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FIRST TRIP TO EUROPE! Need your recommendations for top cities to visit.

I will be going to Europe for the first time in October. I have a free apartment in Paris so I will start there. I have 14 days total. What are the top cities I should visit? I'm hoping to make a loop, instead of back tracking to Paris each time. I'm thinking Amsterdam, Zurich, (maybe Germany), French Riviera. Not sure how much is doable and which cities are the most fun for a girl's trip for mid-30 yr olds. THANKS!!

Posted by
23 posts

Hi Mary,

My first, when I was 26, trip to europe was on a tour that lasted 30 days, it was a round trip and included Paris, Nice, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech and Amsterdam.....everything was beautiful except for Amsterdam! I am all for drinking and partying but Amsterdam was just so seedy and dirty. The other places you have suggested are fantastic so maybe other more experienced travellers on this forum can elaborate a bit more on these than myself.

I am heading back in late august and we are going to Munich, Hohenschwangau, Interlaken, Gimmelwald and then trekking mont blanc......just to give you an idea of my favourite places.

At the end of the day, Europe is a fantastic place so where ever you go you will have a great time! Good Luck!

Posted by
32241 posts

Mary,

As this is your first trip to Europe, my first suggestion is to pre-read the Guidebook Europe Through The Back Door. It will provide you with a LOT of good information, including Itinerary planning, money, languages and especially rail skills.

Before recommending "top cities to visit", it would help to have some idea on your circumstances. Were you planning to use your apartment in Paris as a "home base" and take short trips, or visit other cities for several days? Also, is your flight home from Paris or will you be using "open jaw" flights? Finally, which countries / cities are you most interested in seeing?

As you only have 14-days total, keep in mind that you'll lose the first day in flight times and time zone changes, and the last day will be spent on the trip home. Therefore, your actual travel time will be 12-days. In planning places to visit, it's will be important to choose locations that are relatively close, so that you minimize your travel times.

If you can provide further information, I'll try to make some suggestions.

Cheers!

Posted by
10331 posts

Considering you have two weeks and a FREE place to stay in a fabulous city I would stay in Paris and do a few side trips. You could easily from there go to London and Amsterdam, and to break up time in cities you could go to Bruges.

I would do it in a circular manner in order to spend the least amount of time in transit -

Paris - London - Bruges - Amsterdam - Paris, or you could to it the other way around.

An alternate idea would be to go from Paris to the South of France, then maybe Northern Italy. To do that I would fly into Paris and home from where ever your final destination is.

I understand the desire to see EVERYTHING on your first trip, but what you are proposing is very unrealistic as far as transportation time between cities, and you aren't taking advantage of having a free place to stay. You can always go to the other places when you have to pay for everything. :-)

Posted by
1525 posts

You won't like to hear this, but the WORST choice you could make is to equate Europe with cities.

You have a place to stay in Paris. That's a great city to visit. Spend a few days there, then leave and see rural france - Normandy, Dordogne, Loire, Provence, etc.

Read Rick's France guide book and choose whatever appeals to you for the 6-9 days you can afford to NOT be in Paris.

Two of the biggest mistakes first-timers make is cramming too much movement into too few days, and just seeing city after city.

Personally, I think mistake #3 is trying to see too many different cultures on one trip. Just stick to France (learn a few French phrases). See ONE great city, and then see some of the amazing French sights that are NOT in Paris.

Then return to Europe again in a year or two and pick another country or area. Given time you can see it all AND remember it and appreciate it. Just seeing as many cities as you can in 14 days won't do that.

If it were me, I would spend a week in Paris, using 2-3 of those days for day trips outside of the city (Versailles, Giverny, Chartres, etc) then take the train to Avignon, rent a car and stay for a week in a village in Provence (making day trips each day). That would give you a great contrast and a chance to see a lot, but also have the stability of a home base for each of the two weeks.

Good luck!

Posted by
3551 posts

Why not focus on Paris (easily 5 days worth)& nrby and depart via London? 14 days is really not alot for such terrific and lots to see and do top cities of Paris and London. I still go back to Paris and London after a life time of visits there. you will not be disappointed. And lucky you to have an apt ion PAris.

Posted by
92 posts

A large number of people never make it back a 2nd time, so I won't say you shouldn't do a whirlwind tour if that's what you want. Lots of EurRailers do it every year and have a great time.
It's absolutely true that you can have more than enough to do and see in one country or even 1 place, but you can also see a little bit of a whole lot of places in 14 days. There is no right or wrong way way. It's your choice. Whilwind tour or a calm slice of life, cities or countryside, museums or landscapes, think about what YOU would like to do and go for it. Have a great time!

