees. Italy is also great. Replacing night trains with inexpensive flights on budget airlines can save you money and provide time to take in other great cities. You might consider flying directly into Amsterdam. Or, visit London for a couple of days, and then fly EasyJet into Amsterdam from Gatwick Airport. I too like visiting Cologne, and it's underrated as a destination. The train trip down to Munich from there is easy. Munich has many sights that should be of interest to you, including great beer halls, great palaces and Dachau. And it's a great music city. Prague is simply a city for young people, and it has a very sociable atmosphere. It's a straight train ride down to Vienna, and yes it's a wonderful city. Stay at K&T Boardinghouse in Viennacheap and best location in town. The train ride from Vienna into Italy is tough, and it requires switching off to a bus ride through the Alps before getting back on a train. Vienna-Venice flights are very expensive, however. You should be looking to Vueling Airlines to take you from Italy to Spain.
You can look forward to experiences that you will cherish for a lifetime.

Posted by Christina
New York, NY, 10025
365 posts

The OP says everything through the train to Brussels is already booked. Do you mean to have almost no time in Brussels, Rob? One overnight means you ent see much.

Posted by Rob
Southern California, Ca
9 posts

Hey Everyone, Thanks for the thoughtful replies. I considered a lot of different options tweaking our itinerary to spend more time in top priority cities, based on some of your recommendations. Here is what we are looking at doing now: London 2 nightsBrussels 2 nights - Afternoon train to ParisParis 4 nights - Elipsos NT to Barcelona (I've read about this train, anyone have personal experience with it to give me some tips?)Barcelona 4 nights - Fly to RomeRome 4 nights - Train to TuscanyTuscany 2 nights We have 5 days to spare in case we meet some great people, or want to stay longer or visit Vienna. Any thoughts on these revisions? Also, I understand everyone travels differently, but since its peak season, any recommendations on booking hotels? I want to have flexibility to be able to check out early if we meet up with fellow travelers and decide to tag along on some random adventure, but I don't want to be in a place with little to no choice on hotel. I've thought about booking the first night in each city in advance, but would hate to have to move hotels because they are booked if we decide to stay there longer...???
You are all very helpful! Thanks

Posted by Rob
Southern California, Ca
9 posts

BTW
Christina, yep we are already booked from London to Brussels on the Eurostar. We decided to stay an extra night in BRU also (I love belgian beer, especially the flanders/farmhouse/sour style beers & trappists) Andre, thanks for the input on flying vs train. Sounds like we'd save a bunch of time flying from Bar to Rome, and Italy to Vienna. David, we booked our air into london already. We talked about AMS last night again, and decided to nix it and spend more time in Italy. I'll have a little more time than brother will, so I may visit Cologne after Vienna Tom, thanks for the info about bachtrack.com., and Salzburg for the orchestra...and that Amadeus guy:) We discussed Prague too...but that may not fit into this trip.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Hello Rob. Your revised itinerary for your trip is much better. And I think your decision to plan for five unscheduled nights is a wise choice. I guess : when you will be at Italy you will decide to stay at Italy more days for you to see more than cities in Italy. You asked about hotel reservations. I recommend booking a room in Rome for 4 nights, and booking a room in Paris for 4 nights. Read each hotel's cancellation policy. They might let you cancel a reservation, in the morning of the day for which a room is reserved for you, or the previous day you could cancel, with no penalty. I seriously doubt that you will decide to be at Paris less than 4 nights. You could go on a day trip from Paris to a place in France. And I doubt that you will decide to be at Rome less than 4 nights. You could go on a day trip from Rome to a place in Italy, such as Orvieto. Orvieto is a grand hill town, it has a cathedral, Classico wine, and ceramics.
Bon voyage ! Buon viaggio ! buen viaje ! Do you need advice or suggestions for choosing travel bags and travel accessories ?

Posted by Rob
Southern California, Ca
9 posts

Thanks Ron, We appreciated your idea to focus on fewer countries and more time for enjoying and exploring. Too funny, I saw a RS episode on PBS last night about hill towns in Italy, and had read about Orvieto in his book. That is on the list of stuff to do now! I use a REI Vagabond bag. Carry-on and less than 20lbs packed. Works great for me. I tried out a couple packing cubes my last trip, those things are GREAT! Organized, lightweight traveling is soooo wonderful.
Getting excited to go!

