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90 days in Europe May-July

Hi,

For a trip this long, is it better to book every single night or have flexibility? In my initial post I listed the cities and days I had planned to spend in each. Based on peoples feedback (which is greatly appreciated) I was told it was too much to try. I'll see some of the popular sites but I don't anticipate wanting to see every single museum, every church or every castle. I did opt to cut out parts of eastern Europe (Krakow, Budapest, Zagreb/Plitvice and Slovakia) to allow 6 nights in major cities. Right now I have 6 nights each dedicated to London, Paris, Prague, Rome, Florence, Sorrento, Nice, Barcelona and Madrid. Not sure I'll need that in all but its there if I do. Planning the 2 week Switzerland itinerary proposed by RS (less Appenzell) in and out of Zurich. Three nights each in Munich, Salzberg, Vienna, Seville, Lisbon and 2 night stays in Bruges and Milan. Solo trip, starting around May 1st. I have to be in Sorrento by June 23rd (using points at the Hilton there and June is almost sold out so had to book this). Initially I thought booking all hotels would be best, but now I think booking only the first two weeks may make sense to get a feel for the pace. I've penciled in the itinerary and this would give me an extra 2-3 days to spend somewhere prior to Sorrento. If I find I'm moving along quicker I'd have the opportunity to add another city. If I'm moving slower I have 2-3 days I can add. This also provides a couple days post Sorrento. It does worry me a little trying to find a hotel just a day or two in advance but surely I can find somewhere, right??

My specific questions are:
1-Would it be better to plan the entire trip or just the first two weeks to get a feel for the pace?
2-Anticipate any problems getting a hotel within a day or two notice? Any specific areas where that might be a problem? Especially curious of Switzerland area (Ex-Murren, Lauterbrunnen, Luzern Lussanne, etc).

3-Would like to take the night train from Amsterdam to Zurich. Also Zurich to Prague. Do I need to book these in advance or is this generally available? If in advance, how far in advance?

4-Which museums/sites require advance purchase? Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, Lourve, etc?

5-Eurail Global Pass. I think this is worth it for this trip. However, it seems like I'd still need to pay for a lot of trains so I wanted to double check. Also assume this pass does not give access to local trains/trams?

6-I notice a lot of the advertised RS tours are for the entire trip. Does RS offer day guide trips?

Posted by
5973 posts

A few thoughts:
I would consider booking rooms for the entire trip, but making sure that they had flexible cancellation policies in case I wanted to change when I was mid-trip. That way, you know you have a place to stay but you also know you have flexibility to change as you desire. I've never tried a trip that is this long so maybe people don't plan ahead like that, but I would feel better if I knew there was a place. (I think it goes back to my childhood where we drove and drove trying to find places to stay because my parents did not reserve ahead......)

Eiffel Tower you should try to get advance tickets.

I think you are on the right track of looking for day tours or short guided walks in the cities that you visit. For example Walks of Italy https://www.walksofitaly.com/ offers these types of walks in several cities. You will find almost every major city has a local guide or local walk company.

Posted by
3690 posts

3- Yes. Tickets usually go on sale 180 days before departure, but you don't need to book that far in advance. However, if you plan to buy the tickets the same day there is a big risk that the train is sold out.

5- On trains where seat reservations are required you need to buy a seat reservation. In some cases they are free, in other cases they cost a few euros, or up to €20-30 for certain high speed trains. And for night trains a sleeper reservation can cost a lot more. On the other hand, where seat reservations are not required, such as most trains in Germany you can just board any train you like. In general the pass allows you to ride local trains, but not trams and metros.

Posted by
9140 posts

Have you run your proposed trip through a calculator like this to make sure you have the count right?
https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/visa-calculator/

Does RS offer day guide trips?

No.

Planning for hotels/lodging at that time of year depends on how particular you are on the type of lodging you find acceptable and how flexible your budget is. It would be best to assume that for June and July it will be slim pickings for the nice hotels with budget friendly prices. What may be left is the high or low ends

Posted by
56 posts

It depends. You are going during high season = high demand. I would strongly consider booking weekends/holidays or any smaller towns where lodging may be less available. The lodging with the best reputation will book months in advance. If you care about where you stay (location, amenities, etc.) then you should pre-book - as others have said - make sure to check cancellation policies.

