How to decide where to go in Europe

Dec 26th, 2014, 08:41 AM
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How to decide where to go in Europe

This post will probably make me seem like a travel newbie and maybe even an idiot, but this forum has been very helpful in the past, so I figured it was worth potential mockery if I get some useful advice along with the jokes.

In a nutshell: We want to travel to Europe in 2015, but are having a hard time narrowing down our options and deciding where to go. There aren't many places in Europe we wouldn't like to visit, and we haven't been anywhere besides London, Paris and parts of Italy, so it's like being hungry at a smorgasbord: how do you decide what to eat first?

When contemplating European travel, what are some of the ways you decide where to go? (Besides the obvious self-limiting things like time, budget, etc.)

A little about us:
- We are adventurous, and prefer exploring on our own vs. guided tours.
- We also have a 3-year-old daughter which, although she's a great, well-behaved traveler, will limit us to some degree (at least as far as not staying out late).
- We'll likely have a week to 10 days for traveling, which means we'll probably focus on one or two countries at the most.
- We like to travel inexpensively, and are not into luxury travel; but staying on a shoestring budget is not a requirement.
- While dependent on the country, we'd probably prefer to explore smaller towns vs. big cities (for example, if we go to Spain, Madrid and Barcelona don't necessarily appeal to me—not to say they're not worth visiting, but we feel we might get more authenticity outside of big cities).

We like history (ruins, historical sites), culture (museums, festivals, art) food & beverage (e.g., Scotch tasting in Scotland, beer in Belgium, great food wherever we can find it), activities (hiking, boating, etc.) and many other things. Which again makes it hard to narrow down options.

Even time of year is flexible; we'd prefer to avoid the height of high season (crowds) in summer, but otherwise can go just about anytime (kid is not in school yet). And even bringing the kid along is optional; "Grammy" has volunteered to watch her for a week if we want to go alone.

I know this is an almost obnoxiously fortunate "problem" to have. But please keep the mockery to a minimum; just looking for any advice on ways to narrow down where to go, your thoughts on how you go about choosing, etc. Our main limitation is time, so because we'll only have about a week, we want to choose somewhere special. Here are a few options we're considering, but again, we are open to just about anywhere, so feel free to suggest ideas of places you have enjoyed.

- Scotch-themed tour of Scotland (sans kid)
- Beer-themed tour of Belgium (sans kid)
- Iceland (perhaps in spring; OK time to go?)
- Spain (where in Spain? would have to narrow this down further too)
- Switzerland/Austria (Vienna/Salzburg)

Thank you for your help, and sorry for the long posting!
RaymondLuxuryYacht is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 08:56 AM
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Just time for a quick comment right now.

Any would be good for a week+ . . . But just to let you know, a 'Whisky' themed trip to Scotland doesn't need to be 'sans kid' as you say. Most of the whisky distilleries are in scenic areas just chock-a-block w/ castles and lochs and wildlife and things that are perfect for children.
janisj is online now  
Dec 26th, 2014, 09:05 AM
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<< When contemplating European travel, what are some of the ways you decide where to go? (Besides the obvious self-limiting things like time, budget, etc.) >>

One factor is whether or not I want to rent a car. If I want a trip without a car then I look for good/easy public transportation.

Since you have a young child and want to visit small towns you would need a car.

Second factor - I don't like to spend vacation time getting from one location to another so I like to find cities/towns of interest that are reasonably close to one another, especially with only a week and locations that have enough to do so that I don't have to move every 2 days.

Re: your last option - there's enough to do in the Vienna Salzburg area without adding Switzerland to the itinerary. You could visit Vienna for a few days, take a train to Salzburg, then rent a car to visit the small towns in the surrounding area. Vienna and Salzburg are small enough cities not to overwhelm yet offer enough stimulation for a child. The surrounding area is lovely. You could stay outside Salzburg and take a bus into the city for sightseeing so you have both the small town and city available to you.
adrienne is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 09:30 AM
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Not really true in most of Switzerland and Germany -- busses and trains link most places quickly and easily.

Switzerland has enough diversity to keep you really happily occupied for 10 days -- fly into Zürich and see the mountains (Berner Oberland), the French portion (Montreux), and Luzern. Switzerland is wonderful in October.

Have fun as you plan!

swandav2000 is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 10:02 AM
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Re Spain. IMO the larger cities are just as "authentic" as some village or smaller town. They just have more people and sometimes a lot more to see.

If I went to Spain I would want a VERY good and valid reason not to see Madrid or Barcelona or Seville or Granada or Toledo, etc.
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 10:23 AM
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I'd leave the three-year-old at home and take a real vacation - a kid at that age will miss nothing but pose problems with say your wish for night life - you are only going for a short time and Grammy may revel in keeping the kid and the kid may revel staying at Grammy's for a while.

