Where should I travel in Europe?
March 11, 2014 11:02 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe in the fall (late September-early October). The general idea is to visit half a dozen cities for three or four days each. I've never been anywhere on mainland Europe apart from Paris (twice), so I'm pretty open to suggestion in terms of which cities to visit (aside from Paris, which I think we'll skip this time). So what I want to know is, what are your favourite European cities to visit, and why?
posted by The Card Cheat to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Toulouse, because of food and architecture and history.
posted by rtha at 11:06 AM on March 11, 2014

Berlin and Prague would be on my list: a lot of history, good beer, and nice people (and they are only 4.5h away by train from each other).
posted by PaulZ at 11:09 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

What are you interested in?
Or, really: what kind of experience do you want to have??
What is your tolerance for travel times between cities?

Kind of everywhere could be good because of food and architecture and history.
posted by Kololo at 11:10 AM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Geneva is nice, just don't go on a holiday (e.g.: easter, etc).
London can also be amazing.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:10 AM on March 11, 2014

Venice, of course. By October the worst of the tourist crowds will be over, and for walking aimlessly it is hard to beat.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:12 AM on March 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: > What are you interested in?
Or, really: what kind of experience do you want to have??
What is your tolerance for travel times between cities?

Generally speaking, I like to wander through cities, learn about their history and try to (as much as possible for a tourist) get a feel for what life is like there. We both like to visit museums (art, especially) and galleries. Great food is also a big plus.

We'll have about three weeks, so there will be time to travel but obviously we don't want to spend too much time on trains/planes/automobiles.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:19 AM on March 11, 2014

I think this is going to depend entirely on your budget and the amount of time you have.

If I wanted to go relatively cheap, with convenient travel between cities, I'd probably concentrate on one of the following:

Benelux countries and a bit of Germany, France, and/or Switzerland -- maybe fly into Amsterdam, then Bruges, Cologne, Strasbourg, Zurich, Munich?

Berlin and the former Austro-Hungarian Empire: Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow?

With these trips you see a lot of different countries, and nothing is really that far away or inconvenient to travel between.

If you were willing to limit yourself to one country, I think Spain or Italy are your best bets. You could basically see all of Italy this way (Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, and still room for a sixth city). In Spain, I'd probably concentrate on Barcelona and the northern/Basque coast (San Sebastian and Bilbao), with maybe a side trip to the abovementioned Toulouse. But I'm not really that familiar with travel times between the major Spanish cities.
posted by Sara C. at 11:19 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rome because of the history. Florence for the amazing art. Venice because there is no place like it in the world. Vienna for the music.

They are all beautiful cities and quite close to each other too. Barcelona and Madrid are fantastic too.
posted by drugstorefrog at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're a curious and open-minded traveler, I think you're going to be happy spending time in any major European city. What I would recommend is spending a few days out of the cities, somewhere in the countryside, exploring smaller villages. I always enjoy traveling more when I feel like I'm seeing real life rather than checking off major tourist attractions. Specific places I have enjoyed this a lot are the Scottish Highlands, from Inverness to Skye and back, and Andalucia in southern Spain.
posted by something something at 11:21 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you were looking for Italian cities, I would vote for Siena, Palermo, or Naples-- I think 3-4 days is a pretty decent amount of time for exploring, and the museums and food are phenomenal. They're also all much less tourist-y than Rome or Florence. Verona and Bologna would also be options, though you could then also do more day trips to Ravenna or Modena. Siena is close enough to easily travel to northern Italy, but I think they pretty much all are accessible by EasyJet and EasyJet's cheap cousins-- just plan out the extra time it often takes to get to the smaller/obscure airports used in that case.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2014

We both like to visit museums (art, especially) and galleries. Great food is also a big plus.

Florence, Rome, Barcelona, and maybe take in some other Italian and Spanish towns as well while you're there.
posted by philipy at 11:25 AM on March 11, 2014

A broad suggestion would be to keep things relatively compact, so you're not stuck on trains or planes all the time, or get locked into "it's Tuesday so it's Rome" mode.

