My 50th birthday is in July 2023, and I'm trying to decide where to go. My spouse has asked that we don't go to London as we have been there several times already (not long enough for me though!), so I need to choose another city. I want to find a place that has good day trips out, but I would prefer to stay in one place rather than move around. I've never been to Paris before, or Amsterdam; does anyone have any other suggestions? (I've heard so many conflicting stories about Paris that I don't know if it's worth the time or money.) I've been staring at Google Maps for a while so I need an outside perspective. Thanks!
What sort of things do you want to see? There are dozens of places in Europe where you could spend a week (if not longer) and easily occupy yourselves, but some may be more interesting to you than others, depending on your personal interests.
Are there budget concerns?
Inverness, Scotland. You can see an amazing amount of the Scottish countryside from Inverness. Their Tourist Information Office is one of the best I'd ever seen. You can even do a (very long) day trip up to Orkney.
What sort of things do you want to see?
Yep, that and budget affect the choice. What do you want to do/see when you get to Europe? The "worth" question only applies if you've done the research and know in advance that you wouldn't care for the majority of what a city has to offer.
July will be high season so what is your desired per-day budget including meals, attractions, accommodations and transport? Where are you coming from?
Personally? I can't imagine choosing a trip location based on google maps. Choose based on your interests.
Answering questions... we like history and military museums but we aren't really into art. Budget isn't a huge concern; I am trying to keep the lodging to around $1000-1300 for 7 days, so up to around $160 or €140 nightly. We do tend to spend more time in our rooms than a lot of travelers (hubby likes naps lol), so we aren't looking for hostels or super-low budget lodging.
Really what I'm looking for here is other people's experiences - where did you go that you wished you had more time to explore? I am looking to stay in Western Europe, but Scandinavia is also an option. I've done the hopping-between-countries type of travel and I'm over it, I want to plant myself for a week and explore.
Personally? I can't imagine choosing a trip location based on google
maps. Choose based on your interests.
The past dozen years I have chosen base on where WizzAir flies. Zero regrets, an amazing education and memorable life.
I guess I am focusing on your mention of fun day trips. Fly into Zurich and stay in Lucerne. You can see Bern, the Berner Oberland region in the Alps, take a boat ride on the Lake Lucerne, visit Rhein Falls and many other fun day trips all very close and trains will get you everywhere. Tell your hubby he can nap at home!!! LOL
You'll probably get as many suggestions as there are cities in Europe. :) Personally, if you've not been to Paris I'd definitely go there. But there are so many that you just need to research some cities and see what appeals. All of the bigger cities in Europe have good public transportation and good options for day trips. If not Paris, I'd suggest some of my favorites: Berlin, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Munich, Rome, Florence - all good for a week with a couple of day trips.
Not sure what you mean about conflicting stories about Paris. Every city will have admirers and detractors so there will be conflicting stories about them.
Berlin! Lots of history and not too expensive.
James, even you have extolled the benefits of choosing a location based on interest, not just where airline ___ flies. :O)
e_lutz, just about any European city will offer historical sites and museums. Rome, for instance, has several thousand years and then some of history on display, if you find excavations and very old structures to be your thing. Florence is a very good base for day trips + has its own fascinating history but Renaissance art/architecture is what it's largely known for so wouldn't necessarily be a good base for you.
Military museums: Paris has a very good one, and you might find the Conciergerie of interest as well:
Versailles is a popular day trip, and I found the more renown of Parisian cemeteries to be fascinating adventures.
Not sure what you mean by 'conflicting stories' about Paris? Sure, it won't be everyone's cuppa but knowing why would be helpful?
Belgium: enjoyed it much more than we'd expected to, and it's compact enough to day-trip to your heart's content from any number of bases: Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp... Tons of history, too. I love the Flemish masters (art) but you certainly don't need to spend a lot of time on them. Beer lover? This is your destination!
You could plant yourself in Venice and take a few day trips. I cannot think of anything finer.
