10 Days, 3 Cities in Europe
April 30, 2010 3:16 PM   Subscribe

10 Days. 3 Cities in Europe. Help.

We are planning a 10-day trip over Christmas break this year. We'd like to visit 3 cities in 10 days. Tentatively, we are thinking about flying into London (from NYC) on Christmas eve, spending a few days there, taking a train to Paris for a few days, taking a train to Amsterdam, spending a few days, and flying out.

This makes sense to us in that we have an interest in visiting all three cities, but we are open to suggestions regarding better logistical plans (and even different cities if they make more sense).

10 days, 3 cities in Western Europe. How would you do it?

(And we'd really like to see a soccer game...)
posted by scooterdman to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't do it. I travel to Europe all the time and reckon this is the worst way to travel. I generally think that people subconsciously do this simply so they won't have as interesting and satisfying a time and, subsequently, will not feel the desire to go back anytime soon. Honestly, I do. Those are all places worth ten days on their own.

I might do London and other parts of England / Wales in ten days. Or Paris and some French countryside. Or Amsterdam and some day trips. But not all three - except for one caveat. And that is, you're going at a kind of grey time of year, and so - depending on the weather - travelling outside cities can be a really hit-or-miss experience. If your heart's set on this plan, it's vaguely logical. But only vaguely.

Personally, I think you'd have a better time around Christmas by doing:

1) Prague and Budapest in ten days, which makes a lot of sense. Lovely and a lot cheaper.

2) Bavaria (especially Munich) and possible forays into Austria and Switzerland.

Those are places *built* for Christmastime. In my experience, Amsterdam is not, and Paris is *way* not! I've never been to London in winter.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:38 PM on April 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

Does the 10 days include transportation time? Because I'm pretty sure it's going to take at least half a day or more to get to Paris by train, and at least as long from Paris to Amsterdam, which leaves you really 36-48 hours in each city. Take into consideration a bit of jet lag, and you'll find yourself in some amazing cities with not a whole lot of energy and time to enjoy what each has to offer.

Even if you fly, there's the logistics of getting in / out of airports, flight times, etc.

So you could choose to spend more time in less cities, or just do the whirlwind thang.

Me? I'd pick London and Amsterdam and plop myself in two cities for 4 days each.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:40 PM on April 30, 2010

You could fit Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Florence into your trip, if you want to see more. Or, Zurich, Paris, Amsterdam.

I would skip the UK - do Switzerland, France, Italy or something like that. What's your goal? Seeing diverse places? First visit to Europe?
posted by jardinier at 3:40 PM on April 30, 2010

We're leaving this summer for a 14 day three-city trip to Europe. We're doing Copenhagen, London, and Amsterdam (so very close to your plans).

A few things that I have learned: 1 - It's very cheap and easy to fly from city to city. Look into the plane tickets. They run at about $98 per person, and often the train is no cheaper.

2 - We have decided to stay in apartments rather than hotels. I don't know if you're a family or a couple or a group of friends - but apartments are somewhat inexpensive (a little more than hotels) but they are 100 times more comfortable and they have kitchens. I can't speak from experience but a friend of ours told us about spending $85 on three sandwiches and three drinks while in London! Because of prices like that, we decided to go with the kitchen so we could at least eat breakfast and possibly lunch a little less expensively. Check FlipKey and simple Google searches for apartment rentals - they are plentiful.

3 - I do think three cities is good. I've had several friends make similar trips and all agree that more time in fewer places is better than less time in more places. One friend who has been there multiple times has actually encouraged us to choose a city and spend the whole two weeks there, but we've decided to ignore him.

I'll keep an eye on this question because our trip is still coming up and I'd love to hear what others say.
posted by crapples at 3:45 PM on April 30, 2010

I'd say it's definitely do-able but you might feel very rushed getting to and from each place. If you're hellbent on visiting all three cities, a few extra days would go a long way. I did something similar a few years back (substituting Brussels and Bruges for Paris) over 14 days and the pace was just right.

