12 full days driving

This summer, starting July 2, we rented a car and driving from Zurich to Paris, then Paris to Brussels, then Brussels to Amsterdam, and finally Amsterdam to Frankfurt where our car drop off is. We only have 12 full days. We already booked our car so no choice of train. What are some must must sees along these routes? Is this too crazy? In Amsterdam we have friends so don't need to plan too much for there and prob stay at least 2 days. Other than that no idea what to do. I've heard the route from Zurich to Paris is boring, is that true? Should we just go quickly between those two cities? It's our first time to drive in Europe. We are a bit nervous but any good tips to know before we go? Also, we are traveling with a toddler, 20 months, and I will be 5 months pregnant so tips on what to do with a family would be much appreciated. Please help!
Thanks in advance

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
2741 posts

Lauren: Picking a car up in Switzerland and dropping it off in Frankfurt will come with pretty hefty drop off fees, even though the distance is not that great. It's 400 miles from Zurich to Paris, 200 miles to Brussel, 135 miles to Amsterdam and 265 miles to Frankfort. That's 1000 miles in 12 days, including stops. With very, very expensive gasoline, your trip is going to be expensive. And parking a car in Paris, Brussel and Amsterdam will cost you dearly. I would usually advise you to fly a budget air carrier, however Zurich-Paris is not serviced by budget carriers. You'd do better to travel from city to city by train. I cannot imagine what it'd be like to travel with a 20 month old and also expecting. I'm ever thankful to have had willing grandparents to stay with our daughter so we could travel. Day 1 and Day 12 are wasted dealing with airports and hotels. Traveling from city to city also takes a day away from your itinerary. 12 days is just not enough.
The truth: You're probably taking on too many cities too far apart to maximize your enjoyment. Flying open jaw into Paris and out of Amsterdam might be the best solution for you.

Posted by Lauren
Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR China
4 posts

Thanks much for reply but no choice as we have rented car already and it wasn't a high cost dropping off different location as we got a deal. However, the gas and parking, I know, will be pricey. The 12 days isn't including the travel days, in total it's 14 days.
I know it will be a challenge that's why I asked for help. Do you have any tips? Thanks

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
3252 posts

I would try not to make too many firm reservations except in big cities. That way, if the drive becomes too much you can just find a room along the way, instead of constantly pushing yourself to drive further. I often travel without reservations, and that is the beauty of having the car... you can change your mind at a moments notice. Depending on how long you are to be in Paris you could stay in Reims one night, take the train the next morning to Paris (leaving your car in Reims) and return on the train rather than deal with parking in Paris. I would opt out of most of the big cities and do villages or small towns that will be easier with a toddler. I have drive thousands of miles in Europe and while I tend to agree none are 'boring' they can be a bit long with a child who will be getting a view from the carseat. I might do this as a 'village/countryside' trip and ask for advice on quaint villages, etc.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
687 posts

When you are driving in Europe, the hardest thing is figuring out how to navigate to where you want to go upon entering the city or town (for example finding your hotel or the car rental drop off place). No street signs a lot of times, confusing one way streets, heavy traffic, and impatient locals. It's hard to figure out where you are, since you are moving at the time with often no convenient and safe place to pull over. (Hard enough in a foreign city on foot when the person reading the map is good at reading maps. Unfortunately for us, in our family I am both the map reader and the driver!) Which is all a long way of saying driving into all of those big cities sounds really scary to me. I have driven in 8-10 countries in Europe, and we only use a rental car for the parts where we are in smaller towns. I would strongly advise against it in big cities. It would be much better to do this trip by train in my opinion, and to visit fewer cities in the time allotted. Paris is good for at least four full days and that will leave you wanting more. But it's your trip and you should do it the way you want. You will be covering an average of about 250 miles per day on your driving days, figure four or five hours of driving. Usually I try to not go over four fours on driving days, so on the high end of a workable range. On the plus side, I think Zurich to Paris could be an interesting stretch. You could go up into Alsace and then cut through the Verdun area, plus Reims. But your time will be a little short for all of that if you are sleeping in Paris that night. You could also go the more direct route which would take you through Burgundy. Usually as someone mentioned there would be a huge drop fee, maybe $700. How did you avoid this?

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
155 posts

Driving in Europe is nicer than long drives in the US, better roads, nicer rest stops, similar exit signs to US interstates. Gas is more per liter but offset by way better fuel efficiency. With a toddler I would plan picnics and fresh air play times instead of site seeing along the way. Easy to find a nice hilltop village to take a break. There is easy parking near the Eiffel tour - about a block from Royal Phare, but some hotels include parking so research the combined cost.
Enjoy the trip!

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
499 posts

Lauren, I have a tendency to agree with all that Davis says, however, we may be Old School. Our eldest daughter does trips like you are planning. My two suggestions/tips are 1) a good GPS and a 2) good stroller. My 20 month old grandson has gotten very comfortable with sleeping in his stroller. Good Luck!

