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Help! Planning first trip to Europe on own...

I am completely overwhealmed and confused! I have booked a 10 day trip with roundtrip air in and out of Paris, but would like to travel to Switzerland, Germany and maybe Luxembourg/Brussels too. I am thinking 3 nights in Paris, then 2 in Lucern, 2 in Hohenswagua (I cannot spell...sorry) Germany, then 1 night in Luxembourg, 1 night in Brussels and back to Paris. It makes a loop, and covers most of the things I really want to see.

I know it is jam packed! I am ok with that...this may be the only time we get to Europe for many many years..so we are ok with the pace.

My questions...is it really better to take the train? I can find a car with unlimited miles for much much cheaper....and we don't mind driving at all. we live in Atlantic Canada, and long car drives are normal for us to do on vacation.

Is this even a possible trip...or too busy? I have been to Paris before, but not my husband, so I do want to spend a couple of full days there. He really wants to see the castles in Germany, and so do I. I also have my heart set on Switzerland.

Any help???

Posted by
18052 posts

Sandi, easy.

Gau is a district, (pr. gow),

Schwan is swan, (pr. shvan),

Ergo, Schwangau is the district of the swan.

Hohen means it is high up in the district of the swan.

Therefore, Hohenschwangau.

Posted by
3551 posts

A little over ambitious, consider changing your airports to ie into paris out of Zurich. Then skip Brussels & Luxembourg this time. Grouping your visits would be more enjoyable and allow you to see more castles beside Hohensw.., Linderhof & Neuwanstein are terrific and nearby. Train to Munich after seeing Paris then pick up a car and see alot of S. Germany and stunning Switzerland.

Posted by
12040 posts

"2 in Hohenswagua (I cannot spell...sorry) Germany, then 1 night in Luxembourg". Too far of a drive or train ride, unless you want to loose an entire day to travel.

"He really wants to see the castles in Germany, and so do I. I also have my heart set on Switzerland". If it's the Alpine scenery you want, the Bavarian Alps are nearly as spectacular as their Swiss counterparts, and much less expensive. Going out of your way to see both on a tight schedule is a little redundant.

Posted by
31318 posts

sandi,

I have a few comments to add as well. It's unfortunate that you've already booked your flights, as open jaw flights would have been a really good idea with such a short trip (and so many places that you want to see). Is there any possibility of having the return flight changed?

With only a 10-day trip, that's a LOT of driving! With careful planning my suggestion would be to use public transport as it will be a much more enjoyable trip.

You didn't indicate what time of year you would be travelling? If you'll be there during July & August, it will be much more crowded and therefore almost essential to pre-book accommodations.

In the schedule you listed above, there doesn't appear to be much allowance for travel times? It will be important to include those in the planning! As someone else suggested, it would be a good idea to drop Belgium and Luxembourg from this trip.

Although your flight times will be shorter from the east coast, you'll still probably lose the first day due to flight times and time zone changes, so you'll have 9 days for touring. Would something like this work for you:

Day 1 - Flight to Paris

Days 2-4 - Paris, touring

Day 5&6 - Train from Paris Est to Luzern (Dep. 08:24, Arv. 13:05, 1 change in Basel, compulsory reservation - travel time 4H41M); Luzern, touring

Day 7 - Train to Munich (Dep. 08:10, Arv. 13:28, 1 change in Zurich, compulsory reservation - travel time 5H18M); Munich touring

Day 8 - Tour Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau Castles (you can set this up yourself or use a firm such as Radius Tours who will take care of all the arrangments for you).

Day 9 (morning) - touring; Train to Paris (Dep. 14:23, Arv. 20:53, 1 change in Mannheim, compulsory reservation - travel time 6H30M)

Day 10 - flight home.

Using open jaw from Munich would give you one extra touring day. This is only one possible way to arrange your Itinerary.

Happy travels!

Posted by
103 posts

Thank you so much for the tips! I guess I should clarify my trip a bit more. It is actually 12 days , but I just didn't count the two travel days.

We arrive on Friday, June 26, early in the day. We planned on staying for the weekend, then renting a car on Monday. The car ride to Lucern would take us through Dijon, where we could stop for lunch. Then spend two nights there. Then on to the Munich area for two more nights . I guess it is from that point that I am being a bit too ambitious in our travels to drive from Munich to Luxembourg (1 night) then to Brussels (1 night), then back to Paris(1 night)- fly home.

I hear the point about the Bavarian ALps, but don't we go right by Switzerland anyway?