So many cities, so many capitals, where and how to choose. There must be some place that you have been thinking about. It could be because you love the food, have some family history, read a book with the city as a setting, someone you know visited and they had a great time. So many ways to help decide. For me it was Poland. I worked in a school office and one of my teachers was from Krakow. She would go during the summers and bring back lovely pictures and stories. We then had 2 Polish families Register at the school with more stories. They were the nicest people so I was hooked. we were not disappointed with our choice. It was a Strange way to make a decision, but That’s me. You have to figure out what city/country speaks to you. We spent 9 days in Amsterdam and with 4 day trips and we could have stayed longer. Italy has so many great cities you could easily spend a week in - Rome is amazing, as is Venice, and we are going to Sicily in April. My New obsessions are Paris and Florence. But I am also researching Bulgaria, Norway, Portugal, Japan.
Just a note, we always had to travel in July because of my job, we tried to stay away from very hot cities which is why we haven’t been to Spain, Portugal, most of Italy (we did Rome in February), Greece, you get the idea. We stayed up north where it is cooler.
It is a really tricky question to answer, there are so many great cities where to spend a week. But I have a few follow up questions. You mention history, is there any particular era you prefer? And what kind of weather do you prefer? July is the middle of the summer so southern Europe can be very hot. Scandinavia on the other hand will have more bearable temperatures.
Some have mentioned Berlin, and I agree that it is a great choice. Plenty of history (not just cold war) and all in all an amazing city with so much to see. But then again, Scandinavia is also a great choice (although I might be biased :) ). For a combined history and military museum, the Vasa museum in Stockholm should not be missed.
London and visit surrounding places
From the OP:
My spouse has asked that we don't go to London
Istanbul, Galway, Copenhagen, Thun are the best choices.
Rick Steves thinks that there are four cities in Europe definitely worth a one week visit: London, Paris, Rome and Istanbul. Of course there are many other cities worth visiting as well, especially those in areas with rich day trip opportunities.
Do you have to travel in July? It will be quite hot in much of Europe.
I recommend Paris or Rome, but not in July. Paris is our favorite city in Europe, with Rome a close second.
I'm surprised Rome hasn't been at the top of anyone's list yet. Maybe because it will be too hot in July? After London it would be my first pick of the big cities.
You do mention staying in one place and making day trips. Is this because you only want to unpack once? Have you considered a Mediterranean cruise? Our first time in Europe was one followed by a week in Rome.
The heat is why I didn't suggest Rome. Either Rome or Paris would be my picks and have more than enough for a week, but in July I might try to find a city with cooler weather.
€140 a night will be a challenge in many places, certainly Luzern that someone mentioned.
Paris as well.
Be aware of food costs in places like Switzerland.
Berlin is overloaded with 20th-century historical sights, and it is one of Europe's least expensive capital cities. It got hit hard in the war, though, so it doesn't have as much old architecture as many other places do. (Yes, one can spend a day in Potsdam.) It's not quite far enough north to guarantee you won't have any hot weather, though. If avoiding heat is really important, I guess I'd choose Stockholm or Copenhagen.
There are areas of France (Normandy/Brittany), Spain (the north coast from Galicia to the Basque Country), and the Alpine countries (at altitude) where the mid-summer weather is normally temperate. However, a week would be a fairly long time in one of the mostly-smaller cities in those areas.
Madrid has one of the best collections of side-trips you can find anywhere in the world (Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, Cuenca, Alcala de Henares), but it can be unpleasantly hot in mid-summer. Unlike Paris, my going-in assumption for Madrid would be that every day would be hot. That's different from recognizing the possibility of a heat wave. Barcelona is usually cooler but on humid days can be not so great outdoors. Barcelona has good side-trips, too, especially Girona and Tarragona. I think the architecture in Barcelona is more interesting than Madrid's.
Salzburg. Beautiful city in its own right, surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery. Easy train access to lots of interesting places for day trips/ overnight trips (Munich, Vienna). If you rent a car, your options are even greater. So much to see: castles, ice caves, salt mines, lakes, sommerrodelbahn, tons of historical sights. For easy day trips: Hallstatt, Berchtesgaden, Werfen. Lake Bled is 2.5 hrs by car.
I would suggest Paris and Vienna.
On the military museums, there is a military museum in Budapest , something to check out, regardless of the fact that's it is all in Hungarian , only a bit in German , aside from that in Paris and the Army History Museum in Vienna.
