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2 week European trip first timers itinerary help! Paris plus ? For 2 weeks.

We are planning our first trip to Europe as a family with our 13 and 15 year olds. Due to school schedules we have to go in July. The only city we must see is Paris. We have scheduled 2 full weeks. We would like to see another country and also to get out of the urban areas for a couple days so we do to overload on cities. Love to hike and bike, and we are willing to drive if necessary. Should we go to London, Barcelona ( will be hot!), or Germany, Belgium, switzerland? They all sound great! Any ideas are greatly appreciated!

Posted by
635 posts

The biggest problem people have posting itineraries on this forum is they try to do too much in too little time. Michelin has a good interactive map system showing driving time between locations. I strongly suggest you do a detailed plan with where you will stay, what you'll see while there and include the time to get there and the time to get to you next destination. Paris in July will be warm and pretty crowded. I'll be there next week and the hotels are pretty crowded even now. Book well in advance and spring for a place with A/C. As for specific suggestions, you are too broad throwing most of Europe out at us. You could do a decent driving vacation in France. You could drive through parts of Germany and end up in Paris. You really need to focus on your own wants and get something more specific for me to comment on in any detail.

Posted by
6814 posts

It's 3 hours by train from Paris to Trier in Germany's Mosel River Valley, another 45 minutes to the village of Cochem, which is situated roughly mid-way between Trier and Koblenz. Either Trier or Cochem would make for a nice stay. Trier has lots of Roman history and a nice town center. Although with a population of 100,000 it is decidedly more urban than Cochem, it's no Paris, and you could daytrip to Cochem from there. But I would pick Cochem if you're interested in outdoor stuff. Biking along the Mosel is flat and easy, and the paths are mostly separate from the roads. Cochem's cobblestoned, half-timbered old town is truly fetching. Cochem's Reichsburg Castle is tourable and has a great falconry show; nearby Burg Eltz castle has an amazing tour. Cochem also has a cool chairlift ride and a waterpark, the Moselbad. http://www.burg-cochem.de/ http://www.burg-cochem.de/english/falconry.htm http://www.burg-eltz.de http://www.cochemer-sesselbahn.de/ http://www.moselbad.de/erlebnisbad.html

Posted by
138 posts

If you are going to stay several nights in Paris, consider renting an apartment. European hotels tend to be quite small and an apartment will give you a little breathing room. You should be able to get an apartment for approx the same price as a hotel room for 4. Look at vrbo.com - and make sure you get an apartment that has a/c. And I would suggest visiting Normandy. I feel about it like I do Pearl Harbor - we owe it to those who fought and died to go and pay our respects.

Posted by
69 posts

Thanks everyone! I thought you could only do a week in an apartment, but I will check for shorter stays. We definitely want to see Normandy and Versailles, as our children are learning American and European history and it ties in perfectly and makes it more real for us all. I know I threw a wide net in my question and I appreciate your patience.

Posted by
635 posts

Paris - Versailles - Normandy -- Throw in Bayeux (remember the Tapestry?) and Mont St Michel and you've spent a week. You then find yourselves out in western France with a six hour drive or so back to Paris. You have pretty much limited the next phase. You could stay in Brittany or you could consider doing a quick drive down toward the south of France. There are excellent outdoor opportunites along with many "dead peoples' houses" in the form of castles and scenic estates. You would then swing back and fly out of Paris or possibly Nice if you want to see the Mediterranean. A earlier post suggested Trier which is certainly valid too. I wouldn't get too focused on choosing between a hotel or apartment in Paris at this stage of your planning.

Posted by
4132 posts

One option that is logistically easy and rich with opportunity is Amsterdam-Brugge-Paris. You might fit Normandy in before Paris, or Burgundy afterwards. I should not try anything more than that. Fly into A'dam and out of Paris. Switzerland is also quite attractive, with the option of visiting Burgundy and/or Alsace enroute. Spend at least three days in the Berner Oberland and fly home from Zurich. The third obvious possibility is to split your time between Britain and France, with time in London and Paris and in smaller towns in each country. I think all of these are feasible, but would not add anything to any of them without subtracting something else. You provide no information about your own interests so it's hard to advise; in any case you are the best judge. I hope that weighing these three options, and variations on them, will help you to make a good plan.

Posted by
11507 posts

A week is barely enough for Paris( which includes a daytrip out to Versailles),, so that only leaves one more week,, I vote either Switzerland or Normandy ( D day Beaches and Mont St Michel) Biggest mistake I see on these forums is people trying to see five places in one week, yuck,, they do not see anything , they tick off boxes. My friend spent 3 days in Paris last year and bragged she went to four museums in ONE day,, when I asked her which ones SHE COULD NOT REMEMBER THE NAMES what a waste of a day. I have travelled with my kids, two seperate trip with each, once when daughter was 11 and another trip when son was 14,, most kids do not want to rush about all day like mad men, they want to sit and have an ice cream, enjoy a walk in the park, and yes, my kids liked Versailles( where my son rented a bike there and rode around the canals while I read a book for a break) and the Louvre,, partly because we didn't rush about all stressed out,, ticking off boxes. PS My son loved the Catacombs in Paris.