Posted by
10 posts

I tend to agree with the previous response regarding making advance reservations. We did a 7 week trip a few years back and I had all accommodations reserved in advance. It was reassuring to know we had a place to stay when we arrived in the city (or small town) and wouldn’t have to spend precious time looking for a place to sleep that night. That being said, given the fact that you will have the luxury of time to see and do as you like, that coupled with the fact that we are coming out of the pandemic when many people are still reluctant to travel, you probably won’t have much difficulty finding accommodations at the last minute or only a few days in advance. I would make rooming reservations for 2-3 weeks and then make the rest when you are there, maybe a week or two in advance.
Train reservations: you’ll want to make reservations for any overnight trains/sleepers. I plan to start checking in March for schedules to travel in June as my husband, my 12 year old grandson and I will be overnighting from Munich to Venice. I have already made our Eurostar reservations from London to Paris, though it is not an overnight train. Most day travel city to city trains don’t require reservations but sometimes the one you want may be full if you don’t. Just means you get the next one. Global pass is a good idea, if you can identify in advance how many times you need it.
Reservations for sights: Louvre, Eiffel Tower, the Accademia and Uffizi in Florence, Borghese in Rome are musts. There may be others but I can’t think of them now. Others recommended but not required.

I would suggest you make an appointment with one of Rick Steves’ travel consultants to help you figure out all of your details. It is truly money well spent and not that costly. In one half hour he or she can answer all of your questions and put you on the right track. $45 for one half hour. I have consulted with Rich twice and both times he has answered all of my questions and given me pointers that helped with my trip planning. Also get a “Best of Europe” guide book to help as well.
Good luck, and ENJOY!

Posted by
21924 posts

I regularly take summer-long trips. I do not lock down all my hotel reservations in advance. I cannot imagine doing that since so many of my destinations are first-time visits for me. No matter how hard I try, I always seem to underestimate the time I'll need in a new city of any size, and I frequently learn about a new sight or special event only after I arrive. The last thing I want to have to do is leave a city with a high-priority sight not visited.

Most of my hotels are booked 2 to 4 days ahead of time. However, there are places where there's a significant risk of not finding decent, affordable options if you wait until only a day or two ahead of time to book. I spend a lot of time in low-tourist-traffic cities, whereas every place you've listed is a big tourist destination except for Zurich and Milan, which get a lot of business travelers. I did book Holy Week in Andalucia and July in Scotland ahead of time in 2019. I always book London ahead of time, though not necessarily 3 months in advance. All those times and places mean high hotel rates by my standards. I am not a Hilton sort of traveler.

How concerned you need to be depends on two things: Your financial resources and your level of pickiness in terms of decor, comfort and location. I haven't had issues with cleanliness in my budget-level hotels, but I have learned to expect what I call "dorm-room decor", and I sometimes compromise a bit on location to keep my costs down. Basically, I just insist on cleanliness, good Wi-Fi, air conditioning and working plumbing. If you're going to turn up your nose at places that are several cuts below Hilton standards, you have a greater price risk than I do.

Of the destinations you list, I'd be most nervous about all the Swiss destinations ($$$$), London, Paris, Florence (probably) and Sorrento (probably--but you seem to have that one covered). I checked out rates in Rome a few weeks ago, and they didn't look bad for late April. I do think hotel rates are still in something of a COVID depression in many locations. Obviously, that could turn around pretty massively before the end of your trip. (Or mine; I'm hoping for at least 5 months--and I do know all about the Schengen 90-day restriction.)

If you can manage to time your stays in Milan and Zurich to overlap weekends, that may save you some money; there are few business travelers on the road then. Weekend nights in London, on the other hand, may be more expensive. Since you'll have a long stay in London, it will all come out in the wash there.

