First time to Europe in Winter

Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 04:27 AM
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First time to Europe in Winter

First time to Europe (married couple, 30), we have 3 weeks of free roam beginning mid Dec - early Jan 2016.

We have a rough itinerary through Germany, Austria and Switzerland but welcome thoughts on locations and days allocated especially during the winter months.

Day 1: Amsterdam > Berlin (via Train?)
Day 2: Berlin
Day 3: Berlin
Day 4: Berlin
Day 5: Berlin - Munich (via Train?)
Day 6: Munich
Day 7: Munich
Day 8: Munich
Day 9: Munich - Austria (via Train?)
Day 10: Salzburg
Day 11: Salzburg
Day 12: Salzburg - Switzerland (via Train?)
Day 13: Zurich
Day 14: Zurich
Day 15: Zurich - Paris (via Train?)
Day 16: Paris
Day 17: Paris
Day 18: Paris > Fly home

1. Is this too many destinations?
2. Would you recommend a destination over another? Add Prague, take our Munich etc.
3. Is rail the most economical options between all cities? German Rail Pass tec?
4. We'd love to see more nature/ less tourist destinations like mountains, small villages, castles etc. Any recommendations?

Much appreciated!
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 05:58 AM
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(I assume you have some days set aside for Amsterdam before your trip to Berlin.)

"We'd love to see more nature/ less tourist destinations like mountains, small villages, castles etc. Any recommendations?"

OK... But your destinations are major cities so you need to make some adjustments to squeeze in some of these places.

Being that this is your first trip to Europe, Paris and Berlin are very good choices, I'd say, even though they have little to do with nature or small villages. I'd keep those for certain. You have 3 full days of sightseeing for Berlin - that's good. You have only two for Paris so I'd add at least a day there. Now add most of a day for travel to Berlin (from A'dam) and another day to travel from Berlin (to Munich or somewhere else.) That's 8 days/nights... so 10 days left. Not as much time as you might have thought since you must do a lot of ground travel.

Munich: 6+ hours by train from Berlin. But it's another major city again... let's come back to that later...

Zurich: A decent enough place IMO, but very pricey and not imperative - and not worth the time you have allocated for staying there and getting to and from there. If you go to Salzburg, there are mountains (and some nice villages and castles) nearby and in Germany (Berchtesgaden area.)

Only thing is it's 8+ hours by train from Berlin to Salzburg. I'd suggest stopping mid-way in northern Bavaria to see some smaller places. The Romantic Road town of Wuerzburg is a good train hub and would break your journey to Salzburg in half. So I suggest a stopover in W'burg for 3 nights and then do short day trips to nearby towns and villages - Bamberg (UNESCO World Heritage old town center,) Rothenburg, Iphofen, Marktbreit are all very close and easy to reach by local train. Wuerzburg itself has the UNESCO WH Residenz Palace.

Marktbreit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...breit_BW_6.JPG
Iphofen: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...hofen_BW_1.jpg

So let's back up...

A-dam to Berlin: 4 nights in Berlin
Berlin to Wuerzburg: 3 nights in W'burg
Wuerzburg to Salzburg/B'gaden: 4 nights
That leaves 7 nights left.

I might spend them as follows:

2 nights/days in Munich (only 2 hrs. from Salzburg) to see some major attractions. Nymphenburg Palace is a good choice.

1 day/night for travel to Paris
4 days/nights in Paris

If you think you need only 3 nights in Paris, there are some nice day trips you can take to smaller places.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 05:58 AM
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It seems these are list of cities in search of reason why they are on the list. Your interest is listed in item 4, "We love...mountains...village", but the list of destinations are not compatible.

Perhaps rather than the current way:
List of cities --> why are we here?

Perhaps do:
List of all destinations providing what you are looking for --> list of cities/village to stay to enable the visits --> sequence of cities/villages you can visit within your time/finance constraints.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 06:13 AM
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Agree to reorg based on your interest in scenery and small towns.

Drop Zurich which is primarily a business city. In Switz head to the Berner Oberland with magnificent scenery and charming villages.

