First time to Europe - touring advice

Oct 10th, 2012, 09:30 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2012
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First time to Europe - touring advice

Hi all,

Looking to plan a Europe trip for next year around September. It would be myself (24) and my grandmother (64), and hopefully my mom (45) - so there is quite the spread of ages. We have always wanted to do a Euro trip together - we are all fit and good travellers. In terms of interest areas - we are all into cultural/historical treasures Europe holds, so we'd like to experience and see as much as possible in each place without trying to cram an impossible amount of things into unrealistic timeframes. So here are a few options we'd thought of - your thoughts would be much appreciated:

1. Starting from UK, head to France and then Italy, spending about 1-1.5 weeks in each country travelling around - this would require more planning on my part, but we're thinking this may allow us to see more/alter the trip to spend time specifically where we want to go. Would also most probably be using public transport as none of us has been to Italy/France and not too keen on driving.

2. Land tour - looked at a few of these - enjoy the value for money aspect, and that every things planned for you, but noticed on the forums here it can be hit and miss in terms of actually getting to see and experience a place.

3. We've also looked at a Christmas (river cruise) - we're aware this is a totally different track than the options above, but the one's we;ve looked at sound so temptingly unique and charming - looked at Albatross tours (land), Uniworld, Celebrity cruises (Tauck and Scenic are a bit too pricey for us)

Apologies for the lengthy post, but it seems the info I can give, the easier it would be for people to offer suggestions.

Thanks again!
Amber_Solomon is offline  
Oct 10th, 2012, 10:36 PM
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Fly into London, do a week there ( or whatever) , daytrip to Bath or perhaps another place.
Then , take Eurostar to Paris, its 2.5 hours , city center to city center, and if you buy tickets 3 months out they can be quite cheap!! Second class is fine, comfy etc, bring a picnic though.
Paris, week or more , daytrips to Giverny and/ or Versailles.

Then from Paris fly to Rome or Venice, Easyjet and Vueling offer decent rates. Then fly home from Rome.

Other then a Rick Steves tour( which caters to more active travellers, and have a GREAT option called a "On your way" tour or something where they just do hotel and bus transport and you do your own sightseeing) I think a tour would suck for a 24 yr old.. at least the type of tour that your mom and nana could go on with you, there are youth tours for those 18-35 but they tend to be booze tours.
justineparis is offline  
Oct 10th, 2012, 10:37 PM
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September is a very busy month in Paris, fashion and trade shows,, so book hotels early in year.
justineparis is offline  
Oct 20th, 2012, 04:32 PM
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I am with Justineparis. Don't try to conquor the continent in one vist. London, Paris and Rome are the big three because the each have a lot to offer. You have enough time to get a 3-4 days in each place factoring in the flight time to Rome. I love independent travel rather than group travel. Get the guidebooks and see what sights best fit you interests.

I have never taken a river tour for several reasons. To me they seem to be very expensive, it looks like all their customers are in their 80s and they have to go where the river goes. I'll probably get a lot of opposition from this but that is why I have never gone on one of the River trips.

If you decide what you are going come back here and let us help you with the sight, hotels, restaurants The planning part is a big portion of the fun to me. Enjoy.
AisleSeat is offline  
Oct 20th, 2012, 04:39 PM
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Sorry, I just reread your post and realized you plan to spend 1 1/2 weeks iin each place. You will have lots of time in those three cities comple with side trips to Bath, Normany, Venice etc.
AisleSeat is offline  
Oct 20th, 2012, 06:10 PM
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I would definitely do the 3 major cities on your own. As long as you are willing to do the work upfront this will give you by far the best view of 3 very different countries and you will get the most for your money.

I would not do a tour if you paid me - since you spend most of your time sitting on a bus rather than sightseeing.

As for a river tour - I think that might be fun for 2 or 3 days - but would get really old after that. And that part of europe in winter will be cold, snowy/rainy, have very short days and many sights are open shorter hours.
nytraveler is offline  
Oct 20th, 2012, 06:18 PM
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The OP is traveling in September, not in winter.

With 1.5 weeks in three countries, you could spend a week in London with a trip to an English sight of your choice; a week plus in Paris with some side trips and 3 or 4 days in Venice and a week in Rome, again with side trips. Do a lot of research before you settle on an itinerary and come back with questions.

