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HELP! First Trip to Europe Itinerary

Hello,

My husband and I, along with another couple, are traveling to Europe for the first time in the summer of 2014. We have created a temporary itinerary, but are worried we are trying to cover too much ground in too little time. Qualitative information about us (that might help) is that we are all active late twenty somethings coming from Chicago. We enjoy good food, good drinks, and happening night life. Any suggestions anyone has on restaurants, bars, night life, places to see/go, and hotels/hostels would be GREATLY appreciated!!

Thanks!!

We haven't decided if we would fly into Vienna like stated below, or try this trip in reverse and fly into Amsterdam...

July 3rd - Fly out of Chi
vienna
vienna
vienna/travel to munich
munich
munich
munich/travel to lucerne
lucerne
lucerne
lucerne/travel to paris
paris
paris day trip
paris
paris/travel to amsterdam
amsterdam
amsterdam
July 19th - amsterdam/travel home

Posted by
3031 posts

It's busy but doable. Ideally I'd cut out one location. I'd also forget paris day trip and spend more time in Paris proper. You will be spending a higher percentage of time in transit than I think is ideal, but you're not criminally neglecting any of the cities listed either.

Posted by
8852 posts

Day 1 in Vienna is jet lag, a bit in a fog, so that gives you just over one day in Vienna. Every other place you have just over two days because you lose so much time traveling between cities on the other days. You might want to consolidate, giving yourself more time in each place. Paris should be several days to a week, not just two days.

Posted by
4125 posts

This itinerary feels like a good "top down" first draft. It is logistically feasible, but may not be optimal for you.

You now need to take a stab at a more "bottom up" iteration in which you actively think about and prioritize specific activities in these cities.

For instance, in Amsterdam you might want to visit the Ann Frank house, Vondel Park, and the Rijks Museum, take a bike ride into the countryside north of the city, visit a street market, and eat a good Indonesian meal. Each of these activities have specific times associates with them and can fit together in different ways.

If there are more top-priority things for Paris than you've budget time, and fewer for, say, Lucern, you can make the appropriate adjustment.

This way your priorities control the trip, not the other way around.

Posted by
12040 posts

For a group in your late 20s that seem less focused on visiting "sites", your itinerary looks fine to me. Maybe a little long in Luzern versus Amsterdam, but if you're planning Alpine excursions, it's good to have a little bit of flexibility in case one your days gets washed out by weather. So, I probably wouldn't change anything from what you have posted.

Posted by
7206 posts

It's so nice that 4 young adults are able to get together to take such a trip. You're going to have great experiences that you'll remember for a lifetime.

I too used have traveled to all of these cities by auto. Unfortunately, great cities are worthy of more time than you've allotted; at least 4 days each. The first day and last day on your itinerary are wasted, as is every day you move from one city to another city. You have no days to waste.

And you'll need to fly open jaw, using trains when going from city to city. Don't hesitate to rent a car for a day or two to take side trips outside the big cities. Unfortunately, Lucerne and Paris are difficult to get to by train, and budget air carriers are not going between every city listed.

If you're really wanting to take in the Bohemian lifestyle, I would suggest starting in Amsterdam for a few days.

Then take a train down to Cologne for a night. The Duomo is not to be missed, and nightlife is very good.
Take the train into Munich and spend a few days. Needless to say it's a premier place for young people with all the beer halls, etc. There are many other sights to see in the area, including palaces, great museums and Dachau.
Toward the end of your Munich visit, rent a car and drive south to the Innsbruck area of the Austrian Alps. You'll be seeing essentially the same stunning mountain range as Switzerland, and you can be there in 2 hrs.
Then return your rental car somewhere in Germany, and catch a train over to Salzburg. The Augustiner Bierhall in Salzburg is simply one of the best.

You can easily catch a train over to Vienna. It's a city of great culture and there are many tourist sights to see. One of the great nights I ever spent were up in the Vienna Woods drinking "new" wine.

We're getting ready to visit the lively itinerary of Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest in the Spring. We travel in straight lines between cities that are readily accessible and that compliment each other.

One great future 2 week itinerary for anyone would be to fly into Paris and take the Eurostar up to London. You can fly cheaply on EasyJet.com out of Gatwick to one of many great European cities. Then fly home from there open jaw.

Posted by
12040 posts

"We enjoy good food, good drinks, and happening night life."

In Munich, pay a visit to the Augustiener Biergarten. I discovered for myself this past summer that all of the recommendations I heard about this place were well warranted. Even though it's location sits outside of the historical core of the city, surrounded by modern office towers, it's worth the slight excursion. The atmosphere grew quite lively (in a friendly manner) once the band started to play.

I also like the Seehaus im Englischen Garten Biergarten because... well, because it sits next to a lake. The food isn't quite as good as the Augustiener, however.

Some love the Hofbräuhaus, some think it's horribly touristy. The food isn't great, and half the people in there at any given moment are probably tourists. But who cares, it's still a lot of fun. Probably as close as you'll get to the atmosphere of Oktoberfest without actually attending the festival. And if you're going to learn the words to any German-language song during your trip, it will probably be this one.

