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First ever trip to Europe

Current itinerary:
Fly to Amsterdam, stay in Netherlands (Amsterdam) for 2 full days, Belgium for 3 days (stay in Brussels with day trips to Bruges or Damme), Germany for 5 days (stay in Munich for 3 days then Fussen for 2 days), Switzerland for 2 or 3 days (Interlakken area?), stay in Cinque Terre, Italy for 2 or 3 days, last 2 days would be to stay in Milan, Italy for a night before we fly out of Milan back to the US.

Any tips on improving our itinerary?

My husband and I are in our late-20s and are planning our first ever trip to Europe for this summer, mid-May through early June 2019. We plan on taking 3 weeks off of work, so that leaves us with 18-19ish days on the ground in Europe. We will be flying from Michigan to ?? via WOW Airlines, and plan on doing open jaw flights to avoid backtracking. Our list of places that we definitely want to see are Munich so that we can do day trips to Dachau Concentration Camp as well as Fussen so that we can see the castle. We are also hoping to end the trip somewhere where we can relax a bit before we travel home (currently Cinque Terre, but it seems a bit out of the way). We are hoping to be able to take trains or buses between all of our locations as well, we would prefer to not have to fly. We would like to go the B&B/hotel route vs dorm style hostels if possible. We already plan on going back to Europe in the future so we don't have feel the need to see everything this time, but my husband is about to begin his Residency so we know that we may not get the opportunity for this long of a trip for several years and after we start having kids.

Countries that we are considering for this trip: Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Czech (Prague), Switzerland, northern Italy (Cinque Terre)

Potential future trips: Paris/London/UK/Ireland trip and then an Italy trip

Biggest interests - food and beer, being able to walk around a city to take in scenery/architecture/etc., hiking, history

Posted by
2016 posts

I'm not sure that Belgium would be highest on the list for most people's first trip. Regarding Munich and Fussen, Did you know the castles can be an inexpensive day trip via a Bayern ticket from Munich? Then you wouldn't need to move. I would recommend both Hohenschwangua and Neuschwanstein since the former was actually lived in, is furnished and provides info and context for the Neuschwanstein visit. I would do Hohenschwangua first. It appears you are interested in Berner Oberland area of Switzerland. Don't stay in Interlakken, look at the villages of Lauterbrunnen, Murren or Wengen. You would want to stay at least 3 preferably 4 days. (You could use a day from Belgium, Fussen, etc.) Another idea would be to skip Switzerland and go to Salzburg which is close to Munich and is an inexpensive train ride from Munich.

Posted by
777 posts

I would recommend you not go as far south as Italy, but extend your Northern Europe itinerary. Cinque Terre is out of the way, I agree, and can be very crowded so not relaxing. Remember every time you change locations you lose most of that day, so always build that into your itinerary. Open Jaw is great. Have you read the Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door? It has a great section on how to create an itinerary.

Posted by
872 posts

If you have European Ancestry, or your people lived there, be sure to do your DNA before you go so you can start your Tree. You can see where your folks came from and visit that area. I just did mine and was just a coincidence but I actually stayed near where mine came from a couple of times on my trips. It was fun and can mean more when you have a connection to a place. Bon Voyage!

Posted by
10412 posts

For you first trip, decide first and foremost whether you want to follow your own particular itinerary or one that usually corresponds to the average (whatever that means) tourist doing his/her first trip.

Aside from the Munich area in Germany, where else? Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Dresden,?

Posted by
3149 posts

You’re trying to hard to hit the places that you’ve seen on posters or Instagram. There is so much more to Europe than Cinque Terre, Ludwig’s Castles and a highly touristed Swiss valley. This is tacky Europe, not real Europe.

Since you’ll be back, try this - pick one country and really explore. Maybe pick two. With your interests, I’d suggest the Netherlands and Belgium or Germany and Austria.

Don’t kid yourself, there’s no part of your suggested agenda that is relaxing.

