First time traveling to Europe - itinerary and eurail pass help.

I will be going to Europe for 5.5 weeks this fall and am hoping to make it to the places listed below. I have the minimum days listed afterward. I am planning on getting a global pass, as I would like to travel primarily by train/ferry/bus, but still would like some input.

Start:
Paris 4 days
Bayeux (possible day trip to WWII sites)
Brussels 1.5/2 days
Bruges 1 day
Amsterdam 4 days
(I haven't quite determined which stops to make between Amsterdam and Oslo. Most likely hamburg, then Copenhagen. Any suggestions would be appreciated!)
Oslo 1 day
Bergen 2 days
Oslo 1 day
(Layover in Copenhagen again?)
Berlin 2/3 days
Oswiecim (or somewhere close to visit Auschwitz) 1.5/2 days (because if commute)
Vienna 2 days
Salzburg 2 days
Munich 2 days
Luzern 2 days
Gimmelwald 1 day
Baden-Baden/black forest (1.5 days)
Frankfurt 1.5 days

I have left about a few days for any hiccups in the travel, and also will be flying back home out of Frankfurt.

I know this itinerary is tough as it is a go-go-go schedule.

Any thoughts that may be helpful? I'm a twenty something that is doing the quintessential backpacking trip.

Are there any specific concerns I should have with the train rides regarding a global pass? I know reservations are required in some places, recommended in others, and not necessary in some places.

Would a ferry benefit me for the Norway portion of the trip?

Thanks in advance.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10061 posts

I see at least a few problems here. The over-arching one is that you're significantly underestimating traveling times and distances.

Don't underestimate how far Norway is from most of the rest of Europe, even from Denmark.

Bergen is located a full day's travel away from Oslo, unless you fly. When you say "two days", do you mean three nights? And what about those "1 day" stops in Oslo? Is this a full day, or just the portion going to and from Bergen? Personally, I think Oslo is worth at least three full days.

Likewise, without even looking up the information on the rail sites, I'm going to estimate that Auschwitz is another full day's travel between Berlin and Vienna. If you need to streamline things, consider Sachsenhausen outside of Berlin as a substitute.

"Gimmelwald 1 day" First of all, I think Rick Steves has overblown this little village far above what it's worth. It's in a spectacular location, but it's just a regular village otherwise, except for the inevitable presence of Rickniks closely grasping their Blue Book. Second, the Alps are one of the most weather-dependent destinations in Europe. I always recommend at least three nights in any given Alpine location, to give yourself a buffer against bad weather. Otherwise, the one day you have chosen might be an expensive and time-consuming look at nothing but fog and rain. Third, the timing of your trip puts the Swiss Alps into the shouldern season, when the weather is usually not condusive to anything except staying inside and most of the hosptiality industry in the mountains goes into temporary hiatus before the upcoming ski season. This is a very low-yield time of year for one of the most expensive locations in Europe.

"Baden-Baden/black forest (1.5 days)" Same problem here, if you want to explore the mountains, you have no buffer against bad weather. It's also worth pointing out that many of us are puzzled why of the nearly 100 officially designated spa resorts in Germany (they usually have the word "Bad" somewhere in the town name), Rick Steves choosed to highlight this one only. It would make a logical stop in the flow of your trip, however. But if you have no interest in the spas or shopping at overpriced bling boutiques, I would consider staying in Freiburg or Tittisee-Neustadt instead.

"Are there any specific concerns I should have with the train rides regarding a global pass?" Um... yes, plenty, including the fact that it's entirely too expensive and comes with too many restrictions. But I'll let the rail gurus explain further.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
10743 posts

geM

It is usually easier to plan in terms of nights rather than days. For example, for Gimmelwald - are you intending to sleep up the hill or are you planning a day trip from Luzern?

When is "this fall"? Depending on that answer you might consider moving the Alps portion up in the schedule for the reasons given by my colleague above.

