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Visit in April, May or June

Hi all!

This is my first post here. I’ve been reading up on the advice of Rick Steves’ (as suggested by many of you) for a few months now in preparation for my trip to Europe. I plan on going for a month and a half, and am looking to go in either: April, May or June.

In Rick Steve’s Europe Through The Backdoor, April and May are part of the “shoulder season,” and June is in the “Peak-Season.” Going in June is going to be more expensive, which is certainly a concern, but I’m guessing there’s also going to be able to meet as many other travelers.

Although going during the “shoulder season” will be less expensive. This will give me more spending money on museums and taking day trips to small villages. Basically, I’ll see the more local scene in Europe and have a better sense of the people, rather than just staying in the capital cities and getting a more generalized experience with Europeans.

Mainly, I don’t want to quietly observe the various tourist attractions and not socialize with the locals. This trip is meant to meet new people and experience different cultures, while seeing new sights. That’s why I want to go when Europe is alive and full of activity.

Transportation wise, I plan on traveling at night on the train between cities. But I’m starting to think flying is really going to be the way to go.

Here a rough draft of my itinerary:
London (3 days), Cambridge (option, 2 days), Edinburgh (2 days), Dublin (2 days), Paris (3 days), Provence or French Riviera (2 days), Madrid (2 days), Barcelona (3 days), Rome (3 days), Venice (2 days),Tuscany (3 days), Florence (2 days), Vienna (2 days), Berlin or Munich (3 days), Copenhagen (2 days), Prague (3 days), Athens (2 days), Amsterdam (2 days).

If you guys could give me your feedback, I would really appreciate it. I enjoy reading your comments about Europe on other posts, and look forward to your advice.

Thanks a lot!

Posted by
3580 posts

Welcome to the Helpline, Josh. You seem to be prepared and thoughtful. I want to point out one thing, well maybe two or more things.

Europe is alive even when it isn't tourist season. In fact, if you want to interact with the locals, go to Europe more off-season. I suggest going in April and starting in the south. Work your way north. Maybe you could fly into Rome and return from London.

Even in a month and a half you will not be able to do justice to such an ambitious program. There is a lot of travel time in this itinerary. And while on that subject: IMHO one of the best ways to meet Europeans is on the trains. Take the train in the daytime as much as possible and talk to the people around you. And try not to be in a big rush to do all of Europe in one trip. I suggest that you organize this itinerary into two trips.

Posted by
386 posts

I can only second what Swan has posted, Josh!

Europe is always alive and full of activity, but since you have a choice, I think heading over here mid to end of April would be perfect! This way you will get the full benefit of bustling sidewalk Cafes/restaurants and flowers appearing in the windows. The joy of spring and life commencing outdoors, while avoiding tourist crowds, hot temperatures and high season prices.

But I also agree with Swan that your itinerary is way to ambitious, you need to tweak it here and there.
Think quality, not quantity and don't underestimate travel times, even if you fly.

It seems that you really want to come over here to experience Europe, I think that is absolutely wonderful! The greatest charm of the Old World is its way of life: sitting in a sidewalk Cafe watching the world go by, enjoying a leisurely meal or an impromptou concert on a town square. Don't shortchange yourself by constantly being on the move!

Posted by
430 posts

Excellent job in getting yourself educated and prepared.

Late April and late October are my two favorite times to travel in Europe.

I'll second the other responses -- trim a few things out. Are you planning to travel with or without reservations? If it is within your comfort zone, I'd recommend traveling without reservations so you can change your itinerary on the fly.

First, over-trim your plan. If you have 45 days total available, then trim your list of 43 days down to 30 or so. Next, add days to top destinations (for me that would be Rome, Munich and Vienna) until you have a plan that is about 38 days. Head to Europe with the plan that is shorter than your return flight dictates -- that way if you are on your last day in Munich, and you meet some locals, and they invite you to a party 'tomorrow night', you say yes, have fun, and note that you now have a plan that is 39 days long.

