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Portugal vs Switzerland vs Milan/Lake Como/Northern Italy (Summer)

Portugal vs Switzerland vs Milan/Lake Como/Northern Italy (Summer)

Old Dec 17th, 2022, 08:17 AM
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Portugal vs Switzerland vs Milan/Lake Como/Northern Italy (Summer)

My family and I are planning a European trip this summer - likely late May/June or September to avoid the heat and peak travel season. The duration of our trip is roughly 8-9 days. We've narrowed some destinations down to Portugal (Lisbon and Porto), Switzerland, or Northern Italy (Milan and Lake Como), but currently cannot decide! Our family consists of older adults. We have interests in food, sight seeing/history, shopping, and just enjoying the picturesque areas. We enjoy nature on occasion but we're not planning on huge hiking expeditions or outdoor/water adventures. For reference, we have been to Europe multiple times before (London, Paris, Germany, Southern Italy, etc.) Pros/cons of each:

  • Pros: probably the most affordable/high value option, potentially shorter time to travel from USA, good food
  • Cons: doesn't seem as "pretty" as the other two based on limited research (subjective and I know I could be very wrong); not sure if crime is a concern here
  • Not sure which destinations but potentially would include Lauterbrunnen, Lucerne, and Bern
  • Pros: seems to have efficient rail/train system, diverse scenery with the villages and mountains
  • Cons: most expensive, possibly underwhelming compared to other parts of Europe? Our family is not physically able to do extensive hiking so might not appreciate the mountains fully
Milan/Lake Como
  • Pros: combination of the two offers a nice variety from busy Milan and more relaxed pace at Lake Como; good shopping experience; very picturesque and dramatic scenery from what I've seen online. Potential excursion to the Italian Alps or Dolomites but not sure how feasible this would be
  • Cons: I hear Milan is a little dull compared to the other places in Italy we've previously visited (Rome, Florence, Venice)

Would love to hear any input from other's experience!
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Old Dec 17th, 2022, 10:32 AM
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Switzerland, Switzerland, Switzerland!
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Old Dec 17th, 2022, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Melnq8 View Post
Switzerland, Switzerland, Switzerland!
Love your enthusiasm for Switzerland! Can you please elaborate why this would be your top pick of the three? Thanks!
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Old Dec 17th, 2022, 11:47 AM
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We have been to beautiful Lake Como four times and since you like shopping adding Milan makes sense. I like Milan and am not a shopper! My friends were overjoyed with the designer shops there.
We adore Portugal and I do not understand where you got the impression that it lacks beauty. Beautiful historic towns and cities are found all over this small country. . Nicest locals you could ever meet. Pasteis de Nata are enough of a reason to visit.
Switzerland for breathtaking beauty. Not a foodie nor cultural destination. Driving through Berner Oberland is beautiful or looking out of train windows. No hiking is needed to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
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Old Dec 17th, 2022, 12:22 PM
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Portugal first, then Como/Milan and then Switzerland.

I am one of these rare people that have had a lot of trouble liking Switzerland. Sure the scenery is pretty and unless you are a hiker, I find it all a bit bland. Add to that how ridiculously expensive it is.

Portugal is very scenic... You need to do a bit more research. I visited Portugal in 2018, and found it to be very scenic.
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Old Dec 17th, 2022, 12:23 PM
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have a read of maitaitom's Portugal trip report.
Falling For Portugal: A Mai Tai Tom (Trip) Report
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Old Dec 17th, 2022, 12:54 PM
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To elaborate -

I'm jaded - I adore Switzerland - have been visiting on a near yearly basis for about 25 years and still haven't had enough. However, I am very much an outdoor person who loves to hike/walk, and take in the breathtaking scenery. I don't care for cities, museums, and mobs of people...but you might, so take that with a grain of salt. I would never suggest Switzerland as a place to shop. It's definitely expensive, but one can certainly enjoy the beauty of the country without breaking the bank or extensive hiking. The transport system is second to none.

I have many trip reports posted here from our trips to Switzerland if you want to take a look.

We spent three weeks in Portugal this year, and as much as I wanted to love it, I just didn't. Yes, we all like different things. I found it uncomfortably busy and not a place I felt I could relax. However, it's definitely a bargain compared to most of Europe and especially Switzerland. The food is good, varied and inexpensive. The wine is excellent. If you enjoy museums, history, monuments and shopping, it's probably the place for you. I did not find it particularly picturesque, but I only saw Porto, the Douro, Lisbon, Evora, Sintra and Coimbra. Of these Porto was our favorite, and the only place we'd consider revisiting, although I would consider visiting some more off-the-beaten parts of Portugal given the chance. I have a report from that trip posted here as well. Don't overlook the hot weather - I personally wouldn't visit Portugal in the summer.