Posted by
11774 posts

I don't think you are aware of how much time you will have to actually be in the places on your itinerary. With the exception of Amsterdam/Brussels and Munich/Fussen, you will use up more than 1/2 day each time you move. You have to pack, check out, get to the train station with time to find and board the train, then get from the station to your new hotel, check in and drop your luggage before you can do anything. Rule of thumb, add 1-1/2 to 2 hours to the actual train time. Moving around as much as you envision would be a very fast-paced trip if your route was simple train trips. You are talking about places that take quite a bit of time to get to. For instance, from Fussen to Interlaken is at least 8 hours with at least 3 train changes. I didn't even try to find a train route from Interlaken to the Cinque Terre.

Every time you move, you meet a new environment that requires orientation time and is stressful. Languages change, signage changes (I still have a hard time finding street signs in much of Europe after many years), every town has a different public transport system, most European cities are a maze of small streets and it takes time to find your way around and it can be frustrating when you get lost. Over 3 weeks, some exhaustion is likely to set in. You will need time for mundane things too, like laundry and shopping for toiletries. Don't underestimate how long that takes when everything is in a foreign language and brands and packaging are different.

Count how many nights you will have in Europe. Assume that the day you arrive you'll be wiped out and jetlagged and won't see/do much. Assume that the day you leave will be spent getting to the airport - if you end up with an evening flight, that's a gift. So 19 days equals 18 nights equals 17 days. If you want a fast-paced trip, you could probably manage 5 cities that are well-connected by train.

As for what's on your current list, here are my opinions FWIW. Amsterdam is fun and different. 3 nights at least. Rent bikes and get around like the locals do. The Maritime Museum and the Dutch Resistance Museum will give you a lot of history. Brussels is reported as being rather uninteresting, which is why I've never been. Much better are Ghent and Bruges. Stay in one and day-trip to the other. I thought Frankfurt and Berlin were much better places to visit than Munich. Fussen's a pleasant little town and the castle is not worth 2 days of your trip even if you go to Munich. You'd probably have to backtrack to Munich to get anywhere else. Italy needs a separate trip or at least a week of this one. I guess Interlaken is on your list for the Swiss Alps. You need to allow at least 3 nights in the Bernese Oberland because you'll have a higher probability of good weather. Lauterbrunnen is the destination you should look for.

Looking at WOW's current destinations, here's what I'd consider. Fly into A'dam, train to (or skip) Belgium. Train to Berlin, Train to Prague, maybe stopping overnight in Dresden. Day trip to Terezin. Train to Vienna, possibly stopping overnight in Český Krumlov (I haven't done it, don't know the logistics but it's definitely a popular stop). Train to Salzburg. Fly home. You could work out a similar route with Frankfurt instead of Berlin. Given your interests Frankfurt may be a much better fit and definitely better than Munich. Or you could go from Prague to Krakow (including day trip to Auschwitz) to Warsaw and fly home from there.

Use bahn.com to find train schedules throughout Europe. For prices you'll need to go to each country's rail website.

Posted by
5747 posts

I'll just add a general comment. When I plan I consider 2 nights in one location as 1 full day for touring. 3 nights = 2 full days.

I love the Lauterbrunnen Valley. I've stayed at both Stechelburg (far end of the valley) and Muerren, a car-free village up on the mountain side. I recommend staying in Muerren or Lauterbrunnen. I live where I can see the Rockies from my back deck and this valley is one of the most gorgeous I've seen. I did not find it touristy altho there are plenty of tourists. You are WAY younger than I so I'd go for 3-4 nights here if you like to hike. It IS an expensive area! Interlaken does not have the same "in the Alps" feel.

Posted by
2016 posts

I so agree with Pam regarding Lauterbrunnen. Google or BING for images of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. I've seen mountains in Canada, Mexico, Spain Pyrenees and Sierra Nevadas, U.S. Rockies, Appalachians, Cascades and Austria and skied several of those places. I've never seen anything like the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Posted by
242 posts

Honestly I'd do Amsterdam - Brussels (Brugges) - Paris - London - Ireland for your 19 days. Much closer geographically, easy train connections, in a straight line basically.