Posted by
1878 posts

I suggest considering London + Paris + Normandy + Chartres. You can travel from London to Paris easily in a few hours by train. Book far in advance for best prices. This is based upon proximity, ease of transportation, user-friendliness, and the "wow" factor. In Normandy, consider Honfleur, Bayeaux (must see for the tapestry and great base for D-Day beaches); add Mont St. Michel although some guide books list it as part of Brittany. My wife and I have traveled to Europe 12 times since 1999. Some places you go because, well, you can't keep going back to the same places on every trip. The places listed above, you should go to when you have not been to Europe -- i.e. great for your first visit. (Another option might be night train to some combination of Venice/Florence/Rome as an add-on to Paris.) BTW Rick Steves books are very strong on London and Paris/France. Rick's books have been our guides in a dozen countries, but he is especially strong in these locales.

Posted by
198 posts

London is hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics. Not sure of the time period, but something to consider.

Posted by
1175 posts

I vote for London, Paris, and Normandy. We always fly into London, spend days there, then Eurostar over to Paris. We prefer to fly home from London as well but you can fly home from Paris, Nice if you go that far south, or from just about anywhere. We take the train from Paris to Caen, collect our pre reserved rental car from one of the three rental agencies at the RR station, then drive to Bayeux, about 12 miles. Having a car in Normandy is priceless and you can stay in a B&B in rural Normandy. Check out bandbnormandie.com. MSM is only 90 minutes from Bayeux by 4-lane motorway and the beaches are only 15 miles from Bayeux. Seeing the D Day beaches and the American cemetery behind Omaha Beach is an emotional history lesson all Americans need to experience, to further value the freedoms all of us have today. Don't delay deciding where and when to go. Check out tripadvisor.com for all the help you will need with London, Paris, or anywhere else you might roam. Don't try to do too much on your first trip. You will return.

Posted by
837 posts

Our first trip to Europe was for 3 weeks. We chose England and France. After 6 subsequent trips, I would choose the same if I were planning a first. We spent about a week in Paris then trained to Avignon, drove around for two days, then trained back to Paris and Eurostar to London. About 5 days in London, then drive to Cotswolds, York, and back to Heathrow. With 2 weeks, I would spend half in Paris and half in London. Eurostar between the two and fly into one and out of the other. Both have enough to see to last for months and many options for day trips if desired.

Posted by
2030 posts

For the first trip to Europe, particularly with children, I recommend doing London first for 5 days or so, then taking the Eurostar to Paris for the remainder of the time. Include a trip to Versailles in the Paris time. These are both big cities to be sure, but I think they are essentials to begin with, and there is so much to do and see. Check the guidebooks for both cities and find what interests you. (Rick's Paris and London ones are essential). I think it will be a very rewarding experience for your whole family. Just pace yourself and deal with the heat and crowds of summer -- relax and don't try to do too much each day.

Posted by
69 posts

So based on all this wonderful advice we are leaning towards London then Paris, however I would like to see Normandy too. I have read some posts saying this could be done as a day trip, but wonder if we would kick ourselves for not exploring the area near Normandy more if we day tripped from Paris. Thanks to everyone, we are so excited to plan the details.

Posted by
58 posts

Hi Joan This might seam like a crazy idea. But seeing you said London, Normandie, and Paris. How about you take the farrie from Portsmouth England to Caen/Normandie. You can take Brittany Ferries, the Normandie Express is about 3.5 hours. They even have overnight ferries, you can get a cabin and get into Caen earlie to start your day. You can rent a car for a couple of day's to travel around Normandie. Then take the train into Paris which takes about 2 hours. I have a couple of rules I now go by when planning a trip. 1. Min of 2 nights in one place. It will give you plenty of time to see the small towns. 2. Try and keep travel time to about 3-4 hours.
Have a fun trip. Wendy

Posted by
1175 posts

Wendy's idea of Portsmouth then taking the ferry across to Caen is very easy as well. We did that two years ago. Portsmouth is the center of British naval history, with Admiral Nelson's flagship, Victory, still an active British warship and open for tours. Nelson was killed but won the Battle of Trafalgar that saved England from a Napoleon invasion. We thoroughly enjoyed Portsmouth for two nights right on the waterfront and the ferry ride across the English Channel. If you fly into London, www.aquacars.co.uk from Portsmouth will meet you at Heathrow, or anywhere in London, and take you directly to your hotel or B&B in Portsmouth for much less money that 4 train tickets, around 55 pounds if I recall. Something to consider.

Posted by
1878 posts

Good point about the London Olympics. I would expect that to drive prices up, perhaps permanently. Book very early. I agree with Wendy's rules about two nights minimum in one place and 3-4 hours in transit. I count transit time door to door. So unless you want the romance of traveling by sea, go with Eurostar. It's city center to city center, and nothing could be easier. That said, just looked at Rick's description of Portsmouth and it looks great. So many places to go... Dover is also a big ferry city, and the castle there along with the secret WWII tunnels are great.