I've only seen the tip of Lake Como as a day trip from Switzerland, so will leave that to those who've been there. I will say that my interest was piqued enough that I'd definitely consider a visit.

Good luck with your decision!

Last edited by Melnq8; Dec 17th, 2022 at 01:44 PM.
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Old Dec 18th, 2022, 07:55 AM
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Lake Como is 50 km from Milan, 2 km from Southern Switzerland, 68 km from Bernina Express (one of the best Swiss panoramic trains) and 233 km from the Dolomites.
May be you try to combine Milan, Lake Como and Switzerland.

As to Portugal, I would just recommend the places that Melnq listed and obviously didn't enjoy.
People are different and it is just up to you to find the itinerary that suits best to you.
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Old Dec 18th, 2022, 10:57 AM
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They are all great choices. My preference would be Switzerland but that is because I love the scenery there, particularly the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Your family can take gondolas/trains up the mountains and walk around a bit without having to do any strenuous hiking.

Perhaps have each family member rate the three choices from 1 - 5 (1 = some interest, 5 = great interest) and go with whichever itinerary gets the most points.
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Old Dec 18th, 2022, 12:15 PM
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Portugal is amazing, lovely people, great history. Crime no real issue but like all of your selection it depends where you go.

Switzerland is very scenic, I have family and friends there all of whom prefer to work, holiday, shop out of country in this nearby.

Milan and Como, I like Milan and would find Como uninteresting especially compared to the smaller cities of the same area.

If I had to vote I'd either look at Milan and the line of cities going down to Bologna, the food is very special and each city is interesting. Portugal's old cities and there wine is special. I'd not vote for Switzerland especially as you don't like hiking.
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Old Dec 20th, 2022, 01:29 PM
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I have not been to Milan/Lake Como so I can't speak to that, but it is on our list for possibly next fall!

I agree with HapptTrvlr, Portugal is beautiful! Lisbon, with its hilly makeup has many ocean view vistas. Visits to Sintra and Guincho Beach on your way to Porto would be very enjoyable. Also along the way, Azenhas do Mar, is absolutely stunning! Lisbon, does have a grittier, busier feel. But it has such warm, accommodating people, you always feel safe and well taken care of. The food is fabulous, the art and history are so memorable and it is very wallet friendly. I would definitely go back.

Switzerland couldn't be more different! We loved it also, Grindlwald, Interlaken, and especially Lucerne. In Lucerne, the combination excursion, boaton Lake Lucerne, cog train to Pilatus, and gondola down is so much fun! And no hiking needed! Switzerland is visually stunning, but it would not be as rich of an experience. It is relaxing. The people are accommodating and efficient, it is more of a cool professional approach. And it is expensive!!! I do not have any desire to go back again, but I feel lucky to have gone.

You need to look back on your past travels and remember what you really enjoyed and what you didn't. What type of vacation are you looking for at this point in time? It will be wonderful with any of your great options!
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Old Dec 21st, 2022, 05:43 AM
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Hello! I know all those destinations and I have to say you picked three very different ones but all of them would have many points of interest. In that sense, I think that if you document yourself a bit on the three you will soon see that everyone could fit your bill, however in very different ways. Moreover, you write about 8-9 days, a duration barely sufficient to begin to scratch the surface of a country.

I basically agree with your preliminary considerations but let me disagree with some "cons":

Portugal is, for me, pretty. Porto, Lisboa, the other mentioned cities, the Algarve (in the off season, as I don't like crowds), Obidos, Tomar, Batalha, the valley of Douro... It's a whole country with a lot of rich history, nature, culture, food... Crime: I never had problems there but, as in any place on earth, I would not actively look for trouble.

Switzerland: many mountains are extensively mechanized, hence you can climb a lot of wonderful places by cable cars, funiculars, cogwheel trains without having to hike, or with short and easy hikes.

Milan, yes, it's not the city splurging art and history like the other three you mentioned, that imo have not many rivals on earth. But it is a city with a 2500 years long history from the celts to the romans (it was imperial capital during the 4th century) then the longobards, the franks, back to the "italians" (ante litteram), before the spanish and the austrian dominations, briefly the french and finally the italians again. Differently from the other three, Milan didn't stay too much attached to a past epoque, but evolved continuously and mixes its rich history with a lot of modernity. And if you say fashion, shopping and food...