James, even you have extolled the benefits of choosing a
location based on interest, not just where airline ___ flies. :O)
True, of your opportunities are limited. I have been blessed to travel often, and have yet to take a trip I regret. Thank you Wizz Air for giving me so many options out of Budapest.
I've done the hopping-between-countries type of travel and I'm over it, I want to plant myself for a week and explore
You must have been somewhere on your travels that you wished you could spend more time exploring?
You know what they say...Paris is always a good idea! Go to Paris, it is so big and there are so many different neighborhoods (arrondissements) to explore that you could never get bored. Getting around is very easy on the Metro and you can find lodging in your budget . A hotel that fits your budget is Fontaines du Luxembourg, we stayed there and loved it. Breakfast is included in the price and you are walking distance to Luxembourg Gardens and lots of restaurants.
I don't know what you have heard about Paris but I can only say good things, so much so that I would love to go back.
July (particularly toward the end) can be hot so I would avoid Italy, Spain and southern France. But Paris is my favorite city in the world! I would def choose Paris!
Rick Steves thinks that there are four cities in Europe worth a one
week visit: London, Paris, Rome and Istanbul.
IMHO that says more about his knowledge about Europe than it says about European cities.
Berlin is overloaded with 20th-century historical sights, and it is
one of Europe's least expensive capital cities. It got hit hard in the
war, though, so it doesn't have as much old architecture as many other
places do. (Yes, one can spend a day in Potsdam.) It's not quite far
enough north to guarantee you won't have any hot weather, though.
And it is a bit inland. Coastal cities will in general be not as hot in the summer due to the water's cooling effect.
You cannot fully avoid the heat. We did Copenhagen and Stockholm a few years ago in late July, and Europe was in the midst of a record heat wave--and that is becoming more the norm. We were right on the water in both cities--on a boat in Stockholm!--and still struggled with the heat. So unless it's Reykjavik or Trondheim and beyond, expect that this is a risk. If it is a concern, get a hotel with AC, regardless of where you go--while harder to find, they are out there.
Most museums are somewhat climate controlled, and if it gets hot you can either go for a siesta or head inside a museum. Or just get an ice cream or stop in a shaded cafe. This means most cities in France, Germany, BeNeLux, or Alpine countries are totally fine.
For what you want, I would consider Berlin. There is simply no city in the world that embodies the 20th century in the same way, and they have museums for just about everything--ancient Egypt to life in East Germany and most things in between. You are an easy day trip from Wittenberg or Dresden as well as Potsdam. You can also visit Sachsenhausen. And there is SO MUCH to see. However, as others have said, it lacks a true central town square like you would find in Brussels or Prague (it had one central area, then two, now it has a mishmash)--but then again, neither does London or Paris. Berlin also lacks old architecture, though it makes up for it in other ways.
My own Hamburg is fantastic, and I can go on and on about things to see and do here.
Munich has a lot of great day trips to places like Berchtesgaden, Salzburg, Dachau, Füssen/Neuschwanstein, Freising/Weihenstephan, and more. It has enough "old world" feel downtown to appeal, and it has museums.
Paris is one of those love-it-or-hate-it cities. I am not precisely enamoured with it, but I can understand the appeal. I did like Amsterdam, but I haven't been in a long time. I will let others weigh in on those options.
Finally, I know you said Western Europe, but I would absolutely consider Prague. It's a fantastic city--one of the prettiest I have visited.
Berlin has enough to keep you occupied for a full week plus you could go to Potsdam or Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It’s very affordable and the transport systems are great. Plenty of modern history.
Paris is an obvious option but your budget may be a little low. Scandinavia, Switzerland and anywhere coastal in July will blow your budget as would Amsterdam.
Lisbon with day trips to either Evora, Cascais or Sintra shouldn’t be a hot as say Italy or southern Spain plus the food and wine are great and good value.
If you do decide on Paris in July, be advised it could be very hot. I've been in Paris always in the summer, in July too when it "sizzles" just as Ella F. sang. in her famous song. No problem if you don't mind the heat, I didn't.
On the conflicting stories pertaining to Paris, I would suggest disregarding them. I've heard them too, so what? Spending a full week in Paris gives you time to do a day trip depending on your level of interest in the military museums.
