western europe--First Visit

Planning a first ever trip abroad for myself (50 year old female) and son (22). Planning on following Steve's suggested Western Europe suggestions. Looking for other ideas of things we should not miss, or things okay to skip. We live in a major US city full of art museums so don't need more of those. Both love nature, hiking, etc.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3580 posts

Please don't skip the museums! I've been to the museums in Houston; great, but NOT the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Bargello, etc.!!! You'll see wood carving in churches that will short-circuit your brain. Please visit some; if they're still not your cup of tea then you're excused LOL...BUT since you imply that you've visited Houston's museums I think they are your cup of tea. When are you traveling? For how long? Do you two have any must-sees, either sights (or types of sights) or cities/towns? Are you taking public transportation only? "Western Europe" is a mighty large place... FYI, you'll love the lower humidity in Europe :-)

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7675 posts

Without some kind of idea how long your trip will be, how much money you will have to spend, how you intend to get around, how many places you want to go, etc., it's really hard to give good suggestions. Western Europe is a big and varied place, prices are different all over, and there are different things that you "shouldn't miss". I'm a little surprised that you wouldn't want to see any of Europe's great art treasures just because there are museums in Houston. More information will make it possible to give you good answers.

Posted by Lisa
Houston, TX, USA
15 posts

I do appreicate a good museum, but don't need to see one every day. Looking at three weeks of travel: Holland, Italy, France, Switerland, Germany, Austria. Willing to stay in hostels.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7675 posts

OK, you have narrowed it down a little, but we still have no idea what types of interests you have - are you foodies? shoppers? into history? culture? adventure travel? When are you planning to take this trip? How do you intend to get from place to place? What kind of budget will you have available? Since this is your first trip, I would suggest that you read "Europe Through the Back Door". It will give you a good background in the "mechanics" of European travel, and might give you more to consider in choosing locations. You must have some reason for choosing the locations you did. What is it that you already want/plan to see or do there? You are allowing three weeks for six whole countries - that's only a half week for a whole country, and you have to allow travel time between locations, as well as packing/unpacking/finding your way/waiting.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

You should start in Amsterdam (3 nights), then take a train up the Rhine River to Cologne (1 night). Then go by train to Munich for 4 days. You could go over to Salzburg for 2 nights, then down to Innsbruck for 1 night. Innsbruck to Venice is a easy train trip (2 nights). Then, hit Florence for 3 nights minimum. Rome is a easy 2 hr. train ride from Venezia, and you should spend the rest of your time there. But if you had time, you could catch a Rome-Paris budget flight, but you'd need 4 days minimum in that great city. Switzerland, as it looks pretty much like Austria anyway.
You might need to save Paris for your next trip.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
647 posts

As others have said, there are many details we need to know to help with some suggestions. Have you already made your plane reservations? If not, you could fly open jaw (multi-city) into one location and out of another. That would avoid backtracking and would perhaps allow for a more varied trip. There are many trips you could put together for those 3 weeks, keeping in mind that the 1st day will be devoted to flying, the 2nd will be somewhat challenging due to jet-lag and the last day will be for flying back. Some of us Texans (I'm from San Antonio originally) tend to think that Europe is very small, but for example, it is about 1650 kilometers (about 1025 miles) from Amsterdam to Rome. You have lots of ingredients to combine to make this a good trip. They include the time of year you are going, the places you want to go, the things you want to see, the things you want to do and the money you have to invest in the experience. I'd guess at least one of those may already be determined. By knowing what it is, perhaps we could help more.

Posted by bronwen
maplewood, new jersey, usa
750 posts

We aren't huge art museum people but do visit lots of historical places - look for WWII sites and the resistance museum in Amsterdam was neat. Also the hidden chapel in Amsterdam was cool and obviously Anne Frank House.

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
649 posts

Lisa , We live in a NYC suburb and have frequent access to the great museums in Manhattan . My wife and I are commited art fanatics and virtually consider the Metropolitan Museum of Art our second home . In spite of that , heed Eileen's advice ! You haven't seen anything until you have seen the Louvre , The Orsay or The Uffizi , just to name a few . These places were the reason that many American artists and Architects traveled to the continent, particulary Paris in the nineteenth century to study and absorb what they found there. Read David McCullough's recent book " The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris " to whet your appetite !

Posted by Cathy
Sacramento, CA, USA
63 posts

Please reconsider the putting the gabosh on museums whilst on your trip - Not all museums are created equal and there is NOTHING that replaces being able to see the David in person, Van Gogh's work, etc. Really, there are such treasures to be seen that cannot be replaced by anything we have in the states, and the reverse is true as well. Aside from that, I would consider what kind of traveling you want to do - do you want a quick hop from country to country or would you rather be immersed in a country or two? It can be quite exhausting to hop from country to country (and costly). I can say that you'll never see everything, but you can pick a handful of major cities you'd like to see and work around those and save the rest for next time :)

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7822 posts

Thing to see at Louvre I know you do not have anywhere in any museum in States.
The Medival Louvre, its the lower level of the fort ( which btw is how the Louvre started out as, a moated fort/castle) , they have excavated and exposed parts of the medival walls of the moat, you can even see the stonecutters "marks" on some of the stones, this is interesting because normally one never sees that, but since this part of the wall was below moat line the stonecutters put their marks on parts of the stone that you can see( knowing it would be covered). The stonecutters were paid by the stone so it was normal to mark stones with a chiselled mark ( like a brand) . Also if you don't have time to get out to Versailles, then be sure to visit Napoleons Apartments in the Louvre, it will give you a taste of the over the top decor and furnishings of a palace. The Louvre is not all paintings.. explore different sections,,see an Egyptian mummy, some crown jewels etc.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7822 posts