Any time you hit a city at the time of a huge convention, holiday or special event, there's a likelihood of higher-than-usual hotel rates. I've occasionally had to stay in a different city or town because of price or (in the case of a very small town) total unavailability of any room. That is a risk you're going to have to face. To reduce the possibility of last-minute problems like that, I highly recommend checking room availability and rates on booking.com well ahead of time. That can be an early-warning-system for you, and it will probably be easier than trying to research holidays and special events in all the places you're going. I do try to do that, but I've run into unexpected sporting events, and we've had two reports on the forum of $500/night hotel rates due to a big rock concert in Dublin and some sort of play-off game (I assume soccer) in Madrid. That's the sort of thing that probably wouldn't turn up in a typical internet search (and play-off games don't get scheduled very far in advance), but if you check hotel rates on booking.com, you'll spot the problem well ahead of time.

The idea of making reservations that can be canceled easily isn't a bad one at all. Booking.com makes cancellation easy, but you have to pay attention to each hotel's policy; they vary.

I'll put my comments on pre-booking sightseeing in a separate post.

Posted by
400 posts

I'm doing 6 weeks of independent travel in Sept/Oct and have no intention of booking everynight!

What I do do is
- heavily research and work out a general itinerary.
- if I have internal flights I will book those a few months out - I may do the same for long-haul trains too
- I'd book the first location ie we are flying into Budapest - I'll book 5 nights there probably a month or 2 out.
- as I travel I'll book somewhere between a week and a day in advance.
- EXCEPT I'll research and ask at TIs to find any local holidays/ festivals which can affect availability of transport and hotels

(In May there is some catholic holiday Ascension? Its caught me out before with transport running to a different timetable. 1 May is a big holiday in much of Europe (Labour Day).

I've travelled like this for 40 + years - I have never not found somewhere to sleep -I'm normally found very nice places to stay. I did the last hotel room authorized for foreigners in Lake Inle, Burma once - but that 's not a problem in Europe.

If a town is "fully booked" try the following.

Arrive by train or bus and ask there at the TI - also look for people offering rooms (this doesn't happen in every country anymore). Think more widely - normally stay in hotels - try b&bs, zimmers, hostels (they often have single rooms - but a dorm will do).

Wait. Remember that not every booking is honoured. Some will cancel in advance, some won't. Some time in the late afternoon those rooms will become available. Not online, but on the phone - that's where the TI can be really helpful.

At the end of the day a hotel is a room to sleep in. Unless you have some very specific requirements for a room - ie most hold 3 children, must be accessible, must have an ensuite, must be under E50 /night - you WILL find a room.

Having a room that has less than perfect decor, no view, is slightly further out of town, is not going to kill you, or even affect your visit to the town if you are there to see the sights.

The one time I care about a hotel room is if I'm doing a flop and beach type stop - then I'll spend more time in my room and I will care about location an facilities.

I'd also say that in a 90 day trip something will happen - particularly solo. You'll get sick, you'll get burn out, you'll meet someone/group you want to travel with. Don't over plan it. Even if the hotels are cancellable - its reall a bit of a hassle to do so - and its an awful lot of up front work - which could be better focussed on learning about the destination.

I haven't used Eurail since the days when you could literally jump on any train - but no it doesn't cover local transit buss/trams/light rail. Its well worth doing the research on that so you know what sort of card (if any) to buy. In Switzerland it also doesn't include the mountain railways.

Also be careful of the RS suggested itineraries. They are very, very fast moving. They are designed for someone on a 10 day vacation. You can't move that fast if you travelling for 90 days - you really can't

Posted by
21924 posts

Sightseeing:

The information most of us have pre-dates the pandemic. Lead times may be shorter than in the past. But if a lot of people suddenly decide it's safe to travel, we could be right back where we were, or conceivably even worse. All I can do is give you the answers I would have given back in 2019. Keep in mind that sightseeing tickets are often totally non-refundable, so you need to weigh your level of interest and the perceived risk of an early sell-out against the financial risk of buying ahead of time. As a general rule, the more days you will be in a city, the longer you can wait to buy tickets, because you'll have some flexibility about when you go to each sight. That said, there are places that have traditionally sold out months in advance. For those, spending five nights in town will not save you from disappointment.

There are really two issues with sightseeing tickets: The possibility of sell-outs (which don't happen at all that many places) and the much more frequent possibility that you'll be stuck in a long ticket line. Time is the most valuable commodity of a vacation-starved American tourist in Europe; none of us want to spend an hour--or longer--in a ticket line. Online ticket purchase even a day ahead of time will in most cases allow you to avoid the ticket line (but not the security line). Sometimes an hour or two ahead of time is just fine. Rick's good about warning his readers about places where lines can be expected.