And agree that you need more time in Paris. I thin I might either drop Munich or have a combo of fewer days in Bavaria/Salzburg and do some day trips to smaller towns rather than just stay in city centers.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 06:15 AM
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As for your German Rail Pass question... It's not valid to/from A'dam or Paris. I suggest looking at advance-sale fares (saver fares) at the DB website. Such fares are available 91 days in advance of travel and you should buy them right right away for the best price. Here's what I found for 90 days out from today's date:

A'dam-Berlin: E39 each
Berlin-W'burg: E19 each
W'burg-Salzburg: E19 each
(Salzburg-Munich: E14 each... E28/2 with Bayern ticket for 2 adutls, buy at station)
Munich-Paris: E59 each

So that's about E160 each total.

So with some diligence you can get fares similar to these for your travel dates.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 06:24 AM
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"Especially during the winter months..." is an important point. You're traveling during the holiday season (holiday hours and early closures); and during the time of year with the shortest amount of daylight. The weather is overcast much of the time; and in your urban destinations there won't be much nature.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 07:33 AM
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If Berlin is not a must you could consider traveling from Amsterdam to Prague or straight to Munich. Both will be beautiful before Christmas and are smaller cities than Berlin making it easier to get out into the countryside or visit castles. From Munich you can visit the Romantic Road, which Fussgaenger mentions above, perhaps even visiting Strasbourg, beautiful city and Cathedral.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 08:15 AM
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I'd do Innsbruck rather than Salzburg which I don't particularly like.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 08:22 AM
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Why have you chosen to visit northern rather than southern Europe in the middle of winter?
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 02:04 PM
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Fussgaenger - Appreciate your detailed reply and also the rail pass information, all greatly appreciated.

To answer a few questions, we prior to departing Amsterdam for Berlin, we would have already spent 4 nights Paris, 7 nights Belgium and 10 nights Amsterdam. However, during this time we will be working for business, so travel will be confined and limited to those cities.

We chose major cities as a means of securing easy transport in and out of. We hope to fill those days between hopefully seeing more than just the cities.

Is this the right approach or should be looking at travelling directly to smaller towns via those hubs instead of day trips?

What's the general means of getting to smaller villages in winter? Car? Bus? Train? Is driving recommended in winter in a rental car?

I'll certainly check out Wuerzburg.

nytraveler - Berner Oberland looks amazing after a Google search, thanks for the tip.

thursdaysd - we chose the northern areas a. for a love for winter and snow, b. because we're flying into Paris and making our way up to Amsterdam via belgium so a loop down through Germany, Switz etc back to Paris seemed ideal.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 03:38 PM
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The mountain destination, if not shutdown, would be touristy at this time of the year for a different reason. They are usually major ski resorts. Accommodations at these places are expensive, hard to come by, and often come with minimum stay requirements.

Outdoor sites are iffy at this time of the year. I do visit them, but I always have thought out bad weather alternatives.

I would be in Germany in December, but I have a goal of visiting specific Christmas markets around Erzgebirge. My routing and the places to stay are determined by looking at how to visit these markets and a few other places.

Unless your work required round trip tickets, an openjaw flight back from somewhere else would have eliminated backtracking to Paris.

If you have to backtrack to Paris where you have spent some time already, Strasbourg is a point between Zurich and Paris. You can visit Colmar, another charming town easily. The Strasbourg Christmas market goes on until Dec 31. http://noel.strasbourg.eu/en/marches-de-noel
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 04:25 PM
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And then there is Nancy between Strasbourg and Paris. A must for Art Nouveau fans.

I don't know how likely you are to see snow other than in the Swiss mountains. Cold, grey, damp and dark are much more likely.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2016, 05:51 PM
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You can get to most towns by train - if not bus. (Options will vary for each town and I can;t be specific since we do road trips by car when visiting smaller towns - but we are used to winter driving.)

And yes, I would base in some smaller towns as well as some larger cities. Just be sure there is some access to indoor activities (touring a local castle or museum or similar) in case you get days too nasty to stay outdoors for most of it.

The key is proper clothing. Not sure where you are from but these areas willnot be an colder and possibly not as cold as the northern US that time of year (except for maountaintops).
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Old Jul 3rd, 2016, 12:53 AM
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Thanks to each one of your for your continued thoughts, it's really appreciated. I'm from Australia, so it's hard knowing smaller towns/ villages with great scenery to add to the itinerary and also what will be accessable/ worth the trip during winter months.