I like Amsterdam a lot, and it's a nice contrast from Paris; Toulouse has much to recommend it; Barcelona is always worth a visit and Venice is Venice.

You could put together a not-terrible loop that starts in the north (Amsterdam-Berlin) then heads south (Prague, Vienna, perhaps Munich for Oktoberfest crazy) to end with Venice. Nice canal-based top and tail there, too. That's similar to part of the Rick Steves 21-day itinerary, but it's still a bit of a trot. Sleeper trains can soak up some of the travel time, but you don't get to see the landscape along the way.
posted by holgate at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to Vienna next month -- great museums, fascinating history, terrific food. The Inner City is also very walkable.
posted by scody at 11:29 AM on March 11, 2014

Best answer: If it were me, I'd plan my trip around three factors:

- Southern-ish Europe - so you still get nice weather
- On the rail network - so you don't need to fly between cities. It's such a time thief to fly everywhere. Use this site.
- Cities that naturally lead onto one another so as to cut travelling time. I.e. accept you aren't going to see Rome, London, Athens in one trip.

It's such a great time to go for the weather down in Southern Europe In particular, it is a fantastic time to go to the south of France, Spain and Portugal. In the South of France, Bordeaux is fantastic for a couple of days. Great food, great wine, a lovely city that doesn't get talked about enough as a thoroughly pleasant place to visit. From there you could go to St Sebastian or Bilbao (3 hours or so), both of which are great - food in the former, food and art in the latter. From there you could go to Madrid (5 hours), and then onto Cordoba or Seville (3 hours) and then onto Lisbon. That trip gives you Basque, Spanish, Andalucian, Portuguese culture, food etc.

Alternatively you could go Bordeaux>Toulouse>Barcelona>Valencia, another cracking little trip before heading on somewhere else. All of these places can take you for 2-3 days no problem without you getting bored.

Another option is to do Berlin, Prague, go onto Vienna, Bratislava and then Budapest. Or you could divert at Vienna and head down to Slovenia (Ljubljana). This trip is doable on the train with minimal pain. If you wanted, you could then go onto Croatia (the coast is stunning. Also: Dubrovnik), which would take you through from funky+German (Berlin) to beautiful old cities of culture in Vienna and Budapest and onto Slavic countries.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:30 AM on March 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Another vote for Rome. It's such just an incredible city the touristy aspect is insignificant (plus you get the Vatican).
posted by Dragonness at 11:36 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

How comfortable are you with making travel and hotel bookings on the fly? Would it be out of the question to book your flight (open jaw or r/t from same city) and maybe plan the first stop on your itinerary, and leave the rest to what you discover?

This would allow you to fly into, say, Madrid and visit the city for a few days. Then imagine you had a conversation with a local and heard about a lovely olive festival going on in X town nearby, so you meander down to check it out. Then you decided that hey, a skip over to Seville would be fun, and on the way you could spend the night in the luuurvely little town the train just passed through. As long as yo get back to Madrid for your flight back, you can go wherever the mood strikes you. And you don't have to do All The Things, just Some Of The Things.

I say this as someone who is very adept at using train and public transportation schedules, and who is pretty comfortable not knowing where I'm going to sleep tomorrow night. YMMV. If you do this method, pack lightly!
posted by Liesl at 11:38 AM on March 11, 2014

If you haven't seen anything other than Paris, I'd say Rome.

A nice driving trip is to start in Rome and hug the mediterranean coast:

1. Rome
2. Up though Tuscany to Florence
3. Over to Cinque Terre
4. Through Genoa into France
5. Nice to Aix-en-Provence
6. Through Arles then through small towns in the Languedoc
7. Through Perpignan to Figueres
8. Into Barcelona

Now you've seen wonderful parts of Italy, France and Spain and you can save Northern Europe for another trip.
posted by vacapinta at 11:50 AM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I love London, for musuems, history, sites and theater. It's just so great!