If you do bring the kid (don't get me wrong I say that is fine too) be sure to rent a car and yes just stay in a few bases - if going to big cities only though then take the train as cars are more and more useless in big cities in Europe - but great for driving say thru the Scottish Highlands.

Yes in some places trains may more sense - like Switzerland if going to those Alpine Wonderlands you've been dreaming about all your life - like the fantastic Jungfrau Region - base in a nice mountain town like Grindelwald or Wengen and public transporation goes everywhere - mountain trains, thrilling aerial gondolas - boat rides on either lake bookending Interlaken, etc.

For lots on planning a European rail trip check out these informative sources:; and - download the latter's free online European Planning & Rail Guide for lots of rail itineraries in various countries.

If Scotland is your aim you can find no better resource than janisj - a veritable font of info on Scotland IME and Britain in general - many others such as those others posting above are very helpful too so just keep asking questions!
PalenQ is online now  
Dec 26th, 2014, 10:29 AM
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To me, the typical mistake is using the word 'Europe'. The words we use are important in that they indicate how we think. Anyone who starts with 'visit Europe' has already got it wrong.

In fact you cannot visit 'Europe' in a week anymore than you can visit the USA in a week. You can visit somewhere IN Europe or IN the USA for a week.

You may think that's obvious Raymond but I see it as the basis of your problem. You even call it a smorgasborg, that again indicates you are thinking of it all as one place.

In travel as in many things, less is more. Forget Europe and simply name ONE place IN Europe you would like to visit. It doesn't matter that you COULD name a dozen, name ONE. If you can't name one, that's just called being indecisive. If you MUST name one place which will it be?

The rest will all still be there next year and forget trying to visit 2 places in one week. That just means you will waste time BETWEEN places that could have been spent IN a place. Less is more.
Sojourntraveller is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 10:34 AM
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I also don't like lots of moving about when on holiday. If I visit two countries, I would stay near the border between the two. I usually choose destinations based on my own interests; one of my main interests is history, but I also have destinations, such as Norway, that attract me for reasons I can't quite explain.

If you have only a week at your destination, I would limit the trip to two bases. You could visit any two of Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich, for example. If you can stretch it to ten days on the ground, you could add a third city or town. I agree that a visit to Switzerland could be like a visit to two or three countries, because the German-speaking areas are very different from the French and Italian. However, Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. You could combine a few days in Switzerland with a trip to nearby areas of France or Italy if you want to keep the cost contained.
bvlenci is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 10:58 AM
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Do you speak any languages other than English? That would be a factor is my decision making. And you haven't said what you are really interested in - art, architecture, food, the seaside, mountains or something else? Europe is such a general term that it's hard to give advice.
tarquin is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 11:29 AM
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I agree with Sojourn---using the term Europe is a sure sign of your lack of perspective. Think in terms of one region of one country--such as Andalusia, Tuscany, Bavaria---any of which will consume a week to 10 days. Get a good guide book and do some reading.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 11:38 AM
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All good with or without the bambino:

If you like the sea, clear blue water, and something better than Capri-go to Dubrovnik and a nearby island(s) Hvar and/or Korcula in Croatia.Great day trips too.

Grindelwald or Wengan in Switzerland are fantastic but $$$.

Two of Salzburg, Munich, Garmish are cheaper than Switzerland.

Belgium great food but you can buy their beer at Costco.
dugi_otok is online now  
Dec 26th, 2014, 12:04 PM
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Raymond did state his interests. Also, he said he was trying to decide on a destination in Europe, and the smorgasbord referred to the many possible destinations to choose from. He never said he wanted to visit "Europe".

Finally, I don't feel as though I'd need to learn Norwegian to visit Norway. I teach an English course in the adult school in my town (in Italy). Eight out of the ten students taking the course are studying English because it is the only language they feel they need to know to travel in Europe.
bvlenci is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 12:05 PM
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Sojourn and Bob: The whole point of my post is that "Europe" is very (too) broad, and I'm seeking advice to help us narrow down our options. And yes, as I stated in my post, we plan to focus on one or *maybe* two places (city or region, depending on final destination). By no means am I suggesting we intend to "do Europe" in a week. That's absurd. I'm trying to figure out which one or two dishes to sample from the smorgasbord.

But it's my fault for writing an overly long post, and it's understandable that some may not read it in its entirety. For what it's worth, while all of the ideas are most welcome, and give us inspiration, I am perhaps more interested in hearing how you go about choosing a single destination out of the countless places you would like to visit. Guidebooks, web forums like this one, travel TV programs, etc. Many of these are obvious, but I'm looking for individual perspectives.