Posted by
32273 posts

Joan, I'd suggest staying away from London at that particular time. Not only will it be hot and VERY crowded, it's likely that Hotel prices will be exorbitant. There will be HUGE queues at all the main attractions (ie: the ones that you probably want to see), and I doubt that it would be a pleasant experience. One option you might consider would be to divide the trip into two parts. Spend the first six days (or so) in Paris, with day trips to Versailles or other nearby location, and the second week in another country (that will provide a look at two cultures). Switzerland is definitely one possibility. It's an incredibly beautiful country and there are lots of places to see. You could (for example) spend a few days in Lucerne (your kids might enjoy the fantastic Museum of Transport) and the remainder in the Berner Oberland (good hiking and other outdoor activities). If you'd rather not change to a different currency, Germany is another good option. Depending on what type of "experience" you're looking for, there are lots of possibilities. You could spend your time in the Rhine & Mosel regions (fly home from Frankfurt) OR in a larger city like Munich. The Deutsches Museum is incredible and there are lots of interesting day trips available from there. A third option would be to travel via budget airline from Paris to Rome and spend your second week there. There are a lot of interesting sites and day trip possibilities. As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door as it provides a lot of great information. The country Guidebooks have lots of details on Hotels, restaurants, etc. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
69 posts

Thanks, I was all set on London, before someone pointed out the summer Olympics will be there. We are forced to travel in a hot busy month already, and I do not relish the lines and crowds being even bigger. So, opening up the second week again. My vote is for Switzerland. My husband works for a German company, so he has been to Germany many times. No one has been to Switzerland, and from my reading it seems to be a solid choice. I have read up on London and France, now off to Rick's website to add another book to the order! Thanks for your help. Going to post on Switzerland question now.

Posted by
837 posts

Joan, you said you are going in July. You did not specify if you can travel anytime during the month, perhaps even a couple of days earlier. The Olympics don't start until July 27. If you were in London in late June-early July, I doubt that you would experience a crush of people, over and above the normal summer tourist crowd. As to prices, I would suggest checking hotel prices for early June, early July, and early August. This should give you an indication of price increases and their timing. Another advantage of going as early as possible, more temperate weather. I would not abandon the original plan without further research.

Posted by
837 posts

Joan, to check my theory, I checked the Rembrandt Hotel (website is Savona Hotels), our favorite. The rates are exactly the same for stays from early April through early July. They do not available 2 bedroom suites for early August.

Posted by
69 posts

Thanks for checking. Let me look into it some more before I abandon hope!

Posted by
123 posts

You can easily spend a week in Paris alone and take a day trip to Versaille (very easy by train). I also went to Belgium for a few days, my boyfriend wanted to see Waterloo, and was really surprised how much we enjoyed it. Brussels is an easy train ride from Paris, then there are day trips to Gent and Bruges. We wished we had more time there. The nice thing about Brussels is that they speak French there, so if the kids were picking up any, that would continue there, when you get up to Bruge they speak Flemish. Very interesting history.

Posted by
228 posts

Joan, This last May we visited the Cotswolds area in England, and absolutely fell so much in love with it so much that we're going back again in September 2012... even though we could travel to other parts of Europe with that same cash. We stayed in the town of Broadway and boy was it beautiful! Definately look into this as an option!

Posted by
800 posts

Joan - you say you love to hike & bike so I would definitely rule out the London/Paris thing as you'll spend too much time in the big cities. I'd do one of the following: 1) Spend 1 week in France - 4 nights in Paris, 3 in Normandy. The D-Day sites are incredible for anyone and I hate it when someone says they want to do the 1 day tour from Paris - there is so much to see and you'll get so much more of a feel for it if you slow it down and actually stay there. If you think 3 nights is too much for Normandy (taking into consideration the amount of time it will take for you to get there and then move on to your next spot, you'll really only have 2 days) then rearrange a bit and add a few nights in the Loire. After France, go to Switzerland and hike to your heart's content. We haven't done this ourselves but I know there is great outdoor stuff to do so you'd have no problem figuring that out. 2) Spend 2 weeks in France - same suggestion for 1 week and for the 2nd go to the Dordogne. Our kids LOVED this area. We stayed for 1 full week in a rental in a small town and used it as the base with a car to explore. We canoed down the river, walked a lot - and I'm sure there are areas for biking & real hiking that we didn't see. Pull up some pictures of the castle ruins that are in the area - they are incredible! Again - lots of outdoor things to do and very different from what you would have already seen. 3) Same 1st week and then if you really like biking check out Belgium and the Netherlands. I remember being amazed at the "bike paths" that lead from one major town to the next! It is something I'd like to do someday - nice and flat with the wonderful scenery (canas, windmills, etc.), good cheese & beer! You could fly out from Amsterdam. You'll have a great time!