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Help! First trip to Europe and we have no clue where to go!


Oct 25th, 2012, 07:35 AM
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Help! First trip to Europe and we have no clue where to go!

My boyfriend and I are traveling to Europe for the very first time. We live in the U.S and we are unsure as to which country in Europe would be most ideal for our first trip.

We would really love to go to London but it may be too expensive at this time. We are recent graduates so affordability is key. Not sure if this is reasonable, given it's our first trip abroad, but we'd like to stay in the 3-5k range to include everything for roughly 10-15 days.

We were thinking maybe seeing a few places in this trip...any ideas? We'd like to experience a little of everything, architecture, rich history, romance...etc.

Our tastes are pretty open and we are willing to give anything a shot but we are thinking of destinations in mostly Western Europe.

I've done some research already but would love some opinions from the well-traveled person.

We are not much into the heavy party scene but a night out for drinks and dancing could be appealing. We'd love to experience some rich culture and just enjoy all the history Europe has to offer.

We won't be renting a car so walkability is ideal-- our travel dates are flexible but we most likely won't be going during peak season so we can get more bang for our buck.

Thanks in advance for your advice!
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Oct 25th, 2012, 07:48 AM
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I should probably mention we would not be open to hostels or things of that nature, we are thinking more along the lines of a hotel or even renting an apartment for our trip duration.
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Oct 25th, 2012, 07:55 AM
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Mandy welcome to Fodors. Such a big question. The logical advice is go read some travel guides, but to give you some ideas.

Differences that you will spot is one of language (not everyone speaks english), the car is not such a crucial tool though planes and trains are, some of the "self evident beliefs" of your culture are obviously not held in Europe but that is part of what you are after. Finally the place looks pretty small on a map but is pretty big and while cities are normally smaller than the US there are a lot you might want to visit.

So I'd focus on cities and areas where english is going to be easy (UK, Eire, Netherlands, Denmark, Southern Spain/Portugal) and places you might want to visit Paris, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Venice, Rome, Florence/Siena the party islands of Spain, the party islands of Dalmatia and Greece.

You mention that you want to keep away from high season so the party islands fall by the way and yet you could keep Barcelona/Madrid/Lisbon on the radar. I'd aim for 4 days in each centre and if yo uare avoiding London for the cost then I'd consider

So what I would do is start looking at tourist websites looking for concerts and parties that you want to join in with.

Then reckon on trying to be in each place for
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Oct 25th, 2012, 08:02 AM
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What is your home airport? There is a huge difference in costs between flying from a major hub like NYC vs. someplace like Kansas. This huge cost difference will influence my advice.

Give us a firm budget - is it 3K or 5K?

Early November and late March are often the best price-to-weather values. It is still winter rates but there are places in Europe where it won't be too cold. If you're wanting to go soon, then late March will be better as November is just around the corner prices have already started climbing.

The cheapest places to BE will cost more to fly to (and sometimes not especially tourist oriented - southern Spain is an exception worth keeping in mind).

The cheapest places to FLY TO (e.g. London) are often the most expensive to BE.

Just keep that in mind for later postings...

Give me your home airport and actual budget and I will give you a few scenarios.
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Oct 25th, 2012, 08:06 AM
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For your first trip to Europe and with your travel preferences, you will probably want to visit one or two of the great cities of Europe such as London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, etc. All of these places are easily reached by train.

You could consider just going to Italy and visiting Rome, Florence and Venice in 10-15 days. You could consider going to London, Paris and Amsterdam for the same amount of time. You could consider Madrid and Andalucia (Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada) in Spain. In the off season which will have chillier weather, cities are best as there is so much to do indoors.

Think about what draws you to Europe and choose your destinations in that way. Once you have an idea of where you want to go, you can get lots of help on this forum. Happy planning!
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Oct 25th, 2012, 09:55 AM
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When the question of cheap cities for hotels comes up, I think of Berlin and Prague, as well as staying on Lido to see Venice - - then I came across this article: http://www.smartertravel.com/photo-g...es.html?id=172

I don't know that I would have considered Rome one of them, but if you want to get between them, have a look at www.skyscanner.net and see if you can fly between ones that sound intriguing for small prices (you can, say, pull up prices for an entire month from Dublin to "Everywhere" and see if there is something for fifty bucks).
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Oct 25th, 2012, 10:27 AM
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The cheapest destination in Western Europe is Portugal---and it is quite interesting.
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Oct 25th, 2012, 10:43 AM
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You really need to define your budget and location and time of year.

If it includes airfare $3K isn't really doable - since most of the budget will go to that. $5K is doable if the trip is short and you are willing to cut corners.

Stronglt suggest you look at a Let's Go studetn guide and the Thorn Tree section of the Lonely Planet website. These are for student budget travelers ad have lot of great info. Renting an apt can be more reasonable than a hotel - but hostels will be less. If you plan on cooking in the apt that's a good way to save money.