Like:

Amsterdam - 3 nights
Brussels - 2 nights (with day trip to Bruges/Ghent. Brussels itself is very mediocre.)
Paris - 5 nights
London - 5 nights
Ireland - 4 nights

Only flight necessary here would be the London - Ireland flight, so less time going thru security and hanging around airports. The train connections I've referenced are sooooo easy and fast. Bruges and Ireland can be your restful stops, and Amsterdam itself is very laid-back. Plus you're in your 20s; you have plenty of time to go back.

Point of reference: DH and I went to Europe 3 times in our 20s - first England/Ireland; then Netherlands, Belgium, Paris; then Italy. We had kids. We took a 12-year hiatus. Now we've started going back with the kids, who are 9/12. Last year we did Spain, south France, Italy, Switzerland; next year we hope to do London, Berlin, and Iceland.

Like Rick says, you have to assume you'll be back.

Also, from looking at Germany, I think it's a trip unto itself. That's why we're doing Berlin this time around as it's kind of a northern outlier, then we plan to hit the rest of Germany on a different trip.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks everyone! The input is definitely helpful.

After looking at everyone's advice, we sort of came up with an updated itinerary that cuts out Cinque Terre and looks logistically like it makes more sense. It also pained me a little to do so, but I cut out Switzerland this trip but 1) we figured we could make it its own trip one day so we can do lots and lots of hiking there - maybe even add it to our future Italy trip - and 2) it made our trip home more difficult due to transportation to airports and flight costs. We removed Belgium based on the fact that it was a bit out of the way if our next stop was going to be Germany and I've heard a few times that it wasn't anything special. Prague got thrown in there because my mom's side of the family is from there and I have a couple of cousins who have been there many times and can give some great tips.

New:
Fly into Amsterdam (3 nights) -> Cologne or Frankfurt (2 nights) -> Munich (3 nights) with day trips to the castles and Dachau -> Salzburg or Vienna? (3 nights) -> Prague (3 nights) -> Berlin (3 nights) and fly out of Berlin.

Posted by
5747 posts

That is a bit better as you are moving more linearly.

I still think you need to cut one destination and add nights to Amsterdam (your first day may be jet lagged) and somewhere else. For Munich you have 3 nights which is 2 days but you are wanting to see castles and Dachau. Both are worthy but wouldn't you want a day IN Munich to see things there? Or...maybe not?

Posted by
1279 posts

I would cut out Vienna/Salzburg and consider adding Rothenburg ob de Tauber since it's near Munich.

Posted by
2016 posts

Salzburg is close to Munich. My recollection is about 1 1/4 hours or so. Vienna would be quite a bit farther. Salzburg would give you your mountain experience especially if you venture out of town a bit. I think 2 or 3 days in Salzburg would be perfect. And I do agree that a family would really have a nice time exploring the city of Munich.

Posted by
11774 posts

Fly into Amsterdam (3 nights) -> Cologne or Frankfurt (2 nights) -> Munich (3 nights) with day trips to the castles and Dachau -> Salzburg or Vienna? (3 nights) -> Prague (3 nights) -> Berlin (3 nights) and fly out of Berlin. Much better. I would make one more slash and skip Austria and add at least one night to Berlin, one to Frankfurt (day trip to Mainz and Wiesbaden, maybe tiny medieval untouristy Buedingen too), maybe a night to Prague for a day trip to Terezin, given your interest in WWII.

The cathedral in Cologne is outstanding, but Frankfurt has much more to see and the historic center was not badly damaged in WWII and has been faithfully restored. Cologne apparently had much more damage because every other building is a 1950's architectural monstrosity.

Posted by
3149 posts

New: Fly into Amsterdam (3 nights) -> Cologne or Frankfurt (2 nights)
-> Munich (3 nights) with day trips to the castles and Dachau -> Salzburg or Vienna? (3 nights) -> Prague (3 nights) -> Berlin (3
nights) and fly out of Berlin.

