Where to go- never been to Europe

I'm 43 and female and going to Europe in September. I have 12 days available- where should I go?? I want to be amazed by historical sites, find restaurants and clubs that are on the down low, ride a bike, see some art, find shopping bargains and get a good all around vacation to Europe! Prague sounds like it was made for me and Croatia looks beautiful. I cannot afford Italy and would like to fly for about $1100 from US to Prague? Frankfurt? So basically this is a survey of one question- what country/area should I focus on if I've never been. I'll be traveling with my Boyfriend

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1333 posts

hi, you have to remember, the US is a kid compared to the rest of the world. So everywhere else is old(er) - Historical. you will need look into flights NOW and hope to get into a good deal. Im going on my 2nd solo over there this Sept and my round trip (r/t) to Amsterdam is going to be 1300 USD. Thats 300 more from last year. Look at skyscanner.com and kayak.com for flight into europe and see what comes up. I think you are better off keeping it down to a couple citys and such. you will loose 1 day traveling over there and the further east you go, the more time you will spend on a plane instead of on the ground. If you keep your city hopping to a minimum you will be albe to see more. Travel by train is fairly inexpensive over there too and they go more places. So you can always take short trips outside of the city if there is somethign to do/see. when i was over in London/Paris last year, i spent 4.5 days in each city and that was barely covering what was there. I didnt even go outside of them either. one comment. Since your time and probably $$$ is limited, If you want to go to Prague, i would say do it. But do some homework up front to minimize your "what do we do next" look. Look at some guide books, google and such to find what you will spend your time on over there. By doing this, you will have a better idea on how much time you will want to spend in each place. is your BF a reluctant travel companion? If not, i would discuss what he may want to do/see too. happy trails.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2253 posts

You find it a bit of a challange to get a ticket to Prague from Denver for that price, but start looking now. From the third sentence, I thought you were descibing Paris. Amsterdam is worth a look. But if it sounds like Prague trips your trigger, start planning.

Posted by Julie
Denver, CO, United States
13 posts

Sam- I'm sure I'll have several stops on my flight- I WISH I could afford a direct flight to Prague. I do think I want to focus on either Czech republic- I heard it was affordable, or Crotia could be worth a look too. Thanks!

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
959 posts

Julie,
Based on your description of what you want to see and do, splitting your time between Berlin and Prague would definitely fit the bill. Unfortunately you'd have to up your airfare budget a bit but if you're not moving around a lot you'll save on internal transportation, and you could save money by renting an apartment in each city and doing day trips from there - usually cheaper than a hotel and you save money by buying groceries and doing some meals in apt. I did see round trips from DEN to either AMS (approx $950) or FRA (approx $1050), both on Iceland Air. Depends on when in Sept you go. So, you could do Amsterdam and Paris as your two bases with budget flights or train between. Personally, I'd try to stretch the airfare budget to get a flight into Berlin and out of Prague, go with apartments and cheaper meals to make up the $$ and just enjoy those two cities and their immediate surroundings.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

You sound like someone who would love Berlin. What about a Berlin-Prague trip? (Probably best to fly inbetween the two to save time and possibly money). 12 days would be just about right. Berlin is the cheapest large city in Western Europe and awesome for history, art, bargain shopping, restaurants and clubs (for the latter the best in Germany by far IMO). Prague is a totally different beast but great for historical buildings and atmosphere.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1333 posts

hi agian, i was doing some googling about flights and came across this site. dont know if its correct in terms of prices and up to date (utd) info, but you can get a looksee at prices all in a glance. also, if you DO find a flight into europe for < 1100 chances are it wont be where you want to go, so you have to factor in the additional lost time to get where you want to be and also the extra cost of that flight or train. Your text to link here... happy trails and good luck.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
495 posts

Julie, I found Prague to be pricey, I wanted to like it, but Paris ruined me forever. Regarding costs, I feel the Czech Republic,outside of Prague, and Croatia are more affordable than some countries you could choose.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17718 posts