But do realize that europe is more to much more (Switz and Scan are probably double US prices) than anything in the US - esp if yuo are used to small town prices.

Once you define the budget and type of year = people can make more recos about places. But do read a couple of guide books to get an idea of prices.
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Oct 25th, 2012, 11:30 AM
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London doesn't have to be expensive. If that's where you want to go, go! The museums are free, transit is very reasonable, you can easily eat inexpensively if you're not a foodie, and there are ways to get hotels/b&bs for a reasonable price. Plus you can go in off-peak season and still have tons to do. This thread is a few years old, but has good advice.


As far as your budget, is the 3-5K for both of you, including airfare? I think you'll have to stretch to do two weeks for two people with that and will probably hit the top of your budget. Airfare is the biggest consideration, I think. One idea would be 5-6 days in London plus more or less equal time in Paris. Paris seems more expensive than London to me, but if you shorten your trip by a few days and focus on those two places, you could make up for it. Those two cities are used to tourists and are pretty popular first-time-to-Europe destinations. It's easy to get between them on the Eurostar, but the farther ahead you book, the cheaper your tickets will be.
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Oct 25th, 2012, 12:00 PM
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Thanks everyone for all your tips and advice-- just to clear some things-- the budget, in more definitive terms will be closer to $5500. I will be flying out of JFK and have lived in NY all my life, so I am used to things being more expensive than other places in the U.S.

Also, the trip will either take place September/October 2013 or May/June 2014. I realize this is a bit early but I like to plan and am aware that things will cost less the farther I book.

Hope this helps and thanks again for all your great tips!
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Oct 25th, 2012, 01:17 PM
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That's very helpful.

I suggest looking at October or May (similar airfares) - they are cheaper than September or June. Weather is still nice and every few hundred dollars saved helps.

Round-trip flights for two people will total between $1500 and $2000 depending on exactly where you go and whether you choose an "open-jaw" option. An example of an open-jaw ticket would be flying into Paris and home from Rome. It can still be cheaper than the combined cost of a simple round-trip plane ticket plus the cost of a train ticket to and from another city. It depends on your final itinerary. In fact, I suggest you go open-jaw.

For a 10-15 day trip, I would pick two home bases (major cities/hub with many connections to other places you'll want to visit) and rent an apartment in each base for a week or so.

An nice studio apartment in a major city and in the walkable historic center will be about $100-$150/night depending on square footage and "niceness". You can shave off 20% or so staying in an outlying neighborhood or suburb but I think this is ill advised and false economy. Others here may disagree.

YOU need to tell me which two home bases you like. I only advise they be well connected by train and bus to other places.

Here's one simple May trip that include two very different experiences:
Fly JFK - CDG (Paris) and home FCO (Rome) to JFK about ($2000) for two.

Land in Paris and stay in Paris studio apartment for 6 nights ($750).

Fly to Rome one-way: about $200 for two people includes cost of getting to Paris airport and from Rome airport to Rome apartment.

Stay in Rome studio apartment for 6 nights ($750).

Fly home.

SO...you've spent $3700 of the $5500 and have $1800 left.

Assuming you "eat in" at the apts once or twice a day, figure $300 for groceries.

Your now at $1500.

Assuming one cheap meal out a day (lunch is cheaper than dinner) is around $500 for meals out.

Your down to $1000, but it's fine.

Figure about $250 for entrance fees for two for your 12 days (somewhat generous but not really). You're now at $750.

Assorted coffees, beers, and wines while you are out and about - say $100-200 depending on quantity and quality. Now at $550-$650

Assorted Metro fares, bus, and or taxis - say $100.

This leaves $450-$550 for: day trip (Naples? Bruges? Versailles? Florence?) train/bus tickets, souvenirs, and anything that you miscalculated.

Again, I only suggest the broad parameters of two bases, apartments, and open-jaw. This is the most economical plan that still allows varies experiences (the absolute lowest cost option would have been one city, one apartment but that would be more appropriate for a one week or shorter trip).

Tell me what two home bases sound good to you and I can give more detailed advice.
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Oct 25th, 2012, 04:52 PM
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Pay attention to bardo1 -- excellent suggestions!
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Oct 25th, 2012, 05:30 PM
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Very good advice you are getting from bardo1!

We just got back from two weeks in Paris, and October was just wonderful --- except for the rain, of course.

It is NOT too early to do your planning. The really good apartments book up early. Perhaps you may not book right now, but you should start searching for apartments now, so you get the feel of how to read the ads to see what you are really getting for your money. We only wanted a place to sleep and shower, so got a small studio in a lively district a bit out from the center. It was newly renovated, quiet, and spotlessly clean, and cost a bit over €70 a night.

