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Best way of getting around these cities

Hello, we are planning for a 3 weeks Europe trip starting in Copenhagen and finish in Zurich. Hoping to get some suggestions on the most efficient way/ route to get around between these cities:

  • Copenhagen (2 days)
  • Brussels (2 days)
  • Cologne (2 days)
  • France: Marseille, Nice, Monaco (3 days)
  • Italy: Manarola, Milan, Como (3 days)
  • Switzerland: Bern, Interlaken, Zermatt, Lucerne, Zurich (8 days)

We’re thinking to fly from Copenhagen to Brussels, then rent a car to visit Cologne.

We might also fly from Brussels to Marseille and do the remaining of the trip via trains. Any other suggestion for a more efficient route?

Should we get the global Eurail pass or buy ticket for the individual trips?

Do we also get the swiss travel pass?

Posted by
4832 posts

Hi!

Unless you have personal reasons to visit those cities, I would skip Copenhagen, Cologne and Brussels this time around. The area between Marseille/Provence and Nice deserves 5-6 days at least, and same for Cinque Terre+Milan+Lake Como.

It would make travel a lot more manageable, too.

At the very least, I would seriously consider skipping Copenhagen, and visiting Cologne as a day trip from Brussels (by train!), to minimize all the travelling around.

Regarding Switzerland, starting from Italy the logical order would be Zermatt - Interlaken area (but try to stay further up in the mountains, e.g. in Wengen) - Lucerne. Bern is optional when you just have 8 days; it is also an easy day trip from Lucerne. Same for Zürich - and unless your flight is early in the morning, you do not even need to sleep there on your last night, since reaching the airport from Lucerne is relatively quick and very reliable.

Regarding transportation:

  • Brussels to Marseille is easy by direct train, I would not fly. The 1-2 hours saved are not worth the carbon footprint and airport hassles IMO.
  • Eurail passes are generally inconvenient in France and Italy due to mandatory reservations. I would just buy tickets (sales open up to 120 days in advance for cheapest fares).
  • Eurail passes are unnecessary in Belgium since fares are cheap
  • However, a Swiss Travel Pass is reasonable value for most travellers
Posted by
141 posts

Delete the first 3 cities. Your trip is too ambitious. We took the trains in Switzerland last month, very easy and didn't get a travel pass.

Posted by
4001 posts

This looks very rushed and you really should rethink your itinerary in my opinion. But for transportation, the train is a better option between Brussels and Cologne, and between Brussels and Marseille.

Posted by
6180 posts

Most of your trip is focused around SE France, Switzerland and northern Italy. Stick with that.

Copenhagen is one of our favorites, but two days are not enough, so skip it this time. Come back to Scandinavia later than spend some real time in Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Brussels is OK, but unless you are flying into there, nearby Brugges is the place to see. Aside from the Grand Plaza, Brussels is no big deal.

Cologne, save it for later, the only thing that wasn't bombed out in WWII was the famous cathedral, you can see it in half a day.

As for time in Provence, France, you need more of it. Marseille is not a high spot. Nice, Monaco, yes, but add Cannes, Arles, Aix-in-Provence, Avignon (also Post du Gard), and St. Paul de Vence.

For Switzerland, Interlakken is a great place to stay. Zurich is not a high point for tourist, just for catching a flight.

I have never seen a benefit to a Eurail pass.

Posted by
14254 posts

Yikes, this is a really, really rushed itinerary. You will spend more time/money in transit than sightseeing, and all it would take is one transport snag, such as a strike, to throw the itinerary off.

Also, what time of year are you looking to do this trip? It matters as, say, Como and the Cinque Terre are not great destinations in winter. As winter in Europe is Australian summer, it's possible that's when you're thinking to travel?

6 counties/14 locations 20 days, and less than a full day in 6 of them.... IMHO, some destinations need to be eliminated. What are your interests? What are you most wanting to see and do on this trip? And who are "we"? Students? Seniors? Family?

Posted by
2592 posts

It appears you are a relatively new traveler. When you change cities, you lose a day. You have 14 sites in 21 days. You will be doing nothing but traveling between sites. You should cut your cities to 6 or 7. For instance, stick with France and Italy. Take a look at my thread:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/general-europe/what-is-a-travel-day-notes-for-new-travelers

Every travel day is pretty much a loss for tourism.

Posted by
2853 posts

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium!!!”With all the time and effort traveling to a new city, checking in and out of hotels, packing and just finding your lodgings in an unfamiliar place, you’ll lose half a day or more on each travel day. Not to say how physically exhausting it will be.

If you follow your itinerary, you will be able to say “I’ve been there” but not much more. Please dive deeper into what interests you in visiting a location and then whittle your stops down to something that allows quality time in your destinations and a rest day in the middle of it all. Consider doing either the northern part or the southern part but not both.

Go to Transportation and Trains & Rail Passes in the Travel Tips section of this site. It’s a wealth of info. Realize if you rent a car in one country -Belgium - and return it in another - Germany - you’ll pay a drop off fee of $500 or more. Generally rail passes are an unattractive deal. If spending 8 days in Switzerland, one of their many passes would be beneficial.

Posted by
553 posts

Cologne is a great city to blow through in a 3 hour train stop. The Cathedral and old town are right out the station. You can see the church, have lunch, wander the old town, see the Roman ruins, and get back on the train.