Most on this board prefer independent travel.
mamcalice is offline  
Oct 20th, 2012, 10:29 PM
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Do it yourself to get the most for your money and exactly what interests you. Use trains as much as possible for short distances, flights for long one. Give the most time to Italy only because it is easier to see more places there with less travel. You might get apartments for part of your stays.
Do cities, but be sure to see some smaller towns and cities.
Get "multi-city" flights - into your first major city, depart from the last. You don't need a car unless you want to tour the countryside of an area like Provence or Tuscany. Even then, you can see some things without one or hire a car and driver for a day at a time. Don't do day trips too far from your base. You want to see/experience places, not sit on a bus or train for hours getting someplace, just to turn around and go back. Better in some cases to spend a night or two in a different place.

Three or four days in London and a couple of days in Bath/Oxford, or a week in London with two or three days trips.
ES to Paris: week with day trips or four days Paris, three days someplace else in France.
Fly to Venice: two or three days Venice or more with day trips.
Train to Florence (time and interests?) or Rome: Week in Rome with day trips.
Just a start. More time - add day trips or other towns/cities.
Sassafrass is online now  
Oct 21st, 2012, 05:36 AM
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The usual UK first tour seems to be London for five or six days and day trips to Bath, Oxford, Salisbury/Stonehenge. You could do this as it allows you to have an appartment for the London base and some of the tours could be by train and some with London based tour buses. As a Brit I struggle to understand the attraction of Bath though the Roman Baths are probably the best Roman site in the country. Given that you are going to Rome it seems relativley minor attraction when you are not including say York, Edinburgh, Lincoln, Cambridge etc. Of these the most interesting must be a visit to York, with the medievel streets, the city walls and the cathedral all of which can be done on a long day out by train. Alternatively you could use York as a second UK base to allow a visits to a number of ruined monestries and even a trip up to the Roman Hadrian's wall.

If I was going to Rome I have to mention the two other prime attractions of Venice and Florence/Siena. Despite traveling all over Europe I have only recently visited Venice and it is Unique. (note I do not say almost unique or it looks like the St Petersburgh of the South etc it is unique and hence worth a minimum of 2 days of anyone's life to enjoy) again the train is the thing to get from Rome to Florence or Venice.

Paris and somewhere else? The choice is large but outside of Paris the attractions are spread out and there is no where (including Lyon) which quiet provides the city-scape of what is a small, very attractive, capital city. For me the choices for a first timer would be

Bordeaux for the parochial nature of a very proud city which is surrounded on one side by world class vinyards and on the other by a very high class shell fish bay.

If a city (almost city state) like this is not to your liking then think about the spreadout Brittany, where the seais very much part of the land and the nature of the people who built castles to keep the dreaded french at bay, who fished and pirated all the way to Newfoundland and produced fine lace and still make good cider (the alcoholic stuff is the norm on this side of the atlantic in France cidre and the UK cider).

Starsbourg, Rheims are two other lovely cities that might interest, one is the at the centre of the champagne trade while the other is right on the border with Germany but also just between a major French and German wine region both of which are very pretty. These can be visited by train on a day out but are also worth considering as centres for 2 or 3 day of touring by car from the local trainstation.

I hope these ideas are of interest. I spent many years being taken around france by my father as a boy, while as he aged I took him on tours to places in france he had never been to including hiring boats on the canal du midi and I'm sure this sort of trip is a great idea and you will have such a great time.
bilboburgler is online now  
Oct 21st, 2012, 10:09 AM
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That is a false assumption. You can get far more value for your money planning things on your own. Plus, I can't imagine being 24 years old and stuck on a bus with a bunch of older, slower folks - or for that matter being a grandmother stuck on a bus with a bunch of 20-somethings.

I'm sure for a novice in the planning stages, 1.5 weeks each in 3 countries seems like a whole lot of time. It's not. It's just enough, as many have said, to scratch the surface and get acclimated. Especially if you don't plan to drive, in which case you're largely limited to cities. London, Paris, and Rome, with a couple of day trips from each, is a far more reasonable plan than trying to roam all over - far less costly, too, as you can rent apartments in each place and minimize your transportation costs. Far easier logistically as well, as packing up and moving every couple of days gets old really quickly.

Finally, though I usually agree with bilboburgler, I would NOT recommend Bordeaux for first-time visitors to France. For one thing, it's not geographically suitable for your plans unless you fly from there to Italy. For another, it's just not as welcoming a city as many others in France. I'd head to Toulouse or Montpellier or even Strasbourg...IF you decide to visit a city other than Paris.

