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First time to Europe

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Europe. We just got married last week and this will be our late honeymoon. We would like to avoid a travel agent, but we have no experience. We would like to go May 2009 and I want to start planning ASAP. This is difficult.

We are planning on 3 weeks and would like to see London, France (Normandy and Paris), and Italy.

We don't know where to stay or where to start. Any suggestions?

Posted by
486 posts

You are young enough that you will go back. For 3 weeks, stick to England and France. No more than 2 countries (we spent 3 weeks just in Italy) if you want to really enjoy yourselves. Don't make the mistake of so many others that try to cram in too much.

Posted by
389 posts

First, Congratulations Jenn! Your plans sound awesome. I can relate to your story. My husband and I celebrated our 25th and decided to tour Europe on our own. Having never been there before, I was worried just like you are. By using Rick Steves guidebooks, watching his TV shows, reading all I could on his website, and following the advise of all the travelers that write in here, you (as we) will do just fine. Traveling with researched knowledge is all you need to give yourselves the trip of a lifetime....a fantastic adventure. The biggest mistake travelers make is to not give themselves enough time to enjoy before heading to the next destination. You mentioned 3 cities and then one country. Italy alone can take up 2-3 wks. You could have 1 wk in London, 1 wk in Paris (daytrip one day to Normandy) and 1 wk in say Rome (daytrip to a couple of hilltowns). Or you could narrow your sights to just seeing all of Italy. However you decide, we're here for you :)

Posted by
6334 posts

First place to start is the bookstore. Peruse Rick's books on the spots you want to visit. He has helpful insight on where to stay, how to travel, and what to see.
Ryanair is an inexpensive airline that I used to fly from London to Rome. Kind of like Southwest here in the states. You can also pay the piper and take the Chunnel which departs from London and gets you into Paris in 2 hours. Plan a minimum of 4 days in each large city providing you travel time in and out. London is great! Paris sublime. Rome fantastic. Good choices. Rick really gives GREAT advice and travel tips. Since it's your honeymoon and if your budget allows I would opt for apartment stays. Know that hotel rooms in London especially are small, really small compared to our hotels. Honestly a Best Western room would be a suite in London. I like the Vancouver Studio Apartments in Bayswater. Read up and remember the dollar is at an all time low so don't faint when your credit bill arrives. Congratulations!

Posted by
53 posts

My wife and I went to Italy last year and it was our first time to Europe. We followed Rick Steves Italy book (Make sure you get the newest edition) to a T and we were not disappointed. Follow the guides and you'll be fine. This goes for planning and booking the travel. In My opinion, if you're not afraid of a little leg work and want the non-tourist experience, get the books and dive in!

Congratulations and good luck.

Posted by
4125 posts

I agree with John that three weeks is too short to visit all three countries--unless you think you would be satisfied with a quick taste of each.

However, I would suggest France and Italy, if the idea appeals to you. For instance, you could fly into Rome,(4 days) visit Florence (2), Sienna(2), and Venice(2), then take a night train to Provence (3). End in Paris (4). If this seems like too much--it does assume you have planned carefully--you could pare it back.

There is no substitute for reading guidebooks, web sites, and travel publications. Planning a trip is an iterative process with many tentative draft itineraries, ultimately rewarding in terms of the quality of your trip.

Happy honeymoon!

Posted by
6898 posts

First, I would suggest flying into one country and out of another. This will prevent having to double back. For example, fly into London and fly out of Milan, Venice or Rome (don't try to do all three on this trip. You will be busy).

Second, begin constructing a spreadsheet on where you will be for each night. Then begin placing things you'd like to do and see on the spreadsheet. The activities can be flexible but the night stays will need to be firm as you will then make hotel reservations based on this plan. If you would like such a spreadsheet (Excel), send me a private message with your email ID and I'll send you the one we used.

Talk it over and make firm decisions on where you will be on each night. Note that it is wise to be in the city of your departure the night before so that you can easily zip to the airport. One caution if flying out of Venice. Don't fly before 8:00am or you may have to take an expensive water taxi to make it on time ($150 - really).

Posted by
359 posts

Hi Jenn, what a grand honeymoon you folks will have, enjoy. If I was planning a first time Europe trip that's a year away, I'd start with a copy of Rick Steve's 2008 Tours Book (free), his Best of Europe book, and a good map of Europe. His tours are 'blitz' travel and you wouldn't want to do it that way on your own (I'm not sure I'd want to do it with 'him'). However, it'll give you a good feel for the 'lay of the land', stuff you might want to experience (or not), perhaps an idea of what order to do them in, and also convince you that two nights in London, Paris or Rome are not enough (although his 14/21 day tours do it that way). Frommer's have a series of "10 Days in ----- books (fill in the blanks for London, Rome, Paris, Venice, etc, etc.) which are well done at at less than $15 each, contain excellent maps, and are what we use when in Europe along with 'tearouts' from Steve's books. Try Amazon for the full set of books, I highly recommend them.

Posted by
31465 posts


First of all, congratulations! It's great also that you're getting an early start on your planning.

Since this is your first trip, I'd highly recommend reading Rick's Europe Through The Back Door 2008. It's an excellent source of information, and includes a section on Itinerary planning.

While it's possible to visit the locations you mentioned in 3 weeks, an extra week would be much better (any chance for more time?). Which cities do you want to visit in Italy? Open jaw flights are definitely the best choice for such a short trip!

Would this work:

  • London (5 days) - you'll lose the first day, so that leaves 4 travel days

  • Paris (4 days)

  • Normandy (3 days) - could be reduced one day? What do you want to see?

