Family of four, five weeks in Europe

Oct 16th, 2006, 01:25 PM
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Everyone has their own preferences, but from my point of view 8 *countries* in 5 weeks is way too many. Especially when for some countries (Spain) you mention 5 different cities!!

Look into two hotel rooms or renting apartments. Apartments will be easier to find if you stay longer than a few days.

I would travel only by train, not rent a car. My reasoning is that it is more relaxing for everyone. You can all four enjoy the ride, read, rest, visit, relax. Much less stressful than renting a vehicle with someone having to drive (doesn't get to watch the scenery), someone navigating (also stressful imo).
suze is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 05:08 PM
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It sounds like a great trip. Planning is half the fun.

For our trip last summer, we found apartments to be the way to go. If it is just you and your daughter in London, you might consider Priceline for a less expensive hotel room for 2 people.

Please let us know where you decide to go. If you want to read my report, it is "Travelgirl's Trip of a Lifetime". My boys are 11 and 13 years old and we went to Europe (London, Amsterdam, Spain, Greece, Stockholm, Italy, Prague) for 11 weeks this summer (well, 2 1/2 weeks were in Japan and China).

I bet you will have a great time!
travelgirl2 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 05:45 PM
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Our family of four spent 4 wks this summer in Europe. We did Paris for 6 days, 12 in Lisbon and 13 in England.

We rented apt/cottages in each of the places and found that not only did they provide more space/kitchens/washers and dryers, they ended up being cheaper than if we got two hotel rooms.

Where in Portugal are you going? If you are staying in Lisbon, I would definitely recommend the apt we stayed at; it has become the Lisbon "fodors" apt of choice.

I also wouldn't rule out flying to/from places on the budget airlines. We flew from SFO to Paris on Virgin, but home from Heathrow to SFO. From Paris we bought one way tickets on Easy-Jet to Lisbon, and then one way tickets from Lisbon to England. The easy-jet tickets ran only $400 total for all 4 of us. Just a thought!
namaka is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 07:18 PM
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Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses. I would like to know more about day excursions out of Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Rome. Any recommendations for one-day trips from any of these four cities would be grealy appreciated.
cferrb is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 09:48 PM
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Hello Cferrb

Out of Paris, if you're willing to rent a car for two days and spend a night out of Paris you could do the following -

Day 1: Morning drive to Versailles. Evening in Chartres and stay there.

Day 2: Drive to Blois and Chateau Chambord (in the Loire valley), return to Paris in the evening

You could easily add on a day to Loire valley driving along the river to Amboise and then Chateau Chenonceau.

Out of Rome, Pompeii is the easiest and best daytrip as others have described. Depending on your interests you could visit Tivoli or the etruscan tombs at Tarquinia.

Do not be discouraged by the previous posts. Your trip is doable but I second some of the points made earlier. We were a family of four and visited France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany over a period of 4 weeks. We traveled by car and the trip was superlative.

Some people like to spend time in every place and pretend they are locals and some don't. We typically enjoy the initial rush of 2-3 days at a place and then like to move on. Also the countryside is more if not equally important to us than big cities. All our journeys from one destination to another involved midway stops at interesting places so they were not 'wasted' days. For example, from Rome to the Amalfi coast, we stopped at Pompeii. From Chartres to Bourges we spent the entire day in the Loire valley and from Beaune to Lauterbrunnen we visited Geneva and Chateau Chillon enroute.

We got great apartments for 4 persons at some locations, at others decent to large sized Quads and only two nights we had to book 2 double rooms. is good for finding places in Italy. and are good for France & Germany. Sometimes we got better deals (better rate or better room not published) by directly contacting the property after locating them on the websites.
shoonye is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 02:30 AM
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Central Europe is cheap: you pay a half or a third of west European prices if you go there. Romania has many Roman places and museum treasures. You can fly to Vienna airport, leave Vienna West station in a sleeper at 2003 and reach Brasov at 1108. In Tomis, now the city of Constanta, the city’s museum has statues, pillars and mosaics which spill out to the square next door, and a statue to Ovid, who was exiled there. Forty miles west is Adamclisi, site of the Roman victory over Dacia, with a copy of the victory monument and a well-stocked Roman museum. After Romania, trains will take you by sleeper from Bucharest Nord at 1926 to Sofia at 0610, and on to Plovdiv at 0850. Plovdiv has been in continuous habitation since Philip of Macedon. National museums in Bucharest and Sofia have hoards of Roman silver.

Ben Haines, London
[email protected]
ben_haines is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 03:44 AM
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I understand - you can't wait to do the 'fun' stuff like picking out day excursions. But bobthenavigator and others are right on this one - you need to set your overall itinerary first - it will save you, and everyone else, a whole lot of headaches and frustration. Once you hammer out the mechanics of where you're going and how you're going to commute between each place, how long you're going to spend there (and how much money on hotels, etc.), planning sightseeing goes so, so much more easily. You might find that what you thought of as a daytrip might work better as an overnight en route into or out of the city, for example. More importantly, you might find you don't have much time for daytrips, depending on your overall itinerary.