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
1094 posts

There is probably no such thing as a boring 1200 km route in Europe. You didn't say if visiting relatives is a factor, but it's puzzling why you chose the endpoints without considering what you would do between them. I personally would not travel in Summer without hotel reservations, but it sounds like you may be planning to. You don't say if budget is a factor, but comfort with a stroller and pregnancy suggest maybe you will care whether there are elevators or mini-refrigerators in the rooms-not to mention air conditioning or window screens. I would not do this trip by car in 12 days. One of the many possible routes might be: Zurich-Rheinfall-Stein am Rhein-Augusta Raurica-Weil am Rhein-Basel-Colmar-Ronchamp-Besancon-Dijon-Auxerre(Chablis)-Fontainbleu-Paris-Lens-Brussels-Antwerp-Utrecht-Amsterdam. But there are plenty of alternatives, and you can't see all these places in 12 days. A more important question than whether the car is already booked is whether the plane is already booked. This is a very ambitious route. I hope you will be able to plan another trip to Europe in the future, and do much less on this outing. Have you heard of the old movie title "If this is Tuesday, This must be Belgium?"

Posted by Adam
2923 posts

What "tips"? Your family is going to spend at least 5 out of 12 days together in a car, unless you make other plans. The Michelin green guides and road maps are especially useful for motorists.

Posted by Denise
Lake Forest, CA, USA
1476 posts

I would first determine how many days I want to stay at my destinations; i.e., Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Then that will determine how much you can see between those destinations or just drive like crazy. From Zurich, you could hit the southern edge of the Black Forest, or head straight into the Burgundy region of France. Maybe stop in Beaune. Lots of quaint villages in that area not to mention lots of vineyards. Check the Rick Steves book for ideas. Fontainbleau seems to be on the way to Paris. Haven't been there. I would NOT drive into Paris. I would stay on the outskirts. I, personally, would not stop in Brussells. I would rather go to the smaller town of Brugge and then go to Amsterdam from there. Love Amsterdam, but I also enjoy the countryside just north in Edam and Volendam. On the way to Frankfurt, you could stop and see the cathedral in Koln and then go towards Frankfurt via Bacharach. In Bacharach you could take a Rhine cruise. Just some ideas.

Posted by Lauren
Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR China
4 posts

Wow, thanks for all the responses. We started in Zurich because we found a super cheap plane ticket from where we are coming from and left from Frankfurt because, at the time when looking for tickets home, it was the only place with direct route to Halifax. We have friends in Amsterdam who we will be staying and touring with there. I'm very nervous about all these places in a short time. Our very rough plan is: Zurich 2 days Paris 2 days Brussels 1 day Amsterdam 2-3 days Frankfurt 1-2 days and the rest driving. Everyone keeps mentioning the train and actually we checked into our car rental agreement and can get our money refunded but my concern is with the train how easy to lug all your luggage. We will have quite a lot. And we really did get a good deal on the car rental and good drop off fee in another country, includes car seat. We aren't on a hostel budget but we also aren't on 4 star hotel budget. I wouldn't want to really go over $150-$200usd/night for room. I haven't booked any hotels yet and prob will just book one in Zurich since we get in so late. I was thinking of booking through airbnb.com. Has anyone heard of that and or booked through this? I'm really trying to cut out places. I've already been to Zurich and Paris but my husband hasn't and it's been a long time ago for me. It's hard to make him cut out cause he actually likes the freedom of a car and driving.
I hope I answered everyone's questions or comments and thanks for your help.

Posted by Kathy
Germany, Germany
813 posts

When traveling with children and while pregnant, you should take a page of medical history in case you need to see a DR. In Europe for pregnancies there's a small passport-type booklet that they check off all the tests you've had done, make notes, etc. that you carry around so if you need emergency medical care, all your info is there. Especially in Switzerland, you need to drive the speed limit. They have traffic cameras embedded in guard rails, hiding in posts and other places you'd never see and their fines are stiff.

Posted by Dina
Fontainebleau, France
893 posts

My advice is to try to plan things out as much as possible ahead of time. July is peak season, and you'll need a triple room and/or baby bed, and it is much harder to just pull off the road when you're tired and find a room given those constraints. You'll have to decide whether you want to try to get your 20mo to sleep in a bed before the trip. We put our middle kid into a bed about that age because we were going on a big trip and didn't have room for a pack-and-play in the trunk. Be prepared to carry a lot of coins with you for paying tolls if you don't have a chip and pin credit/debit card. Tolls can easily run over 20€ at one toll booth when driving through France. You may also need to pay for bathrooms, and small coins are good to have for this. Don't stop at the non gas station rest stops in France unless you are desperate. Some of the worst toilets (hole in the wall kind) in Europe. Make sure your rental car has the vignette for driving in Switzerland. With a toddler, you'll want to make sure you always have food with you. Rest stops can be few and far between in certain areas. You might also find places closed on Mondays and Sundays (esp. Sunday afternoons) Lastly, try to take it slow. Traveling with a kid that age is quite challenging, and you won't be able to do and see everything you want.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
4934 posts

