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Where to travel first?

Having not traveled in Europe before where's the best city or country to see first?

Posted by
6868 posts

There is no "right" answer - it's purely based on your interests, priorities, and travel budget.

Posted by
5617 posts

Can you get direct flights? That gives you the quickest, easiest entry to start European travel. Do you speak a language besides English? Do you have family connections or ancestral history somewhere? Interest in particular history, art, natural settings, weather, beaches and oceans, mountains, particular food?

Denver, our home airport, has direct flights to London, Frankfurt, Munich, and Reykjavik. We can fly, drive, or go by train, bus, or boat from there to elsewhere in Europe, but if you haven’t been there before, those cities, and/or the U.K., Germany, or Iceland are obvious ideas for first trips from Denver to Europe. Do you have anything like that?

By the way, unless you have 3 or 5 weeks or more, don’t try to add on a whole bunch of extra cities and countries in a single trip.

Posted by
5239 posts

It really does depend on your time, interests, and budget, but I agree with Mary Pat about London and Paris. They're two of the outstanding cities in the world, relatively easy to reach from North America, close together but different enough to give you a sense of the variety Europe offers. Both are great bases for day or multi-day trips to smaller cities or rural areas that might have more appeal.

I'd say start with London because they speak our language (actually we speak a version of theirs). That lets you enjoy and appreciate your surroundings without a language barrier (but remember to look right first when crossing a street). Paris is a good second stop because it's easily and quickly reached by train from London, and by then you can tackle a little French.

Europe has much, much more to offer, but a trip to those cities should give you a sense of what you want to see and do next, hopefully for years to come.

Edit -- Also what Cyn said. You may want to start wherever you can get a nonstop flight, or easy connection, from your home airport.

Posted by
1339 posts

London, Paris and Rome and three cities that most people think of in Europe. I agree with the others that London and Paris would make for a wonderful memorable first trip.

There is actually a wealth of information in the watch, read, listen section of this website. Perhaps watching some of the RS videos would help you narrow down your choices?

https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show

Posted by
597 posts

Get the Rick Steves Book, EUROPE THROUGH THE BACKDOOR. Price compare it on this site in the store and on Amazon. It is a 'must read' - we reread it often. it will teach you about how to use a Debit Card, how to get a NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE CC, how to take a train - and then the last half of the book goes over the countries in EU.

A RS tour is also a GREAT way to start- esp in places like Italy where you don't want to miss things like St. Marks, The David, The Vatican, etc - there is so much history that it's a shame to go over and not know or understand what you are looking at. We love the RS Venice, Florence, Rome Tour. But they are all amazing.

Seat61.com -- great info on the train system.

All the countries are worth visiting - Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, England, Portugal, Spain, etc - you have to decide what you want to see. A River Cruise on the Danube is also a great way to see Europe. The options are endless. Happy Planning (and buy that book).

Posted by
1279 posts

As Rocket said, I would suggest watching some RS videos to see what interests you.

This Sept. will be my first trip to Europe and I am going to Switzerland. Everything about Switzerland seems nice and easy, especially the transportation. The big cities, like Rome and London, scare me. So, not where I would go on my first couple of trips. That being said, I don’t think there are any wrong choices. I think it really depends on your comfort level. I grew up near Chicago and do not like the crowds of a big city.

Posted by
3017 posts

London was Europe trip #8 for me. Paris was included in trip #9. I was far more interested in Italy and the German-speaking world, so those were my destinations for the first 6 trips (Dublin was #7!).

Posted by
6614 posts

How much time will you have (how many nights)? Any language skills? Romantic notions? Family history? Whats the first place you think of, when you imagine going to Europe?

If you want easy England will seem most familiar. If you want to really feel that you're in a foreign country, go to Italy -Venice-Florence-Rome.

Posted by
85 posts

Echoing Agnes’ comment above.

There is no best city or country. That’s completely subjective.

Think about how you like to spend your vacation. Think about budget, time available for your trip, climate, and cultural preferences. Think about whether you want to plan the details of your trip or take a guided group tour.

Watch some Rick Steves shows on his website or YouTube channel. See what excites you. Read Rick’s “Europe Through the Back Door”, which is an outstanding guide on how to travel internationally and simplifies some of the things you may encounter when traveling outside the U.S.

After that, buy a good guidebook, read it thoroughly, and loosely plot your itinerary (Day 1 = arrive; Day 2 = visit/see [insert thing you want to do here], and so on).

Then, come back to the forum to fill in logistical and sightseeing details.

Enjoy the trip planning!

Posted by
2017 posts

What do YOU want to see/do/experience? I am going to France.