*****WARNING: You will quickly get overwhelmed if you don't approach the tasks ahead of you in a systematic way - five weeks and four people make for a lot of permutations and combinations! ******

Decades ago, I took a bus tour that went to the places you mention, plus a few days on my own in England. Total duration was 35 days.

Paris - 2, Lyon - 2, Barcelona - 3, Nice - 2, Florence - 3, Rome - 3, Venice - 2, Vienna - 2, Salzburg - 1, Munich - 1, Innsbruck - 1, Lauterbrunnen (Switz.) - 2, Heidelberg - 1, Cologne - 1, Amsterdam - 3, London - 5. Total 34 nights plus a night on the plane over is 35 nights, 5 weeks. This itinerary includes Germany and the Netherlands which are not on your list, but doesn't include Portugal, which is. So the scale of ambition is similar - in fact, yours is even more ambitious.

Trust me, I had no time on this trip for daytrips to anywhere. So planning daytrips in advance of knowing one's overall itinerary makes no sense at all.

I don't suggest a bus tour necessarily, but studying the itineraries of tour companies makes clear, in a way few other methods do, some of the challenges you are facing (doing it on one's own almost invariably takes longer than when one has paid someone else to both drive the vehicle and worry about the logistical details, although there are many advantages to the independent route.) My suggestion? Take a look at some brochures, find out what is barely practical to do even by bus tour - and then start paring down from there.

Have fun, and then come on back and we'll work on the details.

Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 04:22 AM
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Bookmarking...going to take a similar trip in a few years.
Wekiva is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 06:48 AM
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I wouldn't worry about day trips quite yet... if you stick to your original proposed itinerary you won't have time for any, anyways
suze is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 07:51 AM
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You aren't going to have much time for day trips unless you plan to visit them on your way into and out of cities. At this point, you should focus on what you are going to do in the cities you are visiting.

I suggest you rent a car as it would give you much more flexibilty and additional time to sightsee. Train stations all start to look the same and you are going to spend a lot of time in them with your itinerary.
padams421 is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 09:28 AM
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I would stay in apartments wherever possible. A problem with this is that many are sat. to sat. occupancy. Staying in one place for a week requires good planning to selec a place where you can do things for a week.

Our family stayed for a week in Callendar Scotland. It was centrally located and we had a nice week of day trips. We also found b&b 's with a 'family room' that had a double and two singles in the room.

On my next trip, we plan to stay a week in the Loire valley and a week in Rothenburg ob tauber Germany and perhaps a week in Salzburg Austria.

I agree with other posters that a day travelling any distance by public transportation is a day where you shouldn't plan on doing anything else. With a car, then at least you can sop and see places along the way. I would look at the car buy back program and see how it compares to 4 Eurail passes.
bigtyke is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 11:04 AM
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most large places eg rome, Paris, florence, seem to have apartments that you can rent for 3-4 days minimum. Definitely worth it for the extra space - but generally cheaper than two hotel rooms. you have to hunt a bit for ones with 2 separate bedrooms, but it can be done, especially as you've got lots of time to research.
In/around Paris, our kids [then about the same ages as yours] likes the eiffel tower, Notre dame, boat trip, shopping. THey especially liked Parc Asterix, north of Paris, before you get to Eurodisney.
In rome, they liked it all!!
We did day trips to tivoli and ostia antica, plus all the usualy sights. Our son, 15, liked going out in the morning to the cafe opposite our apartment to buy our croissants etc. He managed this with virtually no italian at all. we liked him going cos we were eight flights of stairs and 81 steps up!

Happy planning!

I'm sure you
annhig is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 11:11 AM
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We took our kids (then ages 13, 11 and 8) to Paris in 2004; this summer (they were 15, 13 and 10) we took them to Rome, Florence and Venice.

We spent the entire week (plus weekends) in Paris, with two days of that week at Disneyland Paris. The mention of Disneyland Paris always incites heated discussions, but the two parks are beautiful and it was like a "vacation from our vacation." If you don't want to line Disney's pockets, with such a long trip, you might want to consider other theme parks located near Paris, Barcelona, etc. It is fun and quite interesting to be around a lot of families from other cultures.

Anyway, we did not take any other day trips from Paris. All of my kids are bored by "decorated houses" so Vesailles was out (DH and I had been.)

This past summer, we spent 6 nights in Rome, 3 in Florence and 3 in Venice. We rented apartments in each city. You should really consider that, plus make sure that the occasional apartment has a washer and maybe even a dryer. It is very nice to have a kitchen; you can buy cereal and milk, or whatever you are used to eating at home for breakfast. Having breakfast in your flat makes it quicker to get up and out in the morning, and saves lots of money, too.