Please look at the train schedules - from the Deutsche Bahn (DB) or other national rail companies - to get a true idea of how much of your journey will be looking through windows instead of doing what you have travelled so far to do.

Rick Steves' How to Look Up Train Schedules and Routes Online

Posted by stan
Kansas City
565 posts

Oswieicim is a long way out of the way for your itinerary. If you must, consider Wroclaw or Krakow as the place to stay - Oswiecim is small and not in itself very interesting. If you just want to see a c-camp, consider Dachau just outside Munich - much more convenient to get to.

Looks like you are trying to hit all the large city highlights of Europe in one trip, but consider just how much of your time will be spent on a train or in a train station. Have you looked at the travel time between your stops? For example just getting to and from Gimmelwald will consume a whole day of your time in itself. Train travel gets old fast, and after awhile the scenery is just a blur.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
3506 posts

As previously pointed out, hit the Alps early in the trip rather than later. Do your trip the other direction starting in Frankfurt and ending in Paris.
If you want to keep Norway in the mix, fly. Norwegian Airlines has some cheap flights in the fall. I see Berlin to Bergen for 60 euro, and Oslo to Amsterdam for 38 euro. That will cover the gap between Berlin and Amsterdam.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12063 posts

And price your rail travel and pass carefully. With reservations fees, premium train fees, and something limited seats for a rail pass, a rail pass is not a no-brainer, good deal that they once were. Often the discount advance purchase price, and local passes, are much cheaper than using a pass. However, most of the time, a rail pass will provide a little higher level of convenience except for those trains that require a reservation.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
2181 posts

Meg.geM,

first off, welcome and its great youre flying solo.

what you should think about NOT doing is BACKTRACKING. Its wastes time & $$$. However, its yours to waste.

i wont comment on your path or lack of one.

but as far as the places to stay. again, this is your trip, but i would put more thought up front into where you are going and why.

im going by what i did and why and how many days i did those things.

  • Paris - 4 days is good (for what i did/see).
  • Normandy. 1 day not so good. I spent 2 days there and didnt see all. I did one day for Mont Saint Michel and could have spent the whole 2 days EASILY in the Normandy WWII sites and then some.
  • Oslo. Easily 2~3 days.
  • Hamburg 1~2 days depending on what you want to do/see
  • Copenhagen 2~3 days.

Note that i spent most of my time IN the city and no day trips with the exception of Paris and Normandy. I havent been to the other places - yet.

Note that there is a cool train-ferry from Copenhagen to Hamburg. Its about a 4+ hour ride, but i did it last year and enjoyed it. they drive the train onto the ferry and off again. Something you dont see around my neck of the woods.

happy trails.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3554 posts

Hi,

"Would a ferry benefit me for the Norway portion of the trip?"

Yes, if you want to take a ferry in the first place, which you can do from Norway to Germany. I would. The ferry connection is from Oslo to Kiel, Ger. That means you'll have to skip Copenhagen unless you back track it from Kiel. Otherwise, take the Oslo-Kiel ferry, (stay the night) or then take the train to Berlin.

If you're under 25 get the Global Pass. The worst problem with the Global Pass is that it's invalid in Poland. To go from Berlin to Poland, that can be done by day...Berlin Hbf to Krakow Glowny, ca 10 hrs. Get a point to point ticket t Berlin Hbf. to cover the Polish portion The Greg Tom in Krakow in the station area is one of the best. Good itinerary here and leaving a couple of days for the "hiccups" ...the "imponderables" in traveling is a good idea too. You use that extra time to relax in Berlin or Vienna .

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
2462 posts

You really need to go back and simplify your itinerary. Traveling is pretty tiresome--and tough on you physically and mentally.

Those wanting to see many places in a short time really need to join one of the fast moving tours via bus. Doing such a trip by yourself will be very difficult as a first time traveler cannot be very efficient.

And it's virtually impossible to see everything in one trip.

I used to visit a great city (like Amsterdam), rent a car when I was leaving town, and driving as far and fast as I could for 10 days. $8.50 per gallon gasoline made me "see the light", and we now will stay in a bed and breakfast in a central location for 5 days doing day trips to great cities and locations. Then, we'll move on down the road to the next major city.