For outdoor sights or those where the view is the thing (London Eye, Versailles, Eiffel Tower, Swiss high-mountain trips), buying ahead of time comes with considerable weather risk.

These are places where you probably cannot just walk up, buy a ticket and get indoors in 5 minutes. Some of these are long-lead-time sights. Others are buy-online-while-you-eat-breakfast sights.

London: If there's a specific play you want to see, buy a ticket ahead of time. Plays sometimes hit sold-out status 2 or 3 days in advance. Churchill War Rooms (sells out some days; long lines). London Eye (lines can be long, but weather issues). Harry Potter Studio Tour (sells out far in advance). London Walks does great walking tours. They used to be just-show-up tours, but currently you must prebook; I assume one or two days in advance would be fine, but you do have to prepay.

Paris: Catacombs (very long line). Eiffel Tower (potentially long lines, but weather considerations).

Rome: Vatican Scavi tour (sells out well in advance), Domus Aurea (weekends only, limited tickets), Colosseum tours giving access to extra levels of the building (sells out), Borghese Gallery (sells out).

Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila/La Pedrera, Parc Guell, Picasso Museum, Palau de la Musica Catalana tour, Camp Nou (soccer stadium) tour. All of those are timed tickets; it's not easy to figure out how to piece them together into an efficient schedule.

Madrid: It wouldn't hurt to get a ticket for the Palacio Real a day or two ahead of time; it might be busier on weekends.

Seville: The Alcazar should be pre-booked, but it wasn't necessary to do that more than a day or so in advance in 2019; the private-apartment tour (said to be not all that wonderful) sells out much earlier. There's usually a horrible line for the cathedral; Rick explains in his guidebook how to avoid that.

Milan: The Last Supper sells out far, far in advance. Pre-COVID it sold out within minutes of the tickets going on sale.

My failure to list one of your cities just means I don't have enough knowledge about it, not that there is nothing that should be prebooked. Some of the big-name sights make extra money by running special-access tours (sometimes but not always really costly) to areas no open to everyone. The demand for those tours often leads to early sellouts.

I highly recommend walking tours, especially for a solo traveler on a long trip.

Posted by
21924 posts

My philosophy is basically the same as LIssie's, but I have one warning about hoping for cancellations: It's harder to get lucky in a city where you're planning to spend more than one or two nights. So many people stay fewer than three nights, so you might need for two people to cancel in order to free up a room for the entire time you need. I've occasionally had to shift things around because I couldn't get as many sequential nights as I needed and I didn't want to have to change hotels in the middle of a stay. The longer you're staying in a city, the fewer options you'll have unless you are booking very far in advance. This is a fact of life for the spur-of-the-moment traveler who doesn't want to move at the speed of a guided tour. Again, it helps not to be picky when you're in this situation.

Posted by
75 posts

Basically, no one's been able to travel to and around Europe for two years. I think there's going to be huge pent-up demand this summer, especially May through September. I'm spending a month traveling in four countries in May and June. I've made all my hotel bookings and am about to start buying train tickets. Not only are people from all over the world going to be traveling, Europeans are going to be hitting the roads and rails, too. This is not going to be a "normal" summer season.

My other comment is about rail passes. They're nearly always NOT a good deal unless you're planning very long trips, say Amsterdam to Rome or longer journeys. Check prices for the individual tickets you'll need and compare the total to the cost of the rail pass PLUS the seat reservations you would have to buy. I have 12 rail trips this year and, for me, point-to-point tickets are definitely less expensive than a rail pass.

Posted by
400 posts

Basically, no one's been able to travel to and around Europe for two years. I think there's going to be huge pent-up demand this summer, especially May through September. I'm spending a month traveling in four countries in May and June. I've made all my hotel bookings and am about to start buying train tickets. Not only are people from all over the world going to be traveling, Europeans are going to be hitting the roads and rails, too. This is not going to be a "normal" summer season.

(I wish this forum had a proper quote function!)

