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Itinerary feedback and train help-London, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Paris

My family and I are planning a 25 day trip through Europe primarily by train (see tentative itinerary below). The flights to and from London are set, but the rest is still flexible. Our two kids will be 10 and 12 when leave. My questions are this:

  1. Is this too ambitious? Too places, too connections? We've done a fair bit of traveling, but mostly in the states.

  2. We're trying to decide which eurorail pass to purchase. It seems the 4 country select pass that can be used 10 days within 2 months would be best. Our 10 yr old will travel free under the child rate, and our 12 yr old pays the youth rate on the eurail, but in some countries he would be free (like Germany - child rate goes til age 14). So should we consider buy the tickets point to point instead?

  3. Seat reservations on trains. I get why we should have seat reservations but it seems to add a significant cost to the eurorail pass. Some of these route have multiple connections, do you have to pay a seat reservation for each connection/leg of the trip? Are the seat reservations for the child/youth tickets the same price as the adult reservations? Is there a way to figure out what the total cost of seat reservations would be?

  4. The eurorail website has a "Book your reservations with eurorail" is it worth getting to eurorail pass to use this site or are the reservations easy enough to sort out for the individual trains.

Whew! Okay, that was a lot of questions. I would be grateful for any feedback on all or any of these questions.

June 15 flight to London
June 16 arrive in London
June 17 London
June 18 London
June 19 London
June 20 train-London to Bacharach through Brussels (or flight London to Cologne then train)
June 21 Bacarach
June 22 train-Bach to Rothenburg
June 23 train-Roth to Munich
June 24 Munich (side trip to Neuschwanstein Castle)
June 25 night train-Munich to Venice
June 26 Venice
June 27 train-Venice to Florence
June 28 Florence
June 29 train-Florence to Rome
June 30 Rome
July 1 Rome
July 2 train-Rome to Pisa to Cinque Terre
July 3 Cinque Terre
July 4 train-Cinque Terre to Lauterbrunnen
July 5 Lauterbrunnen
July 6 train-Lauterbrunnen to Paris
July 7 Paris
July 8 Paris
July 9 Paris
July 10 train-Paris to London/flight London to home (or flight Paris to London then home)

Posted by Jazz+Travels
Chicago
2423 posts

No pass needed on this trip.
Forget taking a train from London to Bach as too much can go wrong connecting if another train is late. It will not be fun.
If your destination after London is Bach closer to fly into Frankfurt instead of Cologne; and then take the train from the airport.

These routes buy in advance to save:
Munich to Venice
Venice to Florence
Florence to Rome

You might chop either the trip to Rome or Switzerland parts; it is trying to do too much for sure. Not fun for anyone.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
10704 posts

Last day, curious how you will get a train/plane from Paris to London and get a flight back to North America in the same day. I guess there is an 8 pm Virgin flight to New York, but it sure seems like it could be a slog of a day.
A couple legs are in the 8 to 9 hour range, like London-Bacharach, Cinque Terre-Lauterbrunnen. That means a whole day on the train plus check-out of the old hotel and check-in to the new hotel.

Posted by joe
Edmonds, WA
1514 posts

I have the same curiosity/concern that Sam has with your 'independent' travel from Paris to London to get your flight.

Everything has to go right to make that work and any little glitch can prove disastrous.

You may want to give further thought to your plan to make a same day dash from Paris to London to catch your homeward flight.

Perhaps move your London days to the end of the trip?

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7052 posts

Rome to Cinque Terre with a stop in Pisa will probably be about 7 hours, as well.

I would not incur the substantial expense of traveling into and out of Switzerland for one day in the Berner Oberland. What if it's rainy and foggy that day?

Night trains can mean no sleep, though I admit that some people handle them better than others. There are two night trains between Munich and Venice. The first makes 9 stops between midnight and its 6:25 AM arrival in Venice, one being a transfer you must make in Padua at 5:21 AM. The second night train doesn't leave Munich until 11:35 PM. It also makes 9 stops after midnight, but at least you don't have to change trains in Padua, and you don't arrive in Venice until 8:24 AM.