My wife and I traveled this way on our first trips --

I'm jealous that you've managed to carve out a month and a half to travel.... that is excellent.

Posted by
28 posts

Thanks for the advice guys.

Swan- Thanks for the welcome and advice. I thought the train might be the best way to socialize when it comes to transportation. I'll also see more countrysides. I've never thought of going from south to north, good thinking. That's a good way to go about it.

Corinna-You're right. I am planning on spending a lot of time on the road, and should be focusing on few cities and longer stays. Maybe I can visit small towns nearby, and get a more relax feel for Europe.

Jim-Thank you for the compliment. It took some planning to get a month and half chunk, but well worth it! Leaving a pretty limited schedule is kind of cool. I just keep thinking that there's too much to see to just camp. But if you travel too much, you wont appreciate the present and really enjoy the trip.

Do you guys have any suggestions for where I can cut a day or two and paste it somewhere else? Once again, any advice is appreciated.

Posted by
430 posts

What would I cut? You are at 43 days now...

Well, you've got to assume you will come back, then I'd think geographically. Cut the farthest and most time-consuming destinations first. So... that means I'd chop Athens (2), Madrid (2) and Barcelona (3) -- those are the destinations that will eat the most time going to and from. Now at 36 days...

Is there a clump of destinations that could be done as their own trip later? Yes, you have three sets that would group nicely for three later stand-alone trips. You could cut the UK (9 days), Italy (10 days) or Austria/Czech (5 days). Since you picked few destinations in the Austria/Czech region I'm going to propose that is an area you could save for later -- and people really shouldn't skip the UK on their first Europe trip(s). That would put you at 31 days.

If it were me, I'd then also drop Cambridge to just 1 day -- being at the 30 days starting point. I'd choose the Riviera over Provence, and Munich (far) over Berlin. I'd then add 5 days back into the schedule -- adding 1 day each to London, Paris, Florence, Rome and Munich. If I can add... that would have your trip looking like....

London (4), Cambridge (1), Edinburgh (2), Dublin (2), Paris (4), Riviera (2), Rome (4), Venice (2), Tuscany (3), Florence (3), Munich (4), Copenhagen (2), Amsterdam (2) = 35 days planned

...for a 45 day window... and if you feel comfortable, do it with no (or very few) reservations.

Posted by
2744 posts

You've gotten some really good advice, Josh. My only suggestion is to start in Dublin, then move to Edinburgh, then London (with day trip to Cambridge in their somewhere), then Paris. You'll probably have to fly between Dublin to Edinburgh, but then you can take the fast train to London and the Eurostar to Paris. Otherwise you're going to be flying from Edinburgh to Dublin and then Dublin to Paris.

Posted by
1035 posts

Consider cutting Dublin. You will get a flavor of Georgian cities in the UK. Save Ireland for another trip. Dublin is fine but the magic of the place starts when you leave Dublin for the countryside.

Posted by
588 posts

Jim, you've gotten some great advice. I agree Munich is a must --- one of my favorite places. Since you live in Baltimore and can get fairly cheap airfare from the east coast and this is your first trip to Europe, you might feel more comfortable getting acclimated by going Dublin or London first. I would go in April and come back the first week of June. May is one of my favorite times to be in Europe but I usually return before June 10. February may be the best month for you to find some good airfares and get yourself on all the lists for airfare notices. Have fun!

Posted by
3258 posts

Hi Josh,

Here's another plan keeping in mind Swan's suggestion of starting south, some of Jim's suggestions, and assuming you'll return to see Ireland, Spain and more of the UK:

Fly into Rome (4 nights); Tuscany (3 nights); Florence/Siena (3 nights); Venice (2 nights); fly Venice* to Vienna (3 nights); Prague (3 nights); Berlin (5 nights); fly Berlin to Amsterdam (4 nights); fly to London (4 nights); Fly home from Paris (5 nights.)

Check out www.whichbudget.com for European discount airline options. I agree that you should start in April (planning around the busy Easter holiday.) Have fun planning--it's almost as fun as the trip itself!

