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HELP!!! First time in Europe with teens for Christmas

Hi! We’re trying to organize our trip and are having trouble figuring out our itinerary. We’re a family of 4 (19 year old boy and 16 year old girl). Our son is the adrenaline junkie/outdoor/car enthusiast. Our daughter is the arts/nature/fashion lover. Our trip duration is more less 2 weeks. We’re flying into Amsterdam and will begin the adventure there. We know we want to see Paris and Rome and have read some good things about Interlaken, but we don’t know where else to go and how long to stay at each place. We’d love to be able to see some small towns (like Hallsttat) besides the big cities. We know that Christmas markets are huge in Europe, but our teens will want to do much more than shopping. Where should we go for a ski day? What about Christmas Eve? Can’t wait to taste all those holiday goodies! Thank you so much in advance!

Posted by
6840 posts

To help with organizing your trip is the flight you booked roundtrip in and out of Amsterdam?

Posted by
7 posts

Hi! We haven’t bought the tickets yet but yes, we will be returning from Amsterdam as well. Thank you! Hopefully we will still be able to go with all the traveling restrictions!

Posted by
2139 posts

It sound like a good reason to buy open jaw tickets, it will make the trip a lot easier than flying to and from Amsterdam. Also, do note that many countries in Europe more or less shut down over Christmas. So make sure you have some plans for Christmas eve and Christmas day as many restaurants will probably be closed.

But for your wishes. Amsterdam-Paris-Switzerland-Rome sounds like a good start. Maybe add a stop somewhere in Germany for some Christmas markets, and maybe somewhere between Switzerland and Rome. Milan and Florence are popular places. For skiing, there are many ski resorts in the Alps. But this is starting to get a bit much for a fortnight and you might want to think about what you can skip and what you must see.

Posted by
21192 posts

First, I would seriously consider using open-jaw or multi-city tickets. It will save time and money. Into Amsterdam and home from Rome. Look on a map. Rome is a long ways -- lots of travel time - between Amsterdam and Rome. With less than two weeks you don't have a lot time for more than about three cities or four at the very most. Christmas eve and Christmas day will be dead time. Europe is much more closed than the US is at that time. Christmas markets in Germany will starting closing around noon on Christmas eve as do most restaurants. But the beer halls/gardens are open Christmas day and the place to be. Unless there is a special reason for Amsterdam, I would fly into Paris, three nights, and then train to Rothenberg ob der Tauber for your small town, Christmas market fix for at least two nights, easy trip to Munich for three nights and Christmas/Christmas Day. From Munich might consider flying to Rome for the reminder of time - 4 nights and, of course, home from Rome. Skiing probably is out from a logistical and even clothing standpoint. What is the level of your skiing abilities? Skiing is popular at that time of year so local areas will be crowded. Where do you normally ski?

Posted by
21192 posts

We can only keep it coming if you answer some of our questions and respond to the postings.

Posted by
1780 posts

You do realize it's likely that Christmas will still be problematic?

If you haven't already, sketch out cities and countries that sound interesting and watch Rick's videos (they're all here on his website). There are also tons of videos on Youtube for anywhere in the world that sounds interesting. Narrow, narrow, narrow.

Even with two weeks, when you figure in all the travel and schlepping time, you should really pick a country or a region and focus on that. Paris to Rome covers a lot of ground. Again bearing in mind that there could be border issues.

Posted by
4737 posts

Although Christmas markets are usually big in Europe, several have already announced that they won’t be happening this year due to Covid. No one knows what the Covid situation is going to be this winter, but it’s usually worse than the summer.

Most of us based in Europe on this forum have been recommending that travel is limited to ideally one country as we have experienced long lockdowns and restrictions and changing policies between countries. What is your plan B if travel between France and Italy is prohibited? You are going to waste a day travelling back to Amsterdam, so fly open jaw.

Sorry. I think that you are being very optimistic to try to cover so much ground, particularly as transport is limited over Christmas. How many days are you actually going to have on the ground? Do your family suffer from jet lag? Travelling from the USA to the U.K. wipes me out for a week.

The ski season in many places is patchy in December and if you only want one day skiing, you may wish to consider how long it would take you to get there and weigh up if this is a priority.

Most airlines within Europe have significantly reduced their flight schedules for the winter, meaning prices have risen. My flight back from Spain in January has already changed dates twice. Be prepared for changes.

Posted by
7 posts

Your answers are already helping clear our thoughts. My husband went to Europe several times as a teen, mainly Germany and Switzerland. He doesn’t really know how to orchestrate the trip for us as a family though. I don’t ski but our kids and my hubby do. Their level is intermediate to advanced. If it gets too tight we could drop the skiing day. They love going to Mammoth here. We’re not set on any specific city which is why we welcome your recommendations and ideas. I have been watching Rick’s videos of European Christmas which have inspired us a lot. We still need help with the itinerary though. This is why a reached out to you guys.

We’re prepared to reschedule the trip as traveling is so uncertain at this moment.

Posted by
94 posts

I second everything Jennifer posted, particularly about sticking to a single country, beware of flight schedule changes within Europe, and understand the risks and concerns about potential border crossing issues that may come up between EU countries in the coming months.

In the best of times pre-pandemic, I would have advised against a less than 2 week trip to 3 or 4 countries at XMAS that involves so many travel days, airplanes, and transitions. With the added uncertainties this year surrounding the ongoing pandemic and EU policies, I double down on that advice - stick to one country.