Julie, It would help to have some further information. For example, what prompted this desire to visit Europe for the first time at the age of 43? As this is your first trip abroad, I would highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. It has LOTS of good information on "how" to travel in Europe, including Itinerary planning. Once you've decided where you'll be visiting, use the country-specific Guidebooks to plan hotels, sightseeing, transportation, etc. Using open-jaw flights would absolutely be the best idea. What type of budget are you anticipating for a two week trip? Prague will not necessarily be much cheaper than Italy or other locations (in my experience). It's a very popular location, and high demand sometimes causes firm prices. All of the countries have amazing historical sites, restaurants and clubs, but I'm not sure about "shopping bargains". I suppose that depends on what type of products you're looking for. Given your location, you may find it helpful to attend the next meeting of the very knowledgeable Denver RS group. They typically meet on the third Saturday of each month at a local Panera Bread. The location and time will be announced in the "General Europe" section here. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Hello Julie. I suggest that you fly to Munich in Germany. I composed some reasons for going to Germany, for you here, but every word of it suddenly disappeared. I do not know why it disappeared. I do not want to compose it all again now. I will be glad to talk to you about Germany, if you send a Private Message to me.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2811 posts

I agree with a lot of the comments already posted. However, as you've noticed, they're literally all over the map, from Paris to Berlin to Prague to Croatia. I think you could have a great vacation in any of these. So, now you need to do some more research, and see what draws you. I wouldn't let costs alone determine where to go. Yes, Berlin is cheaper than Paris, but overall your destinations don't strike me as necessarily very cheap or very expensive (like Switzerland or Norway). As Ray said, there are ways to save and ways to spend everywhere. One thing you should probably give up on is "find shopping bargains." Oh, there can be some, but with the value of the euro vs the dollar, there aren't many. So, don't expect to find them, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by them. continued..

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2811 posts

Resources for further research: Find flights on http://www.Kayak.com (use the "multi city" option to get flights into one city and out of another). Train schedules for Europe: http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/db_tips.htm Flights within Europe: http://www.skyscanner.com/ Rick's videos are on http://www.Hulu.com and YouTube, and are a great start to see which places you may want to visit. Rick's book Europe Through The Back Door has great info about the "nuts and bolts" of European travel for a first-timer. Rick's country-specific books will then be very useful once you know where you are going (or to browse beforehand, to get more info to help you decide on destinations). http://www.eurocheapo.com not only lists hotels (of various prices and "degrees of fancy") in many popular cities, but also has neighborhood descriptions and lists of sights. Before you decide that a city is too expensive, be sure to look at their listings.

Posted by Julie
Denver, CO, United States
13 posts

Ok- I don't know what I really meant by "Shopping bargains." Ha ha I will go do some research and see what cities look interesting. I'm sure they all have highs and lows for lodging prices. If I could somehow work in some highlights of Czech Repub and maybe venture to the coast/Croatia, I should be pretty happy!
Thanks for the great tips!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17718 posts

Julie, One point to mention...... Travel in Croatia is not as "simple" as other parts of Europe. For example, some flights to Dubrovnik only operate in the summer months, and I don't believe there's any rail service there (you'd have to travel by Bus to Split). For a first trip to Europe, and with only a VERY SHORT 12-days, my suggestion would be to choose locations that will allow you to get around quickly, so that you don't use too much of your very short time seeing Europe through the windows of a train. On a first visit, many people want to cover the "big three" - London, Paris and Rome. With only 12-days, picking any two of those might be prudent. As always, open-jaw flights would be the best idea. Cheers!

Posted by Julie
Denver, CO, United States
13 posts

All- what's prompted a trip to Europe at 43 is that I've never been, most of my friends have been and I just decided this is the year! I want to have a great story/adventure to talk about and see some fab historic sites and amazing art. I also decided I'm going to do more research on Croatia. The coast looks beautiful there and I'm worried I won't like being land locked if I just do Czech Repub. Everyone is saying the Prague is quite expensive- should I skip it? So, perhaps fly into a kool city and then make our way down to Croatia. I will for sure be reading Europe through the back door. Thanks all!

