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Side Trip and Activities Recommendations?

Many moons ago my first and only trip to Europe was 10 weeks long and I more or less followed Rick's "best of Europe" route. I visited 10 countries on that trip and now that I am retired I plan to do a variation on that theme visiting 10 countries again but staying the 90 day max beginning in mid-April. I would be really grateful for any suggestions you may have for side-trips as well as your favorite things to do in the cities. And if you have opinions about how long I plan to spend in each city: do you think I should plan for fewer days in each town or more or???
Here's my tentative itinerary:
Lisbon 9 days; train to
Porto 4 days; fly to
Madrid 7 days; train to
Barcelona 7 days; fly to
Rome 9 days; train to Padua;
Padua/Venice 5 days; bus to
Ljubljana 4 days; bus to
Padua 1 day; train to
Salzburg 5 days; train to
Vienna 6 days; train to
Bratislava 3 days; train to
Budapest 7 days; fly to
Berlin 7 days; train to
Amsterdam 7 days; train to
Paris 9 days
I visited some of these cities on my first go round and thoroughly enjoyed each of them so I'm excited to see them again and experience new ones. I basically loved everything about Europe - the museums and the music and especially the cafe lifestyle!:-) Thanks for any input you may have to help me plan my trip.

Posted by
16123 posts

Without getting into whether you'd be pinched in some of those cities if you took many day-trips -- which obviously depends on your big-city interests -- here are some places I've enjoyed (among many possibilities) that are within day-trip orbit. Some of them are worth more than a day-trip, if you ask me, and I don't actually much care for taking day-trips from capital cities and other top destinations, because you're likely to be paying premium hotel rates while visiting less-costly destinations.

Lisbon: Sintra
Madrid: Toledo, Segovia, Cuenca, Alcala de Henares
Barcelona: Girona, Figueres (Dali Theatre-Museum), Besalu
Rome: Orvieto
Padua/Venice: Vicenza, Ferrara (not seen by me)
Ljubljana: Lake Bled
Budapest: Szentendre, Gyor
Berlin: Potsdam (not seen by me)
Amsterdam: Den Haag, Gouda, Utrect
Paris: Troyes

You'd want to take a look at rail fares; some of those places pretty much require use of fast trains, because the travel time on a regional train would be too long for a day-trip. Those fast trains can be expensive if you don't buy your tickets early. The Girona/Figueres/Besalu triumvirate would be cheaper and more efficient if some nights were spent in Girona; doing all three would probably not leave you enough time in Barcelona, which I'd say needs more time than Lisbon, not less.

I wouldn't push the itinerary all the way to 90 days, as you have in your draft. What happens if you get sick, or your flight home is canceled? Remember, too, that the arrival and departure day both count.

Omission of Prague is interesting. Was that an oversight? Ljubljana is a bit tougher to reach than Prague. Both are great cities, of course.

Edited to add: Even allowing for the occasional side-trip (and 7 days in Madrid without a side-trip would be pretty odd), I think this looks too heavily weighted toward big cities. That's OK for a short trip, but it would tire me out on an extended trip like this. I'm 68, and my summer-long trips feature a lot of time in smaller cities. I'd suggest reining in the geographical extent of the trip a bit and planning some 3- or 4-night stays in smaller cities that themselves can offer side-trips. I'd consider trimming Spain/Portugal or some of the central European destinations.

There's so much to see in Spain, in particular, that I think it's sort of a shame for a retiree to go there and just go to Barcelona and Madrid (even with side-trips).

Posted by
2146 posts

From Paris, I would add overnight trips to Colmar and possible Chartres if you like cathedrals. Day trips to Giverny/Rouen. Chartres can be done as a day trip but they have a great light show in the summer. I don't know what you would do for 9 days in Lisbon. We have done day trips from London while based in an expensive(but paid for with points) London hotel and the advantage is that you don't waste time and energy checking in and out of hotels and lugging your luggage around.

Posted by
16123 posts

I missed this the first time: Budapest to Berlin looks like about 11 hours by train. Even Vienna to Berlin is about 8-1/2 hours.

Seat61.com will point you toward the best places to check rail schedules. I often just use the Deutsche Bahn for initial schedule research, but there have been occasions when it turned out not to show all the trains.

Skyscanner is what I use for intra-European flights.

I should also have brought this up: If your earlier trip was a very long time ago, you will find the world of European travel has changed. A lot. Here are a few key features of that new world:

  • Most fast trains offer tickets of sharply varying price when tickets originally go on sale (dates vary; see Seat61). The cheapest are typically non-changeable or at least non-refundable. Those usually sell out first, leaving for late purchasers only much more expensive full-fare tickets. I'm simplifying, but you get the idea.