I think much of the itinerary after London and before Paris is rushed. You're running up your transportation cost by covering so much territory, and you're increasing the time spent on trains at the expense of actually having your feet on European soil. All of your destinations are great, but I think you'll have a much better trip if you don't try to cram so much in.

If your flight back home departs London on July 10, I think you need to be in or near London on the night of July 9. Stuff happens. You do not want to get stuck buying four replacement one-tickets home.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
8379 posts

My trip looks a little to yours in regards to the start and end. I set aside days from Paris to London to fly back to Calif. Unless you booked your EuroStar departure very early in morning and you're staying the last night in a hotel at Gare du Nord ( so that in the morning you can just walk over to Nord, ie 2-4 mins) and your flight from London leaves in the late afternoon, I would not suggest doing all this in one day. You go through security for the EuroStar plus at the London airport.

Prior to the date of departure flying home, I return to London from Paris on the Euro Star the afternoon/evening before.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
8379 posts

Hi,

On the Munich to Venice journey, I would suggest the second night train since I would prefer not having to transfer at 0521. That in itself is no big deal, still a direct one is preferable.

The night trains I've taken I managed to avoid transferring prior to 0700, even if you have to tailor the route.

Posted by Russ
Paradise
3833 posts

Your schedule for Germany is very problematic. I will break it to you as gently as possible... it's really quite impossible to see much of Germany or to enjoy your time as you have it. You have only 4 days in Germany that are scattered all over. There's almost no time in Munich. Your trip to Neuschwanstein will mean 5 hours round trip on trains and buses - it will take up the whole day pretty much for the 30-minute tour. You are spending at least 7-8 hours traveling to Bacharach just to sleep there before you go to Rothenburg in the morning. And you won't see the Alps at night. Basically it's all just a lot of transportation with a view out the window.

I would suggest this:

  • On 6/20, see a little more of London in the morning. In the afternoon transfer yourselves to Stansted Airport for the 7:50 pm Ryanair flight to Frankfurt International (current price $28; arrive 10:25 pm) and sleep at an FRA airport hotel.

  • On 6/21, catch a morning train to Bacharach (about 1 hour.) Book a room for 3 nights. You are now in one of Germany's most scenic and interesting regions - stay and enjoy yourselves for the 2.5 days that remain. Take a Rhine cruise, enjoy Bacharach, visit some beautiful old-world wine-towns that rival Rothenburg - Braubach is gorgeous too. Tour some REAL castles (Neuschwanstein is NOT btw) - maybe Marksburg or Burg Eltz (Rick Steves' favorite European castle) - without the immense international tourist horde you would have fought at Neuschwanstein. There are also chairlift rides to lookout points over the river, or perhaps the Loreley summer bobsled run would be fun. Any WW II buffs? Take a train to Remagen for the Bridge at Remagen Peace Museum.

  • Wake up on 6/24 in Bacharach and catch a train into Mainz or Frankfurt for the day/night so you can see a nice German city and be near FRA (or Frankfurt Hahn) when you wake up the next morning for your flight out to Venice on 6/25. Ryanair has a 12:45 pm flight for $39 out of Frankfurt Hahn, and one for $34 out of FRA at 2:25 pm.

There are local train day passes that will get your family around cheaply during your time on the Rhine. And since you are flying into and out of Germany, you no longer need a rail pass to cover Germany, Austria, or the Benelux.

Posted by focochristy OP
2 posts

Thank you for your comments! Our flight on July 10 leaves London at 12:40pm. The first eurostar from Paris gets to London at 8:30am or the first flights leave Paris at 7am and get to London at 7:10. Is this not enough time to get to LHR?

Posted by Russ
Paradise
3833 posts

I would definitely sleep at/near LHR the night before your flight. Flying Paris to LHR would make good sense on July 9. Eurostar would require a second train trip to the airport as well.

I have had a few too many flight delays and cancellations to suggest otherwise.

Posted by shoe
Grand Rapids, MI
218 posts

I like all the places you mention, but my concern is that especially with two youths, is that years later all they might remember is "museum, pack, long train ride, museum, pack, train ride, etc." I say that having gone to Europe several times with different young teens. We tried to be at places 4-5 days to avoid being on the move too much, and it must have worked since they returned with me years later as adults.

