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Need help planning Germany, Switzerland, and Austria :)

Hello, we are in the beginning phases of planning a trip for Sep. 2018 and I am a bit lost on how to proceed. I wanted to kind of follow Rock steves tour but I’m not sure if it can be done and the logistics of travel as we’ve always done train travel in Europe.
We will have about 28 days. How long should we spend at each location and is it possible to drive every step of the journey? Are rental cars expensive, and is traveling by car a big deal? Or should we try to do some or all by train?
A little lost here.

We also don’t want a super fast pace, but would like to spend as long as possible at each location so we are not always on the move. And I’m also looking for reccomendations into the cheapest place to fly in and out of if the cities I’ve listed are $$$

Here’s what I’ve got so far...

Fly into Frankfurt
Car to:
Baden Baden
Lake Hallstatt
Vienna - fly out of.

I’d like to do in this order if possible- any cities you would skip, or stay longer at?


Posted by
5166 posts

What advantage do you see to do any of this itinerary by car? Have you priced out rental+fuel+parking+drop-off-in-another-country fee?

Posted by
14 posts

Like I said, I don’t know if this can all be done by train? I know a lot of these towns are more scenic, and I don’t know anything about Germany other than what I’ve read. Are these cities all accessible by train?

Posted by
17089 posts

Where in the US (or Canada?) will you be flying from? Fares vary a lot, and both the origin and destination matter. From my most convenient international airport, Frankfurt and Munich are usually quite a bit cheaper than Vienna. It may be different for you.

Posted by
114 posts

We always rent a car. It is very easy to travel by car in these countries and if you like to stay off the beaten path, as we do, a car is perfect!
We can come and go at our own pace, don’t have to worry about luggage storage, if we see someplace we want to make a quick stop for. And frankly, have found it to be cheaper than train tickets for 2.
That being said, if I were doing only big cities, I might consider the train.
As for car rental, I have rented from Bob Bestor at for 20 plus years. He has great resources in Europe and the best prices. I’ve never had a problem using them for more rentals than I can count.
Your itinerary is quite doable with a car. I’ve driven in all those cities except Vienna and we had no problems with parking in any of them.
You will pay a usually sizable drop off fee if you leave the car in a different country than where you rent it. You just have to decide if that fee offsets the time, gas and food and lodging costs you would incur going back to the country your trip originated in.
Have fun!

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you for the suggestions- I don’t know much of anything about these cities, and I’m open to other suggestions in Germany. I don’t necessarily need to go to Austria but I would love to go to Switzerland again. Would you reccomend other cities than the ones I’ve listed? There’s so much to choose from it’s a little overwhelming!
We are flying in and out of San Francisco.

Posted by
2525 posts

All the listed cities can be easily visited via public transit...I’ve done it.

Posted by
81 posts

My first question is what cities have you seen in Europe on your previous trips? Have you ever been to Rothenburg? Have you been to all of Ludwig's castles? Linderhof? Hoenschwangau? Neuschwanstein?

I am going to assume the first place you listed is actually Trier.
We enjoy the smaller towns & villages. You have listed 9 locations. From the far west of Germany to Murren (#1 favorite place on the planet) to the far east of Austria in Vienna. That is a lot of driving.

I might actually take out Vienna and finish in Munich. This enables you to rent a car & return in the same country. Munich is only a couple of hours north of Salzburg. We actually stayed in Ramsau, Germany and used it as a base for Salzburg, Hallstatt & Berteschgarden (sp?). It is a stunningly gorgeous place. You can do a boat cruise on the Koenigsee. Between Salzburg and Munich is Ludwig's Herring Chemsee Castle patterned after Versailles.

If you've never been to Heildelberg, I would go there before Baden Baden. I would also replace Freiburg with Triberg - town of 1,000 cuckoo clocks.

One thing to take note of. In both Switzerland & Austria you will have to purchase vignettes to drive a rental car there. Austria has a 10 day vignette that cost $8.65 USD. Switzerland only sells a 1 year that costs 40CHF in 2017. Be sure you stop at the old border crossings to buy before you get further into the country.

If you've never been to Murren, I would highly recommend the Bellvue Hotel. There is a very nice 6 story parking garage in Lauterbrunnen. It's only about $8 a day to park. Take the cable car and then the train to Murren.

Hope this doesn't confuse to much.

Posted by
2663 posts

IF you skipped Vienna and put Munich as your last stop, you would avoid the hefty "drop off charge". We've picked up in Frankfurt airport and dropped at Munich airport with zero extra fee's.