If it were me and I only had 10 days, I'd limit it to two cities: London and Paris. Especially if you haven't visited either before. You could easily spend 10 days in each and limiting the tip to about three days is probably cutting it a bit shorter than most would like. If you've seen either of those, then throwing Amsterdam into the mix instead might be a good option for you.

As for connections, travel between London and Paris on the Eurostar is very reasonable (tip: book in advance from the U.S. for a much better rate), if not downright enjoyable in and of itself.
posted by dhammond at 4:22 PM on April 30, 2010

Don't try to do too much. You're going to need Christmas day just to get over jet lag. Then London needs, say, three days of sightseeing (don't try to do too much), which puts out at a December 29 departure to Paris. I imagine Paris will be pretty shut down on January 1 (you can check this), so let's say you need December 30, 31 and January 2 to get any sense of it at all. Then January 3 - that's ten days. Time's up! Amsterdam doesn't fit. And that's bare-bones. I think that three days of solid sightseeing is enough to give a good flavour of a city, and I sympathize with not wanting to spend all ten days in one place. But three cities in that time is too much.

Consider as an alternative Paris and Amsterdam. Either choice would be great, I think. Though I hope you don't mind grey skies and cold drizzle.
posted by Dasein at 4:25 PM on April 30, 2010

I wouldn't do it at all. Three cities in ten days means you five traveling days in wintertime--to and from Europe, then trips to each of the cities. On those traveling days, you will have to pack and unpack, get to the airport/train station, check out and check in. This is time you could instead be sitting in cafes, walking in beautiful parks, going to world class museums, markets, sites, and restaurants.

Is this how you want to spend a five days of your ten-day vacation? Why not pick Paris and/or London, stay in an apartment the entire time, take the Eurostar for two nights to the other city, if you're still up for it? Or take day trips within France or England from your base in either Paris or London? Please do not underestimate the expense and hassle factor of all the traveling, not to mention jet lag. It will be a blur. All your cities will have very short days and long nights at Christmas. However, London and Paris, especially, sparkle at Chrismastime. I visited Amsterdam in late winter and found it dark, damp, and dour compared to Paris and London. I say skip it.

Go to the slowtrav.com France and England sites and pose this question on their forums. They will tell you exactly how to plan your trip so you love it. Bon voyage!
posted by Elsie at 4:31 PM on April 30, 2010

I do believe Dee Xtrovert has it mostly right--we frequently travel to Europe and your plans are a likely scenario for tourist fatigue, cynicism and disappointment. Big cities are big cities--either go to one and make a serious attempt to immerse yourself--rent a flat, find a few local eating/coffee places, walk, see the sights, take an open bus tour your first day and enjoy yourself. If you feel strongly about visiting multiple cities pick cities with a max population of 500,00 +/- and limit it to two. Unless you are relatively fluent in the local language I would also suggest you spend most of your time in English speaking countries so you feel oriented and in control--otherwise you will basically be limited to activities targeted to tourists. Crapples says "One friend who has been there multiple times has actually encouraged us to choose a city and spend the whole two weeks there, but we've decided to ignore him." I would suggest that he ignores him at his own risk. There are certainly reasons to visit multiple cities ( art tours, specific museum, personal interests) but I would strongly suggest that multiple city trips are like watching the previews and leaving just before the main feature. What is important is what you experience not what you see. You asked for advice and this is it.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:36 PM on April 30, 2010

Questions like this often come up on travel forums, and the usual answer is that you are trying to cram to much stuff into too few days. That answer is correct.

If you are flying to London on an overnight flight from the U.S., you will be an unusual person not to be a sleepy zombie during Day One of your tour. Jet lag is real. Add that to the impact of not getting much sleep on the flight. (Given the choice, would you really decide to sleep in an airplane?)

Travel by train in Europe is easy and, for an American, a revelation. But, travel time is travel time. As mentioned, count on a half-day or so to venture from one of your proposed cities to the next. Balance that against having that half-day to spend in one of them.

My recommendations:

Cut the itinerary to 2 cities.