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Yes Rob. I use two packing cubes. A packing cube is made of pliable material, and mesh material at the top for allowing air to go out of it when it is squeezed. Each of my packing cubes is 3 and 1/2 inches thick. I put the two packing cubes in my carry-on size bag.
The REI Vagabond bag (currently available at www.REI.com) has a length of 24.5 inches. That exceeds the maximum allowable length (22 inches) of a carry - on bag in the passenger compartment in an airplane (in the "coach" section of the airplane). American Airlines, and other airlines.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2687 posts

Hi, Are you including hostels as places to stay or just small hotels? It's good that you don't have every transportation and trip move locked in since you are there in high season. Good in setting aside 5 days for unexpected contingencies, adding extra time to Vienna would be my choice culturally, historically, and in the area of cuisine.

Posted by Rob
Southern California, Ca
9 posts

Thanks Fred, we are leaning towards the small hotels. The only other transportation we are gonna book in advance is the NT from Paris to Barcelona...and maybe the flight from Barcelona to Rome? Ron, I've been lucky so far with my pack. New Zealand, Costa Rica, Australia, and throughout the US. It's not usually bursting at the seams, so its made it on as a carry-on...so far anyway.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2174 posts

You should avoid the painfully slow and crap Elipsos train and book one of the brand new TGVs that will be rolling out to Barcelona from Paris in less than 6h starting mid-April. Night trains are to be avoided like you would avoid overnight Greyhound journeys in USA trips. Only last resort.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2687 posts

Hi, On the night trains you've got planned: I've taken the Köln-Vienna one, partially but the opposite direction, Frankfurt-Vienna. Yours would stop in Frankfurt by 0600 then continue to Köln...no problems, had a compartment seat along with four other passengers, (all pleasant, younger than I). If you're not adverse to riding at night (reservation is mandatory, the first thing the controller wants to see, then your ticket or Pass), I recommend the Köln Hbf.-Wien West route. It does save you most of a day. Barcelona to Paris...I suggest doing this by day, Barcelona to Perpignon, local train, even if you stay a night in Perpignon, then Perpignon-Paris on the TGV direct. Vienna to Rome: take it from Munich as your transfer point... 1st leg Wien West-Munich Hbf on the Railjet, 2nd leg the CNL night train. "planning pays off." How true, if you're picky as to where to stay...hotels or hostels as regards to price and location, eg., near the train station.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Fred, in your reply dated 3/28 at 9:00 P.M., your information about train travel for Rob is totally irrelevant. See Rob's replies dated 3/28 at 11:02 A.M. and 3/27 at 2:46 P.M. Rob decided to not go to Koln. He will travel from Brussels to Paris, and from Paris to Barcelona via train. He decided to fly from Barcelona to Rome.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2174 posts

@Fred: there are now TGV already reaching Figueres from Paris, and in a few weeks they will reach Barcelona!

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2687 posts

Good, I stand corrected. He indicated that information is his first reply to me, didn't he? @ Andre...good information to know.

Posted by bronwen
maplewood, new jersey, usa
750 posts

I would skip Rome. Too hot. And Paris in late August will be very wuiet and lots closed i think). I would do Paris first then Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Heidelberg, Munich, Prague, Krakow and or Berlin. Something like that.

Posted by Rob
Southern California, Ca
9 posts

Thanks for the advice on the trains. I was hoping to do a NT but, I've read mixed review...but seat61.com has some great reviews on them? I'm torn now. I hope its not like greyhound buses...Elipsos isn't cheap for sleeper compartments. I figured it could be a fun experience, and one less hotel (but the $$ seems on par with hotel rooms) and we would wake up in Barcelona. I'll leave this option open upon further review. The TGV sounds like a good option once they are running too. It's time to start looking into and booking rooms in Paris/Barcelona/Rome now! Yeah!

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2174 posts

night trains are not "fun", I really don't understand why some people see them as a thrill ride. At least a daytime TGV has the appeal of super high tech.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2687 posts

Rob, As for your being torn on taking a night train, I'll only comment on the ones I've taken: the EN and CNL. The latter is top of the line in night trains. Of the many types of trains I've taken throughout the years in Europe, nothing is even close, even buses in Poland, to comparing them with Greyhound. Rides in Europe are pleasant and enjoyable, whereas Greyhound is something you just put up with to get there. I certainly don't mind the night train experience, did it the first time in Sweden over 40 years ago, still do it now but on the CNL. It really is something you have to decide for yourself. If the locals can do it, so can I. They, however, do fill up. I know because I couldn't get a last minute seat reservation once in the summer.