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Old World Europe vacation...I need help!!!!

Hello All,
I'm a travel virgin having never been out of the continental U.S. except for an all-inclusive trip to Jamaica which doesn't really count. I'm looking to take my fiancée to Europe after we're married. I'd like to experience "Old World" Europe. You know, the stereotypical towns with cobblestone streets and thatched roofs, etc. My only caveat is I'd also like to visit such a town where there are things to do and see (and if not directly in the town/village we stay, at least within taxi distance). My first thought was Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Any suggestions? All input is greatly appreciated. Please help, I don't even know where to start...

Posted by
6245 posts

Well from your description it does sound like you are a "travel virgin" (which is fine, we all were once). You don't say how long you have before your trip, but my first suggestion would be to start watching the Rick Steves shows on your local PSB station - watch them all as often as you can, and you will start to get a better idea of what different places are like, and you'll pick up specific tips and tricks that you can apply wherever you decide to go. I'd also suggest picking up Rick's general book, Europe Through the Back Door. Those resources should help get you started, and will help you narrow down where you would most enjoy.

Good luck and have fun.

Posted by
8659 posts

First, you have your question posted twice, so you might want to remove the other one. Second, you can experience the "old world europe" in almost any country over here. You might want to narrow it down. England has wonderful little villages, but so does Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, Normandy, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Wales, Scotland the Netherlands and so on and so on. Where have you always wanted to go? What about your girlfriend? Everybody has places that they have always wanted to visit. Decide which country you want to visit, get out some maps and look to see what larger cities you might want to visit and then come back with some questions about the smaller villages around. Read a few guidebooks about the countries that might interest you, spend some time on here reading through the forum and the graffiti wall.

Posted by
386 posts

I can only echo the advice given by Jo and David.
Do some research and decide where your heart pulls you to. Once you have narrowed your choice, it'll be easier to give you advice and help.
Europe is a big continent, each country has its own culture, flavors and customs. And is chock full of cobbled stone street and lanes, no matter which country, like Jo pointed out already.
A taxi might be okay for here and there, transfers from stations to hotels, or late night excursions, but most likely you will be traveling a lot by train and bus and tram, so try to figure that into your equations.
As a first time visitor to Europe, I would encourage you to pick a region, like the Wachau, the Lakes region in Italy (Southern Tirol) or Tuscany, to stay in a mid-sized town with good transportation connections, and plan day-trips from there. Or pick a city you absolutely would love to get know, like Paris or Florence, and plan trips into the country side from there.
I strongly discourage you from trying to do and see too much, don't underestimate travel times and the size of, and distances within Europe!
You'll get much more out of focusing on one or two areas, and getting the experience of Europe's great ways of relaxing and enjoying life!
You have made a great start by joining this forum, you'll get wonderful advice and insider tips from fellow travelers.
We look forward to hearing more from you.

Posted by
6229 posts

"...'Old World' Europe. You know, the stereotypical towns with cobblestone streets and thatched roofs, etc. My only caveat is I'd also like to visit such a town where there are things to do and see."

Thatched roofs:

England's Cotswold Villages immediately come to mind. They are of course very quiet, but great for walking, and several castles can be visited. The area isn't terribly far from Oxford, Stratford and other towns where there's a good bit of action.

Cobblestoned town:

Rothenburg in Germany is a touristy but incredibly well preserved old walled town, and there's quite a lot to see there too. It's on the Romantic Road, a route that connects similar towns like Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl, and Weikersheim, all of which are very close by. Also nearby are Nuremberg and Würzburg, a couple of excellent cities with lots of old world ambience and interesting sights that each could keep you busy for a couple of days. Try the Franconian wine too.

Both of the above would be easy to visit for first-timers as English is widely spoken (though those Brits have a few things to learn about the language :).

Posted by
13814 posts

I don't know if you're a tour person or not, but I would check out some of Rick Steves's Tours. The first one that came to mind was his Germany-Austria-Switzerland tour.

Posted by
4 posts

A big thanks to all that replied. You've given me a lot to think about and research. Before diving in to the travel guides I wanted to hear from you, sesoned travelers, about your suggestions, likes and dislikes. I personally put far more weight on those that have "been there, done that" and are willing to give you straight-forward feedback. I frequently use Trip Advisor as a reference tool but it's only pitfall is that you have to know where you want to go first before you can review other's feedback. I'm headed over to Rick's store now to pick up a few guides. Safe and rewarding travels to you all.

Posted by
2020 posts

Carson, I understand you may want to hear from "real people" before consulting travel guides, but most people on this board will tell you to go to Rick Steves' books first. He is the ultimate real person expert. His books and DVDs are up-to-date and his own personal work -- we trust him, you should too. Virtually everyone on this site will recommend that first-time Europan travelers who are wondering where to go and how to get there, where to stay, eat, etc., start by reading his books, watching his shows on PBS. He is the ultimate personal guide. We who post our suggestions are just working in his shadow, believe me.

Posted by
8659 posts

"working in his shadow"? eeek! That sounds creepy BG. You make the whole forum sound like some kind of cult gathering.

Posted by
1717 posts

Hi Carson. Go to GERMANY. Germany is easy to like. Fly to either Frankfurt or Munich. Read the book "Rick Steves' GERMANY & AUSTRIA 2009". In that book's INTRODUCTION is "Sightseeing Priorities".