*It's not on your list but you might consider going to Lubljana, Slovenia between Venice and Vienna.

Posted by
9038 posts

Real Europeans live in the cities as well as in small towns, and you will meet them everywhere you go. For traveling, it makes sense to base yourself in a larger city and travel out to the smaller towns. If you stay in hostels, you will meet tons of Europeans as they are all traveling too.

Riding the trains at night doesn't give you much of a chance to see the scenery nor engage in conversations. I have met and chatted with all kinds of people on the trains.

Do not drop Berlin over Munich. Berlin is one of the most fascinating cities, exciting and there are lots of day trips to be made from here. Plus, if you are on a budget, it is the cheapest of all the cities you want to go to. I would drop Copenhagen, though very nice, it is sort of out of your easy transportation circle. If you train there, you will end up returning almost the same way - backtracking. Is there something there specifically that draws you there? Belgium might be a better option, as it is close to Germany and the Netherlands.

Since you are planning on France, perhaps add Normandy onto your list instead of the Riviera. This is a place I strongly feel every American (as well as other nationalities too) should visit.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Shoulder season" really only applies to certain Alpine resorts, in terms of openings and closings. I don't see any Alpine destinations on your wish list, so this should not affect your plans at all.

Posted by
386 posts

Josh,

I too would cut Athens, Madrid and Barcelona for your first trip. Athens is not that great of a city to visit. If Greece, then the Greek Island on a return trip. And then stay in the islands for as long as possible!

I also would cut Kopenhagen for this trip, it is a lovely city, but like with Spain and Greece, you might want to do a Scandinavian excursion one day on a repeat visit, and save Kopenhagen for that.

Berlin is a great city for young people, Jo is right! If you do Munich also (which I recommend), consider one night/day there, and the second in Salzburg, Austria - a hop away from Munich. This would add a touch of Alps into your experience.

If you do decide to start from the South,fly into Rome and make your way North from there, consider going to Vienna via Graz: take the night train from Venice to Graz and spend a day in this bustling, quirky university city before heading to Vienna.
You could shave a day off Vienna to do this.

Not that I am trying to lure you to spend more time in Austria! ;-))

The best way to go on from Vienna is to Prague, the train ride is only 4 hours.
From Prague there are direct connections to Berlin, you wouldn't have to change trains.

Posted by
655 posts

Josh,

Some great advice above. Some ideas that stand out for me:

Planning approx 36/38 days of a 45 day trip is a good idea.

Cambridge for just one day. I'd skip it for Bath or Yorke.

Cut Dublin and Athens. The best of Ireland is not in the city. Save it for another trip. Cut Athens - although the Acropolis is one of the most fascinating places in the world it would be best to save Greece for another trip when you can include some of the islands.

Cut southern France until you can do a trip that explores more of it. Normandy is a good idea.

Finally, center your trip in May with just a few days of April and June. Have a great adventure.

Posted by
28 posts

Wow. Thanks a lot for the advice! You guys are great.

Well, I've rescheduled the trip and came up with this:

London (3 days)
Cambridge (1 days)
Edinburgh (2 days)
Paris (3 days)
French Riviera (3 days)
Normandy (2 days)
Rome (4 days)
Venice (2 days)
Tuscany (3 days)
Florence (3 days)
Vienna (2 days)
Salzburg (2 days)
Munich (4 days)
Berlin (3 days)

I'll save Ireland, Spain, Greece and the Netherlands for another trip.

Thanks again.

Posted by
4132 posts

The only thing I could possibly add to this good advice is this.

Forty-five days is a long time. Somewhere along the line you should plan an extended stop someplace interesting to break the flow, recharge your batteries, and get to know one foreign place a little bit.

A week would not be too much, and you can rent an apartment or cottage someplace.

Your itinerary is heavily urban, so I'd spend this week in or near the countryside, with a car. Looking at your itinerary, Provence would be a good choice, but you have lots of other options too.

However you do it, you should vary the pace of your trip or things will really start to blur together and become less memorable.

Have a great time!