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Advise on 1st European trip itinerary (14-16 days) with 11 & 13 yr old would be appreciated!

In advance, THANK YOU for any suggestions you offer!

My husband & I have been to Europe a few times before kids, but haven't been in almost 15 yrs.

Our boys are 11 & 13, and haven't traveled outside the US. We live outside San Francisco. We are planning 14-16 days European trip in late Aug/early Sept 2020.

Thinking London (4 nights) -----> TGV to Paris (4 nights) -----> ??? (2 nights) -----> Venice (2 nights) -----> Rome (3 nights) -----> San Francisco

Both the boys love exotic cars, so we plan to visit the ferrari & lambroghini tours outside Bologna when we are in Venice. Other than that, we mostly plan to visit the highlights. But....hoping our ???? time could be spent in a smaller town for small-town charm experience?

Would appreciate others' thoughts on our itinerary. Also, with this itinerary, which parts of the trip should be use a train vs renting a car? When my husband & I traveled previously to Europe, we've done a combo of train/car rental, but not sure what makes the most sense for this trip?

Again, thank you for any suggestions for "tweeking" this itinerary, or for different ideas, for ideas for ????? location, and transportation suggestions along our trip!


Posted by
5019 posts

First, I don't see anything on this trip that would be better if done by car. I'd stick to trains on this trip (and I'm not shy or reticent to rent cars and drive them anywhere). Except perhaps...

??? (2 nights)

Honestly, with just 2 weeks (maybe less, once you get honest with yourself about usable days after you subtract travel days), I don't think you have enough days to spare to start sprinkling in optional, vague "other" places. Look at your itinerary already:
4 nights
4 nights
(2 nights)
2 nights
3 nights

Critical reality check: "X nights" anywhere gets you "X-1 days" there. So you get 3 days each in London and Paris (cities which will tempt you with worthwhile days trips, so maybe subtract another day from each), 1 day in Venice (actually, no, zero days: you're going to look at cars...), 2 days in Rome (maybe just 1: don't count your departure day).

That's not enough. You are, I think, stretching yourself way too thin.

Rather than adding "2 nights" at someplace else you're not even sure of, I think you need to cut back your plans, or add more days.

I suggest you stop speaking in vague generalities about "nights" here and there, and start looking hard at actual dates (whether real or just proposed dates), because only then will you have to face the stark reality that you do not have enough time for what you're planning.

You need to account for the time you will burn picking up and moving from one place to another. Each time, that will consume at best half a day, usually 3/4 of the day. That does not leave you much time to actually be somewhere.

I know this is not what you want to hear, sorry. But I think you need to add more days or cut something. Get out a calendar and take a sober look at how much time you would have in each place. Do this before you buy air tickets. Can you add some more days?

Posted by
2446 posts

Given the travel times involved in changing locations, and given that you are taking a day away from Venice to day trip, I suggest eliminating a stop between Paris and Venice, giving a day each to Venice and Rome.

Fly from Paris to Venice. Train from Venice to Rome. There are many tours offered to see the cars, so a car rental shouldn't be needed at all for this trip.

Posted by
142 posts

I can give some info on the lamborghini tours and timing. It is about an hour taxi ride from the Bologna train station and an hour and half train ride to Venice. Please check the official website to see if the tours are even going when you are going to be there and make sure to book an English tour. I think the factory shuts down the entire month of August. The ferrari is just a museum, you cannot take a factory tour unless you are an owner, last I knew.
Speaking to timing of only spending 2 nights in Venice and wanting to do day trips to see the car tours, you will not see Venice at all, you need the whole day to get back and forth to do the lamborghini tour and museum from Venice. You could add two nights to Venice and then do day trips, we did 1 night in Bologna and then did the tours before we moved to Venice. We actually loved our afternoon in Bologna. My suggestion would be London 4 nights, Paris 4 nights, 1 night Bologna, 3 nights Venice, 3 nights Rome (honestly I like Rome much more than Paris so I would allocate more time there and I haven't been to London yet so no input there.) You do not have time for a small city experience if you want 4 nights London and Paris. If you spend 3 nights London and Paris you have 2 nights you could stop somewhere smaller, we loved the Cinque Terre. No idea what you guys enjoy doing but your boys might enjoy swimming in the ocean here.

You do not need to rent a car at all. The only place you could even want to is out to the factory tour, but the taxi ride was 50 Euro each way from Bologna train station for our family of 4 in 2018 and just so much easier than renting a car. Trains between the cities in Italy are easy. Renting a car for the day from Venice might work just fine, I just have no experience to add there.

Figuring out what your priorities are, what you have to do, versus like to do, and how to keep the kids happy will make for a wonderful family trip!