Posted by
837 posts

It is an ambitious itinerary. However, overall, I think it is doable and good. The first day in Vienna could be spent with a walk/tram tour of the ring which gives a good overview of the city. I would do everything by train and forget about cars. Each city transfer is between 3.5 and 5 hours. Each is city center to city center by train. If you want part of a morning in a city you are leaving, you can leave luggage at the hotel/B&B and pick up just before going to the station. I would take a day from Lucern and add it to Paris. I am not sure what "day trip" from Paris you have in mind. My guess is it is Giverney, Fountainbleu, or Versailles. If so, fine. Or, if you really want to see Chartres, that would be worthwhile. However, I can't think of any other places worth the better part of a day given your schedule.

Posted by
3 posts

This information is so helpful! Thank you to everyone who took the time to help us and give us your advice. Since we've never been, it is so nice to hear from people who have done this similar trip. Where do people stay when they go to these cities? Hotels? Hostels? Air B&B?

Thanks again for all the help!!

Posted by
11294 posts

Before committing to your direction of travel, check prices for both itineraries. For no clear reason, it may be much cheaper to fly into Amsterdam and out of Vienna than the reverse.

"Where do people stay when they go to these cities? Hotels? Hostels? Air B&B?"

All of the above, depending on their budget, needs/wants (like a desk staffed 24 hours, an elevator, A/C, or room service), and travel style. Since you are implying that you won't be spending a lot of time in the room and will use it mainly as a place to crash after nightlife, you can probably economize on rooms without hardship. For Amsterdam, Vienna, Munich, and Paris, you can look at EuroCheapo to get info about hostels and inexpensive hotels. Some of Rick's listings may suit you as well. More information about hostels can be found on Hostel World and Hostelbookers; these sites also have some inexpensive hotels.

Be sure you don't economize by lodging outside the city centers. Particularly since you want to focus on nightlife, you'll be miserable if you have to take long and expensive cab rides back after a night out. This is a particular issue with Air B&B; there will be perfectly nice places listed that are not conveniently located for your purposes.

Posted by
9123 posts

"Before committing to your direction of travel, check prices for both itineraries. For no clear reason, it may be much cheaper to fly into Amsterdam and out of Vienna than the reverse."

I think the reason is airline taxes and fees. I was looking at flight options using FF miles. To fly into Heathrow (London) it cost us $5 for taxes and I think that was for both tickets combined. If we had reversed our route it was going to cost more. Flying Sacramento-Frankfurt and London-Sacramento was going to cost about $450 in taxes for the two tickets. We reversed the route and paid $263.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Where do people stay when they go to these cities? Hotels? Hostels? Air B&B?" Highly budget dependent. Give us an estimate, and perhaps we can make suitable recommendations.

Posted by
3 posts

Good advice, Tom.

Frankly, I'm not sure if we have an idea about our budget for lodging . Since its our first time, I'm not sure what is realistic. Is it realistic to pay $25-$30 per person, per night? Or is that only realistic for hostels? What should we expect to pay per person (or per couple) per night in a hotel? What have other people experienced for lodging? Since both couples are married and we are in our late twenties, I'm not sure if we want to go the hostel route - but I'm worried that might be the only way to save money... thoughts?!

Posted by
8302 posts

If you go to either budget chains or small pensions, you should be able to get by with a double room costing anywhere from 35-69 euro per night.(total, not per person) Some cities will cost more than others. In Germany or France, look for Ibis, Accor, Holiday Inn Express, or Novotel. In Germany, Motel One is good. Hostels will also have private rooms, but they usually cost as much as a budget hotel will.

Posted by
106 posts

Cortney,

My husband and I just returned for a trip to Germany and France, which included spending time in both Munich and Paris. In Munich, we stayed at the Hotel Royal. When we booked, they were running a special for 5 nights for the price of 4. I believe the rate was around 80 euro per night. However, we did go at the end of October, so we may have gotten a more off-season rate. If you are traveling during the summer, remember that you are going at peak tourist time and will likely have a hard time finding discounted rates. The Hotel Royal was very nice, in a great location, and included a very nice breakfast buffet, which is something you might want to consider to save some money on food. I did a lot of checking, and that was one of the best rates I found on a hotel that was in a location that was convenient (it is within walking distance of the train station and the Marienplatz).

In general if you are trying to stay on a budget, keep in mind that both Munich and Paris (especially Paris) are VERY expensive compared to a lot of other places in Europe. As an example, we were in Poland in 2012 and were paying the equivalent of $3 US for a liter of beer. In Germany, we were paying $7-8 US or more for a liter. In Paris, we found it a challenge to sit down for lunch or dinner at a reasonable price. While it can be done, it definitely takes a lot more effort and searching to find reasonable options.

Posted by
31623 posts

cortney.k,

Your proposed Itinerary looks reasonably well organized. It's nice to see that you've allowed at least a couple of days in each location. Keep in mind that you'll have to allow for your two flight days. You'll often arrive in Europe the day after you depart, and the final day will be spent on the flight home.

As others have mentioned, the trip can be done in either direction. Check airfares for each option to determine which is the most favourable.