I have looked at Train passes, and it is double the price of a rental car. I also really wanted to try driving and enjoying the road trip part of the trip. We don't mind long drives, and often have our best talks on the road! I also do not mind living out of a suitcase in the car.

Wondering if it would be possible to leave Munich and travel the Romantic Road on our way back. Is this a good idea instead of the Luxembourg/Brussels?

This trip is really special, my husband has never been to Europe, and with two teenagers starting University soon, we don't think we will get back for a very long time :)

Thank you for your patience!

Sandi

Posted by
5243 posts

Hi, Sandi.

"He really wants to see the castles in Germany, and so do I. I also have my heart set on Switzerland."

You should probably head for the most spectacular part of Switzerland - the Bernese Oberland - and see some castles on the way, but not go all the way to Munich. Rick Steves covers the Bernese Oberland well - see his book - and also the amazing "Burg Eltz", his favorite castle in Europe. See his comments here:

www.ricksteves.com/plan/destinations/europe/castles.htm

The good thing for you is that Eltz and several other interesting castles - Marksburg in Braubach, Rheinfels in St. Goar, and Reichsburg in Cochem - offer great tours and are located very close to each other not far from the French border near Koblenz, Germany. This area (Rhine/Mosel) is a lovely area to visit with lots of wineries, old villages, and great scenery, and would cut about 250 km off your ground travel.

So I think you could easily spend 3 days in Paris, 3 days in the Rhine/Mosel area, and 3 days in the Bernese Oberland, then use your 10th day to return to Paris.

I don't think you can beat rail prices if you're looking in the right places. Look for point-2-point tix instead of passes. As an example, I checked the french rail site (www.sncf.fr) and found round trip tickets (advance sale, non-refundable) as low as 164 Euros for 2 people round trip Paris-Bern for dates in March. At the German site - www.bahn.de - 1-way tix Paris-Kaiserslautern, near the Rhine, are as low as 29 Euros each. The same prices may or may not be available in summer, but there are typically some good bargains at these national rail sites if you can pin down your travel dates. RailEurope, on the other hand, will cost you an arm and 3 legs for point-2-point tix for the same trips.

And even if you don't mind driving, there's something to be said for doing things a different way in Europe.

Posted by
31318 posts

sandi,

"And even if you don't mind driving, there's something to be said for doing things a different way in Europe"

Russ makes a good point. While it's your trip and a rental car is certainly one option, using P-P tickets and fast trains would be a good choice too.

Even if you're used to driving for long periods, you'll probably find (as I have) that trips often take considerably longer than planned when driving in Europe. You'll be driving in some cases on old and somewhat narrow roads, with signs that you're not always familiar with. You'll also have to allow for tolls.

Having a car in larger cities means you'll have to allow for parking costs as well. Travelling by car will also use a greater percentage of your somewhat limited vacation time for travel, rather than sightseeing (NO car can travel as fast as the TGV, so trains will be much quicker on some routes!).

It's certainly your choice, but I find trains a much easier method of travel in Europe and considerably less stressful.

If you decide to go with the rental car, a GPS unit along with a good Map would be a good idea.

Cheers!

Posted by
18052 posts

Sandi, Europe is not Atlantic Canada. It is much more densely populated and has good public transportation. Trains (and sometimes buses) should, in most cases, be far less expensive than a rental car. Did you look up the price of fuel? You can do that on the Via Michelin website (www.viamichelin.co.uk). Before every trip, I compare point-point rail tickets (including discounted fares), railpasses, and car rental (with fuel cost). Point-point rail beats railpasses and cars everytime; the cost of point-point and discounted rail is usually 1/3 that of a car rental and fuel.

I agree with Russ. Although Neuschwanstein is kind of romantic, it's not old. It was built in the late 1800s, at the same time as the Brooklyn bridge. Same for Linderhof. Hohenschwangau castle is a few generations older. It's where Ludwig grew up and was rebuilt by his father or grandfather on the ruins of an older castle. Rheinfels, the Marksburg, and Burg Eltz, on the other hand, are hundreds of years older, and closer to Paris.

Posted by
3036 posts

Hi Sandi,
Here's a link to a previous post that Kent started nearly 1 year ago--it has some great tips and info!