Posted by
1277 posts

Good questions above, another vote for Ireland because of the lack of language barrier. It was perfect for me at 22 with minimal city exposure in my young life.... tho we did include Dublin, London and Paris in that trip

Posted by
3175 posts

It depends on what you want to see and do

Posted by
3680 posts

In addition to seeing the videos, and about traveling in Europe in general, go to the section of this Rick Steves website called Travel Tips: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips
It's a great place to learn about what you don't know that you don't know.

Also go to Explore Europe: https://www.ricksteves.com/europe
There you can browse countries and the cities in them. And using the Watch link, you can get to the videos relevant to those countries and cities.

There are so many options for a first trip, it can be overwhelming. You've received lots of good advice on how to decide where to go first along with great suggestions for that first destination.

Keep in mind that your preferred first destination could change as you learn more and plan more. For many, the planning is almost as much fun as the doing. I hope it will be that way for you.

Posted by
312 posts

What calls out to you?

First trip was to London, unscheduled and work for my husband. Next two trips were Germany, and visiting Alsace with parents, and then taking daughter for an internship in Stuttgart. Stuff happened.

Last three trips were Italy, first with an Italian winemaker friend and we said "if we are ever going to go to Italy we should go with him". Well that led to another small group tour and then the last trip was to Sicily - which I love.

Not everyone liked Sicily. Assume that you will be able to go again, multiple times.

But what reaches out to you in the first place?

Posted by
312 posts

We have never been to Paris. Not high on either of our lists.

But we have done multiple trips and worked in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and lived in Canada.

There is no "right" answer.

Posted by
2285 posts

What's your comfort level for travelling to a new location with different languages, culture, etc? If it's low, London may be a good starter. If you have no fear and are ready to dive right in, my first pick would be Rome and branch out with some day trips.

Have you considered a Mediterranean cruise? That was my first trip in 2014 followed by a week in Rome. It gave us a bite size sampling of multiple locations and some good ideas of where else we'd like to go back to for longer visits.

Posted by
3932 posts

Watch videos and decide. I spent years before we could afford to travel watching Rick Steves and Rudy Maxa videos and our first trip we flew to Rome, did Cinque Terre, Genoa, Bologna and Venice (a few of those being odd places for a first trip to Europe, even a first trip to Italy). Then we flew to London for a few days. I've been to many other countries since, but Italy will always be my first love.

And Rome wasn't even easy for us as our closest airport doesn't have many direct flights to Europe (pretty much London only in off season), and I'm not flying west just to fly east again. We connected thru Heathrow. Nothing like plunging right into connecting flights and a chaotic city for first timers! Not to mention language barrier.

Go where your heart yearns to go.

Posted by
5448 posts

Kelly,
So many choices! First here are some things to consider:
1) Are you on a tight budget? If you want to see a lot on your first trip, but have a tight budget, avoid the most expensive countries (Switzerland and Scandinavia. Also, certain places that are popular with Europeans during their holiday season should be avoided (South of France in August). Southern and Eastern Europe are less expensive than Northern Europe.
2) My first trips to Europe, I did the big cities like Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Rome and London. No problem with that, but those also tend to be more expensive. However, you can still find affordable lodgings in those cities. Use websites like Kayak.com or Trivago.com.
3) Consider not renting a car on your first trip, since the driving can be a bit confusing for a first timer. Rail is great in most countries.
4) What are you interested in the most, historical places, art, scenic places? Rome, Paris and London have all that in spades. To me Italy is hard to beat for the history and art and does have some scenic places as well.

5) Recommend at least a two week trip. If you do that, you could easily spend a week doing Italy (Rome, Naples area, Florence and Venice). Also, London and Paris, with a some day trips outside the cities, especially around London (Bath, Canterbury, Oxford, Salisbury, Cambridge).
6) Consider a tour for your first trip, but compare it with what you want to see in each city after doing research on things to do (TripAdvisor) or using a guidebook.

Posted by
2263 posts

I often think of Europe as a college program:

Europe 101: Big cities - London, Paris, Rome, Berlin. These contain the sights that you have always heard about. Can you speak a little German? Berlin. Italian? Rome. French? Paris. You don't really need a language, of course
Europe 201: Slightly smaller cities - Frankfurt, Marseilles, Florence
301: Non-major countries - nordics, MittelEuropa, Balkans, Turkey
401: Countryside, small cities

Start with the big ones. Don't do too much (FOMO - fear of mission out - is a problem with inexperienced travelers.