Be sure to opt for multi-city flights - into the UK and out of Italy, e.g., to avoid backtracking.
StCirq is offline  
Oct 21st, 2012, 10:34 AM
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Sorry - The OP mentioned that they would do the cruise around Christmas - I beleive.
nytraveler is offline  
Oct 21st, 2012, 02:36 PM
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Strasbourg is about 2.5 hours away from Paris, depending on your time you could catch the train to Nancy or Metz aswell. for tickets, cheap prems appear about 60 days before travel(or is it 90?)
As an example 1st class from Paris to Nice can be purchased for about 45 euro.
Do not use Raileurope unless that is what you are really comfortable with. tgv-europe will allow you book particular seating arrangements.
Just a thought!
theotherside is offline  
Oct 21st, 2012, 04:31 PM
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If this is your first trip to Europe, IMO it might be a good idea to make arangements and have a discussion with a travel agent for your trip. Give them your ideas of what you and your family want to see/do/visit/explore.

The first time our family went to Europe we made arrangements via our travel agent who in turn booked our trip with Trafalgar Tours. We flew to London for 5 days and then went to Paris for 4 more days. It was a 'semi-independent'tour where we decided what we wanted to see and do.

It's been a while since we did this trip and I'm a bit fuzzy on what exactly We used Hotels that Trafalgar suggested and Trafalgar assisted us in transportation. A representative was available at our hotels for any help we needed.

This was by no means a group tour and we had a great time in planning what we wanted to do in each country. Also be aware that there are many companies you can find online like Trafalgar. I'm only suggesting that you find a reputable one to help in your planning.

Have fun, you will become addicted to overseas travel like we are.
pauljagman is offline  
Oct 21st, 2012, 05:25 PM
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<< there are many companies you can find online like Trafalgar. I'm only suggesting that you find a reputable one to help in your planning.>>

There are also plenty of people right here on Fodors who know as much or more as any travel agent - and it's free. I think travel agents are no longer useful except for the truly clueless, though I've known and respected quite a number of them>>
StCirq is offline  
Oct 21st, 2012, 05:32 PM
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I don't think renting an apartment is a good idea for first time travelers to a foreign city. There inevitably will be questions/problems easily answered/solved by a hotel's front desk staff that would leave an unsupported apartment dweller in a quandry. The staff can do reservations, recommend everything from a local tour to a doctor, call a cab, provide discount coupons, get show tickets, fix a room problem, and so on. Basically, they cover your back.

I also recommend a quick city tour like a half-day bus tour (could be guided or hop-on hop-off) as an introductory visual and geographical orientation to a new big city.
AJPeabody is offline  
Dec 16th, 2012, 08:46 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2012
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Hi everyone,

Firstly, apologies for the lack of response since my post, had some problems with logging in but all fixed now.

More importantly, a MASSIVE thank you!! Wow, you've all been so helpful and specific, logging back on and seeing all the responses and info was so exciting! I can't wait to go through everything properly tomorrow and carry on with my planning

Big thanks once again to all!
Amber_Solomon is offline  
Dec 16th, 2012, 09:37 AM
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as a change to the cities, I would think about a few days in Switzerland between say, Paris and Venice - you could get the train to Interlaken via Basel, then use a few days exploring the Berner Oberland, and/or the Luzern area and then get the train onto Venice.

that would make a great antidote to cities and galleries.
annhig is offline  
Dec 16th, 2012, 09:50 AM
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Would also most probably be using public transport as none of us has been to Italy/France and not too keen on driving>

Ok for lots of great info on planning a train trip in those two countries - buses in France usually run where trains do not - in Italy the train is also the fastest and IMO most comfy way to get between main cities like Venice, Florence, Rome, etc.
Anyway for superb planning info I always spotlight these IMO fantastic sites -; and And if traveling more than a few times on trains in those countries check out the France-Italy railpass and for three folks traveling together strongly consider first class which is many ways in a more relaxing trip for the trip of a lifetime than 2nd class, especially with those carrying around baggage - and if going the pass route it does not cost that much more in first class than 2nd and compared to first class fares, for say more than one or two long trips a good deal IMO. You do need to still reserve seats with the pass - these usually cost an extra 3 euros in France and always 10 euros in Italy so factor that cost in as well. IME of decades of incessant European rail travel I often find lots of empty seats in first class to put my bags on - 2nd class IMe is often, but not always, much fuller with more limited room for bags. Seats in first class are also significantly larger. 2nd class ain't a cattle car but for the trip of a lifetime with your mother, IMO go first class.
PalenQ is offline  

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