Posted by
803 posts

I would recommend stopping along the Rhine on your way to Trier, the best would be to leave two days for that, so 3 nights. Then Trier 2 nights and one full day, 2 full days if you'd like to also see Burg Eltz or the Mosel. If you really like Switzerland than I would skip Baden-Baden and go from Trier to Switzerland leaving yourself 3 nights and 2 full days to enjoy at a minimum. Head over to Munich where you could do 2 or 3 full days leaving one for a trip to Ludwigs Castles or Dachau. Then head to Salzburg for 1-2 full days, Hallstatt for 1-2 full days, and over to Vienna for 4 full days with one of those for the Wachau Valley and Melk. Don't know much about Freiburg or Fussen, You should be able to do trains fairly easily, and I wouldn't do a car unless there are places hard to get to without it that you just can't miss. I also hear that the area around Berchtesgaden is beautiful.

Posted by
1413 posts

Unless you are planning on stopping in lots of smaller towns between the listed cities, then a car is not needed.

Posted by
8889 posts

Are these cities all accessible by train?

That's North American thinking. Cities are always accessible by train. Any town over 50,000 population, and most over 20,000 and some smaller will be accessible by train. The question is whether the route from A to B is easy or convoluted.
Also, as Stan pointed out, one-way car hire from one country to another is either expensive or not possible.

A car does make it easier to visit rural areas, so long as you stay out of the big cities (Munich, Vienna).

I would firm up your list of places to visit, then decide which legs are better by car or train.

Posted by
7757 posts

One thing I will say about trying to do a Rick Steves tour itinerary on your own is that you need to allow more time at each stop than he does. I've done the GAS tour and it was wonderful BUT the guide and more importantly possibly, the bus driver have done the tour before, know exactly where to go, how to get there and where to park. I realize that parking the big Heidebloem bus is way different than parking a car but it's still the same concept.

On my tour, the regular comfort stop was suddenly inaccessible due to road work (previous tour date did not have a problem) so Richard the bus driver drove on. He was laughing saying he ~never~ believes in turning around and that he figured there was a town ahead where the residents drank coffee and had toilets, lol! He was exactly right...he dived off the highway, drove thru the countryside and presto...found an awesome bakery. The guide hopped off and went in to ask if they would mind if a bus tour stopped - they didn't, we did and the locals just stared at this big bus of 25 Americans.

On that tour, I went in to Trier 2 nights before the tour started and still didn't get all the things seen that were on my list. I would definitely add to it. On the actual tour itinerary, the full day in Trier was actually spent doing a walking tour in the AM and driving to Burg Eltz in the afternoon with lunch on the Mosel on the way. To me Trier deserves another day at least.

Have you considered just doing the GAS tour? Really, it's a lot of fun and the guide helps you be efficient with your time. It's also pretty low stress - all you really need to worry about is getting from the airport to Trier and how many extra nights you want to add before and after.

I DO understand that some folks want to drive or use public transport over taking a tour.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you for all of the replies, I’m not really interested in a tour as we like to do our own thing and not really so much into a tour group.

I’ve never been to Germany before so I really don’t know ‘anything’ about it so I’m all ears for suggestions!!

We’ve been to quite a bit of Italy, France, Netherlands, and stayed in Zermatt and Grindelwald which we loved.
I really want to see Switzerland again on this trip, just need a little help planning figuring out the ‘best of’ Germany and if that’s feasible.

Posted by
5166 posts

dreamingtrea you might consider going to the local SF area RS travel group, which just happens to be meeting this weekend. Look under the Travel Group forum and you'll see the notice.

Heres the current one:

Join us Saturday, December 9th, to talk about travel... We enjoy sharing stories and talking about our past and upcoming trips and we'd like you to join us!
We meet every 2nd Saturday of the month at 12:00 noon at:
Marin Brewing Company
1809 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur (Marin County)... Very close to the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge.
Look for us inside, there will be several Rick Steves travel books on the table so you can find us.
You don't have to be there at 12:00, anytime between 12:00-1:00 is fine.
**Do please respond to this thread and let me know if you plan to attend so I will have enough seating for you.
Hope to see you!

Posted by
803 posts

If you want to do the 'Best of Germany' than stick with Germany and just do that country, with a possible side trip into Salzburg. Do the rhine and mosel, the romantic road, Munich, Nuremberg, Saxony, Berlin, and Hamburg among so many other possible stops.

Posted by
150 posts

Aside from Trier, which I haven’t visited, I have actually driven to each of these places over a combination of trips. (Okay, I didn’t actually drive to Murren, but I did visit Lauterbrunnen for a week with a car.) Connecting these dots is very doable, especially with the amount of time you have. As others have said, it is possible to do this whole trip by train, with the odd bus ride in some cases, but I will address the car option.