Posted by
773 posts

My first time in Europe was for a Yiddish class in Lithuania that I got college credit for. On my next trip to Europe, I went to London, England. At that time I wrongly believed I could only travel to one city at a time. I wish I had gone outside London, at least I wish I had gone to the city of Bath, and Stonehenge. My next trips were to Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

England would be fine for a first time in Europe. Or for an unusual suggestion, the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) may not be popular with American tourists but they have a pleasantly low population density, they are part of the the European Union so you just need your passport to get in, and they have potentially appealing sites open to tourists- castles, museums, memorials, parks, and so on.

Don't worry about languages. My current strategy for language barriers is to learn certain words and phrases, getting the pronunciation and sound pattern of the language just right, and possibly going around with a miniature dictionary and phrasebook; simultanously my plan is to keep quiet the vast majority of the time. It is an embarrassment to just try talking English to natives of a non-English speaking places even if they do know some English; in some places it is not normal manners to just talk to strangers on the street or other places, (in any language).

Posted by
107 posts

I agree with others that London and Paris are great cities to get your feet wet in Europe. It is what we did and it was a good introduction to European subway and train travel which could be considered essential European skills! We added Nice after Paris so we do not have any experience with CDG (the airport in Nice was fantastic!).

Posted by
369 posts

I agree with those who suggest using the RS books to find out what is most compelling to you, and also consider how much time you have, and your comfort level with new places. That's how I determined that I wanted our first trip to be to Northern Italy. We visited the Cinque Terre, Florence, Sienna/Tuscany, Venice, Como, & Milan. After that, our second trip was to England and Scotland (with a full week in London), third to Paris and Normandy (with a full week in Paris), and fourth to southern Italy (with a full week in Rome). I would have a hard time choosing a favorite--just see what location appeals to you the most. And I always allow more time than RS includes on his whirlwind tours.

Posted by
70 posts

I took my niece for high school graduation, so her first trip. We had a busy, doable, and eventful week!

Flew into Paris, train to Amsterdam, ferry to the UK with a night in Colchester, then on to London (and the Harry Potter studio), Chunnel back to Paris and home.

We were busy but got so many tastes and experiences! I think the overnight ferry was a highlight. And Colchester was lovely, quiet and manageable after huge Paris and Amsterdam. It gave us a rest before tackling London. I would totally do the ferry again!

Posted by
21709 posts

Kelly, this site works best if there is a little discussion. It has been over a week since you posted your question. You have received some good responses but they could be better if you answer some of the questions asked. Most are not mind readers so it does help to refine the responses if you responded.

Posted by
12875 posts

It all depends on your time limit, depth of interest, travel style, finances, etc.

Trip # 1 for me: London, Berlin (west), Hamburg, Munich, and Vienna.

Trip # 2 was Paris, Versailles, and Prague and, of course, back to Berlin. Trip # 3 was back to Paris, Fontainebleau, Frankfurt, no Berlin this time.

Posted by
1421 posts

I know which is the best city to see first, but I'm not saying. I will be happy to provide you with the third-best city, however.

Posted by
27707 posts

unfortunately kelly never came back - just once and gone - sad

also unfortunately, 5 months later a spammer did take the opportunity to pop in, sell his wares and collect personal data, He will be gone soon - sent to the Webmaster for zappage and bannage

Posted by
2585 posts

unfortunately kelly never came back - just once and gone - sad

Nigel, I've noticed that occurs quite a bit on the forum, a first time poster will ask an incredibly vague and open ended question, and usually just vanish after, maybe they get cold feet seeing the number of opinions, and see it is not such a straightforward question as they originally thought... or they just forget lol!

There are probably 1000s of posters with "1 post (1 topic - 0 replies)"

The worst is when first time posters deletes their post because they got the info they needed, forever denying future travelers from that info... truly sad, as you say 🙄

Posted by
464 posts

It is sad that the OP never came back as This truly is a good question.

As has been said it is impossible to answer on a forum as what is the best place to start for one person is not the best for another.

My advice to people thinking of taking a first trip to Europe is to try one of the following.
A). Close your eyes, clear your mind and Picture Europe in your head. Wherever you pictured THAT is where you should start.
This is a bit hard to pull off and even more of an issue if you have multiple people involved in the trip.
So I suggest option two.
B) Everyone involved (and i mean everyone including the dog if they are going) take a Pad of paper and Independently write down a list of all the places they want to go in Europe that they can think of in 5 minutes or so. (No research, just do it from the top of your head) Once you have all you lists you start making a master list have one person read their list write down the location on the new list and put a check mark next to it for each person who had the named location. When you are doing reorganize the list by the locations with the most numbers You SHOULD have a pretty good idea of where you should go from that list.