Advice wanted on three week European itinerary - update

My wife and I with 2 daughters aged 15 and 18 are planning a 3 week tour through Europe in October of 2013 (after a one week cruise across the Atlantic). I would like feedback on this preliminary itinerary. Sept 29 - Arrive in Southampton. Train to London. Tour of Westminster Abby and doing Rick's Westminster walk. Sept 30 – see London sights (Tower of London, Thames cruise, British museum, changing of the guard) Oct 1 – London sights (national gallery) and then train to Bath, and the Roman Bath tour. 2 – Train to Liverpool and the Magical Mystery tour then fly out to Belfast. 3 – Spend day with friends in Belfast 4 – Fly from Belfast to Leeds and train to Hull. Board the evening overnight Ferry to Zeebruges. 5 – Arrive in Zeebruges and train into Brugge. 6 –Train to Frankfurt, rent a car and drive to Bacharach. If there's time, a short Rheine cruise (Bacharach to Boppard)...if not, take in the watchman tour. 7 – Drive down to Rothenburg. 8 –Drive down to Kings Castle. Then drive to Munich, drop off car and take train to Salzburg. 9 –Salzburg sights (Old Town, Hellbrunn, Mirabell)...and lunch at the Augustiner Braustubl. continued

Posted by Bernd
Beaumont, Alberta, Canada
7 posts

10 –Train to Vienna and a sight or two, time permitting. Take 8:48pm overnight train to Venice. 11 – Arrive 8:30am. Take in some sight-seeing (Doge's palace, St. Mark's square). 12 –Sight-seeing around Venice (perhaps San Michele). Evening vaporetto trip and coffee at St. Marks. 13 –Train to Rome and do the Dolce Vita Stroll and perhaps a gallery or museum. 14 – Do Ricks Caesar shuffle and in the evening his Heart of Rome walk. 15 – Vatican tour. Evening train to Civitavecchia and 10:15pm ferry to Barcelona. 16 – Arrive in Barcelona 6pm 17 – Sightseeing (Ramblas walk, Barri Gotic walk, Casa Mila) 18 – Morning flight to Paris. Champs Elysees walk. 19 – Notre-Dame tour and Ricks historic Paris walk, Rue cler, and evening on the Eiffel tower. 20 – Versailles, evening on the Champs Elysees. October 21 – fly home We would appreciate any suggestions on feasibility, must see places, etc. I'm assuming that with four of us, taxis will be economical in most places. I will also be booking online point to point train tickets as soon as they come online.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

How much extra time you should allow for for train station logistics depends on the specifics... the same specifics you might consider regarding airport transfers: big or small station; location vs your hotel; whether traffic, missed buses, etc, might notably increase your transit time to the station; whether you have the tickets (lines can be long and slow, and even the machines will often have meaningful lines, particularly in small stations); how you feel about sprinting through stations and up and down stairs with your luggage; whether it's reserved seating (so you need time to find the car) or open seating; whether it's a holiday or rush hour; whether you know any of the language; etc. Not being crazy about sprinting after the train, I often give myself an hour for dealing with logistics in a large station, more if it might take meaningful time to buy the ticket. Looking at your comment about experiencing the people/culture, you really need to give yourself a few days in one place to even start that process. And I think your comment about a tight budget reinforces the value of decreasing the number of stops (ie, transportation costs).

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

You have obviously done a great deal of reading and preparation to figure out this itinerary. While it looks great on paper, traveling to so many places will probably make your odyssey a blur. It's very physically draining to take fast paced self directed travel for a week. But to run from place to place for 3 weeks would be more than difficult. We used to travel like this, but now prefer to stay a few days in one centrally located place and do day trips. Our European trips are limited to three major cities/places, and we get so much more out of our trips.
It's just not possible to see everything on one trip.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
701 posts

I remember our infamous 3 week trip in 2010...12 places in 21 days...from
UK thru France/Germany/Italy/Switz/back to UK...when reviewing pictures, we got to Munich...my husband did not even remember being there! As others will tell you, you will see more of airports/train stns/hotel lobbies then actual sights. We had a whole 4 nights in Rome and still hurried thru so much. It can be done, but the cost alone of travelling so much between planes/trains is gonna be out of this world. I really think you and your daughters, would enjoy it so much more to cut at least half of what you want to see - I can't suggest what, because you would have to decide what is most impt - but I'd stick with UK, maybe thru Germany to Austria/Italy, or fly from UK/Ireland to Italy/Spain. Good luck and have fun whatever you decide to do.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2855 posts

Seems too busy to me. I recommend that you divide the list into two categories: 1) must do, and 2) maybe. I would eliminate most of the "maybes." One suggestion: can you fly from Belfast to Belgium? That would free up time for Brugge.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