We try to visit cities that complement each other--in a straight line. Like: Budapest-Vienna-Prague. Or, Rome, Florence, Venice. Or, Munich-Salzburg-Vienna. Or, London-Brussels-Amsterdam. Or, Berlin-Dresden-Prague-Vienna. Or, Paris-Barcelona-Madrid. Or, Munich-Austrian Alps-Venice-Florence. You get the idea.

Another approach is to use the very inexpensive European budget airlines, like RyanAir, EasyJet and Vueling. Fly into a great city like London or Paris and then use a budget airline to take you to Italy, or Budapest or many other great places. You can then easily get into one of the complementing cities mentioned in the above paragraph.

We always fly open jaw when traveling--to avoid expensive back tracking. If you choose your airlines carefully, you might can see some other places coming and going. Like a free stayover in Iceland (whenever the eruptions are not happening.)

You might want to see a travel agent specializing in Western Europe to get them to help you with your itinerary. Rick Steves' organization will also do this service for you.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
3506 posts

A couple more points.
You say you're 20 something. What exactly? If 25 or under, you can get the 2nd class youth pass. If 26 or older, you have to buy the 1st class pass at about 53% more. A 10 day in 2 month 2nd class youth pass is $607, a first class is $932. If you are stuck with the 1st class, you could buy full fare 2nd class tickets as you go for less than $932.
Krakow to Berlin is an 8 hour bus ride or an 11 hour train with several changes. You could fly in less than 2 hours for about 100 euro on Air Berlin. I haven't looked at other airlines.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3554 posts

Hi,

If you are older than 25 and are getting the adult Global Pass 1st class, it's still a trade off with pros and cons. The con part is that it's more expensive. The pro is that you have the flexibility to sit in either 1st or 2nd class., which is advantageous if all the seats in 2nd class are taken. In Germany and Austria you can simply hop on on either coach since reservations are not mandatory (day).

Traveling solo for 5.5 weeks, (esp. at your age) is easily done; changing every two to three days can be taxing, that depends on where you choose the accomodations. From your list there are hostels located a few mins from the station in Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, and Paris, ie anywhere from 3 to 10 mins...very convenient. If I were to drop something from the list, it would be Baden- Baden, or maybe Bergen, or shorten the stay in Amsterdam by a day, since I don't care that much for the place.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
6036 posts

The primary time you'll have to pay extra for a train reservation is for the Thalys from Paris to Brussels (reservation about $45 in 2nd class or $65 in 1st on top of Eurail pass) and also if you choose Thalys between Brussels and Amsterdam. The 8:00 a.m. departure from Oslo toward Bergen also needs a cheap reservation. Two nights in a small town is fine. Two nights in a city like Vienna is minimal, especially if it takes a whole day of travel to get there, but you can take an overnight train from Krakow to Vienna, with sleeper fee.

Consider flying some longer legs, like from Bergen or Oslo to Berlin; see www.skyscanner.com. For an overview of train travel time, see Rick's Time & Cost Map between major points. For more detail, How to Look Up Train Schedules Online gives you the DB train schedule link and tips for using it.

When traveling this long of moving this quickly, Rick has always advocated that about one day out of 7 be used as a "vacation from your vacation." Those are the days for lying on the beach, or taking some mountain lifts in a leisurely manner, but a big hike would not count for me. A train ride should not be a particularly stressful day, but luggage handling, finding a hotel, etc., does take some energy out of you.

Posted by Meg.geM
Alaska
2 posts

Wow! Thank you all very much for your responses!

I will be there September 25. And I am 25 years old.

You all have given me a lot to think about. I am going to take a few days to modify my general schedule. I will post on here if any of you (or more) are interested in helping me still.

I really appreciate your comments!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20053 posts

Meg,

My first impression of your proposed Itinerary is that it's far too ambitious, even for 5.5 weeks. Even with a "go-go-go schedule", you're going to be seeing Europe mostly through the windows of a train or plane.