  • Rail passes are usually costlier than a series of point-to-point tickets. That will definitely be the case if you get your itinerary figured out early and can snap up cheap tickets.

  • Budget-airline tickets are also cheapest if bought way in advance, once you know your basic schedule.

  • Intra-European flights often come with extremely limited carry-on allowances (weight as well as size) and stiff checked-baggage fees.

  • Visitor levels at top sights are much, much higher than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. Prepare yourself mentally.

  • There are quite a lot of top sights in Europe that sell out way in advance. Some others may not sell out terribly early, but their ticket lines can be hours long. It's important to understand which sights required pre-arrival action. We can help with that once your plans are firmer. I'm aware of popular places where early booking is important in Barcelona, Rome, Padua, Budapest, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. No doubt there are others; I haven't been to all your cities lately.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks so much for the great input. I think I will add most of the suggested excursions to my longer stays. I figure this will be my last Grand Tour so I want to get as big a snapshot as possible while I still have the energy to do it. I was thinking 6-9 day stops would alleviate the burn-out risk, allowing me to spend a day or two in most places sleeping in and just hanging out reading a book and people watching at the local cafes/parks. On subsequent trips I plan to spend more time in fewer countries and I've been reading lately about retiring abroad and Portugal is listed at the top of the list for Europe so I'm interested in seeing how attractive and affordable it is.

I've researched city tourist cards for museums/attractions/transit and plan to buy one every place I visit which hopefully will get me around at least some of the lines. At a cost of around $20-25/day they seem like a no-brainer so if you have experience using them I'd be interested in your input. The only fast train on my schedule is the Madrid-Barcelona leg so hopefully all the others trains will be affordable and easy to book as I go. Thanks again.

Posted by
4043 posts

As acraven pointed out, those other fast trains will cost a lot more if you don't book them early. And she's also right that you're cutting the 90-day Schengen limit very close, if there's any delay you'll face a big fine.

I don't understand how Padua figures in this plan. It's a fine place to visit, but it looks like you're going back there again after Lubljana. Is that really the most efficient way to get from Lubljana to Salzburg? And I hope you don't plan on using Padua as a base for sightseeing in Venice. Stay in Venice itself for whatever number of nights you can give it, not only to save time but also to get the best of the city early and late in the day when it's less crowded.

Good luck with this ambitious plan. April is just around the corner, you've already missed the best savings on trains and flights.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for the added insight. I am thinking about Padua like Rick does for staying in Haarlem when visiting Amsterdam which I did on my first trip to Europe. It's only $10 for the 25 minute train ride to Venice with dozens of departure daily and hotels in Padua are more affordable and available. And on my previous trip I fondly remember the train trip from Vienna to Venice and thought the trip from Padua to Salzburg would be equally beautiful.
As for transit fares, I don't want to be locked into train/airline early booking discount tickets that are nonrefundable or have high cancellation fees so I will play it by ear and hope I don't go broke because of it. Thanks a million for taking time to add your thoughts. I really appreciate it

Posted by
16123 posts

City sightseeing cards: You really have to research every one of them, I'm sorry to say, looking at what it covers and comparing that to the places you actually expect to go. It is definitely not the case that they are all no-brainers. Be especially careful about cards with spotty coverage of places you want to see that will be valid for only part of your stay in the city, because it's a big time waster to organize your sightseeing route based on card coverage rather than geography.

Be aware that sometimes there's more than one local card, which can be super-confusing. Be especially careful about packages that bundle sightseeing benefits together with local transportation. Just about any city of size has a daily (and often multiple-day) local transit pass that you can buy easily for use on days when you expect to be riding around a lot. A typical tourist is unlikely to consume enough transit to fully cover the cost of a multi-day transit pass in most cities, but the full value of a transit pass is going to be included in the advertising materials for the city pass, making it look like a better deal than it probably is. Remember, big cities have big/time-consuming museums. The more time you spend inside a museum, the less likely you are to take buses or the subway many times that day. And sometimes (true in Paris) the sightseeing + transit bundle costs more than the two parts purchased individually.

It's increasingly true that sights sell tickets online and give a modest discount for that type of purchase. Any advertising for a card is going to compare its price to the full, walk-up entry fees, not the online entry fees available to everyone. At some attractions senior citizens get a discount; that also will not be reflected in the advertising for city cards.

Below are just a few random thoughts about cards I've either used or considered using:

Paris: The Paris Museum Pass might be worthwhile for you, but it has changed a lot in the last 6 to 12 months. It no longer allows multiple visits to a museum, and the Louvre requires you to pre-book an entry time even if you're using the pass. I think maybe the Pompidou also requires a set entry time.