I think you are wrong about people wanting to travel "from all over the world". There are several significant countries with still closed borders - and their citizens will not be travelling Europe this year - China and Japan. Even though Australia and NZ are opening borders this year - the conclusion of everyone who hears about our travel plans are that we are very brave/slightly mad. People want to travel here - but its all about reconnecting with friends/family. There is a big reluctance to travel for fun - and kiwis are normally huge travellers (there just aren't enough of us to count much in Europe). Americans also have a history of cancelling overseas trips as soon as there is a hint of a problem - so the Ukraine situation is probably causing some to cancel too.

Posted by
828 posts
  1. You should plan your entire trip in advance, before you leave home. Your time should be spent walking past various monuments, on transportation, resting on a bench or out of the way safe spot or in your hotel, in museums or sites, and so on, and not scrambling around trying to find a hotel or place to sleep at the last minute.

  2. I haven't researched the night trains but don't risk not getting the trains you want because you didn't buy your tickets in advance. I don't intuitively understand the concept of winging a trip or not making enough advance reservations. From experience I know the semi-long distance trains in the Netherlands and Belgium are frequent and do not need to be reserved in advance and but on my train from the Hague to Antwerp, the conductor was pissed at me for buying the wrong ticket because I hadn't paid full fair because I guessed which buttons to push on the machine that had everything described in Dutch. I was able to pay the conductor an additional 28 Euros cash and then everything was good.

4 the major or most popular sites surely all need advance tickets. If what you want to see doesn't need advance tickets, but if advance tickets are available, buy advance tickets anyway.

  1. I wouldn't buy a train pass that allows me to get on trains randomly. I would buy specific tickets for specific times.

  2. Rick Steves tours are group whole-trip guided tours, not just day trips. I have seen day-guided trips advertised on trip-advisor. I havn't done one yet. So far I travel solo, with some short guided tours. For example I did an good walking tour from ArtViva in Florence - I reserved it in advance before my trip. I have done some good "free" tours - I give the guides about 11-20 euros tip; never avoid tipping the "free" tour guides properly. My mother is mortified at me for traveling; after I convinced her that travel isn't necessarily dangerous, she tried persuading me to only travel with whole-trip guided tours instead of traveling solo.

I only took my first solo trip for leisure when I was 32, not because travel at a younger age is bad but because earlier I was desperately looking for jobs and I didn't think to travel. I have never requested more than 2 weeks off work to travel; I have enough trouble getting time off work to take a trip.

Posted by
21924 posts

I totally disagree with Mike's suggestion that your buy sightseeing tickets in advance whenever possible, even if not necessary. Why do that? It only ties you down. You might have a beautiful day for walking around outdoors but be stuck with an expensive ticket to something you'd rather see on a rainy day. Or your entire trip might not happen. Of you might decide to drop the city. I don't buy anything sightseeing related before I need to.

On the other hand, Mike is right about getting night train tickets early unless you want to sit up all night long. Sleeping berths are unlikely to be available at the last minute. I do not like night trains; even when I was younger I only sort of dozed. Some people get enough sleep to consider them a viable option for saving time. But couchettes often cost about as much as a budget hotel room, and I know which one I prefer. Sleeper berths are more expensive. Maybe they're more comfortable; my only experience is with the couchettes, which are just padded ledges.

Some potential problems with night trains:
- Condition of toilets can deteriorate as the trip progresses.
- In non-climate-controlled carriages, the berths on the trailing side of each compartment get blasted with chilly nighttime air if the passengers decide to leave the window open.
- There probably will be no shower.
- The train will almost certainly arrive at your destination much earlier than you can have access to your lodgings (and shower). Be sure you at least have a place to drop off your bag.
- Some night trains make very frequent stops all night long. Every stop is accompanied by braking, station noise and acceleration. Many people don't sleep through that type of activity.

You can check the stops each train makes on the Deutsche Bahn website. Find your train. Click on > Show details, then click on > Show intermediate stops.

Posted by
400 posts

I have never requested more than 2 weeks off work to travel; I have enough trouble getting time off work to take a trip.

In other words MIke - you have no idea what you are talking about. The longest Ive travelled for was 7 months, the shortest i ever travel is 3 weeks.

Planning a 2 week trip is entirely different to a 3 month one. I would book a 2 week trip too if I had so little time. But that was not what the OP asked for

Posted by
3690 posts

Sleeper berths are more expensive. Maybe they're more comfortable; my
only experience is with the couchettes, which are just padded ledges.