I'd suggest you start getting the feel for where to rent by doing searches on this and other sites. You might look at VRBO http://www.vrbo.com/ and Airbnb https://www.airbnb.com/ as well a "conventional" rental agencies.

Good luck. You are going to have as much fun planning as on the trip itself.
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Oct 25th, 2012, 06:56 PM
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Oct 26th, 2012, 07:24 AM
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Wow, lots to think about! I'm so excited to start planning this trip, I have been on a plane twice in my life so this is pretty exciting!

Bardo1: thanks so much for your help, very useful and it's given me a lot to think about. After your breakdown I think my boyfriend and I may up the budget to 7k! Since this is our first trip, I wasn't sure how much of a budget was appropriate, but your breakdown helped put a lot in perspective!

I'd like to go to Italy and London...my boyfriend is dying to go to London, Ireland and Prague. Not sure how easy these are for 'open jaw' trips.

I'd also love to go to Bath, England-- we want a somewhat leisurely pace so we don't want to cram too much into 15 days. Whatever we don't choose this time around will be for the next trip

I think choosing an apartment would be ideal, we love to cook so staying in for meals on some nights is a smart idea.

Thanks again to everyone for your advice
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Oct 26th, 2012, 10:09 AM
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I have no personal knowledge of Prague, but otherwise you can easily do open-jaw flights with any of those destinations (Kayak and other sites call it "multi-city").

Since you both seem excited about London, I'd get an apartment there for a week or so. You can do Bath as a day trip, plus Oxford or Hampton Court or wherever else. Check out London Walks (walks.com) - their walking tours are fantastic, but even if you don't take tours with them, their day trips might give you some ideas.

For the other week, I'd pick one or two places (not countries!) and focus on them. West/southwest Ireland would be gorgeous and logical, and a nice complement to your big-city time. But London has great connections to just about anywhere in Europe, so you're really not that limited. My personal preference would probably be to make Italy its own trip, but that's just me.
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Oct 26th, 2012, 11:38 AM
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A few final thoughts while you hash out the next phase of your plan...

A week in a London apt - perfect. Bath is an easy day trip by train (90 minutes by train one-way). Plan on 4 hours on the ground in Bath before taking the train back "home".

I think you can only see "some" of Italy, specifically Venice, this time and save the rest of Italy for subsequent trips. The reason being is that Venice is in the northern part of of the country and easier to get to.

More specifically, there is an overnight train from Prague to Venice that will dovetail nicely with you and your husband's varied preferences.

There are lots of very inexpensive flights ($75 ??) from London to Prague.

Weight your stays so that London is roughly half your overall stay and Prague/Venice split the other half.

For a 15 night trip, that would be 7 nights London, 4 nights Prague, 4 nights Venice.

I'm seeing open jaws in May 2013 JFK-LON and VCE(Venice)-JFK for under $1000.

I have some personal apt. rec's for Prague and Venice. Both are 1BRs (not studios) in the most expensive neighborhoods but with your higher budget, you might be interested. My wife and I LOVED both places. In fact, they are our two favorite European apartment rentals ever. The one in Prague is mid-way between the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square and the Venice one is 2 blocks off St. Mark's Square.

http://www.7angels.cz/en/residence.php (about $150-$175/night)

http://www.rosadivenezia.com/en/index.htm (about $200/night)

There are cheaper options in both cities, both studios and 1BRs, just wanted to throw mine faves out there. FYI, Venice apartments will typically be 30% higher than Prague for a similar apartment/location.

We've rented two apartments in London: one near Piccadilly Circus tube stop and the other was near South Kensington tube stop. Both were fine for us but there are dozens of other London neighborhoods you may prefer once you've researched (just be close to a tube stop and within Zone 1).
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Oct 26th, 2012, 11:59 AM
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All I will say is beware of anyone who tells you they KNOW

there will be an airfare sale

you will never save money booking airfares 330 days out and THAT one came from a Fodors editor

You can FLY a budget airline from London to Venice and save a lot of time and money vs. going by rail. Check easyjet.com/en
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Oct 26th, 2012, 01:05 PM
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Oct 27th, 2012, 08:58 AM
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Strongly consider doing the trip all my train, keeping distances short or by using overnight trains to relocated long distances at night and also save a night's cost in a hotel. If you are under 26 then the bargain Eurail Youthpass can be a great deal - in most countries a railpass allows you to hop on any train anytime (not so in Italy, Spain and France however) - for lots of great info on planning a European rail journey I always spotlight these IMO fantastic sites - www.budgeteuropetravel.com; www.seat61.com and www.ricksteves.com.

Younger folk will meet other youths from all over the world traveling on European trains, which are fast, modern and safe, often running routes hourly or more between most cities.
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