I used the Padua Card back in 2015 and it paid off for me. On a multi-day stay in Orvieto (great city north of Rome) that card also paid off. Ditto for the Ljubljana Card. What those places had in common was that I spent more time in those cities than the average tourist, so I had the opportunity to take advantage of the cities' secondary sights. It's frequently the case that small-city cards have generous periods of validity, so you can lay out an efficient sightseeing plan without worrying that the card will expire before you've seen all the covered sights.

Barcelona: The Barcelona Card covers La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell but only gives a small discount for some of the other modernista sites. Be sure you'll have enough time to see enough of the covered sights to make the BC pay. Transit is cheap in very-walkable Barcelona, so the transit component of the card may not be all that valuable. A T-Casual ticket give you 10 rides for just 11.65 euros.

Berlin: I had serious problems with the Berlin WelcomeCard back in 2015. I bought the Museumsinseln add-on but still had to stand in long lines for the big museums there. To make it worse, one of the museums had a special exhibition going on with a higher-than-usual entry fee. I was required to pay the full fee, not just the difference. I think the Berlin Museum Pass might be a better choice, depending on what mix of sights you're interested in.

Budapest: I made the Budapest Card work for me because I was determined to take the Buda Walking Tour and Pest Walking Tour. If I hadn't done that, I'd have lost money on the deal. This is another city with interesting architecture, where there's a lot to be said for getting around on foot as much as possible.

Posted by
16123 posts

" The only fast train on my schedule is the Madrid-Barcelona leg so hopefully all the others trains will be affordable and easy to book as I go."

Nope. I think just about all the train legs on your itinerary will be on fast, all-reserved trains unless you make a command decision to spend much, much longer on regional trains that lumber along and stop at a lot of little burgs along the way--something few tourists are willing to do.

Sample prices:
Berlin - Amsterdam for tomorrow 121 euros
Amsterdam - Paris for tomorrow 135 euros

Posted by
464 posts

And on my previous trip I fondly remember the train trip from Vienna to Venice and thought the trip from Padua to Salzburg would be equally beautiful.

I wouldn’t backtrack from Ljubljana to Padua just to take the train to Salzburg from there, take the direct train from Ljubljana to Salzburg instead. It goes through the Alps as well and it will follow much the same route as many of the connections from Padua.

Posted by
13787 posts

First, count nights. You will use about 1/2 day getting from place to place - more if you take those cheap but l-o-n-g regional trains.

Lisbon - 9 nights is a lot. Cascais is a day trip. You can find day tours (not cheap) to some of the interesting sights. Evora is a long day trip, Sintra is much better as an overnight stay, best as a 2-3N stay.
Porto - 4N is not enough, especially if you want a day trip to the Doura Valley, another to Aveiro, a 3rd to Coimbra.
Madrid - If you're a big fan of European painting, you'll want 2 days just for the art museums. Toledo is a possible day trip but much better as an overnight. Many folks here, myself included, think Madrid is not a great European city and enjoy it mostly for the art and the day trips. I'd recommend Seville instead. It is much more what most people envision as "Spanish." There are good day trips to Jerez (sherry and horses), Cadiz, Arcos, and of course Cordoba (the Mezquita is a must-see and the Juderia is well-preserved). I'd recommend adding 2N in Granada (there's a reason the Alhambra is the #1 sight in Spain). Go by bus or train. Then fly to Barcelona.
Barcelona - The one city I'd recommend more than 7N! There is so much to see and several excellent day trips too.
Padua - Not a good choice if you want to be in Venice. 27-29 minutes on the train, but 1/2 hour to get to the train in Padua, then probably 1/2 hour or more to get to anywhere in Venice. The best of Venice is during the hours that you'll be commuting - the early mornings and the evening hours when the day trippers are gone and you can enjoy San Marco, the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge. You may save money on a room, but you'll be cheating yourself of the experience.
Salzburg - sounds like a night train? Sharing a compartment? Expensive?
Bratislava/Budapest - It's a day trip from Vienna. I'd use those days for day trips from Budapest - or 2-3N in Pecs
Amsterdam - here's where you can save money on lodging. Stay in Haarlem and commute by train. There are lots of possible day trips, though most (all?) mean changing trains in A'dam - no big deal.

You need to book rooms as soon as possible to get the best deals. I'm sure some are already gone.