Posted by
962 posts

How wonderful that you can take your sons to Europe. I was 39 on my first trip.
As someone who also flies from the Bay Area, remember to plan on serious jet lag your first day or 2 in London. Especially with your boys, remember that traffic is coming form the opposite direction than you all are used to...
I won't repeat the information in the previous post but it is pretty good advice.
You might also want to visit one of the 3 Bay Area travel group meetings. You can find them listed on this Forum under travel meetings. We all love to answer questions and share our experiences.

Posted by
1075 posts

Have taken 3 11YO boys to London, Amsterdam, and Rome on trips they designed. One wanted the Vatican Museum (he zoned out after about an hour) the others really enjoyed the following:
London: the Tower of London, the huge ferris wheel(Eye) and the War Museum(lots of hands on activities
Amsterdam: Museum Nemo(by Centrale) again hands on exhibits, the Ann Frank House, canal tour.
Rome: St. Peter's, the climb to the Cupola, Beligio(sp) park racing around in the pedal carts, the Coloseum underground tour, and pizza-pizza-pizza.
With 2 of them, we took the night ferry from Amsterdam(Hook) to London and they loved it.
Two of our others'(14 & 15) wanted Paris, and the high light was Musee de Orsay, and eating.
Our experience with all the boys was that they designed their cities they wanted to see, we filled in the blanks.
Personnally, I don't see enough in Venice to keep them occupied and the crowds now fill the city from 10 to 3-you can Google to see when and what size cruise ships will be there.
Finally with all, we used the trains/metros while stationary and flew from London to Rome, however, I would think you can probably use the train from Venice along with a cab to see Bologna.

Posted by
3978 posts

With your timescale, I would stick to London, Paris and Rome. Save Venice for when they are old enough to fully appreciate it. Four big hitters is too much for a 2 week trip.

Two nights in Venice would only give you one day there, which isn’t long enough to visit car factories. Alternatively, drop London or Paris and add more time to Venice.

Ideally, I would just opt for 2 cities, which would give you options for day trips to smaller places. You are going to lose at least half a day every time you switch destinations.

Posted by
4125 posts

Even "just" London, Paris, and Rome is super ambitious for such a short trip. Definitely go for the 16-day version; another day or two would be a real bonus.

Posted by
11677 posts

Parent who has taken kids to Wurope several times here.

I am looking at you wish list, which includes a "small town" experience and the Bologna car museum and factory. These are worthy goals, and I have tried to do nclude them in my suggestions

First, skip Venice. It is our favorite city in Europe but I would never gomthere in August. Too hot, too crowded to be enjoyable.

Instead, fly to MIlan from Paris and take the fast train to Verona (1.5 hours). Spend 2 nights there. It is a "small-ish" town, not tiny, but has charm, an old castle, and the Roman amphitheater. You can reach Lago di Garda in 16 minutes by train for a nice lake excursion for the afternoon--ride a ferry, find a place to swim, or even go to the Gardaland Amusement Park if you think the kids would enjoy that.

Then head to Bologna for 2 nights and immerse yourselves in fast and stylish cars.

From Bologna, the train to Rome is only 2.5 hours.

So, 4 nights London, 4 nights Paris ( I might reduce this to 3, based on our girls' feel for the city when they were that age) 2 nights each Verona and Bologna, and the rest (3-4) for Rome. Some will say that is too much moving around, but it has worked for us, and gets you to the cars and a small Italian town without a lot of back -and-forth day-trips. The individual lega ( MIlan to Verona, Verona to Bologna, and Bologna to Rome) are all short and easy. Pack light and changing hotels will not be a hassle.

Buy your train tickets 3-4 months ahead to get good discounts on the fast trains in Italy. For the Eurostar from London to Paris, the best prices may be as much as 6 months ahead. Intra -Europe flights like Paris to MIlan are also cheaper if bought well in advance.

Posted by
4128 posts

My first reaction is that you have too many places with too little time. You are just covering the high points with only four nights in cities like London and Paris, and 3 nights in Rome.

Your 2 nights between Paris and Venice should be rolled into Paris 5 nights and Venice 3. Bologna wasn't so special to us, but we are not car people.

Posted by
3925 posts

Don't underestimate the debilitating effect of jetlag particularly with teenagers who sleep more than most people anyway. When we flew London to San Francisco and back we were wiped out for about three days and that was having flown first class when a decent amount of sleep can be achieved. I'm afraid with your itinerary London is very likely going to be much of a blur. I would concentrate on spending more time in London, a brief trip to Paris (London has far more to offer including for kids) and then a longer stay in Rome. It will be very hot in August/early September but I think Rome has so much more to offer than Paris and the food is going to be more appealing to the children. I'd forget about trying to fit anywhere else in.

