Looking for feedback on my plan for a May trip to Western Europe.
March 28, 2010 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Looking for feedback on my plan for a May trip to Western Europe, probably Paris and one other country.

We will have about 10 days and want to do two countries (and two hotels). We'd rather spend more time exploring than sitting on trains. The plan is to have two home base cities and take day trip excursions if we want to.

[A little background... we are in our mid-30s and in good health. We are into exploring, eating, shopping, museums, finding some non-touristy things to do, etc. No hiking. I'm an amateur photographer and I look forward to taking a million photos. We will be staying in normal hotels rather than hostels, hopefully made easier because I am a travel agent and can probably get discounts. I have been to England, Ireland and Italy, and Paris for one day. Language barriers do not concern us. We are going to Europe for me... as long as we stay in decent hotels and do not go to Germany, my wife will be happy to join me. I know - I'm a lucky guy. I just have to plan a beach vacation for our next trip!]

I've always wanted to explore Paris... not so much for the museums and churches, although we will do some of that... but mostly to just experience Paris. Food, shopping, just exploring.

For the second city, I would love to go to Italy but I was recently in Rome, Venice and Florence on a business trip and had time to see the main attractions. I thought maybe the second city could be somewhere else in Italy but I am not sure where... Milan doesn't seem so interesting, Cinque Terre towns seem amazing but maybe not much to do if it's not warm enough for the beaches? Naples and Sicily seem wonderful but too far? Are there other places in Italy worth the trip from Paris?

So that brings me to my next best choices for second cities: Amsterdam and Switzerland (including a trip into the Alps). Where in Switzerland? Interlaken... as a base for a trip up the Jungfrau?

Any feedback or advice on these plans would be helpful and appreciated.
posted by kdern to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about Barcelona?

Also, if you go to Cinque Terre, you'll probably want to do a little hiking. You can go from town to town by train or boat, but the hiking is pretty easy and exciting (1-2 hours for each leg). I took a daytrip there on an overcast day. The lack of good light downgraded the experience from "amazing" to "charming and beautiful" but it was still really fun. If you go to Cinque Terre, you could do that in 1 or 2 days and spend most of your time in Bologna, which has insane food.
posted by acidic at 7:00 AM on March 28, 2010

Just to throw out a couple things that you have perhaps considered and rejected or not considered at all:

- You don't mention a car but for places like Italy, having a car and exploring the countryside is in many ways the most rewarding way to see Italy. That allows you to get off the beaten track and explore little medieval and renaissance towns and the best food and wine to be had. Good homebases for that would be somewhere in Northern Umbria, a town in Emilia-Romagna or Bologna or a town in the middle of the Langhe in Piedmont. But you have to have a car really.

- Other second cities would include Barcelona and Lisbon. The latter city is one of the least tourist-scarred cities in Europe with much of the old charm still there. Great food, weather and beaches too.
posted by vacapinta at 7:03 AM on March 28, 2010

Siena and Padova are good places to visit, I lived in Bologna for 6 months so recommend that as well, there is an overnight train that you can catch from Paris to Bologna, as last year it was ridiculously expensive to fly between the two.
posted by ellieBOA at 8:21 AM on March 28, 2010

Bruges is a bit touristy, but a photographer's delight. Interlaken is stunning as well, although the town itself doesn't have much going on.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:32 AM on March 28, 2010

Barcelona is a good suggestion, plenty to see do and photograph, and you can mix the beach and city experience very easily if you wish. From there it is easy to explore Valencia and surrounding towns on the coast such as Peniscola which are beautiful. There are beaches all over and it will certainly be warm in May. The area is well served by budget airlines that will fly you from Paris, or alternatively you could take the train.
posted by fire&wings at 9:53 AM on March 28, 2010

I also think that Barcelona is a good idea, but how about Madrid? It's easy to get to by night train (you can travel while you're sleeping!); you could even stop for a bit in San Sebastian. It's also easy to get to Sevilla and Toledo from there, and both places are awesome.

Interlaken is great for outdoors-y type activities, but yeah, not much else to do there.
posted by estherbester at 10:16 AM on March 28, 2010

If you want another big-big city, Barcelona is a great suggestion (above). Bruges is super-toursity, but it is adorable, and worth the trip. Don't know anything about Amsterdam.

I really popped in to cheer on Switzerland; I find it a super and under-rated place to visit. Zurich is one of my favorite cities for ambiance and wandering. It is world-known and biggish, but really feels small. There are some fantastic museums (Landesmuseum), factory visits (Lindt), outdoor activities (the "beach" and harbor tours, parks with walking trails), and fun restaurants (the Blindeskuh, run by a school for the blind, is totally dark inside). So yes, Zurich!

I have another favorite spot an hour or two outside called Braunwald, it is a little spa town in the mountains with great spas (duh) and hiking. There are NO CARS ALLOWED, almost everything is locally grown, it is just fantastic.

Luzern is nice too, with the covered bridges, it's also somewhere nearby. If you come to these places through France, you can drop by Chamonix, on the French side of the border. I never enjoyed French Switzerland as much as the German side, but ymmv.

Everything above is easily accessible by train.

posted by whatzit at 10:19 AM on March 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest a jaunt over to Vienna, Austria, rather than Switzerland or Italy, for the second half of the trip. (It's not really so much like Germany...)

It's a great hub for a number of day trips, it's gorgeous, and it's lovely in May. You could go to a heuriger in the hills for an afternoon, and spend some time wandering around the parks and city. You could take a day trip to Bratislava (awesome food!). Get into the beer gardens in the Prater for a schnitzel and a pint of beer. Take a day trip to the Wachau and ride bikes. Have a picnic on the Donauinsel, and ride the riesenrad in the Prater. See an opera (I think Carmen is still playing.). Check out the awesome art collections at Belvedere and Art History Museum. Have a beer in the sunshine and people watch in the MuseumsQuartier. And definitely go see the Gloriette - go to the top, it's worth the view - and Schloss Schoenbrunn.

If you're more convinced that Italy would be really more your thing, try Capri or Anacapri, near Naples. It's stupidly gorgeous. And the food... Wow.

I'd also say Amsterdam would be a lovely choice. The Dutch are super friendly.
posted by kirstk at 12:40 PM on March 28, 2010

Amsterdam is very nice. Everybody's pace is different, but I once spent eight days this way: five in Amsterdam, one in Brussels, two in Paris. My next trip to Paris, our day trip was to Brussels and Bruges, which was a little train-intensive for one day, but worth it to us. Brussels has the most beautiful plaza in reality or imagination, in my opinion.
posted by troywestfield at 9:38 AM on March 29, 2010

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