Posted by
7 posts

Wow! You guys have given me a ton to think about. I expected to massage my itinerary a fair bit and that's a good thing thanks to you. But I was thinking I could just play a lot of it by ear so for instance if the Lisbon area turned out to be uninteresting/uninviting I would leave early and head to Coimbra or maybe add days to Porto. Same goes for all the longer stays, but given the comments about large crowds everywhere and how costs go up (way up?) if bookings aren't made far in advance it appears I should have started this discussion months ago. Now I don't really know what my budget will be and if playing it by ear is at all feasible or even how enjoyable my trip will be if I have to pay top dollar for everything and stand in long lines everywhere...sigh. The new era of disposable-income-for-everyone is a bit of a shocker.
I did stay in Venice my last time around and thought experiencing Padua up close with a couple day trips to Venice would be ideal but I guess I need to rethink that strategy. I will definitely change my plan of using Padua as a transit hub and go direct from Ljubljana to Salzburg as it is only about a 4 hour trip for around $40. That will add a free day to use somewhere else but I won't know where to use that day until I am there. And given the time/cost of taking the train from Berlin to Amsterdam I think I will fly since a quick check shows seats on the 90 minute flight are available for +/- $100. And I will definitely need to given the tourist cards a closer look because at first glance it seemed like getting access to the major museums as well as unlimited transit for $15-25 per day seemed like a great value. If they don't include the museums I want to go and buying discounted transit packs are available through the cities than maybe I will just pay as I go.
Lots to think about and only about 10 weeks to get it all settled, at least in my mind. Thanks again for all the great insights and real world recommendations. I am very grateful. If any other thoughts come to mind please do share them with me.

Posted by
16123 posts

My summer-long trips are booked as I go except when that seems really imprudent. "Really imprudent" would be planning to buy airline tickets or long-distance rail tickets only days before departure or not pinning down hotels in high-cost/high-demand cities more than a few days ahead of time.

On most trips I get on the plane here in the US with just the first hotel stay and the last night of the trip (at departure airport) booked. That's because I visit a high ratio of secondary cities on each trip, and those are usually less risky in terms of hotel bookings. Booking 2 to 4 nights ahead is usually reasonably workable (though not as cheap, on average, as booking a couple of months ahead). Last year I had to pin down about a dozen hotel reservations months before departure because I was going to be in Andalucía during Holy Week, needed to pre-purchase my Alhambra ticket for early May, was going to Scotland during high season, and was heading to always-expensive London for 2 weeks. I didn't like being so tied down, but some situations are just too risky to wing.

There are no secondary cities on your working itinerary except Padua, Bratislava and I guess Porto. That doesn't mean you have to book all your hotels this week, but it does mean your average nightly cost is probably increasing as I type this message. One factor that is going to make life tougher for you (as it does for me) is your length of stay. You are anticipating rather long stays in high-demand cities. A lot of folks would spend only 3 or 4 nights in those places (maybe just 2 nights in Ljubljana and Porto, and Bratislava isn't often visited). If you wait until just a few nights before arrival to reserve a room at a popular destination, your options are probably going to be limited to less attractive (in the sense of low value-to-cost ratio) hotels and hotels that have had a recent cancellation. How often do you suppose a hotel will have had a recent cancellation for 7 nights, or two cancellations adding up to 7 nights for the same size room?

If you book just a few days in advance, you will frequently be faced with compromises. I am constantly weighing cost vs. location. In a major city, location is a very big deal. Avoiding inconvenient locations may cost you an extra 20 to 40 euros per night. Also, I frequently have to take a double room because no (cheaper) singles are available.

On a few occasions I've even had to change the dates of a stay because nothing remotely in my price range was available. That's likeliest to happen if you unknowingly plan to visit an area during a special event that greatly increases hotel demand; sports play-offs and bicycle races have caused me serious grief in small cities that I thought would be no problem at all.

Of your cities, Paris and Barcelona would especially concern me from the cost standpoint because both of them have recently cracked down hard on Airbnb and other informal short-term rental arrangements. I believe a lot of low-cost lodgings have disappeared from the market in those cities, presumably increasing demand for economy hotels and pushing up rates to some degree.

We're not talking about an unknown risk here, or something that has to blind-side you. I encourage you to use booking.com to see what is available at a rate you're comfortable with in the cities you hope to visit. Look now. Look next week. Look as your trip progresses. You'll see the rates inching up and will be able to weigh the risk of waiting longer. Note that cancellation policies vary, but most hotels allow cancellation up to about 3 days before arrival. I've found it easy to cancel reservations made on booking.com, though I haven't had to do it often.

I'd book the final stay as soon as I had the plane ticket in hand. At that point the only question will be how many nights you'll want there.