Here's my thought: Rick Steves says "assume you'll be back", and if so you can cut out a few places and add some days to others.
I liked Bacharach, but it took a LONG time to get to. I'd save that for a Rhine trip later. Maybe Roth too unless it is smack on the way.

Florence is nice, but is museum-heavy and they'll get enough museums in Rome and Paris anyway.
Cinque Terre might be another. When we were there last Aug. several of the best trails were closed due to landslides and it is getting more and more crowded. Check on the web to see if some of the trails between the cities will be closed for repair.
Those, and maybe more will save you 2-3 or more days to be used elsewhere.

Personally, I would add at least 2 days to Lauterbrunnen. I was often there for a week with my kids and we never ran out of things to do, assuming you like walking amongst cows and goats on trails through the best scenery in the world. There are at least 10 great hikes there and if you click on my name you can find previous posts were I describe them. If you wonder what the scenery looks like, Google image "Lauterbrunnen" or "Mannlichen" or "Bachalpsee".

The "typical" thing people do when in Lauterbrunnen is take the expensive trip to the top of the Jungfrau mountain. But again, that's a long day in trains. If you want a "mountain top" experience, you can go up the Schilthorn (where James Bond's On His Majesty's Secret Service" was filmed. It is cheaper and faster and you could take another trail from Murren (at the bottom) that day.

Finally, look up the books "Rome with Kids" and "Paris with Kids". Also, things I remember for kids in Rome: Capuchin Crypt, Catacombs . In Paris: Sewer Tour, Catacombs, Science museum at Port de Villette where there is a rotating room where you can throw a ball at a 90 degree angle, Chez Janou where they have all you can eat Choc. Mousse for dessert, street markets.

Posted by jessica
173 posts

That sounds like a lot to me. Ive traveled to many of these places and I would like to spend more time in several on your list than what you plan. I wonder if you have mapped out what you plan to do in each, and travel time to and from train stations, and waiting in lines, and figured out how much time you will have for everything and how much stamina your kids have for museums, cathedrals, waiting in lines, trekking to and from train stations, etc.
Here's what I would do if you want to keep this plan; I would find a domestic flight from London to Rome, and then work my way north on the train to Florence, then the Cinque Terre and so on to Cologne.
We - mom, dad, 3 kids 14, 12, and 9 - did a similar trip last summer (although for 5 weeks), working from Paris to Rome with many stops a long the way, and then flew from Rome to Amsterdam for 50/person on easyjet. Look on skyscanner for flights (there are several low cost domestic airlines). This will save you all that travel time from London to Germany and then back up again.

best,
Jessica

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
10704 posts

By Eurostar: Get to Gare du Nord by 6:30 to check in for the 7:13 Eurostar, arriving St Pancras International at 8:32.Figure about a half hour to get off the train and find your way to the Piccadilly line platform and get the tube to Heathrow by 10:00. Is 2 1/2 hours enough time for a 12:40 flight to North America? Maybe.

By air: If you want to fly to Heathrow, there are BA and AF flights at 7:30 that get you there by 8:00, certainly enough time, considering you will have to get luggage off of those flights and then check into the new flight. You'll probably need to be on your way to CDG by 5:00 to make a 7:30 flight to London.

If there are any hiccups in those two scenarios, could be a problem. No one is obligated to get you on another flight if you get delayed and miss your 12:40. If you are in London already, you will have options.

Posted by jane
502 posts

Thank you for your comments! Our flight on July 10 leaves London at
12:40pm. The first eurostar from Paris gets to London at 8:30am or the
first flights leave Paris at 7am and get to London at 7:10. Is this
not enough time to get to LHR?

Catching the Eurostar that arrives at St Pancras at 8.30 would get you to Heathrow at 9.45, 10am ish IF everything goes to schedule. You need to plan to be at Heathrow three hours ahead of a transatlantic flight. I wouldn’t like this risk - one day when I was travelling London to Brussels, someone decided to kill themselves by jumping in front of an earlier train. All Eurostar trains were cancelled for nearly 24 hours. And there are other less tragic reasons why these trains can be delayed - it’s not like there’s an alternative route they can take.