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1333 posts

Hi again, expensive is relative. some people have more $$ than others. In my opinion (imo) if you PLAN ahead, you can try and minimize your costs. Not that you wont have to pay more for something, but you can try to minimize paying more. Example, if you look/ask what would be a better time of year to travel into Croatia/Cech, where it could be less expensive, then you could PLAN a trip there. There is also the faux make reservations. sinced alot of the hotels have online reservatioins, you can just plug-n-chug days during the year and see what the cost are compared to other days/months. There is also the "winging it" approach, but i have no experience with that but im sure others have and can tell you how "affordable" that way of traveling is compared to a PLANNED vacation. what ive came up with in terms of $$/budget from my trips so far and this shoudlnt be surprising is that the order of costs are: 1. Transportation
2. lodging 3. food and mis stuff. in terms of transportation, there is only so much that can be done. you will still need to spend $$ to get over here unless you have bonus miles or something. If you can leave at a monents notice on a specail deal, that could help, but then what about the lodging?. Then about the only other thing to do is to minimze the travel in between or not do it at all. Just plant yourself in some city and call it home for the duration, but you could make day trips. Lodging is in my opinion (imo) where you can do more. You can look for "rooms for rent", camp, or look at hostels. There is also the house swappping, but i dont know the details there. Food and stuff. well, i dont know about you, but food keeps me going. But i did notice in myself,i was still on pacific coast time and my hunger bell wasnt in sync with europe and that helped me keep my food cost down. happy trails

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2684 posts

Julie, Great that you have decided to go. I suggest going to Germany (and Austria) too, and don't see only the south but elsewhere too; the country is very easy to get around by public transportation unless you want to see the outlying villages to get at esoteric sites and museums. But if not, just taking public transportation (Nahverkehr) is handy enough. Flying into Frankfurt for a trip in Central Europe has a lot of advantages aside from seeing a rich cultural/historical city. You could do something like this as an itinerary: Frankfurt-Vienna-Prague or Frankfurt-Dresden-Prague-Munich. If you want to limit the traveling within the 12 days, I suggest too Frankfurt-Berlin-Munich with more days alloted to Berlin, including a day trip to Potsdam...not to be missed.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

I'm going to take a contrarian view (surprise!). This is your first trip to Europe, your first trip outside the US? You have a short trip - you say 12 days, which usually means you really only have 10 days (you're counting your arrival and departure days?), maybe 9 1/2. You will probably be at about half-strength your first FULL day in Europe, recovering from jet lag and what I like to collectively refer to as "displacement shock" (flying half-way around the world, being awake for a day or two in anticipation and in transit, skipping 6-8 time zones, waking up for the very first time in a very foreign land where you do not speak the language, the food and money is different, and you are quite disoriented, etc.). Don't discount how jarring the initial experience can be. The initial shock will wear off quickly and you'll have fun, but you will still be more challenged than you expect to perform the most basic tasks like finding your way around and getting a meal. That's OK, things will get easier each day. But that said, I'm not sure that Prague, Berlin or Croatia are your best choice. You surely have imagined yourself in Europe before, even if it was only in the "someday..." context. Where have you imagined yourself? I think for most Americans, there are a few "big Europe" places that loom large in your dreams - typically Paris, London, Rome. For many people, I think it makes sense for your first European trip to include some of that. (continues...)

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

(continuing...) With a little more than a week in Europe available to you, I'd do London and Paris. Fly into London (you can get decent prices on flights; oddly, it costs more to depart from London due to taxes), spend a few days getting adjusted to Europe in a country where the language isn't a challenge, then train to Paris. Enjoy Paris and maybe a short side-trip or two, fly home from Paris. London and Paris make a perfect, easy transition to being in Europe. Much easier than, say Prague or Croatia. While they are awesome places to experience (and v-e-r-y trendy right now), destinations like Prague or Croatia are not as easy for a first-time traveler as other places - significantly more challenging language issues, and they're much more "different" than England and France, which would feel a lot more familiar. They take longer to get to, too - and I don't think you have days to burn. I also think there's also something a little lopsided about heading to places that are more peripheral, before hitting the mega-attractions - it seems odd to me to skip Paris, London, Rome, Madrid, Amsterdam, etc. and first head to Zagreb or Split. There's nothing wrong with Zagreb or Split, but I think one would appreciate them more after seeing a little of Paris or Rome. My recommendations would be to start reading Europe Through the back Door (quickly) and to take a good hard look at your real interests. See if London/Paris would hit your sweet spots for your first trip. You really need to get cracking on your planning. Remember, this is not your only time over there, it's your first taste at a rich banquet - don't skip the main course. Hope that helps.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

Hah - just saw Ken's post - which posted as I was writing mine. Of course Ken's advice is always excellent...