Posted by
16123 posts

In terms of total dollars, the biggest risk of late bookings is probably lodging costs (per my earlier post), but in percentage terms, train ticket costs are a bigger deal. Because I don't cover a lot of ground on my trips and make a lot of stops in smaller cities, I don't end up on a lot of high-speed trains. Those trains don't stop in smaller cities. Fares on local/regional trains do not change and the trains cannot sell out (having no reserved seats), so I don't pay a penalty for buying those tickets at the last minute.

Your trip looks as if it is going to be very different. You are pretty much hopping between major cities that are linked by express trains. Pricing policies vary by country, and your planned trip doesn't include the UK, which seems to be the place with the greatest penalty for last-minute bookings. Still, there will be a huge difference in the cost of your rail tickets if you wait until a few days before departure to buy tickets for many of your travel legs. You can investigate that cost gap now and make a decision about whether you want to buy a few of the tickets really early because of the savings.

Go to Seat61.com for information on each country's trains. Go to the appropriate website for each trip. Price out the trip for travel tomorrow and then for your approximate travel date. If tickets aren't yet available for your travel date, try the first week of June. Look at the difference. If you're OK with it, you can wait. If the extra cost looks painful, you have a decision to make.

Note that airfares can also jump up at any time. The great fare you see today may be gone tomorrow. I haven't taken enough intra-European flights to pontificate about airfares. I do know that you must be very careful about the airports used by budget airlines, especially RyanAir. "Barcelona" may actually be Girona. "Paris" may be Beauvais. There's a time penalty to be paid if your flight lands at an obscure secondary airport 50 miles from the city you want to visit, and low-cost public transportation may not be as readily available as you might wish.

And of course there's the extra cost of luggage on budget flights.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for the added input. It reminded me of my last trip and arriving in Barcelona on a Friday evening after the all day train from Nice. I jumped in a taxi at the train station and asked the driver to take me to a hotel listed in Rick's guide book and got there to find it was booked solid. This was in pre-cell phone days so I asked the driver to take me to another hotel recommended by Rick which turned out to be booked as well. At that point the driver told me there was a European championship motocross race that weekend and hotels were very busy but he was nice enough to drive me around until we found a decent and affordable room all while acting as my interpreter. And Best of all the fare was entirely reasonable. Thankfully that was the only place something like that happened but your reminder to check the local events calendars in advance is appreciated
So if I book my first stay in advance and then reserve subsequent rooms/trains/flights a week or two in advance will that work assuming no special events? And can you say what should budget for 2 star room costs? Right now I have $100/night penciled in for a single with bathroom so is that about right or am I grossly underestimating???
Thanks again for all your input. It is really appreciated.

Posted by
16123 posts

Tourism has increased greatly in the top European cities over the last 10 to 20 years. A lot of it is due to burgeoning middle classes in countries whose citizens formerly couldn't afford to travel, but the advent of the budget airlines has also made a huge difference. Now folks from the UK hop on EasyJet or RyanAir for a long weekend in Prague, Budapest, etc.

Of your target cities, I've been to these since 2015: Madrid (2016), Barcelona (2019), Rome (2015), Padua (2015), Ljubljana (2015), Budapest (2018), Berlin (2015).

I think $100 will often be tight. $100 is just 92 euros, and that's at the current, unusually good, exchange rate. There will nearly always be something available, but how far out of the center are you prepared to stay? Remember that it costs both time and money to take public transportation into the core of the city.

Air conditioning is also a key factor. You're unlikely to need it at the very beginning of your trip, but as the trip goes on, it will get riskier and riskier not to have it. One or two nights of misery is one thing; spending a week in a non-air-conditioned hotel during a hot period would be intolerable to me. When you take all hotels (and other lodgings) that are not air conditioned out of the equation, you've lost a large number of the budget options. That is especially true north of the Alps where air conditioning wasn't very often needed before climate change kicked in.

One advantage of making very last-minute bookings in places with unpredictable weather (i.e., most places north of the Alps) is that there's a possibility you'll have an idea of what the weather will be like during your stay. That's not going to work for 7-night stays, though, because weather forecasts 10 days out are iffy.

Paris and Amsterdam are places where I wouldn't be confident of finding something in your price range at what I'd consider a good location even booking today. If I were going to Amsterdam, I'd look in Haarlem and just accept the short train ride into the city; that's how expensive I gather Amsterdam is--though I haven't looked at booking.com, which you should do. Now, I may be too pessimistic, but I suspect not.

Barcelona is a high-demand city that won't be cheap even with an early booking. The longer you wait, the farther from the center you'll be, is my guess. I think you'll find something within your range that's in an OK location.