A sleeper compartment will cost more, but there is (in general) a huge difference in comfort. I never book couchettes anymore as it can be hard for me to get a good night's sleep in them, but a sleeper offers a proper bed. (And acraven, don't rule out a night train until you've tried a sleeper).

Some comments about night trains.

  • If you are worried about the state of the toilets, there are often compartments with en suite bathrooms.
  • If you book a private compartment, you decide if the window is open or not.
  • When travelling in a couchette, there will probably not be a shower. But if travelling in a sleeper car, there will probably be a shower.
  • Most hotels will allow you to leave your bags there. And most major railway stations will have luggage lockers.
Posted by
536 posts

Since you've been bombarded with advice, I'll keep mine simple.

1. No matter how well you plan, or how much advice you get, there will be stops that you wish you had more or less time. That's part of travelling, especially if you've never been there before.
2. If you've got any truly must-see spots on this trip, to avoid disappointment, maybe planning around those would be worth your while. Example: when we were at the Alcazar in 2019, it was sold out completely more than 2 weeks before our single day in town (on a cruise). I did get to see it, but only by paying 1.5 times what it should have because I was forced to join a ship's excursion with a pre-purchased group of tickets. Take that for what it's worth.

3. Have you considered an all-inclusive trip insurance policy? If you go the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants route (and even if you don't), you may need it to cover cancellations, pre-purchased tickets, etc. Read the policy carefully, though. They vary. Most will reimburse only for cancellations because of an event beyond your control. But, not all of them. With the amount of money you're planning to spend, I'd seriously consider it.
Happy travels!

Posted by
828 posts

I don't understand the concept of not wanting to buy tickets in advance because you might not want to do what the ticket is for at the time the ticket is for.

For my last 3 trips to Europe I wrote myself a day-by-day itinerary listing which tickets I bought, what I thought I would do, hotels, and so on. A 12 week trip shouldn't be that much harder to plan like what I did, except that your itinerary would be 6 or more pages instead of just one page.

What about how I get to skip the line to buy tickets when I buy a ticket in advance?

Yeah there are unpopular places like small museums and out of the way castles, that you don't need to buy tickets in advance for.

Posted by
21924 posts

Mike:

  • Except for the rare places that sell out early (and Rick tells you what they are in his books), there's no reason not to buy your tickets online after you arrive in the city, or a day or two before. That works just fine. Not buying way ahead of time doesn't mean you have to stand in a ticket line. Furthermore, there are plenty of places that don't have ticket lines. Ever.

  • What happens if you get sick between the time you buy the ticket and the date you're supposed to leave on your trip? Did you not read the postings from folks who were stuck with sightseeing tickets they couldn't use back in 2020 when everything shut down?

  • What happens if the sight itself closes because of some problem? Do you want the hassle of trying to get your money back?

  • Why do you want to give your hard-earned money to someone else before you need to? In the US, do you buy gift certificates in March that you plan to use for shopping in September?

Posted by
1 posts

Sounds like a wonderful trip.

My wife and I did a similar trip for about 6 months in 2021: 3 months in Schengen + Croatia/Egypt/Jordan/UK/Caribbean. Given covid uncertainties, I booked ~3 months lodging in advance (mostly through Booking.com). Cancellation policies allowed us flexibility. Covid testing was an inconvenience, but not a barrier (we are both fully vaxed and fine with masks in crowded places).

We generally moved every 2-4 days, but included "extended stays" of 5-10 days every few weeks to rest, recharge, research, and "live like a local". The recharge time is important - you can't travel at a RS pace (or even 1/2 that) for months on end! Sometimes you just want to go for a run, read a book, watch a movie, cook a meal, watch a match, etc. For short stays - we were less picky. For longer, we wanted space to "live" vs just sleep.

We are planning a similar trip this year - France/Belgium/Switzerland for Schengen, then Croatia for a month (yes, again, we loved it) and finally UK. I have almost completed bookings for the first 3 months. I will book the last part (UK) at the trip's midpoint when we are in Croatia.

PM me if you are interested in our itinerary - I've a fairly detailed PDF.

Mark