I stopped counting after 9 or 10 days, but it's my impression you have a new town/city almost every day. I'd suggest going to websites for Deutsche bahn (for trains) and the airlines, and calculating how much time you will be in transit. I think you'll find you're spending almost as much time in transit as touring. Generally, you can assume you'll lose at least a half day each time you take a train or plane. And even if you have a car, you'll still lose some time packing and checking out and then finding your new hotel, checking in, orienting in a new place, and unpacking. One possibility would be to spend 1.5 weeks in England and Ireland. Since you're flying to Belfast (hardly the most scenic city, although interesting) for a single day, why not extend it and spend some time touring Ireland? There are some really beautiful areas of Northern Ireland, and most people really enjoy time in the the Republic. Then go to continental Europe and pick a country if most interest (or at most 2 countries). Just a possibility.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3403 posts

Bernd, you simply must revamp your itinerary! You are going to Bath on October 1 sometime in the afternoon and the very next day you take a train to Liverpool only to leave Liverpool that same day for Belfast! This is madness. Why are you going to Bath in the first place? Oct. 4 is a complete travel day and you will have a half day in Brugge. A half day! You are not taking into account the time that gets eaten up with checking into and out of hotels, to and from train stations, etc. The rest of the itinerary is blindingly speedy, as well, and I can't see how any of you will really enjoy this 3 week marathon, with a half day here and a half day there. Resign yourselves to the fact that you really cannot see everything on the wish lists on this one trip.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3487 posts

When you look at travel times, don't make the mistake of thinking that a 2-hour train ride means 2 hours. It means getting 4 people up, breakfasted, packed, and out the door, going to the train station with enough time to allow for traffic and waiting time, finding your way around the train station to your train - and maybe going through a security check. Then when the train arrives (hopefully on time), making your way to your hotel to check-in and drop your luggage. Flying takes longer, because the airports are usually far from town centers and you are required to arrive much earlier. How much luggage are you going to take with you? The more you take, the slower you go. It takes longer to pack and unpack, and there is more to lug around. If you are traveling "light" (with teenage girls????), that means hand laundry OFTEN. I honestly don't see when you are going to clean your clothes. With so many one-nighters, your stuff may not have time to dry and you certainly won't be able to use a laundry service.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3403 posts

One more comment from me and I'll stop (before Nigel reports me). In Paris you have one full day, one half day and one evening (after Versailles). On the full day and on the evening you plan to walk on the Champs Elysées, arguably the most boring thing to do in Paris. It used to be interesting, it no longer is. Also you plan to walk on rue Cler, only slightly less boring than the Champs Elysées. Consider instead a walk in the Marais (Place des Vosges comes to mind), or on avenue de Montaigne (you'll see the Canadian Embassy plus some of the most high end shops in Paris) or all around the Place de la Madeleine. Naughty Pigalle might please your daughters and you could take the funicular up to Sacre Coeur.

Posted by Bernd
Beaumont, Alberta, Canada
7 posts

Brilliant fast responses...thanks so much! I knew going in I was risking too much...i tried following Rick's tips on staying two nights in most places and doing some of the longer travel legs overnight...but it seems unanimous that I'm packing in too much...I'll have to make some revisions. Swan, I love your suggestion on flying into Belgium. A couple of questions on train travel: Can I assume that with four people, taxis make good economical sense to get to stations? Sherry mentioned the extra time required for train travel..once we leave the hotel, what would be a good average estimate for how much time I need to add on to each travel leg...2 hours? In terms of costs, I did all the point to point calculations and its loads cheaper than any of the passes, so the financial costs are well within our tight budget. I know we can't see everything...our goal was to get one flavor from each area by enjoying the people, food and just being there...not necessarily taking in all the gallery and museum sights. We are traveling light (carry on) and my daughters are more interested in experiencing the various cultures than in shopping (I know...not typical). I appreciate Norma's specific comments on Paris...I had based our itinerary on Rick's picks...so I'm confused that the Champs Elysées scores so low? But those sort of suggestions were exactly what I was looking for.
I will hit the books again and revise...

Posted by Susan
St Paul
35 posts

It would be helpful to know if your family usually travels at this fast pace or if this is a new venture. This itinerary would be exhausting for two adults, add two teenagers to the mix, the stress could be overwhelming. You know your family best. I just know that my family would not tolerate it without a few screaming matches and some sulking mixed in!