In 2016 I watched hotel rates in Madrid ratchet up as I made plans to return to the city after going to some outlying towns. I had gotten a good rate (68 euros) for the beginning of the trip, booking months ahead of time. The rate at that same hotel was about 25% higher at the time of my arrival, and it increased more by the time I was ready to commit to a specific return date, ending up above 100 euros. I chose instead a considerably more basic place (though well located and only 60 euros). I'd watch Madrid's lodging rates carefully to be sure they weren't getting out of hand.

Berlin is cheaper than you might expect. It should be easier to find affordable lodging there than in Paris and Amsterdam.

Ljubljana and Budapest will probably be OK, too. However, Ljubljana was more expensive in 2015 than I had guessed it would be. Slovenia is affluent compared to most of the other former Iron Curtain countries, and it's not huge. A special event there could have a real impact. Budapest is much larger and has a lot more hotel rooms, plus I think a lot of Airbnb-style places. Remember the warning about a/c though. It was in the 80s there in early May 2018 and a lot of budget-level places do not have a/c.

Padua should be fine unless, I assume, you hit something like graduation weekend.

Rome's subway is very limited, which means staying way outside the center means long bus rides. I think you'll find something, but it may be very basic. At least a/c is common there.

You need to look at booking.com.

Posted by
7 posts

Hello again. If you're still tracking online, I've modified my tentative itinerary based on your suggestions and came up with this:
Lisbon 7 nights
Day trips to Sintra, Cascais

Train to Coimbra 1

Train to Porto 5
Doura Valley

Fly to Seville 6
Cordoba, Jerez

Train to Barcelona 9
Girona, Sitges

Fly to Rome 9
Ostia Antica

Train to Padua 5
Venice

Shuttle Bus to Ljubljana 4
Lake Bled

Train to Salzburg 5
Hallstatt

Train to Vienna 6
Danube River Valley

Train to Bratislava 2

Train to Budapest 7
Szentendre

Fly to Berlin 7
Potsdam

Train to Amsterdam 7
Utrecht, Haarlem

Train to Paris 10
Versailles, Chartres

If anyone has comments about the length of stays or cities I plan to visit, or especially if you think I'm missing essential day trips, please let me know. And given my uncertainty about the actual number of nights I will spend in each city and the cost of booking train tickets close to the travel dates, I think I'll buy a 90 day unlimited travel 2nd class Eurail pass. I figure even if it ends up costing me more than buying individual tickets it gives me certainty for my costs and only leaves me to make my seat reservations as I go.

If you have any other trip tips or thoughts about my itinerary please do let me know as I have yet to spend money on anything and will certainly consider alternatives. Thanks again for all your suggestions and intelligent comments. I really do appreciate it.

Posted by
16123 posts

Times look good to me. That's a sustainable pace.

I think the rail pass will probably cost you extra money, but I can't say for sure. I've looked up te prices of a lot of the train trips you're planning. Take a look and see what you think.

Note the warning about the train to Paris. Also, I gather from some Googling that it may not be a trivial task to get seat reservations for Spain and Italy as you're traveling around. The internet is telling me Italian seat reservations must be obtained in person. If they are not available through vending machines (I have never looked) and you have to stand in line, that's not good. It's amazing how slowly those lines move. I think you'd have €115 euros in mandatory or prudent seat reservation fees. Don't forget to add that cost to the price of the rail pass.

It's highly unlikely that you'd end up paying full fare for all your tickets if you didn't have a rail pass. Often there are somewhat less expensive options available even 1 to 4 days ahead of time. There are potentially huge savings to be made if you can pin down your travel times for just the 3 most expensive travel legs: Seville-Barcelona, Berlin-Amsterdam and Amsterdam-Paris.

Lisbon-Sintra RT
Lisbon-Cascais RT
Lisbon-Coimbra (€20)
Coimbra-Porto (€18)
Porto-Douro Valley (not sure whether this is train or bus)
Seville-Cordoba RT (AVANT €44.60; passholder seat reservation €20)
Seville-Jerez RT (MD €23; seat reservation €9)
Seville-Barcelona (AVE €144.40, but two trains available for tomorrow at €83.38; res €10)
Barcelona-Girona RT (AVANT €34.80; seat reservation €20?)
Barcelona-Sitges RT (cheap regional train; fare not found)
Rome-Ostia Antica RT (cheap commuter train; fare not found)
Rome-Padua (€84; seat reservation €10?)
Padua-Venice RT (maybe more than once? regional train; €8.90 RT)
Ljubljana-Salzburg (€52.60; seat reservation €3)
Salzburg-Hallstatt (€29.90; seat reservation €3)
Hallstatt-Vienna (€54.90; seat reservation (€3)
Vienna-Danube River Valley (Melk?) RT (€37.40)
Vienna-Bratislava (€16.00)
Bratislava-Budapest (€33.00; seat reservation €3)
Budapest-Szentendre RT
Berlin-Potsdam RT
Berlin-Amsterdam (€108; seat reservation €4)
Amsterdam-Utrecht RT (€16.20)
Amsterdam-Haarlem RT (€9)
Amsterdam-Paris (€135. CAREFUL: Quotas on reservations for pass holders; €30 res. fee)
Paris-Versailles RT
Paris-Chartres RT

