Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Help with choice of stops on "Western Europe by Train" trip

Help with choice of stops on "Western Europe by Train" trip

Dec 15th, 2010, 06:42 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
Help with choice of stops on "Western Europe by Train" trip

This is my first post, though I've been lurking around for a while. I've been working in Germany for a few months but it's just a short term thing which ends in February. So I booked my ticket home for mid-April from London, giving myself a month and a half to travel with my boyfriend. I've been to several countries when I was young (England, Scotland, France, Italy) but BF hasn't been out of our home country before (Australia).

Also we are both in our early 20s. We can afford a fun trip around Europe and we are healthy enough to do plenty of walking. However we will be staying in hostels most nights.

I will put an asterix next to cities that I've visited before, because BF doesn't really like museums so I've left out museum time if I've already been there.

I plan to start the trip in Hamburg*, which is near where I live. BF will be flying in a week before so there's no time built-in for jet lag. So far I've booked our train travel to Berlin* and then Munich.

Each of these cities has either two or three days of solid sightseeing time, not including "travel days." BF is not a morning person and I don't want to arrive too late in a new city so our travel will mostly be between 10am and 6pm depending on journey length, thus taking up a whole day.

Salzburg
Venice*
Rome*
Florence*
Marseilles
Carcassonne
Barcelona
Paris*
Brussels
Amsterdam*
London*

As you can see, I've been to half these cities, but I'm trying for a middle ground where I get to see new things but BF gets to see the classics. Honestly I'd prefer to leave off Rome though Florence must stay for a day trip to Pisa.

What I really want to do is fit in a few more French cities because I speak a bit of French (and enough German to get by, seeing as how I live in Germany). But I can't see how to do that without depriving BF of the wonders of Rome.

Also Amsterdam is our last trip because I plan for us to fly from there to London with KLM, it's not a bad ticket price compared to the Eurostar plus I like them and Schiphol Airport.

Ideally there would be time for another city in each of Belgium and the Netherlands, probably as a day trip. The time works out so that I can swap any city listed for one nearby, or cut out one for another at a different point in the trip as long as the basic direction of travel is taken into account.

Thanks in advance for your trip advice!
sarahj3 is offline  
Dec 15th, 2010, 06:53 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 16,406
My thoughts are that Carcassone is a bit disapointing and I might try to fit Avignon/Arles/Nimes in instead. My view on Marseilles is a bit jaded so maybe others could comment.

Is it possible to fit Siena in between Florence and Rome

I might try to squeze Dresden in and even Prague on the way to Munich. If pushed I might swap Bruges for Brussels

Try putting days against each city to see how it looks
bilboburgler is offline  
Dec 15th, 2010, 07:18 AM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
Thanks! I'm going to Prague as part of my Christmas trip. Can't wait!

I heard from a colleague that Siena is beautiful. I will add it to the wish-list.

A friend told me Carcassone was lovely but she travels differently to me (i.e. wherever her friends are driving, she's along for the ride) so point taken. I was looking at Nimes and Montpellier as other stops.

I'll list each city with the day I plan to arrive there:

28th Feb - Hamburg

March:
3rd - Berlin
6th - Munich
9th - Salzburg
11th - Venice
14th - Rome
18th - Florence
21st - Marseilles
24th - Carcassone (or another city in the area)
26th - Barcelona
29th - Paris

April:
2nd - Brussels
5th - Amsterdam
8th - London
12th - evening flight home
sarahj3 is offline  
Dec 15th, 2010, 09:00 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 75,875
I agree with bilboburgler about how great the Avignon/Arles and you might ax Carcassonne and Barcelona since they are a good detour off the route Italy to Paris and you want more French stops. Avignon or Arles are great bases - lots of nice easy day trips - to places like Nimes, Les Baux, St-Remy-d-Provence and the Pont du Gard for starters - all easily reached by public transports.

If doing all that by train then you definitely should investigate the Eurail Global Pass - a flexipass good for X number of days of unlimited travel over a 2-month period. For all those trains this is a no-brainer IMO. For lots of great info on planning a European rail trip I always spotlight these info-laden sites: www.seat61.com; www.ricksteves.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com - download the latter's free and superb IMO European Planning & Rail Guide for lots of rail itinerary suggestions as you seek in your OP.
PalenQ is online now  
Dec 15th, 2010, 09:09 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,371
I would definitely ax Carcassonne, it isn't on your way directly, there are many other places I would rather visit over in that area. I'm not crazy about Marseille, but it's on the way and you might like it. But for three days? I don't think so, it's just an odd choice given the alternatives.

For example, in France, Nice is far superior to Marseille IMO, and if you want somethign down on the coast, choose Montpellier. Toulouse is a fun city, if you want to go up that way, so would be Aix (and Avignon, which is farther north, but not that far by train).

