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First Trip to Europe (Germany to Switzerland)

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Europe this June for our 25th anniversary. I'm hoping we aren't too late to plan a memorable vacation. We fly into Frankfurt and then fly out of Zurich 14 days later (6/18-7/1). I'm looking for ideas for our itinerary and good base camp locations. It's my first overseas trip and my husband jokes that my ideas of what I want to do always ends up being like stuffing an elephant into a VW - so I need help reigning in after reading Rick's guide books! We don't mind big cities, but are looking to savor the landscape, castles, and smaller villages. I definitely want to see Munich and Lucerne. I am interested in seeing the Alsace region, because my family is originally from there, but not sure if it's worth it or have time for it. My friend told me I should definitely make time for Austria. I am also trying to figure out if it's better to use the rail system or to rent a car or a combination of both. Thanks for any help you can give to us!

Posted by
4835 posts

jcfarn, start with this basic planning idea: every time you move from one location to another, it takes up a half to a whole day of your time. So two nights somewhere only gives you one to one-and-a-half days to see and do anything. You really only have twelve days when you take into account travel days. That sounds like no more than 4 places to me. The more places you visit, the less time you have to spend anywhere. So its important to focus on what's realistic. If you add large places like "Alsace" or "Austria" you have to be more specific as to what and where to determine if they're doable.

Posted by
11676 posts

Hi, good advice above to limit your stops to 4, but you can do all your wishlist within that.

Frankfurt provides good access to Alsace, so you could start there. Route would be Frankfurt airport —-Colmar—-Munich—-Luzern (this part via Bodensee/Lake Constance so make a stop there for lakeside rural beauty); or to include Austria, you could go Colmar—-Munich—- Salzburg—-(x) ——Luzern. I put in the X to represent a small vilage in Austria encounters between Salzburg and Luzern if you wanted to break up the journey, but going the whole way is not bad.

Here are the travel times:

Frankfurt Flughafen to Colmar, 3 hours w/ 2 train changes on the way.

Colmar to Munich, 4.5 to 5 hours

Munich to Luzern via Bodensee, 6 hours; OR

Munich to Salzburg, 1.5 hours

Salzburg to Luzern, 6.5 hours (I personally would break this up with a 1-night stop in a village, just to enjoy the journey more and experience an Austrian village).

You can stay in Luzern the night before your flight out of Zurich, unless it is earlier than 10 am. The train from Luzern to the Zurich airport is just over one hour, and there are trains that make the journey with no change on the way.

I chose Colmar for your base in Alsace as there is good train service, and we found the town to be full of charm. I can even recommend a nice little apartment in a great location in Petite Venise (Little Venice) if you are interested. We loved it there!

I did not include any castle-specific stops, but maybe someone can suggest one along that route. I find Neuschwanstein, the “fairytale castle” to be overrated, crowded, and not worth the time, but that is just my opinion.

Posted by
4960 posts

Welcome to the Germany forum, jcfarn.

"My friend told me I should definitely make time for Austria.... "I definitely want to see Munich"

It's a common error to try fitting in so much when you haven't been and when you aren't sure who to listen to. IMHO jokes from one's husband always carry a certain amount of real-world truth. If he's saying he doesn't want to be zooming all over the place over 13 nights, it would be wise to give more weight to whatever lies between your already pre-determined start points and end points - Germany to Switzerland, Frankfurt to Zurich.

With that route in mind, I think you ought to question yourself and your own inexperience a little bit as well. What are the reasons you are so set on Munich? If the main point is to "savor the landscape, castles, and smaller villages," then I would start by looking for those things on the path you must travel. If you need to veer from your path a little here and there, fine. But IMHO Munich and Salzburg (which is not Austria of course) involve some mighty detours for what is a short trip.

CASTLES: From FRA airport, I would be reluctant, after a long overnight flight, to jump on a train for 3 hours. Why not just take a train to the Rhine Valley? It's only about 1 hour from FRA:

On the very short stretch of river between Bingen and Koblenz there are more castles than you can count, and some nice ones to tour. Small old world towns? Plenty of those too. Landscapes? Some outstanding ones.

After that, head south. Some options:

Heidelberg and the Neckar River Valley - Besigheim is an adorable old wine town - it and Bad Wimpfen are just a couple of many nice options.

Further south: The Black Forest and the Alsace:


Further south: Switzeralnd… Bern - Interlaken - Luzern

If you stayed somewhere in each of these 4 areas - and did short outings to SOME of these places, you will still have a very busy trip and you will see some wonderful places together. You could pick and choose your day trips without being on a stiff schedule. And you would not be zooming around Europe as though you were a tour bus.

