Itinerary advice using rail system

Hello all
New to this site, a big fan of Ricks DVDs!
We are a family of 2 adults and one child 5 years old, want to travel either June-July or Sept-oct (advice?) for approx 32-33 nights, coming from Australia.

Places we really want to visit;

  • London 6 nights
  • Paris 5 nights
  • Lauterbrunnen Switzerland area 4 nights
  • Hallstatt Austria 3 nights
  • Munich 5 nights
  • Amsterdam 5 nights Total 28 nights so have room for another 1-2 stops along the way.

Other places of interest are;
- Rhine Bacharach Germany
- Lake Como area
- a nice beach town with something different architecture wise with swimming beaches (suggestions)
- other suggestions

We want to experience something different in each place and want to limit long train travel. we don't want to travel overnight as heard this can be a bit hard to get proper sleep?

I'd like help with best order in which to travel to minimise time spent on train (inc minimum change overs), does the itinerary give us a good variety of experiences and are the nights spent in each too long/short, I'm finding it hard to work in a beach without making train travel too long. Would any of the travel between stops be better to hire a car rather than rail?

There are a lot of rail websites so unsure which is best, I'd like to prebook accommodation and rail.

Looking forward to hearing from you!
Sasha

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
2328 posts

The slight outlier for your trip is Amsterdam, the others form a fairly simple path in the order quoted. You could visit Amsterdam between London and Paris, travelling by train from London to Brussels and then Brussels to Amsterdam, and then directly from Amsterdam back to Paris. Another possibility is to leave Amsterdam until last and fly from Munich to Amsterdam.

Paris to Lauterbrunnen or Paris to Munich would be your longest rail trips, but both are possible in daytime, albeit they would take most of the day. You can check most European rail schedules on the German rail site at www.bahn.de. I would particularly use this to research the most efficient order to visit Munich, Hallstatt and Lauterbrunnen, which I don't know off the top of my head.

There aren't any coasts with sea that is likely to be really warm enough to swim in within easy reach of your initial destinations. You could get to a beach from London or Amsterdam, but the English Channel and North Sea tend to be cold even in summer.

There isn't any single website to buy rail tickets that I would recommend for your whole trip. The best fares between London and Paris will be at www.eurostar.com. For London-Amsterdam try the Eurostar site or www.b-europe.com. If you decide to go between Amsterdam and Paris by train, use www.thalys.com.

Otherwise for journeys within France or between France and other countries, use www.capitainetrain.com (the official French rail site is usually not recommended for people outside Europe as it often charges them inflated fares and fails to show all trains). For journeys involving Germany, Austria, and Switzerland use the national sites at www.bahn.de (Germany), www.sbb.ch (Switzerland), or www.oebb.at (Austria). For international journeys, try the sites for both countries and see which is cheaper - in particular tickets for journeys between France and Germany will usually be cheaper on the German site.

The cheapest rail fares are available around three months in advance online (four months for Eurostar). Be warned that cheap advance rail tickets are strictly limited to specific trains, and if you miss one you will usually have to buy a new ticket and pay full fare.

The only leg you might want to fly on is if you decide to leave Amsterdam until last and fly back to Australia from there. Munich-Amsterdam is eight or nine hours by train, so I would fly. KLM and Lufthansa both offer flights on that route.

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
2328 posts

Both Paris-Munich and Paris-Lauterbrunnen will be five or six hours by train. I don't know if this is too long a journey for you. A common rule of thumb is that air will not usually be faster than train in Europe for train journeys of six hours or less, when you add in time to travel between city centres and airports, and time spent hanging around in passport/security queues and departure lounges.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10383 posts

If you want to hit a beach somewhere and do some swimming, I would try to put yourself in a beachy area as far towards the end of July as possible. Your main route has you nowhere near the beaches of southern Europe, which have a wider season, but you could fit in some beaches farther north, where the conditions are far less dependable or predictable. Northern Europe has some very attractive wide, sandy beaches. Some of my favorites that would be feasible for your trip are De Haan on the Belgian coast, and Domburg at the far tip of Zeeland province in the Netherlands. The former is easier to reach without a car. Scheveningen in the Netherlans is also probably very convenient to Amsterdam, but I have not visited. By September, your chances of getting good beach weather start dropping precipitously, and forget about it in October. Another option would be the Bodensee (a very large lake with an Alpine view on the mutual border of Austria, Switzerland and Germany), which will likely stay warmer a little later than the North Sea. There's swimming beaches in the towns of Lindau, Friedrichshafen, Bregenz and probably more places I'm not aware of.