If I had to choose, I would go for Portugal, but only because I live in southern Switzerland so I have enough of the other two destinations every day. Portugal is beautiful, cheaper and I miss the sea.
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Old Dec 21st, 2022, 10:56 AM
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I have not been to Portugal but the part I came closest to--western Spain, just miles from the border, was absolutely gorgeous! I'd keep it at the top of the list because the reason you stated--makes the most of your time. Sounds like it has what you like--historical and scenic cities. It's the cuisine I find least appealing, but I hope to be disabused of that notion one day.

I think it would be tight to include three spots in Switzerland in that time frame, but I did want to dispel the notion that you must hike/be outdoorsy to enjoy Switzerland. Though that's what I wanted to do, I was struck by the fact that they make it SO accessible, someone of any ability gets to see mountain peaks up-close. It's really quite stunning. Yes, it is expensive, but the value for the money is high, and a week won't break the bank, especially if you get a good flight. Cuisine is not my favorite, but I found the quality of the food top notch everywhere. Underwhelming is not a word I would use to describe Switzerland.

I have not been to the lakes, but this selection had me puzzled because you have too short a time for the other places but too much time for Milan and the lakes. You could add Turin. I adore Italy but this option leaves me the least excited.

What does the family say?
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Old Dec 23rd, 2022, 12:19 PM
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I really like Portugal, specifically Lisbon and Porto (I haven’t gotten to the rest of the country yet). There’s definitely plenty of picturesque views, history, sightseeing and more, there. I don’t think you’d be disappointed at all, and indeed it is cheaper than the other places you mention.

That being said, given your interests and proposed destinations, it might make more sense for you to combine Milan, Lake Como and Switzerland. Como town is on the main railway line between Milan and southern Switzerland (Lugano and beyond). There’s a secondary railway line from Milan to Tirano (where the Bernina railway starts) running along the east shore of Lake Como, and there are ferries linking Como town with the shores of the lake, including the eastern one where you can get the train. Also, there’s a major railway line between Milan and Switzerland that runs along the shore of Lake Maggiore, into the Ossola valley, past Domodossola and through the Sinplon tunnel into the Valais. A narrow gauge railway links Domodossola and Locarno (itself a short train ride from Lugano). And once you’re on the other side of the Swiss Alps, beyond the Simplon or Bernina, there are plenty of options to travel between east and west (including the scenic Oberalp railway) and go up mountains with narrow-gauge railways, rack railways and gondolas. So, essentially, you can easily combine gorgeous mountain scenery (from valley floors to glaciers and peaks) with the picturesque lakes and small towns of Italy and southern Switzerland and with Milan, without having to do any hiking:

Last edited by mbrevitas; Dec 23rd, 2022 at 12:27 PM.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2022, 01:08 PM
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Like neckervd and others I would combine the Como area with Switzerland. It is an easy drive from Como to Lugano and St Moritz, just to name a few places. Lugano in particular you wouldn't have to do hiking, you could just enjoy the town. I stayed at a house near Lake Piano, between there and the eastern end of Lake Lugano (Carlazzo) and if was fantastic, very easy drives to all the lakes. We did do some minor mountain hiking near Lake Como, but that was what we chose to do, it wasn't mandatory. You could just stick to the lakes and cities, all very even, flat surfaces.

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Old Dec 25th, 2022, 06:22 PM
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I just came back from a month in Northern Italy (Como, Milan, Bergamo, Turin, Genoa and Bologna).
A few years ago spent about 3 weeks in Portugal.
Never been to Switzerland.
70+, SWF, solo traveler

Como--small, walkabnle, delightful. Great time on the ferry to Varenna, Bellagio, Mennagio, Argegno.
Milan-big, crowded, hectic. Last Supper, Duomo, great churches. Pavia (Certosa and fab Sat market), Cremona and violins-wonderful
Bergamo Alta- great, preserved hilltop town
Turin-nice, walkable city with interesting sights. Loved Avigliana and Pinerolo, great, preserved medieval towns (steep)
Genoa-lots of former palaces and loved Camogli and Bocadasse (Cinque Terre-like towns)
Bologna-LOVED it Fab art, architecture, walkable, colorful, arcades. Ravenna-INCREDIB LE 5th C mosaics.

You could also extend a stay in Como and I believe it is a 1-2 hr train ride to Switzerland.

Loved Lisbon, Porto, Sintra and Portugal is small enough to see most of what you want. Wonderful people.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2023, 08:50 AM
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We have enjoyed traveling to all three destinations. For us and our friends the food in Switzerland on average was not very appealing.
And food is a highlight for us when traveling. You can’t go wrong with any of your proposed choices.
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