Try to find a flight that leaves morning your time and arrives evening local time. When I go to the UK, I fly from the U.S. in the morning and arrive after 10pm at Heathrow, By the time I clear passport control and get into the city, it is well past midnight, London time, of a very long day. I have no trouble falling to sleep and wake up in 8 hours or so, fully in synch with the locals. Minimal jet lag.

Travel by rail between cities, departing early in the evening You'll get in late, get to your hotel, and crash. You don't want to be stuck on a train when the sun is out. You could be doing much more interesting things.

Looking are renting an apartment can be a good idea, if you can find one that is willing to rent for less than one week. If you do, be sure to do a little web research before you turnover the credit card.
posted by justcorbly at 4:38 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

NYC to London to Paris to Amsterdam to London to NYC in 10 days is pretty much impossible on any reasonable level. Even if you're not counting the flights to/from NYC, it's still way too much. I would consider doing London and Paris, nothing more. That would still be very hectic and leave you feeling like you had barely begun to explore the cities.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:42 PM on April 30, 2010

Oh! Forgot to mention that much will be closed down in these three cities on Christmas Day, Boxing Day (for London) and over New Year's. That is, I'd make sure the places where you are planning to grab meals are actually gonna be open.
posted by justcorbly at 4:44 PM on April 30, 2010

The answers above all depend on how you travel and which part of travel you like the most. It's certainly do-able, and enjoyable. I wouldn't do any inter-Euro flights, take only trains, it's half the fun. If you bring a lot of luggage and you're not interested in exploring much, and you're not big on walking - pick one city. If you enjoy traveling, actually moving about and through train stations and you can pack light (in this case, one easy to carry bag for each of you) then you can see at least 3 cities in 10 days and get a good sense of where you'd like to go when you return to spend more time.

If you're never going to travel again to any places, perhaps pick one city and go there, rent an apartment for the week and really live in it.

Either way, Rick Steves site is an incredible resource for packing tips and places to stay and itineraries - he's really cheesy and dorky, but you gotta love someone this dorky who advocates for decriminalizing pot on his PBS travel show..
posted by jardinier at 4:51 PM on April 30, 2010

Nthing that you are packing too much in too little time. I think one city will be plenty--and at tops, two. Contrarian strategy--Kö and day trips to the countryside, and spend a couple of days in Amsterdamn on the way out. Florence for half & up to Como/Milan for half. London/Wales as someone said above.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:31 PM on April 30, 2010

I did the same cities over the same amount of time back in 2003. It was my first trip to Europe and I wanted to see it all. I complicated things since I was flying in/out of Europe via Brussels.

I took the high-speed trains from Brussels to Amsterdam. Hung out there for a few days. Then took high speed train to Paris. Then the Eurostar to London. I ended up flying BMI back to Brussels instead of taking the train so I'd have more time in London. At the time, the the BMI flight was just a few dollars more than RyanAir but more of a full service airline.

For me it was manageable but by the time I got to London I was pretty wiped out. Paris was sort of a blur as well. I went through the Louvre in just a few hours. I thought I'd get sleep on the trains but the inner kid in me loved cruising fast across the countryside on a high speed train. The jetlag hit me harder than I thought. Walking around so much wore me out. So by the end of the trip I was sleeping precious hours from the trip.

If I had it to do over, I would have skipped London (no offense Londoners) as it was just too much to pack into a single trip. I spent a lot of time thinking "next time I come here I'll do..."

When I travel I don't like to have a big itinerary of stuff I must do, just the times of when to catch transport to the next city. But for this trip, I wanted to make sure I did a lot of research on stuff I had to see, wanted to see, and see if I had time. I'm glad I did that since a lot of stuff like a museum in Amsterdam was closed, as was several places in Paris due to construction. I practically memorized the Rick Steves and Lonely Planet guides.

I still had a blast and loved it. It was a trip to go from just getting used to everyone speaking Dutch to French to English to Flemish to English again. The trip will whet your appetite for other trips.
posted by birdherder at 5:32 PM on April 30, 2010

uhhh, Köln. Duh.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:32 PM on April 30, 2010

The first time I went to Europe I did the traditional go to a whole bunch of cities in a month trip. And even though we sent about 5 days each in London and Paris, we felt like we'd barely cracked the surface and were nowhere near to running out of things to do. Since then I've gone to one or two places at a time only.