Picking up a car at Frankfurt airport is very easy, but I wouldn’t recommend driving very far immediately after your very long flight. Do you plan on visiting Frankfurt for a few days? If so, pick up a car on your way out of town. If not, consider driving FRA to Bacharach. It’s just over an hour drive from FRA- about half the time as Trier- and is a good base to explore a few towns along the Rhine (easily done by boat, train, car or bike). You could even day trip to Trier from there, or make Trier your next stop. I’d allow four days for Bacharach and Trier combined. Baden-Baden and Freiburg are close enough together that I’d stay in one - preferably Baden- and visit the other on a day trip. Allow three days total, or four if you want to slip in a trip to Strasbourg. From Baden to Lauterbrunnen is at least a four hour drive, but not a difficult one (be sure to buy your Swiss vignette at the border, for CHF 40). Park the car at the multi-level parking lot at the Lauterbrunnen train station, and take the lift/train combination up to Murren (or stay in Lauterbrunnen). Allow at least 4 days here if you’re in to hiking, fewer if you’re not. From Lauterbrunnen to Fussen is another long drive, but you might want to give either Appenzell or Bregenz a short stop of a night or two along the way. I assume your reason for Füssen is to visit Nueschwanstein, so a night there is probably enough. I’d recommend going from Fussen to Salzburg (another vignette required for Austria) and staying 3 or 4 nights. Hallstatt is very picturesque, but you will by now have driven through a lot of equally picturesque places. If you must, visit Hallstatt as a day trip from Salzburg, but I’d say it’s expendable given what you already have on your itinerary. From Salzburg, drive to Munich and ditch the car (from Frankfurt to Munich, it’s an all-Germany rental). Stay in Munich for 4 or 5 days. Depending on how late into September your trip is starting, you’ll probably be in Munich during Oktoberfest. That’s a good or bad thing, depending on your tolerance for beer, crowds and higher hotel prices. Regardless, when you’ve had enough of Munich, take a train to Vienna to finish off your trip. Allow lots of time in Vienna, as there is an abundance of things to do there, and lots of worthwhile side trips you can take.
You have a great itinerary, and enough time to do it comfortably. If I were trying to do this trip in two weeks, I’d certainly do it as a RS tour, or use train and busses. But with 28 days, you can afford to linger longer in the places that interest you, and having a car will allow you the flexibility to get out and explore more. Enjoy!

Posted by
1 posts

Traveling for almost a month sounds wonderful! I took the Alps My Way trip a couple months ago and it was awesome! I've traveled several times to Europe either by myself or with the hubby so I was a bit apprehensive. I know you aren't interested in a tour, but if you ever think about it - try a My Way trip. It was wonderful to be able to have all the logistics taken care of, from staying at local hotels with lots of character to transportation - a bus with lots of room (and a toilet). All of the hotels were strategically located so when you walked out of the hotel lobby, all the needed basics were close by, from the drugstore, restaurants, museums, to a grocery store. (And it includes the wonderful filling European breakfast!!) And, not having to drive - you get to enjoy looking at the countryside, mountains and so on. There were 28 positive-thinking people on the tour - and it never felt 'crowded'. It was great!! Anyway..

Some takeaways from the MyWay trip and other non-tour ones:

  • Research the RS hotels in the locations you are interested in visiting. All the hotels were located close to restaurants, public transportation, drugstore, museums, etc. None of them were the big box American hotels, nice local hotels (no air conditioning). It was nice to be able to open windows for fresh air.
  • Since Europe has excellent transportation, use your stops as a hub; using the local bus, s-bahn, train for side trip(s)
  • For your last stop - find a hotel that provides free shuttle service to the airport
  • It's important to get rest...Based your tentative schedule - 28 days divided by 10 places = 2.8 days each place
  • - I researched the places of interest- averages 2-3 hours driving between each place
  • Even though each stop is a short drive, is this trip go-go-go or, take your time?
  • Spend a little extra euros and instead of driving to a place of interest - sign up for a tour and let them do the driving, etc -At Baden-Baden visit the hot spring. It was great! Very large indoor/outdoor pool, smaller pools with different temperatures, upstairs is clothing optional (no we didn't do that)
  • Heidelberg - lots tourists - climbed the 100 stairs to look over the river with the other tourists.
  • Halstatt - lots of tourists -
  • Want to see the alps? In Murren, Switzerland - take a side trip to Lauterbrunnen
  • On the way to Munich - stop and take a ride to the top of the Zugspitze. And, on the way there, you will see signs to walk across the longest pedestrian bridge..

Have a wonderful time and hope you post some of your trip in Europe!