Posted by Richard
Los Angeles
631 posts

The television show "Amazing Race" called, they said you are over doing it. I would do...London, Paris, Germany, Rome. 4-5 days each. That would be a much more enjoyable trip. Be able to actually experience a little where you are and not just see it passing by. I over did it the first time and won't make that mistake again. With such a tight schedule you will be screwed when the inevitable something happens to mess with your plan. Visiting friends is nice, we did it last time but looking back we went out of our way to see a mediocre village when we could have seen something better. They don't visit us so what's the point. If you were going to see Ireland I would understand but Belfast? Is that on anyone's must see list? The self guided walks are great but you skipped Rick's Night time walk in Rome which you shouldn't miss. Leave more time for Rome and you won't be sorry.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9077 posts

Don't do it. Just don't. This trip would be exhausting by yourself, but taking two teenage daughters along? The fatigue is really going to start hitting by days 5-7, and the rest of the trip will be a death march. You haven't even accounted for jet lag on the first two days.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
677 posts

Since you're revising the plan, I'll just make a couple of suggestions: a) I assume some of you are Beatles fans and so the Liverpool tour is a "must see". In that case, drop Bath and go from London to Liverpool and onto Belfast. Bath is nice enough (overrated really), but you are going to Rome - plenty of Roman things to see there. If you catch an evening train out of London that gives you almost an extra day in London. b) Although some of the trip is busy, curiously on days 4/5 you take a break to take a complicated route to Brugge. Why not fly direct to Amsterdam or to Manchester and then connect to Brussels, both of which would get you nearer to Brugge faster. c) Something similar happens when you go to Barcelona. Is it intentional to spend a day "cruising" across the med? Perhaps it is, and might be quite relaxing, but there are quicker ways.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2595 posts

I can typically do some fast trips, but even for me this is making me dizzy. Especially with teenagers... although they may be great travelers it appears you will be nagging them constantly to repack and get going. I like Richard's idea as well. Still lots of variety in what you will see and a ton of cultural differences. I might rent a car in Germany to see a bit of the countryside and villages and you could also make the drive to Salzburg which is quite beautiful. I would check out the rates on the trains vs. car. Paying for 4 people on the train may be more than renting for a few days or a week. Just nice to have some freedom for part of the trip...

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Agree with everyone else who thinks this is way too much. Here's a couple guidelines I'd suggest for revising it: 1) The half British Isles, half continent approach: Split your first 7-10 days between UK and Ireland (or just the UK) and then fly or train (or ferry, I guess, I don't know much about the ferries) to the continent, focusing on geographically contiguous areas for visiting the continent, so realistically, Benelux/France, or France/Germany, or maybe even France/Italy or France/Spain depending on your interests. I understand the appeal of doing a cultural sampler, but realistically due to transit times it's just not a good idea, and here's another reason why I think people should be careful with trying to jam in too many different countries/cultures in one trip: the better acquainted you are with a culture, language, and place, the better you will travel within it, and more efficiently, which cuts down on stress and even expense. If you decided to say, "just" do Spain for 3 weeks, you could and would still encounter a real variety of cultures (large European countries are far from culturally or physically homogeneous) but by the end your travel Spanish would be surprisingly good, doing euro to dollar conversions in your head would be second nature, you'd understand how the train system works, etc. While the Shengen zone and Euro does make it less complicated these days, rushing through many different countries creates a "oh god, how do I say 'excuse me' in THIS language now? do i pay for using the toilet here? is a restaurant likely to take a credit card or will i need cash?' it's little things that all add up to travel stresses. Obviously you're not going to just do 1 country but I'd keep this general principle in mind as a counterbalance to the country-sampler approach.

Posted by Bernd
Beaumont, Alberta, Canada
7 posts

Thanks all...great posts! Some clarification: jet-lag wont be an issue since we're coming into England off a one week Cunard cruise. The Belfast leg isn't to see Belfast, it's to see our friends (I wish they lived above a pub in Edinburgh...but what are ya gonna do). Liverpool, because one of us is a HUGE Beatles fan (won't say who (coughdaughtercough). The ferry options because we love being out on the water (yes...even in a ferry!) and they offer a time to unwind and avoid the hassle of finding another hotel. I've also crunched the numbers and flying is more expensive (even with the cabin option on the ferry) for only a very small time savings on the UK ferry leg. As a family we are fluent in German, comfortable with French and struggling Spanish speakers (which we won't try to use as pseudo-Italian!) To update: We're thinking of getting rid of Bath, which gives us three nights in London; get rid of Kings Castle, which slows down the Rhine portion and getting rid of Rome (save that for a separate time). We were then thinking either 3 days Salzburg or Vienna (which is better?) and add a day to Venice. Some further questions: Ron advised against renting a car for the Rheine portion...how come? I checked the prices and renting is cheaper then trains and quiker (plus I like the idea of driving stick through the Rheine valley). Also, still wondering if others agree that Champs Elysees is not worth seeing? Again, comments have been very valuable and as a family we are considering further cuts...even though it feels like getting rid of a child!