In short, Marseille and Carcassonne as the choices for France seems like a terrible idea to me, they are some of my least favorite places in that area. Florence-Nice-Montpellier-Barcelona would be far superior IMO.
Christina is online now  
Dec 15th, 2010, 09:32 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 45,618
I'd delete Carcassonne, too. If you're in your 20's, go to Montpellier instead - really vibrant university town with lots more to offer than Carcassonne (which I do enjoy but not in your circumstances). From Montpellier you can daytrip to places on the beach like Aigues-Mortes and inland as well.
StCirq is online now  
Dec 15th, 2010, 09:59 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
Thanks! I've been to Nice (in summer, lovely sunbathing on the beach) but I will definitely put Monptellier on the list and take off Carcassonne.

As for Barcelona, I've just been to Lisbon for the weekend and loved it, and I'm thinking of going to Porto next month, so I didn't want to leave out Spain.

I was looking at rail passes but I'm not sure it's such a great deal. I've got cheap tickets already through Germany and I can go Salzburg-Venice cheap (I'll buy that this week online). I think the most expensive trips on my itinerary draft are Venice-Rome (73 Euro each) and Barcelona-Paris (which I will probably break up with at least one stop anyway). I can go Toulouse-Paris for 30 Euro per person booked ahead.

Thanks for the links! Seat 61 is one of my favourites but I hadn't come across the online itineraries yet.
sarahj3 is offline  
Dec 15th, 2010, 10:05 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 7,134
If you're going to do both Pisa and Siena as day trips from Florence, you might want another day for Florence itself. (How does your boyfriend feel about visiting churches?) You could do Lucca as well as Pisa in one day trip. (Rent bikes and ride around the wall in Lucca.) And Siena is best visited by bus from Florence, because the bus stop is inside the historic center whereas the train stops outside the walls and you need to bus in.

For your extra time in Belgium, you could go to everybody's favorite: Bruges. 3 days in Brussels seems a lot.

I also really like Nice. A beautiful city and it has lots of options for daytrips by public transportation: Monaco, Antibes and Cannes, Eze, and more.

You're going from city to city, which is appropriate for an all-train trip in early spring. But I wish you could have a little time in the countryside, not just whizzing by. Maybe in England?
Mimar is offline  
Dec 15th, 2010, 11:16 AM
  #9  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
BF and churches... good question. For me, churches are beautiful, and I enjoy ones with historical significance. Well, that's me with all places, I like to know what historical events took place somewhere, that's what makes it interesting for me. We wouldn't go out of our way for a place where the church was the main attraction, but we will be visiting quite a few along the way, I'd imagine.

Do you have a website where I can book a bus between Florence and Siena? I tried sena.it but I think that's just for longer trips.

As for Brussels, I'm sold on Bruges, and thinking I could spend a day in either Antwerp or Ghent as well. From Amsterstam I can't decide between Rotterdam, The Hague and Delft. My interests are art and maritime museums so I'll have another look at their museum listings. BF didn't get much of a history education (in Australia our history classes are almost non-existant, I know nothing of my own country's history but from my years in the USA I know a ton of American and European history) so I'll try to educate him gently on a few topics.

I'm not so sure about the countryside. I'm mainly interested in historical sites, museums and nightclubs. We will probably do a bus tour to Stonehenge and Bath, I did one maybe 10 or 11 years ago with my parents but I can't let BF get away with not seeing Stonehenge. I want him to have an amazing time. He's leaving it up to me to plan it and I want him to get home and tell his friends "I saw the most amazing and interesting sights." More importantly, I want him to be ready in a year or two to come back and see eastern Europe with me.

Though we could rent a car to go through the countryside for a day or two, if it's just highways it'd be easy with a GPS, plus we'd be driving on the "correct" side of the road for us. I will certainly consider that.
sarahj3 is offline  
Dec 16th, 2010, 08:26 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 7,134
You catch the bus to Siena across the street from the Santa Maria Novella (main) train station in Florence (to the left as one exits from the station). Here's the schedule: http://www.sitabus.it/sita-toscana/F...-Siena2010.pdf. I would assume you don't reserve seats ahead of time.