I guess if I were you, I'd do 3-4 days in London (it's quite expensive); a full week in Paris; about 10 days knocking around Spain and Portugal - perhaps include a couple days at the beach for a mid-trip rest; about a week in Rome (or Rome + Florence or Rome + Venice), then end up in Switzerland for hiking in the Alps. Or maybe cut out the Alps and rent a villa near Florence for some down time.

With such a long trip, I'd divide it into (1) big city heavy touring time, (2) smaller town time, and (3) laid back/nature time. You could get your laid back time in the Alps, or in Tuscany, or on the beach in Spain.

Some flats about which we inquired had 1 week minimums, but most didn't.

If I were you, I'd plan to stay in a maximum of 5 to 6 places, and to lean strongly toward apartments rather than hotels.

If you type "missypie" into the search box, my trip reports should come up and you can see what my kids enjoyed.

One more thing. Are you a member of netflix? Before you firm up your plans, do a "movie blitz", say between now and the end of Christmas break. Rent movies about all kinds of locations in Europe - the Lizzie Maguire and Mary Kate and Ashley ones count, too - Three Musketeers, Roman Holiday, Man of LaMancha, etc. etc. and have the kids watch them. When the blitz is over, see what the kids are really interested in, what locations fascinate them.

Okay, one more more thing. Don't forget about the weather. Rome and Spain are typically hotter in the summer than London or the Alps.
missypie is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 08:17 PM
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Does anyone have any first-hand experience with hostels, either with families or as members of couples? My daughter and I might end up in a couple in England, and I want to know whether they are really as safe and appealing as they seem to be.
cferrb is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 08:35 PM
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some hostels are wonderful, some are truly dreadful, and everything in between. You need to be much more specific about where you are asking about. For instance in London there are a few great hostels, that are VERY popular and book up solid. But there are also some that are basically flop houses for social services (but unfortunately they also rent to tourists)

In many English cities you will do better just staying in B&Bs.
janisj is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 10:39 PM
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cferrb -- my experience is (ahem) too old to give details on hostels. But I generally felt as a college student very safe in the hostels in England. There are "family rooms" in hostels. The guides of Lonely Planet and Let's Go are geared toward this crowd. (Let's Go is written by college students.) On occasion hostels are actually in cool historical buildings.

Many belong to IYH(I think that's the abbreviation), however there are many independents that are good too.

5alive is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 11:10 PM
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I think you've gotten some great advice so far. I would add that you should step back and do a bit more reserach WITH your kids. Buy a good sized map of europe and understand the scale (ie 1 inch equals 1 mile).
Go to the library and take out books on each of the areas/countries/cities you want to go to.
Start looking at logical routes (flying might be one option with some train journeys thrown in).

Two hotel rooms or a flat is a grat option. Everyone needs a bit of alone time. You kids are old enough to be in their own room even if it's not connecting.

You do NOT need any type of signed letter to fly with your kids to europe. I fly without my husband a few times a year and have never encountered a problem. Once an airline agent asked one of the kids a few questions and then a US agent asked where my husband was when we were entering the US. NEVER a problem.

Spain is a lot larger than you think. Barcelona and Seville are very far apart.

When in the summer do you want to travel? August? June? I'd vote for June as the weather will be less hot and many schools still in session.
highledge is offline  
Oct 18th, 2006, 07:14 AM
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For more hostel-staying folks... check in over on and go to their forum similar to this one, called The Thorn Tree.

Because it is frequented by some hard-core budget travelers, you'll find people with the information you seek on hostels.
suze is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2006, 09:13 PM
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Highledge, The airline told my aunt she didn't need anything. She got to the airport and then they announced she couldn't board with a minor without permission from the father (and it was just to Canada). She spent a ridiculous amount of money for a courier to bring one from my cousin's dad. They missed their flight and a day of their vacation. My grandma was with them and almost had a heart attack, she was so stressed. So maybe it's the luck of the draw. My aunt brought a letter every time after that.
5alive is offline  
Oct 29th, 2006, 03:57 PM
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Another idea for Portugal is to stay outside of Lisbon in either Estoril or Cascais. Both are beach towns, and are serviced by a quick electric train ride into Lisbon. My kids have prefered staying there and enjoying the beach atmosphere every few days - it breaks up the city time and museum viewing nicely. There is a broad seaside esplanage that connects the two towns that is an easy walk.

Emporer's Gate apartments might be an affordable option in London - they have more space.

In Spain, Barcelona is really fun for kids. They can relate to the wild Gaudi architecture and the beach is nearby if you need to break up the trip.

Hostels with family rooms would accommodate your numbers as far as beds go, but you might be surrounded by college students and young people in their twenties. I don't know which European hostels tend to attract families and which attract kids - might be worth posing as a separate question.

With those ages, outdoor activities can help break up more passive sightseeing activities. We try to rent rowboats in city parks and look for bike tours. Even more formal boat tours can be fun. Would your daughter enjoy one of the free fashion shows at the department stores like Printemps in Paris? The Catacombs tour there is a must for kids those ages.

Another resource that you might find useful on the web is -- I manage their blogs and boards.
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