And too many things can go wrong with a flight - fog, high winds, strike action. For a 12.40 expensive transatlantic flight out of Heathrow, I’d be waking up in central London and on the tube to Heathrow by 8.30.

I can’t urge you strongly enough to plan out your schedule using not just days or nights but actually what you’ll be doing each day. How many hours on the train, how often you’ll be checking in and out of hotels, how much time actually on the ground for sightseeing.

As it stands, if you stick to your plans, but specific tickets that come with reservations. If you want to sit together you’ll need them on many trains, and buying the actual specific tickets will probably be a lot cheaper than a pass.

But I think if you properly plan out your journey above (and be realistic) you will change your plans.

On that same trip that my train to Brussels was delayed, I also found that German trains were unexpectedly late-running. Our train from Cologne to Hamburg, for example, arrived two hours late. Fortunately I hadn’t planned any connecting trains.

Posted by geovagriffith
1219 posts

Your London and Paris plans aren't too bad, since you have 5 days there each.
However, much of the reminder of your trip you try to visit too many places and spend little time in each.

Yes, Rothenburg on the Tauber can be done in one day, but what about the rest of the wonderful Romantic Road. Look for a good tour to or from Munich.

Your time in Munich and Bavaria is not enough. Also, the Italian portion of your trip has not enough time in Venice, Florence and Rome. Add another day in Venice to three days and at least another day in Florence to three days. For Rome add at least one more day to four. Skip the Pisa and Cinque Terre. Do that on another trip. Cinque Terre is cool, but The big three of Rome, Florence and Venice have far more significant historical sites.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
16217 posts

These routes buy in advance to save:

Munich to Venice
Venice to Florence
Florence to Rome

Add to that list Bacharach to Rothenburg. I you go by regional trains and use a Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket, that trip will take between 5 and 6 hours and cost 52 euro for the four of you. And you can't leave before 9 AM unless you pay extra for the travel before 9, so you would get to Rothenburg at 14:50 (almost 3 PM). If you leave Rothenburg first thing in the morning, you only have the late afternoon and evening to see Rothenburg, and if you hang aroung Rothenburg until later in the day, you won't have much time to see Munich.l

OTOH, if you can commit to a specific train, you can get a non-refundable SparPreis ticket for less than 60 euro and leave before 9 - at 8:06 - go by ICE from Mainz to Würzburg and get into Rothenburg at 12:50. That would give you a few more hours to see Rothenburg before the night and you could leave Rothenburg earlier and have more time in Munich.

Speaking of Munich: Although I don't share Russ's negativity about Neuschwanstein, I don't think you are spending enough time in Bavaria to warrant spending an entire day going to Neuschwanstein. Stay in Munich and see something of that great city. And you current itinerary has you getting into Venice in the morning after an all night train ride and trying to see Venice after you check into a hotel (or at least stash you luggage for a later check in. Instead, I'd take the day EC (11:11 - 18:10), see Brenner Pass and northern Italy, and get a good night's sleep before seeing Venice.

You know, your itinerary give me the impression that you are trying to compile as long a list as possible of places you have physically set foot in without actually spending quality time in some of them. You are spending significant time in only three places - London, Rome, and Paris - and rushing through some otherwise worthwhile places.

Posted by Jill
Boulder, USA
1136 posts

We did a trip similar to this several years ago with an 11 y/o, but we did it over 5 weeks and did an open jaw flight. I agree with others that trying to get from Paris to London on the day of your flight is way too risky!

I think you could see all of those places, but I would suggest you book a flight out of LHR on your arrival day (give it at least 3 hours between flights) to Rome then work your way north and end in London. Something like -

June 15 - 18 Rome
June 19 - 20 Cinque Terra
June 21 -22 Florence
June 22 - 23 Venice
June 24 - 26 Lauterbrunnen (I would never go there for less than 3 nights!)
June 27 - 29 Munich
June 30 - July 1 Rothenberg
July 2 - July 3 Bacharach
July 4 - 7 Paris
July 8 - July 10 London

Wow - that's just too many 2 night stands for me! I don't really like this itinerary, but just showing a different way you could work it. I would cut at least 2 of these places if not 3 or 4. Many of your stops in Italy will be hot and VERY crowded with tourists. That can get overwhelming and tiresome for little ones, along with constantly being on the move. I personally would either cut Italy or Germany and save it for another trip.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
10704 posts

Jill's itinerary looks good, but you are arriving on June 16, so cut a day somewhere.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7052 posts

And Jill has put you in both Venice and Florence on the 22nd. As you can see, there are just too many stops on your wishlist for one trip--a problem we all face.