Itinerary Planning

Posted by
12040 posts

"I hear the point about the Bavarian ALps, but don't we go right by Switzerland anyway?" Your route of travel between Dijon and Munich (which by the way, takes longer than one day) can take you through Switzerland, but that doesn't mean that you'll necessarily go through the Alps. If you look at a road map of Switzerland, you'll notice that most of the east-west highways in the country cluster in the northern, non-Alpine section. This is because driving through the Alps is SLOW, and takes much longer than you can appreciate from looking at a map. So while you may see some fantastic scenery (of which you'll see similar vistas in Germany), you'll lose a lot of time.

Posted by
32 posts

My husband and I are also planning our 1st trip to Europe in mid may of this year. We live in Hawaii and are thinking of using one of Rick's suggested itineraries. 14 days: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rhineland, Swiss Alps, Rome and Venice. We were thinking of flying into London then taking the chunnel (unless there is another less claustrophobic way) to Paris. I think this is a decent start unless someone can suggest otherwise.

But this is where things get hairy.... here are my questions:

  1. How exactly to we get from Paris to all of the other destinations. The Eurail? If so, which passes would you suggest and how do you get these so called "2nd class fares." What should I be expecting to pay for these passes?
  2. Would you take the Eurail at night to save time or is this a bad idea?
  3. We were thinking of getting a multi-city airline ticket to save money and fly from Honolulu to London then from Rome back to London and then to Honolulu. Can anyone think of a better way to do this? One way tickets seemed to cost more.
  4. How many days in each city would you suggest?
  5. Does our itinerary seem okay or should it be modified. We are in our mid 30's and have never been to Europe and don't get to travel too often b/c of our jobs. We figure this could be our "sampler" starter Europe trip and we can return for more in depth trips later.

Thanks for your help!

Posted by
31318 posts

Traci,

You might want to delete this Post, as your other post on this subject will be a better place to get replies. It gets a bit confusing and difficult to keep track of replies when there are duplicate posts in different Threads.

Posted by
103 posts

Thank you so much for all your replies...I am slowly starting to see how much information there is...and I am still trying to process all of it.

I think we are set on renting a car. We really want to do a driving tour. I know it is time consuming, but for us it is part of the fun.

I think we have narrowed it down to this basic itinerary:

Arrive Friday June 27 at 1pm in Paris - spend 3 nights in Paris

Rent a car on Mon June 3oth - drive to Switzerland (I am leaning towards Interlaken) spend 3 nights here

Leave Interlaken for Fussen, Germany - spend 2 nights

Drive the Romantic Road, with one stop overnight (not sure where yet)

Drive the rest of the way to Paris - spend one night, fly home next day.

Thanks to your advice, I used the Michelin website, and worked out the drive times/ gas costs.

I think there are only two long days ( the first from France to Switzerland, and the last), the rest are in the 3-4hr driving range.

Does this sound more realistic?

Again, Thanks for any tips!
Sandi

Posted by
668 posts

Traci:

Eurail is a pass, not a train. It can be used on most European trains in the countries covered by the particular pass you buy. You can buy a discounted Eurostar (Chunnel) train with the pass, but you may get a cheaper ticket if you order it far enough in advance.

The German Rail site covers most of Europe and is the most comprehensive. Rick covers this in his Rail travel section and I suggest you check it out as it has a lot of good info on train travel in Europe.

Posted by
5243 posts

"Does this sound more realistic?"

I'm probably speaking for the others here who have already given you feedback when I say, "Only marginally."

You'll arrive in Paris, check in, deal with jet lag, then have 2 days to languish in Paris. The next day is spent packing, checking out, driving, checking in, unpacking. Then you've got one day in Interlaken. Then...

And there's the time you'll spend picking up and dropping off the car, navigating and getting lost, tanking up, finding parking, etc.

Essentially, you're planning to spend nearly as much time in transit and doing day-to-day travel tasks as you are actually seeing and experiencing what Europe has to offer.

I would never plan this trip. But at the outset, you said, "we are ok with the pace", and that first plan was even more aggressive. So I suspect that when you ask if the new plan is realistic, you had already answered your own question before asking it.

It's feasible to drive the route you have planned. But it's not a realistic way to experience Europe for most visitors, IMO.

Posted by
31318 posts

sandi,

It sounds like you've made your decision, despite the majority of comments here. Keep in mind that driving in Europe is not exactly like driving here.

