I will be traveling in Europe with my two teenage daughters for 4 weeks from early June to early July this year. This is our first trip to Europe. Initially I thought I will plan everything by myself, but as I look into the details involved in the trip, I begin to wonder if it would be better to combine a group tour and our own trip. We definitely want to visit England, France, and Italy, and want to add a few more countries on the way. Any suggestions or helpful tips? We are interested in seeing churches and spiritual sites, and I am a bit concerned that being in a group tour won't give us much flexibility.
With 4 weeks, 3 countries "plus a few more" will be too much. You'll just be seeing alot of airport and train stations and won't really experience or enjoy anything. If you just want a taste of several different cultures, then perhaps a tour would be the way to start. Then pick 1 or MAYBE 2 destinations that you want to experience in more depth- or that are not on the tour. I'd suggest you look at Rick's "Best of Europe" trips. Maybe the Family tour would be right for your family. Then you could add England before or after it.
Me personally I'd rather take a beatin' than take a tour. Planning a vacation like this is a bit like eating an elephant - 1 spoonful at a time! You might start by picking the cities you want to visit - then the things in each city you want to see - that will give you an idea of how much time you'll want in each city. Some places you'll want 3 or 4 nights (London, Paris, Rome) others 1 or 2 night will suffice. Once you've done that you can determine how many cities you can see in one trip.
A group tour will cover all kinds of things, some of which may be of no interest at the expense of things that are. Three counties, or even five, in a month aren't too many. For an extreme exaggeration, look at a map and see how many borders intersect such that you can walk in a one-inch circle and pass through three. Look a a map again - - you can drive frm Paris to Rome in daylight in a single summer day, Try something like this and work in increments: Fly into London and out of Paris. Spend a week in England then take the Eurostar to Paris. See what you want in Paris then pick up a car Spend a week driving towards Rome. With minor zig-zags, that's about three hours of road time, average per day. Leave after breakfast and you're in the next place before lunch. Leave real early one day and drive twice as far and you've built up enough slack that you can spend two nights somewhere. Drive the whole thing in one mean day and you,be gained six free ones. Do the same thing by a slightly different route heading back to Paris. There's still a week left over. Fill in the blanks. Also keep in mind that there are things to see that aren't anywhere near a city.
Get your daughters involved in this process.
One way to help you decide where to go or what churches and spiritual sites to see is Sacred Destinations with information on the same all over the world. You can select by country or by category. The site doesn't list only the biggees. Although some might think all the churches run together so that you can't remember which was what, I could see how concentrating on them would make a very interesting trip.
You are better off arranging for day or half-day tours at your destinations. Here's some random advice for a 4-week summer tour. See some countryside. The cities are great, but you'll be missing a lot if you only see cities that time of year. Remember the land has shaped the history, culture, art, and cuisine of these great places. Vary the pace. If you want to give in to the temptation to cram a lot in for week 2, follow it up with an extended break in week 3. In fact, you can anchor your trip with a week-long rental someplace around Week 3, a luxury many of us don't get with our too-short vacations. I would resist the temptation to add more countries and instead love the ones you are with. Plenty to see in the line from London to Paris to Rome. Don't underestimate travel times and glitches, especially in Italy. Plan like heck, but leave a little slack so you are not derailed by glitches. Four weeks sounds great, have a blast!
With four weeks you can easily do five countries if you choose. I would keep it to the countries you listed and see more of them. I was very happy using RS guides and being my own tour guide, it takes a lot of research and planning but that is half the fun. Make of list of things you want to see and then arrange your trip around them.
Dear All, Thank you so much for your comments! They are very helpful! Thanks for your encouragements for doing my own trip. That was my original plan, but as the trip dates approach fast, I think I am getting a bit nervous. I will work on the itinerary and share it on this site. Hope you can help me then as well. Thank you again!! HY
I am always amazed about those blitzkrieg itineraries. Yes I am a German, within 12 hours drive/train ride I have much of central Europe covered and with a 2 1/2 hour flight the whole of Europe from Portugal to Ekaterinburg. But the idea of seeing 10 countries in 2 weeks makes me cringe all the time. Because I can think of so much you are missing by that kind or itinerary. I spent 3 weeks in London camping, and every day was packed from 8 am till after midnight. 15 to 20 hours in the British Museum alone over 5 or 6 visits. For 4 weeks I would choose 2 to 4 different regions, get myself an apartment, rental car/public transportation and go exploring. There is so much to see, do, learn, explore. So something like London, Southern England, Midi/Languedoc, Sicily. Churches: Ely, Wells, St. Georges chapel, Canterbury, St. Pauls, Cathar castles (like Peyrepertus, Queribus, Montsegur), Albi cathedral, Carcassonne, Roman settlements in southern France, Monreale, Palermo cathedral, Valle dei Templi, Siracusa, baroque churches of Noto ... Coupled with a contrast program of gelato breaks, conversations with the locals and fellow travelers, Kew Gardens, Stourhead, Millau viaduct, Tarn gorges, beaches, hikes - 4 weeks will go fast. Or 10 days London and 20 for a trip from Firenze, Venezia, Südtirol, Austrian Alp(Großglockner), Wien. Or Brussel to Paris via Aachen, Köln, Mainz/Worms/Speyer, Strasbourg, Nancy, Reims/Amiens/Beauvais. Followed by a week in Rome. There countless possibilities.
Go to your library and get books/DVDs. The forum will give you ideas. Ryanair et al are a valuable tool to connect different areas, rail companies have offers like Sparpreis (even internationally). For regional exploration a rental car is perfect. It's just my opinion, your mileage may of course vary.
I have some suggestions: 1) Since June will be heading into hot weather, start south (Rome) and work your way north (London). 2) The only possible country you might try fitting into your proposed schedule would be Switzerland. Travel between Italy and France can go through Switzerland easily. 3) Unless you really want a "forced march" through Europe, plan on about 8 stops. I like the suggestion made by another poster to take a couple of "time-outs" along the way. Maybe plan a couple of stops of 4-5 nights and all the others in the range of 3 nights. 4) Involve your daughters in the planning. Everybody will be much happier if they get to pick some sites. Your girls may not be interested in all the same things you are.