  • Italy (9 days) - I'd suggest Venice, Florence & Rome, however Cinque Terre, Siena or Amalfi coast could be possible if you get more time, or drop one of the other locatons.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
359 posts

Great itinerary from Ken; covers all the places you mentioned you want to see, and is pleasantly doable in your 3 week time frame. If you use that as your framework, tweak it to allow for special interests you may have, and allow for travel between the main 'stops', you're well on your way. We're covering much the same trip (with Bath/Holland thrown in, but without Florence/Cinque Terre) this spring and have 26 days to 'close the circle'. Actually, we're flying into London and out of Rome so no circle, but open jaw's the way to go.

Posted by
11805 posts

I agree with Adam, the British Isles are great but are better taken as a trip by themselves. Flying open jaw into Rome and out of Paris would work well. I like the idea of starting in the South in May and working your way North, that will put the change of season on your side. If it was September, I would go the other way.

It's best not to try to see everything but to pick the areas that would be highlights for you and plan for those.

May is a great time to travel. The crowds haven't arrived, the prices are lower and it's arguably the best weather of the year.

Posted by
11213 posts

Planning your first trip can seem overwhelming but it doesn't have to be. In no time, you'll consider it fun.

You're smart in giving yourself so much time.

Here's what I would do....

1) Decide what type of things you like to see and do. Are you art people, history buffs, scenery lovers...a combination of all or it changes daily?

2) Go to a large library in your area, or a bookstore with places to sit, and look at numerous updated travel guides--not just Ricks. (ETBD is a must as a general resource.)

3) Look at the areas you want to visit and start making lists of things you want to see.

4) Go online. EVery country and major city has a tourism website. They are great resources for information. (No need to wait to visit the local tourist office until you get into town. You can do it online.)

5) Then sit down and decide what things are must sees and what can wait until another trip.

6) Learn about travel times between destinations.


Posted by
11213 posts

7) Make a calendar of the days you'll be away.

8) Decide on your itinerary. Try not to double back. Go in one direction. Use open jaw flights if necessary from the US. Or a modified open jaw. (Let's say you get a great deal on a round trip to London. And let's say you end your trip in Rome. Find out which is cheaper--an open jaw into London and out of Rome, or the roundtrip to London with a cheap flight from Rome to London.)

9)Once you start to fill in your calendar and decide where you'll be when, start to think about accomodations. What type do you want? Hostels? Small hotels? Apartments? The Ritz?

10) and then come back to this board and start asking questions. You'll get lots of responses and lots of opinions. Listen to each one and decide which is right for you. (And that also includes information found in guidebooks.)

And that includes everything I wrote. It's just a suggestion.

Posted by
28 posts

Four of us went to Europe in Aug/Sep for 3-1/2 weeks - our first trip (2 in their late 30's, 2 in late 50's). We didn't use a travel agent. We booked our own flights via the internet in and out of Amsterdam. We used RS books and and decided to secure our hotel reservations ahead of time. We were glad we did. We used the trains for transportation. We learned not to do one nighters the hard way....they are exhausting. Try to stay 3 nights per location, at least two. Lake Como (Varenna) is heavenly and a short trip from Milan. Very relaxing and romantic. We stayed at Eremio Gaudio with a balcony room for 150 e. We were in Paris 5 days and could of stayed longer. We stayed in the Rue Cler area at Hotel Paris Muget at 135e. Venice is not to be missed. Florence is exhausting. We hired a driver to take us thru Tuscany "Tuscany in your pocket" and had a wonderful day. We did all the planning ourselves. Hope this helps. Have fun planning it.

Posted by
23 posts

Hi Jenn,
Congratulations on your marriage & choice for late honeymoon. Half the fun of a vacation is the aniticipation &planning so when rushed,you miss out!
Tons of great advice already here for you but thought I'd offer a bit -Consider making it late Aprilor earlyMay -Juneis very crowded and pricier in Europe. England is one of the priciest cities,limit your time there orsaveforlater. London is one of the cheapest cities to fly to but Dublin is also a cheap option- Aer Lingus flys inexpensively and reliably right out of Dublin to various countries in Europe(+US) or vice versa. Paris is amazing, my husband &I visited there our first year of marriage 14 yrs ago &have incredible memories. Italy ismy favorite country-I'd focus your trip there!
Consider flying into Paris-(4days - take chunnel to London sightsee 2days, fly to Dublin for overnighter - and then fly to Venice(3days), train to Florence(3days), train Cinque Terre(4days), rent car Tuscany or umbria 4 days, train Rome 4 days

Posted by
16 posts

My husband and I have been traveling for several years together, you will have a BLAST! I wish you so much fun. I really do hope you pick what really excites you and pick that. We never have tried doing a region faster that the usual American 2-3 weeks vacation. Remember to slow down. We loved France and Italy as our favorites, use Rick's books and you;ll be good. Dinner outdoors always saves money, and has been our best memories. Most romantic!

Posted by
19 posts

Jenn, I wish you every happiness. Since you have a whole year to plan, have some fun with research. Get Rick's videos (library, rental etc). Look at Eyewitness Books for each country to get an idea of what really appeals to you indiviually and as a couple. Keep your wish lists for future trips, and let Rick's philosophy guide you. If you have language skills, local friends/family, or a love of music, art, history, those things might be considerations too. Stay tuned to the Graffiti Wall.
Most postings are very helpful. Have a wonderful trip!