I recommend France, would offer suggestions for what to see and do, but will wait for you to indicate interest.

Posted by
2876 posts

IF you decide to stick to one country because it could be complicated keeping track of multi country Covid restrictions, I think based on your desires, so far, I’d choose France, flying in and out of CDG. I’d spend the first few days in Strasbourg before the Christmas markets close. Then I’d head to Chamonix for a bit of skiing and winter fun. After that I’d go to Nice for some winter sun on the Rivera then head back to Paris to finish with all the culture, fun and food it has to offer. This trip could be done by train with maybe one flight from Chamonix to Nice.

Posted by
7 posts

Awesome feedback. We’ll have a family discussion tonight and I will show your ideas to the group. 👌

Posted by
2876 posts

If they have other ideas or strong desires bring them back to us please.

Posted by
528 posts

I'd stick to ONE country - you will be spending a lot of time traveling. Italy alone is worth 2 weeks if you do Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Rome.

It takes longer than you think to travel and check in and out of places. What are your dates? Know that many of the Christmas Markets close on 12/22, so do your research - (here's hoping the markets are even open as I know the ones in Budapest are closed again this year).

If you want to do several countries, why not at least do ones that are a close train ride - like Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Nuremberg, Munich, Regensburg, Dachau Concentration Camp?

Or stick to all GERMANY and see the markets that stay open.

I love the idea above about France - Strasbourg does have a nice market (although Germany has the best ones)- but def check the dates. And always book International travel as MULTI CITY so you don't have to circle back.

Posted by
6585 posts

Traveling over Christmas and New Years in Europe is problematic as mentioned above. Amsterdam, Paris and Rome is way more than enough for two weeks. Many restaurants will be closed for the holiday period. We did a lot of research and booked dinners months in advance and still did not get in everywhere.
Christmas Eve was difficult( London) but we did get into a great restaurant for dinner after attending services at Westminster Abbey( another hard to obtain ticket.)
Museums will not be on normal schedules. We encountered huge crowds, pedestrian grid lock, in Rome over New Years.
For a first trip to Europe go there at another time of year when you won’t need to deal with holiday related problems. Go to one country where you all will learn to deal that country’s particular ways of doing things and get more out of your time abroad. Mix city stays with ones in the countryside.
And wait until COVID restrictions are lifted.

Posted by
2785 posts

As others have said, if you're planning to go in Dec 2021, attempting to travel to several different countries, with possibly different Covid requirements, as well as holiday closures, could be a frustrating nightmare. What are your plans for transportation? Trains? Driving? Choose two countries(including Amsterdam) as priorities. Personally, I would skip Amsterdam on a first trip and stick to France and possibly Austria-Vienna is underrated s a destination. I don't ski, but I would think that could work in either France or Austria.

Posted by
12365 posts

If all else falls through or ends up being closed, it looks like the Christmas Markets in Lviv and Kyiv will be open; and fewer and much more simple entry restrictions..... My backup at least.

Posted by
2464 posts

Assuming you are planning for this year you’ve got a very tight timeline to put this together. You have not even decided the basics-where you want to go. So, you are getting a myriad of responses including suggestions to visit towns you’ve never heard of in unknown countries! Including skiing changes the entire packing dynamic-you’ll be hauling heavy clothes for what/ a one time schuss day? The skiing in the US is really good, maybe think about eliminating that. Given the short timeframe, your varied interests I’d suggest getting a good travel agent and meeting with that person as a family. This is where they can really be of help-building an itinerary, booking your hotels, transportation, sightseeing, etc.

Posted by
140 posts

I would echo what others have said and consider cutting the itinerary to one or maybe two countries. I also would not fly in and out of Amsterdam unless you have a strong reason for doing so (family, desire to see Amsterdam). It adds a country in which you would spend little time, even in non-Covid times, and adds a lot of unnecessary travel. If the issue is availability of flights in and out of Amsterdam, remember that you can also simply connect through there and end up in Paris or Rome.

For your family, I would agree that France or maybe Austria or maybe Italy might be the best bet. It would be a shame for advanced skiers to head to Europe in winter and NOT ski in the Alps for at least one or two days! Both France and Italy allow you to visit fashion cities (Milan, Paris), art cities (Rome, Paris), and have lots of great skiing and outdoor stuff in the Alps. Both have decent markets (assuming they aren't cancelled), though for that Austria might be the better bet, and depending on the border situation you can possibly pop over into Germany for something car-related. And you had mentioned Hallstadt.

Posted by
8234 posts

I'll just add that things can change very quickly regarding Covid requirements. Take a look at this thread from Thursday when Netherlands quickly moved the US (and other countries) to the "Very High Risk" list and right away started with quarantine requirements for visitors. Even the very well-informed professional guide living in Netherlands was not aware of the changes as they had not been publicized in Netherlands. You may need to be ready to flex and (I can't believe I am using this term!) but "pivot" your itinerary at the last minute. Not trying to be a Debbie Downer but I feel this may be relevant to your plans.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/netherlands/united-states-no-longer-on-safe-list-vaccinated-travelers-must-quarantine-on-arrival

I had sort of planned a Christmas Market trip this year but have cancelled and will hope to travel next year for perhaps an easier time and perhaps more Christmas festivities being on display.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you all. We’re taking to a travel agent. Your replies have helped us get a much better idea of what we would like to do. We’re definitely keeping an open mind in case we need to reschedule our plans according to the situation.

You guys are the best.