Seat reservation cost if you have a rail pass is apparently €5.30 for Berlin-Amsterdam

Posted by
12016 posts

Daytrips from Berlin: Potsdam was already mentioned. Leipzig is also an easy and worthwhile daytrip. If you wanted to temporarily rent a car and spend a few days in a non-urban location, the Baltic island of Rügen could provide a nice get-away, particularly if the weather is warm. Binz is a good location to base yourself.

5 days sounds far too long for Salzburg, unless you plan a day trip everyday. The historic Altstadt here is surprisingly small, and doesn't take long to see.

If you aren't completely citied-out by the time you reach Amsterdam, Utrecht and Delft are worth a visit. I really like the windmill cluster at Kinderdijk, but I think Zaanse Schans might offer something similar that is more easily accessible from Amsterdam (haven't visited, so can't say for certain).

For Vienna, once again, if the weather is hot and you just need to get out of the city, the Neusiedler See could provide some cool relief. I stayed in Podersdorf, which is a nice, if unexceptional town, but there's a large public beach here. Also in the region is Schloss Esterhazy in Eisenstadt, made famous as Joseph Haydn's main workplace, but still nice enough to justify a visit anyway, and Burg Forchestein near Mattersburg is also worth a look (probably not feasible to visit without a car, however).

And because you'll be there in May, don't forget to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Rotterdam is hosting this year.

Posted by
12053 posts

Hi,

Keep in mind that if you do choose the Berlin to Budapest night train, it's a direct connection, straight shot.

The same applies to Berlin to Vienna if you want a direct connection, relatively new since it was put into operation as a new night route a few years ago, ie going through Poland, evidence that night routes are expanding in Central Europe.

I've done the route Berlin-Vienna at night several times but never direct since I chose to transfer at 6 am or thereabouts, depending on the transfer point, usually Hannover Hbf (very advantageous), but now that it goes through Poland I just might reconsider and choose this direct route.

Although it's not on your itinerary, Munich is also a night train junction point, eg, Munich to Vienna by night train and also Munich to Budapest by night train.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you one and all for your comments. I really appreciate the input and will look into the additional day trips you suggest. And I especially appreciate the extra look at train costs. I was in the ballpark on most of them but am really happy to have a second set of eyes looking at the numbers.
Given the costs I think I will go with the 15 days in 2 months Eurail pass and buy individual tickets until I book the fast train for Barcelona. By starting my pass there, 60 days will take me through the final leg into Paris. Good accidental planning for my rail travel!
I actually feel like I am getting a handle on this and am really grateful for all your suggestions. If you have any other thoughts or advice please let me know.