Posted by Julie
Denver, CO, United States
13 posts

I will have a full 12 days outside of travel. My BF has been to Spain and Italy.
There are just TOO MANY CHOICES! I will watch some videos and see what hits my sweet spot and also look up Europe on a budget. I've been out of the country- to Costa Rica, once.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17718 posts

Julie, If budget is a concern, it might be a good idea to skip the U.K. this time, as it tends to be a bit "pricey" due to the exchange rates on the Pound. Although your BF has been to Spain and Italy, you haven't so you'll have to arrive at a compromise on that point. He may have to re-visit either of those countries if you really want to see them. Check the listings on your local PBS station, as Rick's program may be airing. You could also check out some of his many You Tube videos. Here's some to start with.... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tra0oHrY_9Y https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8tsU7H1O2w https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrJyeearNNk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dP9ObS66tfs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AxtbifeoBY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLkmi-Q3JIA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxARTvlbKAk You could also check out some Guidebooks at your local Library. Cheers!

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2811 posts

I actually feel that Prague is an easier introduction to Europe than London or Paris (it's smaller, for one thing). But I agree with going to whichever place calls to you, and says "Europe" to you. I also agree with Ken's cautions about Croatia logistics. Croatia has lousy connections to other European countries, even the ones that seem "so close" like Italy. If you only have 12 days and want to see Croatia, that's your whole trip - or you'll have to spend a lot of time and money getting there from somewhere else.

Posted by Jerry
Monument, CO, USA
23 posts

Julie, there is a Rick Steves Denver travel group, the next meeting is May 18, this might help with any questions you have. All the info is given on the notice for the April Denver meeting which is on the next page under the general Europe heading. Hope this helps. Jerry

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2684 posts

Julie, If you are in Berlin in early September and see the word "Sommerschlussverkauf" (end of the summer sale), then you can see some shopping bargains.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3496 posts

Take a look at flights to Budapest too. It's one of the cheaper places to visit, good food and wine at easy-on-the-budget prices, a castle, fascinating museums, spas, a cathedral, lovely day trips to little towns nearby . . . You could see Prague to Budapest with a stop in Brno (or Vienna, but it's more expensive) easily in 12 days.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3576 posts

Why do you say "I cannot afford Italy"? Are you talking about airfare? Italy isn't expensive...AND you can fly into Zurich, Munich, etc. and get to Italy easily in a day or so, depending on how you choose to do it. Or, fly into Italy and out of another country - which is probably something you should do anyway (a multi-city ticket). Definitely check out the TV tab at the top of this page and watch some RS programs on YouTube or Hulu...and get a feel for what looks interesting!

Posted by Ilja
Seattle
1459 posts

Julie, you did your homework. Prague seems like a good pick based on what you want. Some think that Prague is expensive. I agree, it can be. Some hotels and some restaurants are expensive. But you can stay in Prague quite cheaper than in any western capital (in pensions) and you can have a good lunch for about 5 bucks (or less). And excellent beer for dollar fifty. Outside Prague in C.R. you would find even lower prices. C.R. has many different kinds of countryside: mountains, meadows, lakes, historical towns, castles, chateaus, however it does not have a seashore. You can get almost everywhere by public transportation and cheaply. That saves you money for car rental and gas. Website for train and bus timetable: http://www.idos.cz Just scroll down and switch it to english.
Czech Republic has another advantage: it's relatively on small area so you don't have to travel anywhere for too long and there is a lot of to see. For places outside of Prague (and Prague itself) I would recommend Rick Steves book: Prague & the Czech Republic. As another two options I would add Brno and Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad). If you are there in the first half of September I have to mention Wine Harvest Folklife Festival in Uherske Hradiste on Sept.7th and 8th. I plan to be there. At the end of September I plan to be on Rick Steves tour of Slovenia and Croatia. C.R. I do on my own. It's easy to handle public transportation there. Croatia is very beautiful: the gems - Plitvice National Park and Dalmatian coast. But it is more expensive and harder to travel around by public transportation than in C.R. For Croatia I would recommend to rent a car.