That's my long way of saying I'd just pick 2 cities (or even one).
posted by grapesaresour at 5:33 PM on April 30, 2010

In my experience, Amsterdam is not

Christmas itself is (in spite of outside influence) still pretty low-key, because the kids get their presents in early December from Sinterklaas and his uncomfortably blackfaced friends. I worked there about a decade ago right up to Christmas Eve, and while there's a prettiness about A'dam in winter (when it's not wet and windy) it's not really Christmassy from an Anglo-American perspective.

I think the itinerary's technically doable, and I've said before that it's a good trio of cities to visit on a European trip, but I probably wouldn't do it in that short a time. I also agree with the posters who think that central Europe (or possibly Scandinavia) does Christmas best, though you're still going to encounter the classic European shutdown between Christmas and New Year, where large chunks of the workforce, including the travel and tourism sector, are off work or working under protest, and the train schedules are going to be more limited than at other times of the year.
posted by holgate at 5:49 PM on April 30, 2010

Plus, as others have said, your proposed London itinerary covers possibly the three days you'd least want to be there: Christmas Day is going to be deathly quiet as people spend the day with family, Boxing Day is a Sunday, so the bank holiday is observed on the Monday. All that may mean a lot of the sites and restaurants will be closed right the way through till Tuesday, even as the streets and public transport get jammed with bargain shoppers: you're likely to end up tired, frustrated and with a lot of photos of closed gates.
posted by holgate at 6:00 PM on April 30, 2010

Because I'm pretty sure it's going to take at least half a day or more to get to Paris by train.

Nope. Takes a little over 2 hours. If you really wanted to, you could leave after breakfast, and be back in London before lunch.

Isn't technology grand?
posted by schmod at 6:30 PM on April 30, 2010

Too much stuff in too little time. Pick two cities at most.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:22 PM on April 30, 2010

Distances taken aside, I like


If you book ahead you may get a bargain in the inter EU flights. Look here:

posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:29 PM on April 30, 2010

You are trying to pack too much into 10 days. You can spend three weeks in London alone and barely scratch the surface. I would pick one or two cities and really enjoy them. My preference would be Berlin and Paris or Berlin and Prague.
posted by nestor_makhno at 8:00 PM on April 30, 2010

The London-Paris train can take as little as 2 hours from station to station. Add in the time you spend getting to and from stations, hotels, etc., and it's closer to four hours.
posted by justcorbly at 8:36 PM on April 30, 2010

It is true, as crapples said that - It's very cheap and easy to fly from city to city. Look into the plane tickets. They run at about $98 per person, and often the train is no cheaper. but airports are often a distance from the centre of the city, and the cost in travel and time may not be worth it. The trains are amazing -- fast, comfortable and easily accessible.
posted by bwonder2 at 11:41 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Data point about London on Christmas Day: there is NO transport (except the odd taxi, which will charge more than usual). So you probably won't be able to do anything that day, anyway - even if anything was open.

Re soccer/football: there are a lot of games in England over the period that you'll be there. It's unlikely that you could get tickets to the big London clubs (Arsenal/Chelsea/Tottenham) though Tottenham might have available seats, depending on who they are playing. Fulham could be a good bet, or possibly West Ham. (You could easily get tickets to a lower-league game). I'm unsure about France/Holland - some leagues shut down over Christmas, but I don't know if that happens in those countries.

