My passport is current, and I've booked an open-jaw flight into Stuttgart, Germany arriving Sep 3. I'm departing the morning of Sep 18 out of Paris. Three cities - Stuttgart, Geneva, and Paris - and their outlying areas in 14 days. I'm starting to plan dates for each city and travel days, but I'm thinking 5 days in Stuttgart, travel day, 2 days in Geneva, travel day, 5 days in Paris, fly out. It's possible I may not stop in Geneva, and spend the extra time in France. If time permits, I'd like to make a stop in the countryside of western France, either for an afternoon, or an overnight stay, on the way to Paris. This is my first time to Europe. I appreciate travel information of any kind, but I would especially love to hear from people who have traveled a similar route, and share their ideas on where to go, and what to do. Are there any good afternoon stops off the rails that can be worked into a travel day? Tours? I have friends in Stuttgart and Geneva, but recommendations for reasonable hotel/BnB/apt rooms in those cities, and especially Paris, would be appreciated. I want a comfortable visit, but nothing extravagant. I've been recommended airbnb.com, kayak, and tripadvisor. And I am still reading through this website for information on rails and general travel advice. My time frame is relatively short, but I'm very excited, and I hope to make the most of it. Thank you for your responses!
First, congratulations on your first European trip! You may find, as most of us here do, that it's the start of a lifelong obsession. Second, I was going to question your choice of cities, but then you made clear that you have friends to stay with in two of your cities. Staying with them makes perfect sense, as you will not only save money, but they can show you places you would never find on your own. For inexpensive lodgings, look at http://www.eurocheapo.com/ (scroll down to find the links for Geneva, Paris, and Stuttgart). Even if you don't stay in hotels you find here, they have interesting descriptions of each neighborhood. While I heartily recommend Rick Steves Paris for you, his Germany and Switzerland books don't have any information on Stuttgart or Geneva (the Switzerland book does have info on other places near Geneva, like Lausanne, Montreux, and the Chateau de Chillon). So, look at Rough Guide or Lonely Planet books for these, or Let's Go for a more budget approach. If you haven't already, you should read RS Through The Back Door, to get help with the "nuts and bolts" of European travel (taking trains, money matters, food, etc). Anyone who knows enough to book his first European trip as an open-jaw ticket is going to do fine!
While in Stuttgart - a visit to the Porsche and Mercedes Benz Museum is a must.
Especially, the MB museum. Very well organized. You start at the top with the beginningnof the automotive history and as you walk down, you eventually get to the present time. The interior resembles the inside of a cyclinder with the elevator a stylized piston going up and down.
I found Stuttgart to be a shopping nirvana right outside of the main train station. We stayed at City Hotel at Uhlandstrasse 18. http://www.cityhotel-stuttgart.de/index.php?lang=en_&selItem=aufenthalt I just looked at their website and single rooms are 79-89 euros. My husband's German aunt and cousin met us at the train station, and we went to tour the palace in Ludwigsburg. We also went to the nearby city of Pattonville which was built for American soldiers and their families. My husband spent part of his childhood there. The Army has given the area, houses, and buildings to the Germans. We went on a stroll through the neighborhood, and my husband saw and remembered places he played and went to school. They have retained the street names that the Americans used: Chicagoweg, New-York-Ring, Washingtonring. LOL. I hope to go back some day to see the museums people like in Stuttgart...if I can tear myself away from the shopping area. Paris...so much stuff to do and see...we've been 3 times and would go back tomorrow if we coulld. European travel has become a passion for us...and we have family there to visit...which makes it even sweeter.
Stuttgart itself isn't the most interesting city for a tourist, but the surrounding region has a lot to offer. 5 days is a good amount of time. Will your friends have a car and be showing you around? That would affect what I'd recommend. The great news is you'll be in Stuttgart for our famous "Weindorf" or wine village. It's one of the biggest festivals and is a lot of fun. Don't think snobby wine tasting, but (honestly many mediocre) large glasses of wine, hearty Swabian food, lots of happily inebriated locals sitting outside enjoying the atmosphere. To see in Stuttgart: Aside from a tour of the mitte (center), the two car museums are a must, as is the Wilhelma botanical park and zoo (way more exciting than it sounds - it was built by a king when everything 'eastern' was in fashion so it's very exotic looking and gorgeous). The Staatsgallerie is a very good art museum based off the collection of the former kings, and if you're more of a modern art person, the Kunstmuseum (or "cube") has the largest permanent collection of Otto Dix paintings in the world. The Old Palace hosts a nice archaeological museum and you can also visit the tomb of some royals there. If you're into philosophy you might want to visit Hegel's house, but otherwise it's skippable. Or if you prefer kitsch, there is a fascinating/terrifying pig museum a ways out from the center. One of my favorite things to do is the self-guided "wine walk" that you can do with a brochure from the TI - you take the U-Bahn to a suburb, and walk uphill through vineyards and charming little towns, one of which has a wine museum, and there are many places to stop for a drink and a bite along the way. Beautiful in September, also takes you to the Mausoleum a King built for his dead wife. Cont.
Further outside the city, there's a few must sees that don't require a car:
Esslingen, a very beautiful well preserved medevial city just 10 minutes by train from the Stuttgart main station Tuebingen, another beautiful medieval city, with the 2nd oldest university in Germany. About 30-45 minutes on regional train. Heidelberg is well positioned for a day trip, with a Baden-Wurttemberg ticket, one person can travel all day on all regional trains for 29 euro, plus 4 euro for each additional passenger (up to 5 total). It's 90 minutes each way by slow train. Ludwigsburg is reachable by S-bahn (suburban train) in about 20 minutes, and features one of the best baroque palaces in Germany. English tour around 1pm. If you have a car available, a day trip to the Black Forest is also very convenient. It's a little tougher by train, as you're looking at over 2 hours each way to anywhere of real interest. As far as inbetween stops, it might be worth it to stop in Basel on your way to Geneva. For your Stuttgart-Paris trip, if it's financially feasible (i.e. not way more expensive) to take the early TGV from Stuttgart to Strasbourg, then spend the morning/afternoon exploring and seeing the AMAZING cathedral there, then hopping back on the train to continue to Paris in the afternoon, I would totally do it. Strasbourg in Alsace has a very unique feel compared to either Swabia (where Stuttgart is) or Paris and the rest of France. An overnight wouldn't be bad there either. TGV tickets are expensive, be sure and purchase them 90 days in advance for the best prices at www.tgv-europe.com, make sure you enter that you're a UK resident or else you'll be rerouted to the terrible expensive RailEurope website.
If you end up going to Strasbough as suggested, Colmar is 30 minutes from there by train and is a lovely town to stay in... well preserved center with some fascinating archicture, and the Unterlinden Museum is one of the best small museums I've seen in Europe (with the Isenheim altarpiece). I'd suggest a stop in Strasbourg for the cathedral and then overnight in Colmar.