Posted by Russ
Paradise
3833 posts

Speaking of Munich: Although I don't share Russ's negativity about
Neuschwanstein, I don't think you are spending enough time in Bavaria
to warrant spending an entire day going to Neuschwanstein.

Lee and I agree on the one objection - it takes too much time with the small amount of time you have. The smaller disagreement is over whether N'stein is worthwhile - and if you are actually going to STAY OVER in Füssen and be there longer, and if you just can't shake N'stein out of your head, then sure, go ahead. That said, if you have to choose between a Rhine castle and N'stein, then I'd rather advise you to stay over in Bacharach instead of Füssen to make time for Eltz and/or Marksburg.

Jill writes,

Many of your stops in Italy will be hot and VERY crowded with
tourists. That can get overwhelming and tiresome for little ones...

I have never been so miserable as I was in Vicenza Italy in the first week of July several years ago. Rick himself says the same about Italy and southern destinations in summer... do those another time and stay north of the Alps in the summer. Drop Italy, and all your crazy schedule problems vanish as well. I have no qualms at all with Lee's suggestion that you spend more time in Germany, possibly adding Salzburg if you'll add time in southern Bavaria, and would add some of the time you save to Switzerland as well. 2 days there will only leave you wanting 2 more.

Posted by Eric
San Francisco
4 posts

Is driving an option for you? It is so easy to drive around Germany/Austria/Switzerland/Italy. I've no doubt that it would be less expensive overall (including a couple of flights), then it would be to purchase the rail passes. AND, you would probably cut down the travel time by at least half! And the best part, is seeing something off in the distance that looks interesting and then just pointing the car in that direction.

Regarding your itinerary, some places would require way more time than you've allotted - I'd save them for another trip; specifically the Rhine/Black Forest, The Swiss Alps, and Rome. Tuscany (Pisa & Lucca while you're at it) & Rome is a two week vacation by itself.

I would substitute Salzburg for Munich as I think the kids would enjoy the very walkable Salzburg more. And it's one of the most scenic drives from Fussen (which, while the castles may not be 800 years old, the area as a whole is just breathtaking). Adding Verona & Bologna for the sights AND the food - the best in Italy (IMHO). If the boys are into cars, the two Ferrari museums are nearby in Modena & Maranello (one ticket gets you into both). And, with this itinerary you've knocked off most of Northern Italy (come back again for a Milan/Cinque Terre visit). The best part of this is that most drives are around two hours - leave after breakfast and get there for lunch!

June 15 flight to London
June 16 arrive in London
June 17 London
June 18 London
June 19 Flight to Frankfurt, rent car and drive to Rothenburg ODT (2 hour drive).
June 20 Rothenburg
June 21 Fussen (2:20 drive)
June 22 Fussen
June 23 Salzburg (2:50 minute drive)
June 24 Salzburg
June 25 Salzburg
June 26 Venice (4:30 drive - stop in Udine along the way to break it up); drop off car in Venice.
June 27 Venice
June 28 Venice
June 29 Verona (pick up car in Venice - 1:40 drive)
June 30 Verona
July 1 Bologna (1:40 drive)
July 2 Bologna
July 3 Florence (1:40 drive)
July 4 Florence
July 5 Florence
July 6 Paris (flight out of Florence)
July 7 Paris
July 8 Paris
July 9 London (flight out of CDG)
July 10 Home

Posted by Den
Vancouver
24 posts

What a great travel opportunity for your family! Just a couple of considerations:
- For train travel, use the website seat61.com to take you through various options for travel and for advice on the purchase of tickets.
- Try to stay in a single location for at least three nights! You gain time to see sights when not packing/unpacking so frequently. This will give you a chance to return to a favorite restaurant/gelateria/park (perhaps after a day trip)-which gives your kids an opportunity to better see and connect to daily life vs. quickly passing through.
- Be sure to build in some down time!
Your kids are at great ages for travel. Just keep Rick's "we'll be back" mantra in mind. Trust me, if your kids enjoy this trip they'll want more!