Posted by
11507 posts

Paris, Rome and London, or in your case particularily I would just do Paris and London as two weeks seems like a short visit to me.

When in Paris,, if you have a week there, do only one or two daytrips out of city,, Paris is worth at the very least 4 days.. geesh so much to see and do.

PS Look up Fat Tire Bike Tours, their bike trips to Giverny and Versailles are very very fun. Their night bike tour of Paris is a hoot, includes a night cruise and some wine, you will meet some fun people and really , do it near beginning of stay so you can scope out Paris a bit.

London is super easy from Paris, if you can get your Eurostar tickets well in advance they are cheap,, like 70 or 80 euros for a return trip,, plus its city center to city center so no hassles and time wasting getting out to airports.

Amsterdam is not my favorite place,, its not that I think its particularily seedy ( of course any big city has a bit of that anyways) ,, its just ,, um, to me a bit boring,, BUT , if you do go, do NOT miss Anne Franks house,, I considered that a highlight,, and yeah, visit a "coffee shop", LOL

Posted by
10331 posts

I take back my first answer. Randy's is much better.

Posted by
43 posts

I would weigh-in with the "see one country/area well" group. Our first time in Europe my husband and I spent 3 weeks in Berlin. It was wonderful to get to know the city well and now, upon return visits to Europe, Berlin feels like "home".
I would also echo the small town visits. They will seem like very different places than the big city. There are so many wonderful day trips, or at least one overnight, you might do from Paris.....all the above mentioned destinations, especially Bruges, plus the Alsace region.

Posted by
29 posts

I have always regarded the backbone of European travel to be: London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome (a middle class Grand Tour.) I know it involves a lot of travel, but it has been a common itenerary for a 14-17 day trip since before high speed trains and cheap flights. I like all the other suggestions, but for your third or fourth trip.

Posted by
16 posts

Mary, I also am with Randy; don't too too much in one visit! You spend all your time travelling and not enough seeing things. We will be taking our fourth trip to Europe in 5 years next month (this trip is Madrid & Barcelona) and each time we pick a SMALL, doable area to cover in 10 days-2 weeks. Two years ago we did 12 days in Paris & Loire, with a day trip to Versailles and that was PLENTY. We were able to see everything we wanted in Paris in 5 days, 1 day in Versailles, and visited many chateau (and drank lots of great wine) in Loire, returning for a last night in Paris before flying out. Other regions close enough to drive or take the train from Paris are Champagnge/Reims or Normandy/Brittany; review them all in Rick's France book and see which appeals.

Paris is a great place to start your European adventures. For future trips, I recommend Tuscany in Italy, and southern & Western Germany. Check out Rick's books for all of these locations, find what appeals to you, and you can't go wrong! Have fun!

Posted by
4411 posts

First step is really finding out what each person's idea of this trip is. Sipping an espresso at a sidewalk cafe? Hitting every Coach store you can find? Shopping for cuckoo clocks? Lying comatose in a spa? The endless museums (meant in a good way)?

You won't find a Coach store in that quaint Swiss village with the fantastic views and hiking. You won't get snow-capped mountains in Paris. There are NO Cosmopolitans at my favorite beer garden. Spa towns generally aren't known for their nightlife. Head off the potential for a train wreck LOL! As a mid-30s girl (heh! heh!) the absolutely last thing I want is a 'mid-30s girl trip' a la "Sex in the City". I'm more of a chat-with-a-glass-of-wine on our balcony/patio person.

ALL of you read "Europe Through the Back Door" as Ken suggested, and don't fall into the trap of being the one person planning the trip and nobody else really knows what's going on (logistics-ly speaking).

So, figure out if you are "Grand Tour" people, or hang-out-with-wine-and-cheese-and-chat people. THEN read some guidebooks and perhaps rent some travel videos (libraries let you look at many different ones for free, and/or use Netflix for the videos - I really like Rick Steves' for the useful info).

If you have the free Paris apt. available for the entire time, I'd stay there - do some day trips, and maybe a few overnights. Several of us would kill for that opportunity, I can tell you!

Posted by
1525 posts

Take a few minutes to read through this trip blog;

elbodans.wordpress.com

It's written by a 30-something woman who spent much of the last year planning their dream first trip to Europe. Much of the planning was based on advice she got here (but not from me). She ultimately chose London and Paris.

Grab a beverage and read. But I warn you, it's not pretty...

Posted by
296 posts

Munich? Only if you like beer. Interlaken and Gimmelwald w/o a doubt YES. Scenery is beautiful. For food either Rome or Paris. IMHO as always.

Posted by
4 posts

Wow -- I'm blown away! Thanks to each of you for taking the time to impart your travel wisdom. I have learned quite a bit from you. I have to admit...although my head says stay close to Paris and enjoy...my heart says do the train thing and see a few more areas.