How about visiting the tank museum, Musee des Blindes, a massive tank museum? It's located in Saumur. Take the TGV to Tours, then the regional train (RER) to Saumur. Logistically very doable.
Paris is an obvious option but your budget may be a little low.
Scandinavia, Switzerland and anywhere coastal in July will blow your
budget as would Amsterdam.
€140 per night is perfectly possible in Scandinavia, as long as you're fine with a normal hotel room and don't require a large suite.
I'm not a fan of hotels for stays of 4 nights or more. Even as a single traveler, I rent an apartment. I like the freedom that comes with not having to be on a hotel's schedule for breakfast and room cleaning. I like having a fridge and some cooking facilities so I don't have to eat out every meal and can easily bring takeaway or food from the grocery store home. I like shopping in local grocery stores or at local markets. To me, that's a big part of my travel experience.
Your comment about your napper husband struck a chord for me. I started renting apartments largely because my husband was, and still is, a very late sleeper. He rarely could get up in time to go down for breakfast. He no longer travels to Europe with me. Despite having retired from Boeing, he hates to fly.
But I still like renting apartments just for myself when I have the time to do so. It's usually cheaper for two than a hotel and sometimes it's cheaper even for one.
So that was a long-winded setup to recommend renting an apartment for your birthday week, no matter where you end up going. I'm also not a fan of Airbnb and recommend that you use Booking.com to see what that's like. Your trip is quite far in the future, but I think it's fun to research what you might see if you were to go now.
You can start with a simple search for the two of you in a specific location and refine the search by many parameters, including air conditioning. One further apartment recommendation is that you try to find a place with a separate bedroom that has a door to close and with a bathroom that is not ensuite. That's so that your husband can sleep to his heart's content and you can use the facilities without traipsing in and out of the bedroom and disturbing him.
Now, as to where to go, the number of possibilities are almost endless, as you're already seeing by the responses. I've been in cold and wet (Scotland, Norway) as well as hot and humid (Italy, Spain) places in the summer. With heat or AC in the room or apartment, that really doesn't matter to me. In many ways, what matters is simply being there, enjoying a different culture as much as I can.
Specifically, and in addition to London, I love Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Florence, Venice, Barcelona, Sevilla, Oslo and Stockholm. Even though I've been to some of them more than once and rented apartments in the first six, I haven't spent near enough time in any of them. I did live for 3 years in Nuremberg, but that was about 35 years ago
Of all of them, I'd pick Paris or Rome, and be sad that I only had a week to visit. If you haven't looked at the Explore Europe part of this website, I encourage you to do so. You can find quick info on countries and the cities in them. That might help you to begin sorting out the sheep from the goats and moving toward some priorities for your celebratory trip.
Here's the link to France to get you started:
Any time of year other than July, I'd say Paris...as you haven't been yet. Paris, Paris, Paris. That being said one of the few, possibly only, European cities that I would visit in July is Stockholm. Beautiful city, beautiful coast, day trips and the chances it will be cooler are much greater, as it just is cooler. Sweden has my kind of summer. If a scorcher is predicted, get on a boat! Stockholm is not nearly as expensive as people claim. Less expensive than Paris and London, certainly, in my experience.
Haven't seen this mentioned yet so I'll toss a vote for Lisbon / Porto ... it's summer so it's a given it will be more crowded and more expensive ... Lisbon gets 5-6 days with side trips to Sintra, Evora, Queluz (with the national palace and gardens) and, if time allows, down to the Algarve ... then north to Porto with a stop at Fatima if desired ... 2-3 days in Porto and the Duoro valley ... so many other places to see (Bathalha, Coimbra, Mafra, etc...) ... and oh my gosh the seafood ... was there for 2 weeks and saw a lot but could have stayed 2 more weeks ... I'd go back in a second
Even though your birthday is in July, you can plan a much, much better trip if you avoid the hot summer months of July and August. Touring in the heat is not pleasant.
We visited Paris again in this August. It was for four days at the end of a 2 week trip. We love Paris and London. We’ve done a couple of 3-week home exchanges in Paris and never tire of it. I could easily move there and love it.