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

Add me to the list of "Whoa, Nellie!" That's one amazing itinerary. Lots of travelling, not a lot of doing. Speaking from experience, the family will revolt at precisely 9:27 a.m. on Day 10 and you will come to a complete standstill as you try to sort out the rebellion. You think, oh, this is so great and my kids are so excited, that could never happen to us... Well, 3 weeks of togetherness can test the very best of families. One thing to consider is sticking a "dead" day right in the middle of the schedule. I don't think it's crazy to go lots of places (teens move really fast!), but maybe cut a couple of destinations and buy yourself a bit of wiggle room. Every single trip we have been grateful for this. But mom, we really want to ride bikes around the walls of Lucca! (Whew, we have time to do that!) But mom, we really want to try jumping in the Med-even though it's freezing. (Whew, we have time to do that!) Are you sure Leonardo daVinci's house is up this dirt road? Yes, yes, keep going. We have time. You get the idea! Also, as someone else said, there is no room here for the inevitable glitch along the way. It will happen, and you will be much less stressed about it if you aren't stewing about missing the next destination on such a tight schedule. Car rental is a great idea for 4, and you can cover a lot of ground in places like Germany. I would cut Rothenburg. You've got plenty of cute Germany with the Rhine and Munich, all good by car. I would take the train Brugges to Trier and pick up the car there. You can drive down the Mosel to the Rhine, then on to Munich pretty efficiently.

Posted by Carroll
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1346 posts

I am just going to comment on the Champs Élysées. Norma is right. I felt obligated to walk up and down it, but I didn't enjoy it. It's a big wide street with expensive stores and cafes some of them American. No charm. No character. There are way more neater streets to stroll. The Marais is interesting, the Latin Quarter, Ile St. Louis, Luxembourg Gardens; all are great places to take a walk.

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
677 posts

Great advice that I learned on this site: two night stays for small villages, three nights for cities, four night stays for large cities. This has been great advice. This is not excessive time, just enough to feel like you get to experience a place. I know it is hard to limit yourself ( I still have trouble myself) but, you want memories, you want to experience Europe. You won't be able to " just be there" you'll be running and not really experiencing anything. Slow down. Less is more, hard to do, but it is true!

Posted by Bernd
Beaumont, Alberta, Canada
7 posts

...and what are the thoughts on either three nights Salzburg or three nights Vienna? Thanks for the tip, Angela, on picking up a rental in Trier...is that so we get to drive the Mosel valley? I had picked Frankfurt to ensure easy rental...I'm assuming getting a rental in Trier shouldn't be a problem?

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3487 posts

I've been to Paris more than a few times and the Champs Elysees is the about the most uninteresting and unattractive place I can think of there. Take the metro to see the Arc de Triomphe and then take the metro to your next sight. Or skip the Arc altogether. I like it for the views, espcially at sundown. I will add some more discouragement to short stays. It takes some time to get oriented to a new place - language, currency, transportation, and just finding your way around. Doing this every other day is draining, mentally and emotionally. If you want to see a couple of "sights" in each place, you won't have much time to explore the local culture and you'll be spending most of your time with all the other tourists. If you need to get to or from train stations in rush hour, taxis will be expensive and slow. Since you expect to have minimal luggage, buses and metros are likely to be as efficient. And in the big cities, like London and Paris, traffic can be awful in the middle of the day too.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3487 posts

I have another question for you, Bernd. Why are you looping around Europe to fly home from Paris? It usually makes more sense to travel in a straight-ish line. If I were starting to plot out an itinerary for your destinations, I'd look for ways to go from Southampton to Belfast and Liverpool, then London. Take the Eurostar from London to Brussels/Bruges, then Bruges/Brussels to Paris. Then Germany, Austria, and Italy. Fly home from Italy. Skip Barcelona - it's a long long way to go for one day. As for your question about Austria, there's more to see in Vienna but Salzburg is closer to Munich and Venice. But then, I'd probably encourage you to drop Austria for more time in Germany and/or Italy.

Posted by Bernd
Beaumont, Alberta, Canada
7 posts

Thanks again for the feedback...it's helped me re-think things. This is the latest itinerary: Arrive Southampton by cruise ship September 29/2013 Three nights London Two nights Belfast One night Bruge Two nights Bacharach Three nights Salzburg Three nights Venice Overnight cruise to Barcelona plus one night
Three nights Paris =20 I have one more night to add... probably London but maybe Paris. Question: it seems Paris is the cheapest city to fly out of...is that your experience as well?

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4859 posts

I would add the night to Barcelona or Paris. Whether Paris is cheaper than somewhere else to fly out of is something you would have to research, but you have to factor in the time and expense of traveling somewhere else to see if money could be saved. That is rarely the case.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
701 posts

Having spent 2 nights in Salzburg...we had 2 full days as we took a night train to Venice that left at 1am...3 nights may be overkill unless you want to do day trips...I'd add it to London or Paris or Barcelona...(or throw in that Liverpool stop for your daughter). Three nights is perfect for Venice.