When driving in the different European countries, you'll encounter slightly different traffic conditions, parking regulations, etc. For example (and hopefully some of the others can confirm this) when driving in Switzerland you'll need a Permit affixed to the windshield. As you'll be renting the car in France, make sure this is supplied. If your trip takes you through Italy at any point, you'll need the mandatory International Driver's Permit (you can be fined on the spot for not having this!). Another pitfall in Italy is the dreaded Zona Traffico Limitato which will result in an expensive ticket being received in the mail a few months after you get home (there are lots of posts on that topic here - have a look if you're interested).

I haven't checked your proposed route in detail, but just mentioned the items above as an example of some of the different things you may face.

Many North Americans drive in Europe and have no problems at all, but since this is your first trip I felt it would be better to take the easiest approach (especially as you only have 10 days and will probably want to maximise touring time).

In any case, be sure to post a reply when you get back to let us all know how this worked for you.

Good Luck and Happy travels!

Posted by
103 posts

I do appreciate all the people who have taken the time to reply and give me advice.

I am leaning towards the driving, and I have been reading a lot about the Romantic Road, and it sounds like something we really would enjoy.

I know most of you do not recommend driving, as it is faster and easier to take the trains. I am still considering trains, but would really rather do the driving.

For us, the driving is part of the trip. Even with all the headaches!

Thank you so much and keep the advice coming! I will try to keep coming back, and reading more...I have learned so much from this website. Mostly I have found out how little I know!

Sandi

Posted by
1589 posts

" For us, the driving is part of the trip. Even with all the headaches! "

To each his/her own, but this doesn't seem to be a vacation- more like an endurance race.

Posted by
1782 posts

Different strokes for different folks. We are meeting friends in Ft Lauderdale for a few days in Florida and a 10 day cruise. They think we are nuts because we are not flying from Columbus. What am I really looking forward to on this trip? The drive.

Posted by
103 posts

Denny - thanks for the reply....I know many think we are crazy to drive, but we really want to!

Ken - I will post when I get back, it is a ways away right now, and I have just started the planning part, but I will probably be checking back often....there is so much info here, and I know I am just scratching the surface right now. Thank you for your thoughtful tips...

I think my itinerary is much better than it was. We have 3.5 days in Paris, which gives us time to see a bit, and be ready for the road trip part.

We also plan on 3 nights in Switzerland, which is good, because that gives us a rest after the first "longish" car trip.

After that we are doing 2 nights in Fussen. (which is 3-4hrs car drive)

Taking the Romantic Road from Fussen to Rothenburg ob de Tauber (1 night). only about 2 hours of driving.

From Rothenburg back to Paris ( pit stop in Reims to see the Cathedral). This is a long day, so we will drive right to an airport hotel for our flight the next day from there. ( 6 hours of driving)

At this point, I think I am doing all the things I really want to do ...Bernese Oberland, Fussen Castles, and Romantic Road.

Should I change the 3 nights in Switzerland to 2? Then add one on the way back to Paris after Rothenburg? To make the driving two short days instead of one long one...

Things we would like to see in Switzerland include a day trip to Gimmelwald or Grindelwald? or some other "mountain" village.

Any feedback that would be useful to my planning would be appreciated.....

Sandi

Posted by
1147 posts

Sandi- We love driving in Europe- it can be a great experience and the areas you are going to aren't that different than driving at home. Just be advised that Europeans are way ahead of us on speeding cameras- just go the speed limit and you will be fine. IMO- you should stay 3 nights in the Lauterbrunnen area=that gives you 2 full days there. One day really isn't enough. Other than that- your schedule is looking great and you do have a realistic idea of the amount of driving you will be doing.

Posted by
1147 posts

I just read over the previous posts again to see what has been covered and want to reinforce a couple of things: You do need a sticker for Switzerland and one for Austria. Don't enter these countries without the stickers (police officers tend to hang out around the border and watch for people who have neglected to get them) They are available at gas stations as you get close to these countries. Also, I do recommend an international drivers permit. They translate your drivers license into different languages and more and more are being recommended and even required.

Posted by
18052 posts

You said the trip from Füssen to Rothenburg on the Romantic Road would take "only about 2 hrs". According to via Michelin, which some say tends to give a "best case" estimate, not allowing for slow traffic, etc, Füssen to Rothenburg can be done in 2hr 18 min, almost all on motorways. If you actually stick to the RR itself, you spend over 4 hours.

The actual Romantic Road is not that great - a narrow, 2 lane country road, with a speed limit and lots of slow traffic (buses, trucks, farm equipment). The best thing about the RR is the towns along the way, which would require extended stops. I thought the best town was Nördlingen, but I don't think I would drive that entite slow road just to see Nördlingen.