The city is a rail hub so generally speaking wherever you are going there will be a train leaving soon.

Posted by
553 posts

I agree with the other posters. Think about consolidating the first part of your trip.

Copenhagen is a cool city and you'll be spun with jet lag. I would give it three nights if you want to be quick.

Flying to Brussels isn't a bad idea. Brussels is an okay city, but IMO nearby Ghent is much better for tourism. Ghent has 80 percent the charming medieval streets as Bruges with much better street life and is far less of a Disneyland experience. Three nights.

Brussels is a node of the French high speed rail network. From Brussels you can blast down to the south of France at 300km/h. Much easier than from Cologne. I would say cut Cologne on this trip, maybe hit up one of the huge cathedrals of France on your way through to make up for it.

I haven't been in the south of France for quite some time. But I would think you could do a bit of consolidating there as well. Maybe do Avignon on the way through. My knee jerk reaction would be two nights in Avignon three nights in Monaco. Nice is just fine, but it's a bigger city in a part of France where the best thing are the smaller places nearby. Marseille is also interesting, a little bit of a rougher place and more of a culture trip than a beach vacation from your vacation. Monaco is just all around a trip. I'm a fan of tony microstates although they do get a bit pricey. Maybe a night or two in Avignon and then three nights in Monaco or some other smaller sea front village nearby.

Anyway, a bit of revision to the early part of your trip is going to make it more pleasant and more streamlined.

Posted by
13540 posts

Skip Copenhagen this time but save Brussels and Cologne (main junction point). Depending on your travel style (it's all about that, isn't it?) , I would get the Global Pass , especially if you are a senior. No problem doing this trip going mainly on the high speed trains . I would buy individual tickets for the short trips.

Posted by
387 posts

Should we get the global Eurail pass or buy ticket for the individual trips

You'll need to do the math to see if the pass is worth it ... you didn't say when you are going, so if it is next year some time you still have time to get advance purchase tickets which, like airline tickets, get more expensive as your travel date gets closer ... I believe there might be a limited number of seats available for pass holders on some of the high speed lines, so keep that in mind (Eurail passes are not like they used to be years ago when you just got on any train you wanted) ... and then you need to include seat reservations in your total costs ... best part about the pass is it gives you flexibility.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks for all the replies and suggestions. The original plan was definitely on the ambitious side. We've decided to scrap the first three cities. Looking more like this at the moment:

  • (Fly in) Helsinki (3 nights)
  • Fly to Nice (5 nights)
  • Train to Monterosso (5 nights)
  • Train to Como (4 nights)
  • Train to Lucerne (8 days in Switzerland - still figuring out route)
  • Zurich (Fly out)

For Switzerland, is it worth hiring a car or would a Swiss travel pass cover what we want to see ? These are the places that we're interested: Zermatt, Wengen, Lauterbrunnen, Klontalersee, Lucerne. Open to other suggestions as well.

We're 30+ yo couple, travelling in April '23.
Interests: Culture, history, nature, food.

Posted by
4832 posts

Well, the new plan is much better!
You've overcorrected even: 5 nights in Monterosso al Mare is a lot; 3 is enough. I would add two nights to Switzerland instead.

Posted by
2286 posts

I know flights are sometimes cheaper to Helsinki than other European destinations, but you want to go to Helsinki when you can take a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia and visit the old town that’s a 2h ferry ride. Heck, you could even spend the night allowing more time and fly out of there to your next destination. You can learn more about ferry crossings by checking: https://www.directferries.com/, however, the Apr 2023 schedule isn’t out yet.
The only thing to do in the Cinque Terre (Monterosso) is hike which isn’t easy. If you’re not into hiking you need a minimum of two nights but I wouldn’t spend more than three. I stayed in Monterosso and liked it, but visit the other Cinque Terre towns by ferry.
If you’ll be getting around by train in Switzerland (CH), here’s their URL address: https://www.sbb.ch/en. I haven’t been to the Lauterbrunnen Valley, but I would spend five nights in case of iffy weather. The same with Zermatt, add a night in case the weather doesn’t permit a view of the Matterhorn. Summits aren’t visible every day.
I’ve never been to Lucerne, but I’ve never known anyone not to like it and there’s plenty to do here too if you hike. As balso said, add those extra nights to CH.

Posted by
553 posts

Well done OP. Details can be niggled but all in all a perfectly acceptable itinerary.

Posted by
4001 posts

A much better plan, although Helsinki is a bit of an odd start. If you want to add a northern city, Copenhagen was a better option.

And I agree that if the plan is to start in Helsinki, you should make it one night there and two in Tallinn, then fly from Tallinn to Nice.

Posted by
26 posts

I know that the usual advice is to do fewer cities for longer durations, and there are plenty of good reasons to do it that way, but if you enjoy traveling by train in particular, and don't mind packing/unpacking a bunch, seeing more places is OK, too.

I just finished a 15 day trip of 2 and 3 night stays and really wouldn't have wanted to change any of it (experiencing a bunch of different trains was one of my trip goals, so YMMV of course). One trick is to travel in the evening, so you get an extra day before your train. All the major train stations have luggage storage in the station or nearby, so what I did was check out of my hotel in the morning, dump my stuff off at the station, and then spend the day exploring before catching my train.

The advice to make day trips for places reasonably close together is a good one. I spent 3 nights in Bologna, and day tripped to Ravenna for one of days, for example.