Posted by
823 posts

Since this is you first trip to Europe, if you haven't locked in your airfare, I would limit this trip to just one county. As a reference, we spent two weeks making a circular from Salzburg to Fussen to Rothenberg o.d. Tauber - Mosel valley to Frankfurt and that felt rushed.

If you have locked in your airfare (open jaw Frankfurt & Zurich), expect to pay a hefty drop-off fee to pick up your car in Germany and drop it in Switzerland. Otherwise, use the train to cross the border.

One possible option is to pick up a car at FRA and drive the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) to Fussen and then take the train to somewhere in Switzerland to finish the trip. Some sites along the way are Wurzburg, Rothenberg o.d. Tauber, Augsburg, Rottenbuch and the Ludwig castles.

Another option is to use Koblenz as a home base to explore the Rhine and Mosel river valleys by train and/or boat. Koblenz is an easy and short train ride from Frankfurt. and there's plenty to do and see in an easy radius. It would be pretty much an all day train ride to Zurich and you'd miss a lot to cool sites along the way.

Posted by
1547 posts

One possible option is to pick up a car at FRA and drive the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) to Fussen and then take the train to somewhere in Switzerland to finish the trip.

Yes, but the prerequisite for that would be that you rent from Hertz, because there is no other car rental company in Füssen. Lindau has Hertz and Sixt, Friedrichshafen has Hertz and Europcar. My preference would be Friedrichshafen, because there are good ferry connections from there to Switzerland across Lake Constance.

Posted by
8889 posts

One possible option is to pick up a car at FRA and drive the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) to Fussen and then take the train to somewhere in Switzerland to finish the trip.

To add to SLA's comment. Getting from Füssen to Switzerland by train is not easy, the line ends at Füssen, you have to head north towards Munich, and then double back.
If you are thinking of this, I would recommend driving Füssen to Lindau and returning the car there - last town in Germany before the Swiss border, AND it is a pretty town on a lake worth visiting, AND it is easy to get by train from there to Switzerland.

Going back to your original plan, Munich is an outlier. Frankfurt to Munich is easy, lots of High Spped trains. But if you want to go to Alsace first, you end up zig-zagging east and then back again.

I see you have two choices:
OPTION 1) The eastern (Bavaria+Austria) route: Frankfurt - Munich - possibly Salzburg and/or Innsbruck and/or a small mountain town - Luzern.
This is all doable by train.
OPTION 2) The Alsace route: Frankfurt - Strasbourg and/or Colmar - car to visit small Alsatian wine villages, and anywhere with family connections. - day trip to Freiburg im Breisgau. - return car and train to Luzern.
Castles in Alsace: Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg:

Posted by
613 posts

Alsace is one of EU's top sights and far and away the best thing you will ever see in France, and I base than on more than 200 days of sight seeing in France. Rent a car is the best way to see EU if you stay out of the big cites where cars a royal pain.

Two options: 1] a river cruise. 2] car trip: FRA to Trier via Mosel and Rhine Valley, Trier to Alsace & Black Forest. Turn in car in Mulhouse (economic reasons). Train to Zurich via Interlaken (Lauterbrunnen) region.

We started traveling in EU with week long stays in London, Paris, and Vienna. WE now know, after 57 EU sight seeing trips, that was a big mistake. Keep moving. Get a broad sample. Then you will have an idea of what you want to do on your next trip.

Posted by
1547 posts

you have to head north towards Munich, and then double back.

Well, there would be a workaround: take the 12:10 bus to Pfronten-Ried, than the train to Kempten and catch the noon EC to Zürich. That's not slower than backtracking all the way to Buchloe and landscapewise it's much nicer. But yes, in either case the trip would be awfully slow (the connection mentioned above, the fastet one (!), is 4:48), so that keeping the car until Lindau or Friedrichshafen would save time and hassle.

Posted by
427 posts

Frankfurt is not that far from Zurich but if you rent a car you'll have a big drop fee - so I would use a combination of rail and car. Assuming you have 12 nights on the ground, here's a suggested itinerary: 3 nights in Frankfurt including one day trip via rental car to the Rhine Valley, then take the train to Munich for 3 nights, then take the train to Innsbruck, Austria for 1 night, then take the train to Zurich and rent a car, next drive to Lucerne and base there for 3 nights with a day trip to the Berner Oberland (it's close) to get up in the Alps, lastly drive back to Zurich for your last 2 nights - on your way to Zurich you can drive up to Colmar, France in the Alsace for the day (or stay the night and then have only your final night in Zurich). BTW - I've visited everyplace mentioned except Frankfurt, the Rhine Valley and Innsbruck. If you skip the Rhine Valley you can save a night off Frankfurt but you'll lose small villages, castles, etc. If you're tired of traveling by the end of your trip you can eliminate going up to Alsace but you'll lose small villages and charm.