Last winter we did BC and Alberta Canada, but driving was out of the questions given the winter conditions (being from Australia, we are not familiar with driving in snow). So we were limited to buses and expensive internal flights.

So leaving Berlin on the list, I have something like the following?

A-dam to Berlin: 4 nights in Berlin
Berlin to Wuerzburg: 3 nights in W'burg
Wuerzburg to Salzburg/B'gaden: 4 nights
Munich: 2 nights
Strasbourg: 2 nights

Is there any other scenic city/ towns that you would recommend considering?

Thanks again!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2016, 01:36 AM
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Berlin
Scenic daytrip to Potsdam. Not a village, but a nice old town - aside from the palaces like Sansouci and manors which are the main reason to visit Potsdam

Würzburg
The most obvious side trip/ day trip would be to Rothenburg ob the Tauber

Salzburg/ Berchtesgaden
Both towns are scenic and not big. Salzburg will get lots of tourists once the Christmas markets are open.
Usual suspect for a day trip to a scenic village could be Hallstatt.

Munich
With two nights not enough time for a day trip IMO.

Strasbourg
Same as Munich. But Strasbourg is very scenic anyway.


Weatherwise, don't expect anything like Alberta, Canada.
December is usually the last month of fall. "Wintertime" usually does not come until mid- January. Even then, there is guarantee at all for snow. All your destinations are at such low elevations that rain will be much more probable than snow.

I'd stick to trains and public transport - also for possible side trips. Just on that leg from A'dam to Berlin I would fly since there is not any scenery worth mentioning in between.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2016, 01:38 AM
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Sorry, typo:

Even in mid January there is NO guarantee for snow.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2016, 05:05 AM
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"We chose major cities as a means of securing easy transport in and out of. We hope to fill those days between hopefully seeing more than just the cities.

Is this the right approach or should be looking at travelling directly to smaller towns via those hubs instead of day trips?"

Germany's public transport system is incredibly well developed. It is not at all necessary to base oneself in a major metropolis just for the purpose of getting around easily - that sometimes makes it harder to do so as your real destinations are further away. You only go to Berlin for Berlin. Same with Munich IMO. Smaller towns and cities can often make excellent travel bases for day trips... Wuerzburg and Nuremberg are good examples, but even smaller places, if well located, can work very well. Neustadt-an-der-Aisch is a lovely, normal little German/Franconian town of 12,000 where you can walk everywhere and carp is the local specialty. Sounds pretty backwoods, but N./Aisch is on a major train line and central to Nuremberg, Wuerzburg, Bamberg, Rothenburg and Bad Windsheim. No problem getting around from there at all.

Or take Regensburg, just for example. Its medieval town center makes it a UNESCO World Heritage town and a handsome place to stay; if you stay there instead of Munich it's an easy day trip by train to Nuremberg, Munich, or Passau. Or Prien, half way between Munich and Salzburg (1 hour away by train) and close enough to Berchtesgaden for a day trip as well. Prien is the home of Herrenchiemsee Palace, on an island in Lake Chiemsee.

http://outdoor.winklworld.de/images/chiemsee.jpg
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 02:59 AM
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Cowboy1968 & Fussgaenger your detailed responses have been such a big help. I feel a little less anxious about it all and have a better understanding of transport vs day trips and what to expect weather wise.

Since we'll be doing Paris, Brussels & Amsterdam for business, do you have any recommendations for short 'day trips' or must sees we could squeeze in for these destinations in our spare time? Any places away from the 'touristy' hubs (obviously this is a given as these places are major tourist destinations). Maybe something off the beaten track etc?
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Old Jul 4th, 2016, 08:12 AM
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In winter, even the most "touristy" destinations will not be crowded.

From Paris, daytrips would be:

- the Loire castles (take the TGV to Tours, actually St-Pierre-des-Corps, and rent a car for the day to see Amboise and Chenonceaux),

- Chantilly castle,

- Fontainbleau castle,

- Auxerre (historic town)

and many other options.

From Brussels, you may take the train to historic Brugge. Or maybe Aachen, with a beautiful Christmas market, a gothic city hall and a spectacular cathedral from 800 A.D. And a spa to warm up after some sightseeing.

From Amsterdam, the lovely city Utrecht would be my first choice.

This all is "beaten track", but for good reasons. And in winter I would not recommend daytrips to the coast or into the woods.
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