As this is your first trip to Europe, I would highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door, as that provides a lot of good information on things like Itinerary planning, transportation, etc. Once you've got the trip worked out, use the country or city-specific Guidebooks to plan hotels, restaurants, sightseeing, etc. Note that many of the books are also available as E-books, for those that will be travelling with an iPad, Kindle or other device. If using E-books, be sure to check the version date to make sure you're not getting last year's version. Some of the books are available in "Pocket" versions which are easy to carry around while touring. I was in Paris in July, and found the Pocket Paris to be a great reference to have on hand. You could also download some of the free audio tours for your iPod or iPad.

Regarding "staying in Hostels", were you considering private rooms or Dorm rooms? In one sense, Hostels might be a good option for at least some of the places you're visiting, as you're more likely to encounter other travellers in the same age group who will have information on the liveliest night life spots (the Hostel staff will probably also have some good suggestions).

Regarding "places to see/go", it's difficult to make suggestions as which sights to see will depend to some extent on your interests. What prompted this desire to visit Europe at this time? The Guidebooks have lots of good information about the main sights in each place you're visiting, so you can use those to plan your touring. As you're only in each city for a short time, be sure to plan efficiently so that you don't waste ANY time. One point to note is that some attractions are closed on certain days of the week (ie: the Louvre in Paris is closed on Tuesdays), so you'll have to plan around that. The Guidebooks have information on opening and closing days.

Finally, I agree with a previous suggestion that you skip the "paris day trip". Paris has more than enough sights to keep you busy for a few days.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
2081 posts

Cortney.k

with regards to lodging.

Some of the hostels offer separate rooms with x number of bunks. If youre luck and do some homework, you may find several on your journey with 4 bunks where you and your group could share the room. the only drawback i can envision is snoring and having too much time together. sometimes you need your own space from your spouse and others.

with regards to Paris. If youre going to Paris specifically for that side trip, do the side trip.

happy trails.

Posted by
809 posts

Sounds fun! We like to move around a but more and (if it were me) I would see more Germany other than Munich - we loved Germany - nice people, great trains and really good beer.

Posted by
7206 posts

And don't forget how to drink essentially free. Go into any small bar, and buy a round for the bar. That'll be the last money you spend the whole night.

And you'll have made great friends.

Posted by
14218 posts

I think the only place you come up short is Vienna. If you leave on 3 July you will arrive in Vienna most likely between noon and 3 pm and that day is shot even if you weren't ragged out from the flight over. So that leaves one real day in Vienna. I’m not a huge Vienna fan but if you are going through the trouble of getting there you should have the time to experience it. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/to-the-east/vienna-before-r-steves-eastern-europe-trip-zagreb-at-end (post 7 and 8)

Paris is worth three full days without any side trips. Full day one do Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame. Days two and three pick an Arrondissement (I am partial to the 9th) and spend the day wandering.

You also might want to check the tour against your budget. Most of what you have on your list are equivalent in cost to say east coast USA. Not outrageous but no great bargain either. You want to have enough available cash to “VACATION!!!!” and if you think you might come up short then think about running your trip in reverse but spending the last three full days in Budapest instead of Vienna. http://ruinpubs.com/ but I am really biased on this account.

Posted by
13394 posts

Hi,

I can see why you might feel that you are covering too much ground for the time you have. In that case to ease up on the moving around, I suggest it's cutting out time, either Lucerne (my first choice) or Munich, ( only you must), keep Amsterdam, Vienna, and Paris. Take out Lucerne, then save a day by going from Munich to Paris on the CNL night train train.

Not everyone gets jet lag upon arrival. You may not. Assuming you land in Vienna before noon, you have ample to see one museum, or do some leisurely visiting in the city itself. I've found that even though official check-in is at 14:00, the hotel allows early check-in provided the room was not occupied the night before. They're not sticklers on the check in time.

Are you also considering staying at hostels? In Munich and Vienna are the Wombats Hostel located very close, ie, across the street, from the train station. When I was there in May 2010, I saw people of your age range (US women) at the Wombats Hostel in Vienna across from Westbahnhof.

Posted by
3031 posts

Jo's advice re: lodging is sound. My husband and I stay at a lot of budget hotels. Our hostel experiences have largely been good, but we opt for private rooms. Munich has a ton of affordable hotels and hostels right near the main train station, which is a great location for getting around. The city doesn't have to be super expensive, and in fact is actually probably the cheapest location on our itinerary. Do as Tom suggested and visit the Augustiner biergarten, or the Augustiner Braueristube if the weather is less ideal. The food is always fantastic and affordable, especially at lunch. (Good advice in general is to have your big meal at lunch, and just grab a doner kebap, wurst, or other cheap snack from an imbiss (snack bar) or cart.

Switzerland is extremely expensive. You probably will have a hard time finding lodging in your estimated range there. You might consider seeing the Alps from the Austrian side, great scenery and much cheaper.

Don't waste your time with AirBnB with your busy schedule. While you can find great deals there, the renters can be flaky and 'checking in' can be a lot more time consuming than it would be at a basic budget chain hotel or hostel. AirBnB is better suited to staying more than 4 days in one location, IMO.