Day 1 - Arrive AMS; take a nap; sleep in AMS
Day 2 - Explore AMS; sleep in AMS
Day 3 - Explore AMS; sleep in AMS
Day 4 - travel to Frankfurt for 4 hours by train; add 1.5 hours on either end for travel to station and hotel check-in/check-out; sleep in Frankfurt
Day 5 - Explore Frankfurt; sleep in Frankfurt
Day 6 - travel to Munich for 3.5 hours by train; add 1.5 hours on either end for travel to station and hotel check-in/check-out; sleep in Munich
Day 7 - visit castles; sleep Munich
Day 8 - Dachau; sleep Munich
Day 9 - Travel to Salzburg for 2 hours by train; add 1.5 hours on either end for travel to station and hotel check-in/check-out; sleep in Salzburg
Day 10 - Salzburg; sleep in Salzburg
Day 11 - Salzburg; sleep in Salzburg
Day 12 - Travel to Prague for 7 hours by train; add 1.5 hours on either end for travel to station and hotel check-in/check-out; sleep in Prague
Day 13 - Prague; sleep in Prague
Day 14 - Prague; sleep in Prague
Day 15 - travel to Berlin for 4.5 hours; add 1.5 hours on either end for travel to station and hotel check-in/check-out; sleep in Berlin
Day 16 - Berlin; sleep in Berlin
Day 17 - Berlin; sleep in Berlin
Day 18 - Departure

You can see from the above that you have 16 days on the ground and are proposing travel to 4 countries and 6 locations. You will also spend 5 of your 16 days entirely in transit. Not a fun trip, in my opinion. Less is more!

Posted by
448 posts

That’s still a very agressive itinerary for a first time trip which allows no room for anything to go wrong. Moving around city to city sucks time out of the day like you wouldn’t believe. And, of course, you’ll inevitably forget the toothpaste at one hotel so it’s off to the store to buy more. Or, a hotel will have the reservation messed up and it’s under Smith, Joe rather than Joe Smith and it takes some time to figure out.

It’s your trip, but I’d consider dialing it back. Most of Rick’s interaries are very agressive, but are better for a tour group where there’s a guide to help or else a college backpacker who can roll with the flow much easier.

Posted by
10009 posts

" Most of Rick’s interaries are very agressive, but are better for a tour group where there’s a guide to help or else a college backpacker who can roll with the flow much easier. "

That's my thought too. You're trying to duplicate the pace of an escorted tour, but on your own. For the reasons pointed out in posts above, that doesn't work well. When you're on an escorted tour, someone else is handling the logistics. They can take you, efficiently, from the hotel to the museum to lunch to the church to dinner to the hotel, and they have plans B and C all ready. As a first time visitor to a place, on your own, YOU will constantly be figuring all this out.

Also, don't underestimate how much adjustment there is to each new place, and even more to each new country. For instance, on your itinerary, just when you're learning how the transit system in one place works, you have to learn a new one.

So, I agree with the others. Cut the number of places, and spend a bit more time in each one, and less time dashing from place to place, and just accept, right now, that you'll have to come back for anything you didn't see this time.

Posted by
3698 posts

Whenever you say "X days (or nights) here, Y days/nights there" you need to subtract 1 from those numbers" X-1 days here, Y-1 days there". Because you don't instantly teleport yourself from one place to another, you consume most of a day every time you move.

Look over your list again. Now subtract 1 from each number. Corrected numbers for each place shown below:

Fly into Amsterdam (2 nights) -> Cologne or Frankfurt (1 nights) -> Munich (2 nights) with day trips to the castles and Dachau -> Salzburg or Vienna? (2 nights) -> Prague (2 nights) -> Berlin (2 nights) and fly out of Berlin.

Moving pretty fast. Not impossible, but rather aggressive.

Posted by
60 posts

It's your trip. Don't let people on these boards talk you out of doing what you want to do. Everyone doesn't want to stay 3-4 days in a place. Personally, I usually am ready to move on after 2 nights; 3 at the very most. People seem to be pushing Salzburg, which I find ok, but not on my top 10 list. Vienna, even farther down. I don't care much for most big cities and I don't know about you. The little villages are where you can explore the cultural differences. I would put Switzerland back in the itinerary, but I agree that Italy could best be saved for a future trip.