Take the viewpoint that by introducing your kids to foreign travel so young that they'll get the bug and it'll generate a lifelong interest in travel. Our kids have been travelling since toddlers, our youngest was three when he went to New York (remembers very little other than penguins at the zoo and a giant Elmo outside FAO Shwartz), they're now 15 and 12 and absolutely love travelling abroad. Mind you, when it comes to having to pay for it themselves I suspect they'll begin reining it in!

Posted by
652 posts

I tend to agree with Lola--Venice will be crowded, and I think adults like it much more than kids.

I've been to Europe several times with kids that age, and their favorite is walking trails in the Berner Oberland area where they can share the trail with cows and goats. If you are in Paris (might check out the Catacombs and Sewer Tour), you can take the fast train to Switzerland (Geneva, Basel, or Zurich). See Then head for Lauterbrunnen or Murren or Grindelwald to get on the trails shown here: Many of the adults in the pics are my kids returning to the same trails they took at age 13.

Posted by
11677 posts

I do not normally endorse suggestions that are a major departure from the OP's proposed plans or make radical changes, but I will in this case. I think Shoe's suggestion of some time in the Berner Oberland is brilliant, and appropriate for kids at this age. And I suggest you substitute this for time in Paris.

We took our girls to London and Paris on their first trip to Europe at ages 11 and 15. While they loved London, their reaction to Paris was "meh". The following summer we took them to Switzerland and that was a huge success. One of the comments we heard while hiking was from the older one, deep into teenage ennui at that point ( and missing her boyfriend despite permission to call him every night). When we got to a particularly amazing viewpoint, her reaction was, "This is the best day of my life."

So, if you are willing to accept a radical change, consider 4 nights London, fly to Zurich and head to the Berner Oberland for 4 nights. Then move to Luzern ( a charming lakeside town) for 1 or 2 nights. There is a direct train from Luzern to Milan that takes less than 4 hours; transfer to a train for either Verona or Bologna for 2 nights for the car fanciers. If Verona, you may be able to rent a car there for the drive directly to the car museum and factory rather than take taxis to these places from Bologna. (You need to confirm open dates and hours to be sure of availability in August). Or skip Luzern and take the train from your base in the Berner Oberland ( Mürren suggested) via Brig and the Simplon tunnel as far as Stresa on Lago Maggiore in Italy. This is a short distance from MIlan and makes for an easy journey to Bologna in one day.

An alternative, if you prefer the idea of the Eurostar, is to take an early train to a stop short of Paris where you can change to a train into Switzerland. This idea just came to me, so I have not fully developed the idea nor the route, but if you are interested I will bet some of the train experts can help. It could be just as fast as, and easier than, getting to the London airport and flying to Zurich.

Posted by
8889 posts

from your base in the Berner Oberland ( Mürren suggested) via Brig and the Simplon tunnel as far as Spiez on Lago Maggiore in Italy.

Lola, I think you mean Stresa. Spiez is a town between Mürren and Brig where you have to change trains.

An alternative, if you prefer the idea of the Eurostar, is to take an early train to a stop short of Paris where you can change to a train into Switzerland. This idea just came to me, so I have not fully developed the idea nor the route, but if you are interested I will bet some of the train experts can help.

Train from Paris to Switzerland is perfectly possible in a day, I do it often. It is avoiding Paris that is difficult, the quickest route is Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, then you need to take the RER across Paris to Gare de Lyon, from which the TGV's to Switzerland leave.
The alternative is via Lille and Strasbourg. Takes a bit longer, the advantage is two changes within the same station. Fewer departures this way, the 06:47 out of London is the only option to get all the way to the Berner Oberland in one day. That implies before 06:00 at St Pancras, not teenager-friendly.
See here:

Posted by
11677 posts

Thanks, Chris F. I did indeed mean Stresa ( and have edited to reflect that). And your input on the various iterations of the Eurostar train options for connecting to Switzerland will be helpful to Laura.

Posted by
13930 posts

Since the car tours are very important, stay in Bologna. It has a very well preserved medieval center and it doesn't attract the volume of tourists that other Italian cities do. Verona is likely to be packed in August because it's opera season. Skip it. Ferrara is another quiet interesting town, easy to visit by train from Bologna. Vueling flies from Paris-Orly to Florence. shows tram/train from the airport to Bologna, about an hour total.

Much as it pains me to say it, you are better off without Venice this time - it's just one too many, though you could do a day trip from Bologna. I'm sure you'd all enjoy a gondola rowing lesson - I'd go with 3N Bologna and 4N Rome.