My wife and I will be travelling to Europe for our first time next August and are looking for input in setting an itinerary. Neither or us have a must sees, since it will all be new to us. If possible I would like to take in a little beach time somewhere but don't HAVE too. We will have 12 days (not including travel time) to spend. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
Just some general comments to help you narrow your focus.
Summer can be uncomfortably hot south of the Alps. That and the generally more accommodating travel infrastructure make Northern Europe easier to manage on a first trip. Save the more challenging travel in Southern Europe for another time.
I'd focus on two countries with just 12 days. Maybe France and Belgium, or France and Germany, or Germany and the Netherlands, or Switzerland and Germany. This alone involves plenty of travel. You don't have time to zoom around the continent if you hope to experience Europe.
Brittany's beaches are attractive. Lake Constance, between Switzerland and Germany, looks like an ocean in spots and provides several nice beach options in the summer.
Mix your time between one or two larger cities and some smaller places.
Germany's Rhine and Mosel River Valleys are close enough to popular destinations in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland to make them worthy of consideration.
As above, with 12 days - focus on 2 countries or zones. What would you like to do/see: Castles & Cathedrals? Museums? Other historal sites? Large cities or the countryside? Rent a car or train travel? Outdoor activities ie hiking or golfing? Busy beaches or secluded? Any places that you've always wanted to go to?
It would help to have some idea on what you're most interested in seeing in Europe. For example, what prompted you to go there?
As this is your first trip to Europe, I would highly recommend pre-reading the Guidebook Europe Through The Back Door before you get too far in your planning. That will provide you with lots of information, including sample Itineraries. The "Rail Skills" chapters is especially important. When you've decided on particular cities, use the country-specific Guidebooks to plan sightseeing.
If you have a PBS TV station in your area, you might also have a look at Rick's shows, as that may give you some ideas as well.
Is there any possibility of getting extra time? 12 days is not a long time. Given that short time frame, I'd suggest picking locations that are relatively close so that you don't waste too much time travelling between cities. You'll lose the first day in travel times, and will arrive in Europe the day after you departed. The last day will be spent on the trip home.
Although neither of you have any "must sees", it would help to have some idea what you're interested in?
In August for beaches, look into some of the resort towns in Belgium and the Netherlands. They have some very nice, wide sandy beaches here (unlike the narrow, rocky little strips of land further south). The weather is usually warm, but not sweltering.
Try your local library for guidebooks; the two of you can browse and get a feel for what you'd like to do.
If you subscribe to Netflix, you can get some of Rick Steves' videos and see what looks appealing. If no Netflix, then on this website you can watch some of his full-length episodes. Click on the tab at the top of the page called "Rick on TV", then towards the bottom right is "Watch Rick Steves' Europe - free - on demand". If you scroll through the choices (in no particular order), you'll find 3 episodes named Travel Skills Part 1, 2, and 3. That might be a place to start...
I agree with all the posts about viewing Rick's guidebooks and videos to get an idea of where you might like to go. All countries are wonderful, but personally I would fly into London, spend approximately 1/2 of your time there, then fly or take Eurostar to Paris. (definietly do London before Paris). London is a good first intro to Europe, pretty easy to deal with, and great sites. I think Paris should be the #1 destination for anyone interested in Europe -- and in the summer they have a "beach" on the banks of the Seine that starts up in July. No swimming but it could be fun.
my first trip was two weeks including travel time. I did, Rome for 3 days, Florence for one day, Munich for one day, Paris for 3 days, and London for 3 days. no beaches on that trip but it was a nice overview trip that gave you the sense that you had seen a lot in a short time.
If you want someone to help plan your trip from the ground up this is the link you should be using -- http://www.ricksteves.com/about/consulting.htm
I agree with getting RS books. Also, check out RS' TV shows (for free) on hulu.com. Just type his name on the search bar - you'll have dozens of episodes to choose from. I think it's a great way to get a flavor of the different countries/cities/towns and a ton of ideas on what to do and where to go. There are also 3 episodes on travel skills, which are very helpful, particularly if for Europe-first-timers. Have fun!
I greatly appreciate ALL of your advice. I have put the RS movies from netflix on order and will watch some RS shows tonight on Hulu. We may actually get a few more days on the ground, since my parents will watch our 2 small children a couple extra days. Currently its looking Germany and Italy (my wifes prefrences), but I am still trying to work in alittle southern France or Barcelona - might not happen though. There definatley is alot to consider/take in.
"you'll find 3 episodes named Travel Skills Part 1, 2, and 3."
Just be aware that because these episodes are several years old, some of the information is now out-dated, particularly regarding rail passes.
If you don't have a "must see" list what made you choose Europe? There must be SOMEWHERE that you would like to visit? I would suggest starting with that location and build around it. In any case, have a nice trip!
Just an FYI - I've re-watched all three of the "Travel Skills" videos I suggested earlier in this thread. They ARE 10 years old, but I don't understand the criticism of them - yes, the Global Pass doesn't cover 17 countries; it now covers 21. There's no mention of Wi-Fi (duh!), and he talks about how to use phone cards (as opposed to cell phones, I guess?). People still use phone cards regularly, in addition to cell phones. The only other thing I noticed is that the Venice post office has moved (so I've read)... He happens to be on a whirlwind 3 week trip, so he's using a Global Pass. This pass is still great for this kind of trip; nearly all other itineraries can be done more cheaply with point-to-point tickets. He talks about using ATMs instead of changing money, too.
Perhaps I went brain dead at the pertinent places in the videos, but I would hardly call them "out-dated" (except, perhaps, for Rick's eyeglasses)! That does a disservice to the videos, I believe.
Travel in Europe is very easy and hassle free. We always fly to London, spend some time there, then Eurostar to Paris. Cheapest tickets are on sale 120 days prior to departure. Travelodgeuk.com has great motel rooms across UK for sometimes as low as 9 GBP!! More often around 29 -49 GBP but you save enough to have high tea (or the chocolate tea) at the Ritz!! The London School of Economics lets rooms right on Trafalgar Square and around the central areas of London. Go to www.seat61.com and book a ferry from Portsmouth to France, or Spain, and pick up a rental car and the world is at your feet. We are returning Sept 30, first to hunt Scotland, then Eurostar to Paris and from there to Monte Carlo, then back to Paris. A great website is tripadvisor.com, type in London forum or Paris forum and everyone can help you plan everything. You will never be the same after Paris.....
12 days isn't very long, so keep it compact and simple. Northern Italy and southern France. I would suggest Rome (3 days), Florence (2 days), Monaco or Marseilles for the ocean (2 days), and Provence (5 days - Aix, Avignon, Arles). Rome to Florence to southern France can be done by train. Provence should be done by car). Have fun!
I would suggest another way of keeping in contact with people back here aside from using phone cards, which I use too, and that is to go to the internet cafes. They are the cheapest places to make direct telephone calls, both within a country or internationally, say from England to Austria, France to USA. In Germany these places are called Call Shops. One place to buy phone cards in Ger. is at Reise Bank, located in the train stations, such as at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Munich Hbf., Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse in Berlin.
August + Italy = HOT. I would definitely think more north and in any event make sure you have AC in your hotels. Friends of mine were in Austria in July and caught a heatwave - nothing had AC except their rental car and they suffered.