I've always regretted not going when I had the opportunity in my early 20's and I have a rare opportunity to travel without the a child in tow. When my husband and I head to Italy next year we will most likely bring kids, which means we will hang out and drink wine in one or two areas. Consequently I keep leaning towards crossing more geography on this trip. Maybe I should stay a little longer so I'm not so rushed.

A lot to consider...so I appreciate your insights!

Posted by
4 posts

Thinking Munich because I am half German. Love beer too!!

Posted by
11507 posts

Randy,, I read alot of that blog,, and seriously , I personally feel if someone claims they "starved" in Paris,, and that they worried about eating "eyeballs in horsesauce" ,, or that they would randomly order the "cheapest thing on the menu"( only to discover it was a side salad) that as much as they looked forward to their trip,, they were a bit clueless. Considering they planned that trip a year in advance ,, I find it a bit shocking.

I do however respect the writer of that blog for realizing( unfortunately for them , after the fact) that they did not choose travel destinations that really fit their idea of vacation.

No where can live up to anyones expectations if they don't pause and reflect on what they personally enjoy.

Posted by
1806 posts

Mary the Texan in CA is spot on. You need to 1st figure out what type of trip you and your friends want and would thrive in. If you read the blog Randy refers to, the author thought it would be great to plan a trip of all large European cities. What she ultimately realized on her trip is that she hates cities. She lives in a small Pennsylvania town and while she had a few bright spots on her trip, Paris & London simply overwhelmed her as did her overly planned and detailed minute-by-minute itinerary. She had to toss her itinerary out the window when she realized the pacing was too frantic and was exhausting her and she wound up cancelling the later part of her trip to Spain so she could return home.

I agree it may be best to mix your trip with a ratio of city-to-country that works best for you. If it where me, I'd definitely be influenced by the free home base in Paris, but with a mere 2 weeks and having never seen Paris, I'd give the city no less than 5 nights and day trip through Northern France & travel to the French Riviera for a few nights. If you truly are city people and want to experience a different country besides France, I'd spend my time only going to other cities easily & quickly reached by train from Paris (ex. London, Bruges, Amsterdam) or cities that are a short hop on a budget airline (ie, Rome, Barcelona).

Posted by
4411 posts

Mary,

That's the great thing about having a free apartment in Paris (JEALOUS!!!).

You go there with some things in mind that you'd like to do, and if you get the urge, buy a ticket to Wherever-ville. Maybe only 2 of you go; the rest stay in Paris. Just pack a small overnight bag and off you go. If you REALLY wanted to get to Munich, it's a 6.5 hr train trip...doable if so motivated. Amsterdam in 3.5-5 hrs...Those spur-of-the-moment trips will be much pricier than advance purchases, but you also don't have any housing expenses. (Dang, I'm jealous!)

Remember, you don't have to be attached at the hips, either. The chances of all of you being in sync all of the time are slim. Split into groups; meet up for lunch or dinner.

EDIT: Love beer?!? Go to Bruges for a get-out-of-the-city excursion... ;-)

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks Mary from TX. Some really good tips! I'm a Mary from TX as well...funny! From Austin.

Posted by
7 posts

I would recommend breaking up top cities with small towns or rural stays. After Paris take the train to Beaune and spend a couple of days in the Burgundy area, then continue on to Aix En Provence for a week. Travel around Provence at your leisure. From there I would suggest finishing off your first visit in the Cinque Terre (Italy). Train it back to Paris for your return home. The top cities are all great and all have something to offer, but quite frankly the first trip you will be overwhelmed by wanting to see all of the museums. Sensory overload first time out.

Posted by
4411 posts

NOOOOO!

Not a t-sip.....;-)

Gig 'em!!! Whoop!

"Good-bye to texas uni - versity,..."

A Good Ag would retract all of her advice...

Posted by
1129 posts

I agree with Randy, too, but would like to add that you should do an overnighter (or two) in London. Use your apt as a base for daytrips, lucky you, but then go to London. So close! And almost no language barrier!

Posted by
173 posts

I think that many people who are first-timers, like myself, do try to do as much as possible. I've heeded warnings and cut some items out of my itinerary and also have a handful of days with nothing planned to just sit in a coffee shop and relax or to see things we didn't know we would want to. I think it is a mistake to try to do or see many things in one day. If we are traveling longer than 2 hours in one day we have nothing else planned. Having never done this before, I could be wrong. But even to a first-timer like myself, that blog mentioned above (elbodans.wordpress.com) seems a bit over-ambitious. Having a free apartment in Paris is a great advantage because you always have a home base that is full of things to see and do.