It's very important to include adequate travel times between locations, as in many cases these will be at least half a day. Keep in mind that each change of location will require time and money. Especially for a first trip, you're covering too much area (IMO). As the old saying goes, "assume you will return".

As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip, as that provides a lot of good information on "how" to travel well in Europe. Use the country or city-specific Guidebooks to plan in more detail for things like sightseeing, hotels, transportation, etc. You should be able to find a good collection of Guidebooks at your local Library or local book stores.

As some of the others have mentioned, a Global Eurail Pass may or may not be the best option. You may find it helpful to enter the details of your Itinerary (once you get it somewhat finalized) into the RailSaver website. It should provide a good approximation of the best option. A couple of other excellent websites are The Man in Seat 61 and the Deutsche Bahn site. The latter is excellent for planning rail trips throughout Europe.

A few thoughts and comments on some of the places you listed.......

  • Bayeux - travel there from Paris as a day trip is possible, but not really practical given the travel times back and forth. There are tours available from Paris City Vision and others, but they tend to be expensive and don't provide a lot of time there. It would be better to spend at least one night in Bayeux and take one of the excellent local tours, as it will be a much more interesting visit.
  • You might consider skipping the Scandinavian countries this time. They tend to be expensive and transportation there and back will likely take 1.5 days total. As you're only spending four days in that area, it hardly seems worth the effort.
  • If you want to see a Concentration Camp, you could also consider Sachsenhausen (Berlin), Matthausen (Vienna) or Dachau (Munich). Auschwitz is somewhat of an "outlier" in relation to your other destinations.
  • You might consider adding at least one night between Vienna and Salzburg to stop for a short visit in Hallstatt (two nights is ideal). It's one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Europe.
  • Rather than stop in Gimmelwald for one night, I'd suggest spending at least two nights either in Gimmelwald, Mürren or Lauterbrunnen. If the weather is nice, that's a wonderful area to tour. One caveat though - Switzerland tends to be expensive, so budget accordingly.
  • I'd probably add a day in Munich, as there's a lot to see in that area. The usual favourite with many is Neuschwanstein Castle in Füssen, which is an easy day trip from Munich.
  • I'm not sure Baden-Baden is worth the effort for such a short time there. While it's a beautiful location, the main attraction there is the Spas (one of which is "textilfrei"). If you're not planning to visit those, the town may not be of much interest.

When is this trip taking place? You'll need to finalize your Itinerary soon, as if you'll be using any budget flights, the best prices are for those who book well in advance.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3554 posts

Hi,

You qualify for the Youth Pass 2nd class on the day you activate it and you are still 25.. Your schedule just needs a little streamlining, ie drop a couple of places. Keep in mind that in France you may be a "victim" to a limited Pass holder TGV train. In that case not all is lost, depending on your flexiblity. If your particular dep time doesn't allow you to use the Pass (I've been through that,.. just pure chance), you either ask if that applies for the next departure, pay the full price for your age, or delay your departure until the next day, or skip that route, say Paris to Brussels. The SNCF ticket counters in Paris train stations, unlike the SNCF ticket machines, take the US magnetic stripe credit card; in Germany even easier...DB ticket machine and staffed ticket counters take US credit cards.

"Are there any other specific concerns...with the train rides regarding a global pass?" If you decide to take the night train option, the Pass only pays for a seat. You have to pay extra for the mandatory reservation.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3554 posts

Hi,

I meant to include that on the night train you want to reserve a couchette or a sleeper (I wouldn't), that's extra, not covered by the Pass, and is pricey. The absolute cheapest is the seat reservation where you sit in a six seat compartment.

The ferry option Oslo-Kiel can get you to Berlin on the day you arrive in Kiel. Take the regional train Kiel to Hamburg (all the trunk lines in the north go through Hamburg Hbf), then the ICE to Berlin Hbf. This avoids going through Denmark.