Agree with bwonder2 about flying: flight might only take an hour, but you're looking at 1 hour to get to the airport, plus having to check-in two hours before the flight....I suspect two cities might be a better option - maybe London then Paris. (Though much as I like it here in London, Christmas really isn't the best time to visit).
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:39 AM on May 1, 2010

This makes sense to us in that we have an interest in visiting all three cities

I am going to assume from this statement that you haven't ever been to any of these cities, in which case you're wondering if you can "do" them, blitzkrieg-style, in 10 days. If that is your desire, to see a whirlwind Greatest Hits of London, Paris & Amsterdam, then I would say it's entirely possible, given a couple of caveats. The first, this assumes you are all very physically fit. You will have to do a lot of walking and a lot of standing in line—basically expect to be on your feet for hours at some stretches. The second thing that's really not in your control is the weather. If you pick a 10-day stretch of sunshine and partly-cloudy skies, you'll be fine. But throw in one rain storm and that can kill your itinerary (say for example, if you'd scheduled a bicycle tour of Amsterdam).

That you are thinking of doing this in the winter does not bode well for point 2.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2010

If that is your desire, to see a whirlwind Greatest Hits of London, Paris & Amsterdam, then I would say it's entirely possible

Actually, I disagree with this. 2 or 3 days in each city wouldn't even be adequate for the most superficial "greatest hits" tour. If the goal is to be able to efficiently check off your list of as many top tourist attractions as possible, skip Amsterdam and do just London and Paris -- or just one of those.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:35 AM on May 1, 2010

I spend a lot of time in the three cities you mention, and often travel between them on the Eurostar/Thalys. I would not do an itinerary like this over Christmas-New Year, 1 because of the holidays, 2 because it is cool and grey. You should pick ONE city, with a couple of day trips, and plan on a somewhat interior trip - cafes, bars, museums etc. If you get lucky with fine weather then this gives you time to go walking and take a daytrip.

FWIW I would go with Paris, with a daytrip perhaps to a Christmassy place - a train trip from Paris to a German Christmas market perhaps (Aachen if it is still on) and a daytrip to Aachen/Brussels or a smaller French city. Amsterdam really is a April-September town and London has too many closedowns at that time of year (no tube on Christmas and Boxing Day!).

It is possible to travel in Europe in Winter and have a great time, it very rarely snows for one thing, but it will be a different experience from Spring and Summer!
posted by wingless_angel at 9:15 AM on May 1, 2010

2 or 3 days in each city wouldn't even be adequate for the most superficial "greatest hits" tour.

This very much depends on what you consider essential. Many of the big items in London, for instance, are all in the same area: Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament & Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace are all within walking distance to each other. Other things like Trafalgar Sq. or London Bridge don't really take any time, you just see them, walk through them, done.

The first time I ever went abroad I did it all wrong and tried to cram as much as I could into a short timeframe. In London this included:
  • touching the Rosetta Stone
  • a few hours in Westminster Abbey
  • Houses of Parliament, Big Ben
  • seeing the Queen (in a motorcade, but still, the QUEEN!)
  • the National Gallery
  • climbing St. Paul's
  • a pit-stop in the McLaren showroom
  • watching the changing of the guards
  • seeing a show at the Royal Albert Hall
  • annoying the pigeons crapping all over Lord Nelson
  • walking through a shit-ton of neighborhoods (Soho, Kensington, etc.)
  • eating all over the place
  • drinking all over the place
…so, it can be done, but I had the benefit of beautiful Summer weather and the double-benefit of it not being the Christmas holiday season. Oh, and this list notably omits the Tower of London & the Crown Jewels, which I admit would most certainly add an extra day to the trip. But like I said, it all depends on what you consider "must-see".

To reiterate, I don't advise this as a travel itinerary, but I do understand the desire. It usually takes doing one of these everything-in-a-week crazy-ass, exhausting schedules to appreciate the finer, richer benefits of spending the entire time in one place.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:58 PM on May 1, 2010

In December, I would suggest a Danube river cruise, more specifically a "Christmas Markets" cruise. A friend and I did one two years ago, starting in Budapest and ending in Nuremberg. We took a coach to Prague and spent several days in the Czech Republic. It was absolutely fabulous!

Prague and Budapest were our favorites. In a couple of years, we would like to go back, and start in Budapest and go the other direction to the Black Sea.
posted by Aztekker at 8:03 PM on May 2, 2010

« Older Pantry cupboard aroud Toronto/Hamilton/Niagara   |   Real Estate Pricing Strategy Question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.