Posted by gerri
lexington, il
1815 posts

You have way too many locations.
11 locals in 24 nights is kind of like a great race. Use nights instead of days, keeping in mind 2N=1 Day.
One example on your itinerary is 25th, nite train Munich-Venice. Arrive on the 26th exhausted from lack of sleep, (I don't know anyone who sleeps well on these trains) check into lodging ( most are around 14:00) you might be able to leave your bags. Then wander Venice in a haze, with crabby kids.
Next day go to Florence

You need to decide why you want to see these places and which sites you want to visit. That will determine
How many days you need in a location.

Keep in mind every time you switch cities, you will lose at least a half day.

With 24 nites, try to limit it to 6, at the most, 7 base locations. You and your family will have a much better experience and probably see more.

We all at one point have tried a similar type of trip. We've learned it's not the way to see Europe. Enjoy it instead.

Posted by djp_syd
David in Brisbane, Australia
6597 posts

Realistically I think you have to choose either Munich or Lauterbrunnen.

June 15 flight to London
June 16 arrive in London (4)
June 17 London
June 18 London
June 19 London
June 20 train to Paris (4)
June 21 Paris
June 22 Paris
June 23 Paris
June 24 train to Rhine-Bacharach (2)
June 25 Rhine
June 26 train to Rothenburg (1)
June 27 train to Munich (3)
June 28 Munich
June 29 side trip to Neuschwanstein Castle
June 30 train to Venice (2)
July 1 Venice
July 2 train to Florence (2)
July 3 Florence
July 4 train via Pisa to Cinque Terre (2)
July 5 Cinque Terre
July 6 train to Rome (3)
July 7 Rome
July 8 Rome
July 9 fly to London (1)
July 10 fly home

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
10085 posts

Have you traveled a lot with your kids with very short (1,2,3 nights) stays? Is everyone efficient with packing, unpacking, getting up and ready? Two things to consider in planning a multiple stop trip: [1] moving uses up about 1/2 day on average. It's not just the 2 hour train ride, but getting (showered and) dressed, packed, breakfast, moving to the train station (adding time for traffic), lead time at the station to (buy tickets and) find your train (and flying means a lot more lead time). Then getting to your new hotel, checking in and dropping your luggage. Then you have to get oriented to the new city (and new language, new signage, new public transport . . .) and [2] 4 people will only move as fast as the slowest one . . . a sleepy-head, a dawdler, an ooops-I-forgot-something. . . A rule of thumb that comes up often on this forum is 2 nights in a place = one day; 3 nights = 2 days . . .

Have you considered that you will need time to do laundry occasionally? Shop for necessities that you haven't packed or have run out of? Maybe just a slow day once a week. Visiting many varied places briefly can easily cause sensory and emotional overload. Your schedule is one day in Munich with a side trip - either see Munich or simply go to Fussen to see Neuschwanstein.

Lastly, one day in the Swiss Alps is a gamble. If the weather's good, it can be glorious. If it's cloudy, you won't even see the peaks and you'll have lost those precious days you could have spent elsewhere. Most people recommend staying longer to increase the odds of a good experience. Cinque Terre can be beautiful, but if it's crowded you won't enjoy it, unless you are good hikers and plan to take the more difficult, longer, trails higher up the coastal cliffs.

Posted by Laurel
Lincoln City, OR
6271 posts

June 20 train-London to Bacharach through Brussels (or flight London to Cologne then train)

June 21 Bacarach

June 22 train-Bach to Rothenburg

June 23 train-Roth to Munich

June 24 Munich (side trip to Neuschwanstein Castle)

June 25 night train-Munich to Venice

This part is a weak section. Too many moves followed by more short stays in Italy. After a night train, you will not enjoy Venice.

I would dump the portion in Germany and fly to Venice. This frees up 5 nights, which should be added to Venice (1), Florence (1), Rome (2), and Lauterbrunnen (1). Give yourselves a break and make some memories.