Posted by
9363 posts

Yes, BG, you make us sound like mindless slaves to the "RS Way"! While I do agree with some of RS's opinions there are many that I do not, and I use lots of resources in planning trips. Please don't make it sound like everyone must follow his every word.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Virtually everyone on this site will recommend that first-time Europan travelers who are wondering where to go and how to get there, where to stay, eat, etc., start by reading his books"... Not necessarily. For Carson, I think Rick's books and TV show are a great place to start (Rick seems to specialize in cozy, Old World Europe). But Rick clearly is not the best source for everyone (students, business travelers, outdoor enthusiasts). And that "working in his shadows" sounded a bit like some Great Leader personality cult...

But back to Carson's original post: For story-book Alpine Germany, look into Mittenwald, Oberammergau, or Garmisch-Partenkirchen (specifically, the Ludwigstrasse section of Partenkirchen), although info on these locations is scanty in Rick's book.

Posted by
12141 posts

I'd start by picking a region. You can't see everything on one trip.

Once you pick a region, figure out how much ground you can reasonably cover. As a rule-of-thumb for how far to travel, I allow three hours transportation time every other day of my trip (I adjust it for specific stops but use it as a rule so I'm not constantly going). For example if you are traveling two weeks, you will have about 12 days on the ground because of your travel day there and back. That gives me six travel days of three hours (probably by train or rental car) between destinations.

Possible regions include: British Isles, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, Germany and Austria, Balkins or Baltic. You may be able to take half of a region and add part of a second region but don't try more than that.

Germany, Austria and Switzerland would be a good choice. You really need to research the list of sites to decide what is worthwhile for you to see and include your fiance's preferences.

I love the architecture in Salzburg and Venice but I also love the Shambles and Medieval wall in York. Thatched roofs are more likely to be seen in the British Isles but even that is now limited to tourist sites like Stratford upon Avon, most people get rid of thatch if they can afford to.

Posted by
3428 posts

I agree that you need to narrow your focus. I'd suggest either the UK or Austria. Those are 2 of my favorites! In the UK you could stay in London and do day trips or focus mostly on one area such as the Cotswolds or Highlands of Scotland. In Austria I'd suggest you base yourself in Salzburg. You can do day trips to Innsbruck, Budapest and Munich as well as the Lakes area. When you and your girl friend decide on your "focus" let us know and we'll all be glad to give more specific suggesstions. Feel free to PM me also (I've been to Europe more than 40 times in 20 years).

Posted by
2020 posts

To those who commented that I insinuated all posters here were a Rick Steves' "cult", or non-thinking slaves to his every word, this was not my intention, and I think you have over-reacted just a little. My intention was to guide a first time European traveler to the best place to start his research. He seemed to say that he wanted personal experiences rather than a guidebook advice, and I was trying to tell him that Rick's materials give very hands-on personal advice. Our own personal opinions, while good, really aren't better than his. His books and videos are a perfect starting point for a novice. It's how I started, then went on one of his tours and became even more savvy. Since then have been to Europe several times, doing my own thing, and developing my own ideas and opinions on how to travel. I like the way Rick approaches travel, but am certainly not a slave to his every word. No person who has half a brain would be. Lighten up a bit, folks!

Posted by
32051 posts


To begin with, I'd suggest reading Europe Through The Back Door to get a good idea on the best methods for smart and affordable travel in Europe. That should provide a few ideas on places you might be interested in seeing on your honeymoon. I'd recommend open-jaw flights for best efficiency.

I heartily agree with Corinna's suggestions. Using Taxis for trips from the station to your Hotel (or whatever) is fine but you'll need to adopt new travel methods and get used to the idea of using the excellent public transport in Europe. Also, plan to do lots of walking!

Some destinations to consider (given the occasion):

  • London (day trip to Bath or the Cotswolds - lots of quaint thatched cottages and history - starting in London and then moving to the continent will provide the least "culture shock")

  • Paris

  • Germany (Rothenburg, Munich or other locations)

  • Austria (Salzburg and/or Hallstatt, Vienna)

  • Switzerland, Berner Oberland region (awesome place to enjoy incredible outdoor scenery)

  • Lago di Como (which is a fantastic place for Luna di Miele and just enjoying Italy)

  • Cinque Terre (relax or hike the trails)

  • Venice (many here feel this is a great honeymoon location)

  • Tuscany or Umbria (Siena, Orvieto and Civita di Bagnoregio)

  • Rome (definitely cobblestone streets and lots of history!)

Which places to choose will depend on which sites you want to see and how much time and money you have. It should be easy to plan a fairly efficient travel route between the cities I listed.

Another thing you might consider would be to combine a RS Tour with some travel on your own.

As the others have mentioned, watching Rick's TV shows is often a good way to see places that you might want to visit. Check your local PBS station for times. When you have some idea of which cities you want to visit, I'm sure the group here will have lots of additional suggestions.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
7 posts

I do not know all of Europe, only some countries. My favorite places in Italy are "Isola Bella on Lake Garda, in Greece the monasteries of Meteora, the French city of Strasburg, on the beaches of the Spanish island of Formentera and channels Ampuriabrava, Norway Museum High in the mills of Kinderdijk Netherlands.
Surely there are others elsewhere with as much magic for me is my favorite places.