Posted by
137 posts

Have you considered taking RSs self-guided walks in all the places you're going too. You can download an electronic version of his books from his app. This way you won't miss a thing.
While in Lisbon, sleep in the Alfama neighborhood where you can go out at night and listen to fado music and enjoy its old town at night. During the day ride the trolleys. Day trips include Sintra, Évora and Óbidos.
As you work your way to Porto, take a direct train to Coimbra-B and store your luggage so you can see the town. A good side trip from Porto is the Douro Valley, espeically the area between Peso da Régua to Pinhão.
In Madrid you want to visit the Royal Palace, the Prado Museum, Picasso's Guernica at Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and make sure you pay attention to the sketches that led to the masterpiece. It's simply amazing! During the evening hours go out at night and walk around. I'll never forget how loud Madrid was during at night. Great day-trips are Toledo, Segovia and Ávila.
Sleep in Barcelona's old town and purchase your Sagrada Familia ticket before leaving home. Buy the cheapest one because the views from the tower are similar to looking down from a nose bleed section. The Picasso Museum is worth a visit too. Good day trips are Montserrat and Dali's Museum in Figueres, but buy your ticket before leaving home for the latter.
In Rome you want to see Colosseum at night. Also spend one day in Vatican City.
Great day trips are Florence (buy your Uffizi Gallery ticket ASAP. You should also purchase your Accademia ticket before leaving home too). Other good good day trips are Milan, Orvieto and Naples.
In Padua you want to visit the Scrovegni Chapel and this cute town. Again, buy your tickets before leaving home. In Venice you want to take a twilight boat tour on a vaporetti (water taxi) from the train station to San Marco Square or even further. This way you'll see the grand palaces that line the canal interiors adorned with magnificent chandeliers and not see the decay on the exterior. You also want to get lost when exploring it's neighborhoods. Another day take a boat to Burano and have lunch and walk around. Other good day trips from Venice are Vicenza and Verona.
I would sleep in Lake Bled instead of Lubljana and take a day trip there. In Bled walk around the lake and eat cream cake. You should also explore the Julian Alps area.
In Salzburg you want to enjoy the ambience of the this gem of a town. Good day trips are Munich and Hallstatt, although the latter requires a transfer if traveling by train.
In Venice you want to visit these world class museums: Hofburg Imperial Apartments and Treasury, go to an opera, St. Stephens Cathedral, Kunsthistorisches Museum and Schönbrunn Palace. A good day trip is Melk.
In Bratislava have a drink on top of the Sky Bar overlooking its cute old town. I would also cross the bridge one day and explore the many uniform concrete skyscrappers that will give you a glimps of what communism was really like.
In Budapest take an early morning bath at Széchenyi so you can watch the old guys play chess. Visit the ruined bars in the Jewish Quarter and ride the trams. At night take an illuminated taxi tour of it's splendid sights. Make sure you order a langos (a savory fired donut with a dollop of sour cream and other good stuff). Good day trips are Eger, Gödöllő Palace, Esztergom Basilica and take a boat on the Danube to Szentendre.
Too bad you'll be in Berlin the month of June because that's when it rains. I'm not talking about needing an umbrella either. It is to torrential you'll be drenched and it lasts all day. The top sights are outdoors too i.e. Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall. Berlin has the best neighborhoods to walk around in.
In Amsterdam visit the Rijksmuseum. Good day trips are Delft, Edam, Marken, Enkhuizen, Alkmaar, Zaanse Schans (windmills), Rotterdam, Leiden and Utrecht.
Have a wonderful journey!

Posted by
5 posts

ACraven wrote>>>> Tourism has increased greatly in the top European cities over the last 10 to 20 years. A lot of it is due to burgeoning middle classes in countries whose citizens formerly couldn't afford to travel, but the advent of the budget airlinesstrong text** has also made a huge difference. Now folks from the UK hop on EasyJet or RyanAir for a long weekend in Prague, Budapest, etc**

You are absolutely correct about this, as each of the times I've traveled to Italy and Spain, I've seen progressively more Chinese tourists on each trip....

However......I'll bet a nickel against a donut the situation with the Corona virus changes all that this year. Even if they can magically get it under control by Summer..... they're economy is devastated.... and is only going to worsen from here on out.

A few will disagree.....but it's my feeling European travel will be cheaper this year with the dollar gaining lots of strength against the euro and other currencies in a flight to quality.... and the downdraft of Chinese nationals traveling to Europe.

Don't book your accomodations too early.......because the hotel and transportation proprietor's will feel the effects from the onrushing squeeze.

Posted by
16123 posts

Please don't try to day-trip to Milan from Rome! That would mean nearly 6-1/2 hours round-trip (it's about 300 miles each way) sitting on trains. And if you want to see Florence, you should really spend some nights there. Even day-tripping to Florence would require over 3 hours of train travel, round-trip. I've occasionally done side-trips over a distance like that, but it was to get to a small town where I couldn't possibly justify spending 2 or 3 nights. That's not the case with Florence.

Personally, I wouldn't choose 4 nights in Bled. The lake is beautiful, but it is super-small. You can stroll all the way around it in 2 to 3 hours. After you do that and take the little boat out to the little church in the middle of the lake, how would you spend your time? Renting a car for a couple of days to see some of rural Slovenia would be good, but then you wouldn't be staying Bled. There's a lot more to do in Ljubljana, which is a lovely, lively, not-too-big city.

Several of the cities on your list have sights for which you'll need to buy tickets ahead of time rather than just showing up at the door--assuming you want to see those sights, that is. The ones I'm aware of are: Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Padua, Budapest, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. I haven't been to all your cities within the last few years, so there may be an issue in some of the places I haven't listed. In all or nearly all cases, those tough tickets are timed as well as dated.

If you stick with your plan for relatively lengthy stays, in many cases you'll probably be able to take care of the tickets when you first reach town. For some special, high-demand sights that will not work at all, and for some of the easier ones you could find some specific time-slots already sold out. (The earliest time slot often seems popular for logistical reasons.) If you don't think your pre-trip research is going to turn up the necessary details, you might want to post a short question about what needs to be booked in advance in the various country forums so you get input from people with current information to share.

[Second sentence of final paragraph edited for clarity--note italics.]