Also while in Paris I strongly suggest a nice bike tour.. don't laugh, they are super fun , and easy enough for anyone.. I have done all of them in Paris and one in London ( over many visits not all at once) , I used Fat Tire Bike Tours. My favorites were the Paris by Night tour( includes a boat cruise) and the daytrip out to Giverny, you ride along a river on an old decommisioned rail line, it beautiful countryside and a nice change to be out of city for the day. I remember a trip I took as an adult with my dad to Zermatt.. we hiked up to the Matterhorn hut, amazing, I strong recommend. We stayed 3 days and jut hiked various trails , there are many, you can look right into Italy and France from certain viewpoints ,, is breathtaking but , Zermatt is not cheap,, ( but there is a hostel there, we didn't stay there but I did see one!!) Zermatt is touristy, but my dad actually summitted the Matterhorn and makes a point to go back often to hike to the hut, and sadly to visit the local graveyard, where the guide who took him up is buried, dragged down by a poorly prepared climber the year after my dad and him went up.. the graveyard is filled with climbers and guides,, little ice axe tombstones etc. very moving ,

Posted by Lo
Tucson
647 posts

Do you have a particular time year for this trip? That along with budget could make a huge difference in where you can realistically go and what you can do, outdoors especially. Having said that, I wish I was brave enough to go hangliding Annecy, France. We saw literally hundreds of people doing this at the end of June, 2011. You can find lots of footage on YouTube. This is pretty good with tandem flyers.

Posted by Kira
Seattle, WA, USA
954 posts

Lisa, I hate to pile on, but as an ex-New Yorker who has had daily access to the Met, MoMA and the Guggenheim, I have to say my mind was still completely blown by the Louvre and the Uffizi, among many many others. And not just the first time - every time I visit. I won't 'dis Houston, but just objectively speaking, it cannot have anything like the quantity, quality, and depth of amazing art treasures of the western world that Europe has. PLEASE reconsider! At least take time to visit one of the "biggies," and see if you don't agree. Nature and hiking are not to be sniffed at, and Rick has plenty of suggestions for hikes in the Alps and so forth, and I would say go for it and follow his suggestions. But nature and hiking are not the first reason that I - and I suspect many others on this board - would think of as a reason to travel to western Europe. That being said, there are lots of other possible foci for destinations. Maybe you like antiques? There are tons of wonderful flea markets and estate sales to choose from. Foodies? Try a vineyard, or an artisan cheese maker, or a local town market. Or for another side to nature, you might look into a food or agricultural tour. Into beer? Check out CAMRA and the European Beer Consumers Union (EBCU) on-line for festivals and activities. Interested in absorbing local culture? You can check town and city websites to see what's on when you will be there. I once spent the most diverting, delightful afternoon at a local tractor show in Yorkshire. Talk about cool stuff and lovely people! It was great - and not an art museum. Good luck and happy travels. What a great opportunity to bond with your son and have blast, too!

Posted by Anita
Philadelphia, PA, USA
331 posts

Lisa, I'm going to disagree with some of the others who have written in that I don't believe there is anything anyone "should" see on a trip. I think you probably know there is a vast wealth of exquisite art in Western Europe, but if it doesn't interest you, or if you'd rather spend your time doing other things, go for it. It's your vacation. Besides nature and hiking, what kinds of things would you and your son enjoy in Europe? Historical sites, architecture, cultural performances, food, scenery? Would you pefer large cities, villages, rural areas? Are there any specific things you know you want to see or do? Fill in some details for us, and we'll try to suggest an itinerary.

Posted by bronwen
maplewood, new jersey, usa
750 posts

Exactly! If you don't love art museums don't spend your vacation visiting them! I have been to the Louvre - we did a two hour night tour through Paris-walks ... Perfect for our attention span. In Milan we saw the Last Supper - but what we like are WWII museums - resistance museums, historic site, small museums (loved STAM in Ghent Belgium), churches (creepy bone church in Evora or the hidden chapel in Amsterdam). Mostly we like wandering and getting lost and popping into pubs or wine bars. Have fun!

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2603 posts

I took my first trip to Europe when my daughter was just 21 and truthfully, while we did visit the Louvre and see the 'biggies' that was most definitely not the highlight of our trip (and I am an artist) The best was discovering cities and beautiful nature together. We did not focus on history, or art, or food, or nature. We simply wanted to go to Europe and enjoy learning about it and hanging out together. It was all great, but had we tromped through a ton of museums the trip would have been what someone else wanted us to do... not what we wanted to do. Frankly, when I think back on all the magic moments of many trips to Europe there are one or two 'predictable sights' that I would want to re-live... but those were not the 'moments that took my breath away'. It was an unexpected field of poppies, dawn in Venice, a sunset over a field of sunflowers, a picnic atop a hill in Germany. Travel is different for everyone, but I now know what makes me happy when I travel, so I will listen to what others suggest...and decide if it is right for me. As far as art, I much prefer going to the locations that inspired the great artists (gardens, seasides, cafes, etc) rather than viewing a lot of it.

Posted by bronwen
maplewood, new jersey, usa
750 posts

so - answer to better answer your question ... where are you thinking? Places I love: Germany (Bamberg, Nurnberg and Munich), Salzburg, Venice, Krakow, Prague, Lisbon, Ghent (Belgium), Amsterdam, and Paris. What do want to do on vacation? Hiking and nature - I would look at Germany and Austria. But I feel Venice is a must see (I was just there for Christmas and it was wonderful).

Posted by Jeff
Holland, MI
24 posts

I would narrow your travel. Since you indicated nature & hiking, I would recommend Southern Germany, Switzerland (don't miss Berner Oberland/Gimmelwald), and Italy (don't miss the Cinque Terra).