Posted by
10412 posts

If you stay near the train station, say within 5 mins walking, most of the day is not used up. It can done 2-3 nights in a place, depending on the particular city. Let's say you arrive at 1100 and staying near the station. By noon I would have checked in, having a leisurely lunch at the station or nearby and soon afterwards be out and about.

I don't take a taxi or public transport to get to the hotel, the main exception is in Berlin, which I know is inefficient in my traveling style. . But that Pension has its advantages, ie, I can check in anytime after 7 am and go to the room if it's clean and unoccupied, as there is absolutely no need to wait until 2 or 3pm to access the room.

In London, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt and other cities I stay close to the train station in small hotels and a B&B (London)> You could combine the nights and Munich and Füssen into just staying in Munich. I wouldn't even suggest going to Füssen, totally not interested in the place.

Posted by
3149 posts

I do not recommend staying near train stai, contrary to Fred’s advice. I find these areas to be a magnet for unsavory activity and generally ugly. I prefer to make use of fast and efficient public traitor travel an additional 5-10 minutes to be in a nicer area, an area where there are high quality restaurants and attractions.

Posted by
1104 posts

Something I’ve done to help understand actual waking time to sightsee, relax, and wander is use a spreadsheet calendar. And I might have 2-3 versions.

First I enter the city for each night. Then I enter max hours to sightsee/do things/eat out/relax (I figure 10 hours in hotel sleeping, etc). So a day with no travel gives your 14 hours of non travel time. If you have a 4 hour train ride, add in time to pack, checkout, get to and from train stations, other transportation, and getting to hotel to drop luggage or check- (that might be 6 hours), leaving 8 hours of enjoyment. If you travel mid morning to mid afternoon, you’ve split that 8 hours into two pieces that might not be efficient to do much of. anything. Try to do your travel early in morning so you arrive at 2, with 8 hours until you go to hotel for the night. Or spend a full morning and leave for your destination early afternoon and arrive early evening.

Then I start entering things we might do on each day. If the list is getting too long with MUST sees, that tells me I might need to add a night. And definitely plan a day or two to do nothing. You will do something, but don’t plan whatever that nothing is.

This process really helps maximize what I call vacation enjoyment hours. One other thing to consider is that moving from one local to another and schlepping bags Is physical. To someone else’s point, we’d rather stay in the center near the action than at the train station.

Posted by
68 posts

Seems like you got a lot of different advice, which is good, because it will make you realize what is really important for you to see during this trip. My opinion for what it is worth:

I travelled before, during, and after Residency. Assume that you will go back to Europe sooner than latter. Also, I have traveled with my children since they were 4 months old, and having them was not an obstacle (on the contrary) to traveling. So you decide, if like you said " We know that we may not get the opportunity for a long trip for several years". But those obstacles might just be imaginary. And the opportunities will be there, several times a year.

Of your destinations, I would put back Switzerland in the itinerary (Mürren).

My first two trips to Europe were 6 weeks each and were very fast paced. They were perfect for me. I did not need to sleep much, I was too excited. I loved taking the train and feeling the anticipation of the next destination. I was on a extreme budget (youth hostels), food was secondary (enough to sustain and stay healthy), but experiences and activities were everything, and I always spent on that. On one of those 6 six week trip, we were four girls ready to explore the world. It was not only one of the best trip of my life, it shaped me into who I am today. So, if you want a fast paced itinerary, go for it. No regrets.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you all for the advice! We are both in our 20s and already planning on our trip being very fast paced and are okay with that. We aren't the type to really have regrets if it does end up feeling like we scheduled in too many stops so I am not too worried.

That being said, I think that we are going to consider cutting out Frankfurt, but leaving everything else. The extra 2 nights that we gained would go to a one night stop in a town between Amsterdam and Munich for a night so that we get a small taste of a town off of the Romantic Road (it sounds like Rothenburg ob der Tauber has been mentioned a lot) and then one night added to Munich or Berlin.

As for Salzburg - I haven't gotten to do much additional research on what else we should do or see there yet. I sort of wanted to see the Alps or just take in some good scenery. Is there a nearby alternative to Salzburg that somebody would suggest that still falls somewhat on our route (Munich to Prague), or should we just stick with Salzburg?