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Trip Report 15-day Family European Road Trip

Our 15-day family European road trip this past summer took us through Germany, Alsace (France), and Switzerland (and even a side trip to Austria). It was a busy but very fulfilling trip that took me months to plan (with destination advice from many Fodorites) - and now we are hoping to come back to many of these places.
For detailed maps and pictures, check out my blog post

Here are 8 overnight stops on this trip with driving mileage and side trips we took:
STOP 1. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany (1 night)
Frankfurt Airport, Germany, to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Miles: 115 (1hr 40 mins)
We flew into Frankfurt, Germany (from New York), took possession of our rental car and drove to our first destination, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (not to confuse with a couple of “other” German Rothenburgs). We explored this “straight from the fairy tale” medieval town (one of Germany’s best preserved) on foot – on our own during the day and with the Night Watchman’s Tour at night.

STOP 2. Munich, Germany (3 nights)
Rothenburg-ob der Tauber, Germany to Munich, Germany
VIA Nuremberg, Germany
Miles: 160 (3 hrs.)
Day trips from Munich: Lake Chiemsee (islands Herreninsel and Fraueninsel); Salzburg, Austria
We left Rothenburg in the morning to start our drive South to Munich. On our way we stopped in Nuremburg to pay our tribute to WWII history at Memorial Nuremberg Trials. We highly recommend visiting this powerful Museum housed in the functioning Palace of Justice. (If not in use for current trials, you can see Room 600 where the actual trials over Nazi regime took place in 1945-1946.) Exhibit rooms tell the commanding story of this first ever International Military Tribunal: the defendants, the evidence, the prosecutors, the sentencing, and famous visitors from around the world. We followed along with the self-guided audio tours. To preserve the significance of the visit, we did not stop anywhere else in Nuremberg and spent the 1.5 hour drive to Munich in quiet reflection.

We spent the following three nights in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, a cosmopolitan city representing the Germany of today. Traditional beer houses, world class art museums, vibrant central squares Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz , King Ludwig II Castles, an epic day trip to the islands of Lake Chiemsee and Saltzburg occupied our time in this modern city with a history. We left Munich wanting more of it.

STOP 3: Ettal, Germany (Bavarian Alps), 3 nights
Munich, Germany to Ettal, Germany
VIA Lake Walchensee, Germany
Miles: 75 (1 hr 40 mins.)
Day trips from Ettal: Neuschwanstein Castle, Fussen, Linderhof Castle, Zugspitze, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Oberammergau.

When we practically tore ourselves from last minute Munich sightseeing in the afternoon, we headed south east in the direction of Garmsich-Partenkirchen to a small town of Ettal which we have chosen as our base to explore Bavarian Alps. Over the next couple of days we swam in Alpine lakes, admired more of King Ludwig II impressive castles set against the Alps, journeyed to the top of Germany (aka Zugspitze mountain) and explored picturesque Bavarian towns of Oberammergau and Partenkirchen. And when we felt that we had enough of Bavarian country side, we headed to Switzerland.

STOP 4: Zurich, Switzerland (1 night)
Ettal, Germany to Zurich, Switzerland
175 Miles (3.5 hours)
Our drive from Ettal to Zurich was the longest on our road trip. Our trip plan (and frankly, the budget) only allowed us a glimpse into this beautiful country, but we loved what we saw and will hopefully have a chance to explore more another time.
In elegant Zurich, the city of swans and fountains (not to mention the clocks and banks, of course) we put Zurich Cards to a good use (we toured on foot with a group, visited Zurich Museum, and took a boat cruise on Lake Zurich).

STOP 5: Lucerne (1 night)
Zurich, Switzerland to Lucerne, Switzerland
Miles: 35 ( 40 mins)
Day trip from Lucerne: Mount Pilatus
From Zurich we drove south for less than an hour to Lucerne, for another “one-nighter” (we managed to squeeze 2 full sightseeing days out of our stay in Lucerne). The old town with its unique covered bridges decorated with13th century art, blue waters of Lake Lucerne surrounded by glorious mountain tops - one of which (Mount Pilatus) we journeyed to using 5 different transports, followed by a visit to the Transportation Museum itself - filled our 2 days in beautiful Lucerne to the fullest.

STOP 6: Ribeauville. (Alsace) France
Lucerne, Switzerland to Ribeauville, France (3 nights)
Miles: 110 (1.5 hrs.)
Day trips from Ribeauville: Colmar, Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg, Kayzerberg
We were only able to leave the awe inspiring Lake Lucerne at 8pm as the skies starting to turn grey for the first time on our trip (this was actually welcomed after 8 days of sightseeing in intense heat).
At some point (we did not notice in the dark) during our 2 hour journey to Ribeauville we crossed the Swiss boarder over to France and found ourselves in the Alsatian wine region. We awoke in the morning to the views of the hillside vineyards right outside our terrace and for the next 3 days here slowed down the pace of our journey as we tasted local whites, walked cobblestone streets of charming towns on the Alsatian wine route and went on culinary adventures in tiny local restaurants (did you know that Alsace has the most Michelin stars restaurants in France?)

STOP 7: Baden-Baden, Germany (2 nights)
Ribeauville, France to Baden-Baden, Germany
VIA Strasbourg, France
Miles: 77 (1.5 hrs)
We left our Ribeauville base in the morning but continued our exploration of Alsace as we headed to Alsatian capital of Strasbourg. We spent busy 6 hours putting Strasbourg City Pass the test (it passed!) as we climbed Notre Dame Cathedral (once tallest building in the world), toured canal-lined medieval Petite France quarter (Unesco World Heritage Site), took a boat tour along Ill river all the way to the European Parliament and admired ancient royal residence Palace Rohan which once housed Napoleon for the night. As much as we admired Strasbourg, we were ready for some heavy duty relaxation that awaited us in the German spa town Baden-Baden at the foothills of the Black Forest.
We headed out to the famous Baden-Baden spas as soon as we unpacked. We spent the next 2 days soaking in the thermal waters of the town’s 2 main spas - Friedrichsbad and Caracalla, taking short breaks for art museums (which, may I say, included the world’s most beautiful casino decorated with original paintings and period furniture), a cable car ride up to mountain Mercur and a walk along famous Lichtentaler Allee, straight from the 19 century Russian novel. When asked if he wanted to do anything differently on our busy trip, my husband’s (aka designated driver and photographer) only regret was that we did not spent another day in Baden Baden’s spas.

STOP 8: Frankfurt Airport, Germany (1 night)
Baden-Baden, Germany to Frankfurt, Germany
VIA Bingen, Germany
Miles:150 (2.5 hrs.)
On our last sightseeing day, after (yet another) last minute soak in the Baden’s thermal pools, we drove to Bingen to catch a cruise along the Rheine river. With its steep vineyards’ lined shores, dreamy villages of Bacharach, Boppard and St. Goar and a castle every hundred feet- it is no wonder Middle Rhine has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. We took a 4:30pm cruise with KD line out of Bingen to the village of St. Goar (and rode a train back to our car in Bingen).
It was a beautiful ending to the road trip quite out of the ordinary.

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