For the Alpine locations, September usually strikes the best balance between warm but not hot weather, sunny skies and lack of precipitation. Depending on the conditions of the previous winter and spring, some locations may still have lingering snow on the higher elevation hiking trails as late as June.

'I'd like help with best order in which to travel to minimise time spent on train" You have some potentially very long days of travel unless you break up the trip. Paris to Lauterbrunnen will likely consume most of the day on trains. So will Lauterbrunnen to Hallstatt, and Hallstatt to Munich. Munich to Bacharach is probably manageable. Bacharach to Amsterdam can be a long day depending on the timing of the trains you catch. There's a high-speed link between Köln (not that far by train from Bacharach) and Amsterdam, but it only runs a few times a day.

Your proposed trip looks like it hits most of Mr. Steves' personal favorites. Here's one criticism, though. Mr. Steves tends to sacrifice geographic scope for greater detail on fewer locations. There's a whole world of worthwhile destinations that can fill in the gaps between the relatively few far-flung places he highlights. So... supplement your research, especially to help break up your longer trips.

Posted by sashaOz
3 posts

Thank you Philip and Tom for your very useful replies, gives more food for thought! I'll hit the web links now, appreciate your replies :)

Posted by Adam
Boston
2923 posts

Other options: There is a night train from Amsterdam to Basil, from there it's about 2 hours to Interlaken (at the foot of the Lauterbrunnen).

You won't get a lot of sleep but you might get enough and it saves you a day, and might be fun. And you could go London > Paris > Interlaken etc.

There's a direct night train from Amsterdam to Munich, greater possibility of sleep. London > Paris > Amsterdam > Munich > Hallstadt > Lauterbrunnen, flying home from Zurich.

The Alps better in the fall than the spring.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1917 posts

Hi Sasha from Oz!

This sounds like a great trip and very doable by train in the order you list. Put a stop in the Rhine area between Munich and Amsterdam to break up that trip. And put Lake Como between Lauterbrunnen and Austria like this:

From Lauterbrunnen, take the train to Lucerne and pick up the train heading to Lugano ( you may have to change at Arth-Goldau). I would spend one night in Lucerne as it is very nice. At Lugano, you can take a bus one hour east to Managgio on Lake Como, in the nice upper part of the lake. Or stay on the train to Como and ride a boat up the lake ( slower than the bus option but might be fun).

From Menaggion, take the ferry across the lake (15 minutes) to Varenna. Actually you could stay in either Varenna or Menaggio; Rick likes Varenna and so do we. Albergo Milano has some nice little apartments that would be good for your family. At Varenna, you can catch the train going east to Tirano, where you pick the train going north into Switzerland on the Bernina Express route. There is a famous train with special cars that plies this route but there are regular trains too. It would be nice to spend a night in Pontresina or nearby with views of snowy peaks and glaciers. Then the next day continue north to Sargans where you connect with the train into Austria.

You can find a map of the Swiss train system and follow this route on the Swiss Travel System website. Look for the "synoptic map" or just Google that (Swiss synoptic map). For schedules look at the Swiss train website www.rail.ch

I would prefer September for this trip, personally.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
7449 posts

Sounds like this is a plan for next year, so it will come together and you have plenty of time for more research. If you want to fill in more stops in between, then of course Rick's books will give info for options like Reims or Colmar in France, Rhine and Mosel in Germany, etc. Hallstatt is a relaxing lake town, and has the salt mine tour and hiking. If you did not want a lot of lake or hiking time, then staying two nights would be enough to see the highlights. Focus now on planning a logical route with all the stops you want to see. Don't worry about ticket prices, yet; you can compare the costs of tickets vs. Eurail passes next spring, when the plan is more settled and the railways have made whatever 2015 changes they might have up their sleeves.

Posted by sashaOz
3 posts

Laura, Adam and Sasha from Bainbridge Island, I am so grateful for your advice, I am thinking of giving the beaches a miss, and looking further into Lake Como, Lucerne and the Rhine to break up my original itinerary. I think a few short stops will be ok as long as majority are 4+ nights. Thanking you :)