What I meant about seeing the countryside was staying a day or two in a small town, slowing down a bit, maybe getting around by bus. But it sounds like country scenery is not an interest of either of you. It's not worth renting a car. You will see some scenery from buses and trains.
Mimar is offline  
Dec 16th, 2010, 12:00 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 75,875
No reservations on those buses, which leave every few minutes it seems and fare is dirt cheap - a few euros - unlike the train the bus takes you up to the old hill town - trains serve a station at the base of the pile Siena lovingly crowns.
PalenQ is online now  
Dec 16th, 2010, 12:14 PM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
Thanks for the bus schedule Mimar! I wish I had time to slow down a bit but I don't want to overstay my welcome in Europe. In a year or two I hope to return and see some of what I've missed.
sarahj3 is offline  
Dec 16th, 2010, 02:27 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,371
I don't have anything against Carcassonne, it's interesting to see for a couple hours as a tourist attraction. But it isn't near your route so it sounds like you intended to make a special itinerary to go there and spend the night or something in the city, I guess. It would be like planning an entire route and itinerary around Stonehenge rather than going to see it on a day bus tour. I have no idea what your friend meant about it being lovely, it's a very old fort that you tour. There are lots of souvenir and gift shops and very expensive cafes right around it. It doesn't take that long, I think I was only there 3 hours and I wasn't rushing, and that included eating.
Christina is online now  
Dec 17th, 2010, 10:23 AM
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
Thanks Christina! I think my friend told me she stayed in a hostel or something in the fort itself. She went on for quite a while about the scenery. I think she'd just purchased a digital SLR camera at that point - she was probably more obsessed with trying it out by taking a million photos rather than interested in the actual place.
sarahj3 is offline  
Dec 17th, 2010, 08:12 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 1,853
For your BF's first time out of Australia (and assuming he hasn't been to NZ) the Swiss Alps would make a huge impression and he certainly wouldn't have seen anything like Pompeii either (and suspect he'd find it a lot more interesting than Stonehenge). Inclined to leave out Marseilles, Carcassonne, perhaps Barcelona (see Spain properly on another trip?) and possibly Brussels (consider Normandy/ Bayeaux/D-Day beaches history lessons instead, which might appeal more to him than art). If Carcasonne is out he still may need a decent palace/ castle/ chateau to round off his first trip from Oz, in which case Versailles, Neuschwanstein or the Loire.
farrermog is offline  
Dec 17th, 2010, 09:15 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 5
Definitely Bruges over Brussels anyday - much nicer and easier to get around. Have you thought about Going to the Chateux travel to Tours and its easy from there. Also if you are thinking of going to Stonehenge, try going to Salisbury and there you can pick up a bus to take you to Stonehenge and then you can get back on the train and continue to Bath. Just did that trip in September.
paulie36 is offline  
Dec 18th, 2010, 02:13 AM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
I was trying to fit Switzerland in but I couldn't make it work. I really wanted to take a scenic rail trip through the Alps but I would have had to cut out another city.

Barcelona is in for me - I've never been to Spain and I want to go to a couple of new countries. We're planning to take a hotel train to Paris, it's not too expensive if I book it early enough.

I'm going to squeeze a few nights from other places so I can spend at least a week, maybe 9 days in southern France. I'll have to do more research on specific cities but thanks to everyone for all the suggestions!

We're going to Fuessen on a day trip from Munich to see the castles. And definitely to Versailles, when I was in France 10 years ago with my parents, that was my first choice of things to see.

I was thinking of just doing a day-long bus tour to see Stonehenge and Bath but I'll look into doing our own transport. With the tour, BF will get told the history of the places we visit, but I do have a few guidebooks that should help us out if we do our own thing.
sarahj3 is offline  
Dec 18th, 2010, 03:00 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 1,853
If Switzerland is out, for mountain scenery consider Garmisch-Partenkirchen/ Mittenwald from Munich or from Salzburg, Berchtesgaden or the Salzkammergut.

- If it includes south west France perhaps you might be able to fit in hip San Sebastian across the border (or train from Barca to Madrid to San Seb as I did yonks ago). This site is well regarded here -

http://maribelsguides.com/mg_guides.html#regional guides
farrermog is offline  
Dec 18th, 2010, 07:20 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 75,875
I was thinking of just doing a day-long bus tour to see Stonehenge and Bath but I'll look into doing our own transport.>

Easily done by taking the train to Salisbury and then right from the train station frequent buses to Stonehenge, several miles away.

One reason not to do a bus trip is that you operate on their time schedule - Salisbury itself is one of England's sweetest cities IMO and I would want to wander it on my own time schedule - seeing the great Cathedral complex - one of England's most stunning cathedrals - and even trekking around Old Sarum, about which books have been written, which is right in town and to take the famous short stroll along the river south of town where you get the mesmerizing view of the spires of Salisbury Cathedral looming high above cow pastures - a scene that Constable (I think maybe some other famous old English painter) captured on canvas.

but just get a Day Return train ticket to Salisbury and move to your own drum beat once there - easily done and I have done it several times. Salisbury also has a nice pedestrian shopping zone and lots of nice pubs and eateries, etc.
PalenQ is online now  
Dec 18th, 2010, 10:48 AM
  #20  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
Wow! Sounds like we'll be making a day of Salisbury.

Unfortunately San Sebastian will be too far out of our way. I'm going to need a whole other trip to explore Portugal and Spain and I think southwest France will fit in there too - possibly all of western France. Right now it's just whatever cities along the southern coast I can string along between Florence and Barcelona.
sarahj3 is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:48 AM.