In any case, to Sojourn, Bob and the rest of you, thank you for all the posts! Keep 'em coming.

p.s. To Tarquin, I speak English and Spanish fluently, and Italian is similar enough to Spanish that I was able to get by pretty well when I spent 6 weeks in Italy. But neither of us know a lick of German, and my French is so rusty that it might as well be nonexistent. Hoping not to let language be a barrier, though.
RaymondLuxuryYacht is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 02:01 PM
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"just looking for any advice on ways to narrow down where to go, your thoughts on how you go about choosing, etc. Our main limitation is time..."

Time is one of the primary factors I consider when selecting a destination. I know that I will never be able to see all the places I want to see in the world, so I want EVERY moment to count and I want to match my interests to my time frame as well as I can. All else being equal, if the area has more that I know I want to see in the time available, I defer it. If I think it will take less time than I have, I defer it.

I also consider ways to maximize the diversity of my experiences within and across trips and whether I think visiting a specific place / area is likely to get harder / easier in the future (e.g., hiking will get harder the older I get; places known for their snow and glaciers may be quite different as climate change progresses, etc.)

Hope that helps!
kja is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 02:03 PM
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i think that although you are open to taking your offspring with you, whether or not you do so is going to affect the type of trip that you will want to do quite dramatically. IME holidays with little ones are far more successful if they are based in one/two places, so you should pick a place/places that you can use to tour an area without wanting to move around too much. another factor is the size of the base - you don't want too large a place as getting in and out of them every day can be a pain. a small to medium town is a much better option.

but first, you really need to decide what you want to do - your priorities, your interests. I know that sounds obvious, but until you do, there are too many options for us to make any serious suggestions.
annhig is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 02:50 PM
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You mentioned an interest in ruins. Sicily has a plethora of ruins and is very interesting to explore. Agrigento is amazing; Syracuse was my favorite city. You would need a car.

It's hard to say why we choose where we visit. We did the "big three" of London, Paris, and Rome on separate trips. Then we have gone back to their countries to see more, both of the cities and the country. My daughter loves ancient ruins, so we went to Greece, and then to Sicily, and then a trip to Prague and Vienna on our own and hooked up with a tour of Croatia, ending in Budapest. For this coming year, we are planning on Spain and Portugal. My favorite is Britain, but I can't really tell you why!
carolyn is online now  
Dec 26th, 2014, 05:06 PM
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Well, if you're trying to hold down the budget I wouldn't head for Switz. We love it but my last couple of trips there (in the last year - for work) have shown prices that are absolutely shocking.

With your limitation you might want to consider Andalusia. You can see a lot there in 10 days and it s really unique in euerope due to it's moorish heritage. But definitely go in April - before the worst of the heat sets in.
nytraveler is offline  
Dec 26th, 2014, 08:56 PM
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I would leave your dd with Grandma. We brought our 1 year old to Italy and I swear we spent most of our time feeding/cleaning/napping/etc. Whose turn for the baby backpack now? You get my drift. She is upset that she was too young to remember anything so we are bringing her to Europe this spring as a 9 year old. Plus it will be cheaper and you will be able to have some real fun. We are doing Paris/Ghent/Amsterdam as part of our trip. I don't think you could go wrong with Benelux as your goal. Also, our trip was determined largely by airfare. We wanted to go everywhere. so we found the cheapest in/out flights and realized we could book a really great trip around it. For us this is 3 week London-Paris-Ghent-Amsterdam-Copenhagen (we have to fly from Amst-Cop) but once we realized that itinerary would save us over 2K in flights (into London and out of Copenhagen) it really helped us decide out trip. If I were you that's what I would do, price out flights and such. I do know that we booked our flights second week of December and they have gone up about $500/ticket since. So maybe you should plan a nice September/low season trip because late spring/summer flights already seem to have gone up a lot.
JenniferCO is offline  
Dec 27th, 2014, 05:21 AM
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Raymond, it's not that I wouldn't go to Germany because I don't speak German, it's that speaking a bit of Italian makes visiting Italy a richer experience for me. And the same probably would be true for you in Spain.

I would focus on one or two things I really want to do or see, then the rest of the trip can fall into place naturally.

Where do you keep the yacht, by the way?
tarquin is offline  
Dec 27th, 2014, 06:44 AM
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"Sojourn and Bob: The whole point of my post is that "Europe" is very (too) broad, and I'm seeking advice to help us narrow down our options."

I think you are missing my point Raymond. I suggest you START with thinking about a much smaller area. That is the advice I am trying to give you. Do not think about 'EUROPE' or a 'smorgasborg' at all. Do not come up with a list of several places. Come up with ONE place.

So I will say it again, "If you MUST name one place which will it be?" Answer the question Raymonnd.

You asked for help making YOUR decision. That's what I am giving you. It is YOUR decision and people suggesting 147 places that you might like to visit is not going to help you narrow it down. All you need to do is make a decision, YOU make a decision.
Sojourntraveller is offline  

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