Just some random thoughts - On a train you can walk around with your toddler. S/he can move around on the seat, both parents can focus on the kid - alternately and together - and relax and enjoy the ride. In a car s/he will be tied to a car seat for many hours at a stretch while one parent is driving and the other is navigating. How big a car are you renting? I ask because you said you have a lot of luggage. You do not want to leave a parked car anywhere with anything visible inside - so all your luggage needs to fit in the trunk. At major train stations there is assistance for people with mobility issues (pregnancy and toddler-in-tow should qualify). You should be able to find someone with a baggage cart to help you. There is direct train service from Zurich to Strasbourg (lovely place for a day or two) and then the fast TGV train to Paris, and lots of trains from there to Brussels and then to Amsterdam. There are also a few direct trains a day from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. The trains are fast, they don't get tied up in traffic, and the stations are in the city centers, so you only have short taxi rides to/from the train to/from your lodgings. If you had a month for this trip, I could understand taking a car from Zurich to Paris and enjoying a road trip. But from Paris onward, a car is just going to be a burden - driving in cities, finding parking, paying for parking.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

I'm not sure why the trains keep coming up. The car's a given. And, while I've never personally been pregnant, I've done a lot of traveling with a pregnant woman who hatched one kid within spitting distance of HK. My kids went everwhere at all ages, that last one starting a few weeks after she was born. Now I rip around the world with grand kids. There's nothing to it. There's no bad drive. The longer ones are going to be on freeways with full-service rest areas every half hour or so. Amsterdam will have the most expensive parking - - fifty bucks a day or so. If your friends don't have room, chunk the car in a lot outside of the central core and hop the tram in. Strollers travel free and can be gate-checked. Get one with decent wheels. There's two logical routes from Zurich to Paris. One goes through Metz and Reims, the other through Burgundy. The split happens right about at Mulhouse. The southern route is more scenic and maybe an hour shorter. You can do either one between breakfast and supper.

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3644 posts

Get rid of the car! No, the car's not a given because the OP just said they can get their money back. No extra drop-off fee because you got a deal. I HIGHLY HIGHLY doubt that. More than likely the drop-off fee has been hidden from you and you won't find out until you're standing at the rental car counter in Zurich. That car will be such a pain in the rear for you, and it's going to make your vacation stressful as you search and search for parking and then PAY for that hugely priced parking. The tolls and vignettes and gas and possible hidden drop-off fees (and hopefully no speeding tickets) will eat you alive. Millions of people travel via train in Europe with their children. I'm confident you will be successful in doing it also.

Posted by Marian
Kirkland, WA, USA
49 posts

Yes to airbnb. We had three one-bedroom apartments on our April trip through Spain; having a company between you and the owner works better for us than other types of rentals. I'd recommend this for you, even to adjusting the itinerary to smaller places; Europe is full of fascinating places outside the "biggies"!
Lauren, you say you are nervous about too much in the itinerary. My advice: Go with this thought and cut it down, enjoy more toddler play time in parks, have some deli meals in your apartment, and arrive to your friends unstressed with good memories of a pleasant vacation.

Posted by Lauren
Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR China
4 posts

This has been helpful, thanks. I especially like the person who wrote about stop bringing up the train. Haha. It's true, it would be great with a car but like everything it has it's ups and downs and it's determining what out weighs the other. I will call the car rental place to confirm our good deal and if they do have any hidden fees that turn out ridiculous we will cancel and do train. But I think overall we would love a car and the freedom of it.
I do agree with slowing it down and not trying to kill ourselves. Thanks everyone so much and if anyone else can add details of certain must sees that would be great. I have convinced my husband that the small areas are where its at and try to avoid the big towns.

Posted by Bets
2796 posts

Lauren, my 2cents. I'd go Zurich Frankfurt by train or plane and drop the bags, if this is excess baggage due to a move. Then high speed ICE Frankfurt Paris. Then pick up a car for the rest of the trip to Amsterdam and eventually back to Frankfurt. Or send the bags on ahead to Frankfurt, train to Paris, pick up the car in Paris for the rest of your trip.

Posted by Mark
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
164 posts

For what it is worth, I also rented a car in Frankfurt and dropped it in Zurich. The rate was competitive and there were no hidden fees.
I understand the convenience of having a car. I would avoid driving in Paris however especially during the day. It can be very stressful.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
3252 posts

Millions of Europeans travel with cars and children as well... if there are no Europeans driving, then who the heck is on the road? All Americans??:))
I traveled a ton with my kids (unfortunately not Europe) and now travel with the grandkids. If flexibility is the most important thing to you, then you need a car. Who wants to wake up a toddler from a nap so you don't miss the train? I might cut down the number of places, and look at smaller towns and villages as has been suggested. Road trips in Europe are a huge part of my experience. I have also done plenty of trips using public transportation, and the difference is like night and day. It all depends on what kind of experience you want and if flexibility and spontaneity are important to you. If you end up choosing only big cities, then probably take the train, but if you want to see more, then keep the car.