I enjoyed Dijon France, lovely little town, delicious food, awesome museum/castle, and gogeous countryside.

If you want to stay in the Mediterranian, I went the second week in October and the weather was perfect!

Barcelona, so AMAZING. Archetecture, tapas, ocean.

Palma Majorca, pretty, neat things to see, warm.

St. Tropez, nice little town, fun shops, fun open market on Saturday.

Naples and Pompeii. Pompeii is unbelievable, so interesting! And HUGE. Naples has delicious food, wine and gelato.

Rome is Rome, what's not to love?

Monaco is fabu! Expensive as fuck, but so freaking pretty!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:56 AM on March 11, 2014

Try to fit in Munich, which has a lot to offer. From there in the Alpes on your way to perhaps northern Italy. You had plenty of suggestions for northern Italian cities.

Munich is fab - try to avoid the beerfest unless you're into that kind of thing because hotels will be very expensive at that time and travel just before or just after.

You often get very pleasant weather in southern Bavaria at that time of year, you get glorious autumn colours, lakes and the first snow on the top of the mountains en route and you're heading into even more pleasant weather in Italy.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:05 PM on March 11, 2014

Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Venice, Florence, Budapest, Munich, Barcelona.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:06 PM on March 11, 2014

If you fancied driving, vacapinta's road trip sounds mightily fine too. You don't have to hug the coast through Italy - Umbria is pretty nice too. For that matter, the beauty of that route is that there are tons of little places to see. You could equally go to Avignon while you were by Aix, for example. Indeed, you should.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:14 PM on March 11, 2014

If you fancied driving, vacapinta's road trip sounds mightily fine too.

And driving becomes a better option than trains if you're taking a southern route between Italy and Spain, because the coastal rail network isn't quite as accommodating, and you'd want some roaming room for smaller towns.
posted by holgate at 12:35 PM on March 11, 2014

Half a dozen cities, three days each is a hell of a lot of travel and transit. It takes half a day or more to fly one hour. The fastest, easiest way of gettong around is train (city center to city center) so plan your itinerary aroud the rails.
posted by three blind mice at 12:37 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd absolutely recommend some of the smaller town in Provence along the Mediterranean... Cannes and St Tropez are nice, yes, but the small towns are were you get the real culture and boy is it wonderful. Two specific one's i'd recommend (having spent time there personally) are St. Aygulf and Greouz-Les-Bains. My mother recently spent a week in Tuscany and said it was one of the most beautiful places she'd ever been, and she's certainly a world traveler.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 2:32 PM on March 11, 2014

I would also suggest that you skip the hotels and find apartments to stay in. We use Vrbo.com, they have listings in Europe. When you're in an actual neighborhood you get a better feel for the local flavor. And it's usually less expensive, too.
posted by raisingsand at 3:01 PM on March 11, 2014

Best answer: For the fun of it, I opened a route on Google-maps, going Rome, Assisi, Bologna, Ravenna, Venice, Trieste, Ljubljana, Graz, Vienna, Brno, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, Copenhagen. Or vice-versa. This can be done easily by car or rail or plane, and though it is a bit off the old West-European track, it is very classical in another sense, and absolutely wonderful all the way. It is the route of romantic thinkers, writers, philosophers and painters. And on the long stretches, the landscapes are beyond anything you will see on the western routes, because there are less people: beautiful mountains, impressive forests, misty wetlands.

Obviously, I agree with everyone that Rome is amazing. I try to go there every year. Assisi and Bologna are less known Italian cities, both beautiful and rich in culture and history, and exactly because they are less known than Florence, Siena and Pisa, much more accessible in terms of getting a feeling of the life in Italian towns. A nerdy detour would be to Urbino, home of an amazing Palazzo Ducale with several canonic artworks. Ravenna is a bit crazy in a way that is very true to contemporary Italian culture. Venice is dreamy and strange but can be difficult to get into. In a way, you need three months rather than three days to find Venice.
Trieste for me, is the city of James Joyce, old and modern, practical and lost. A fragment of the lost Europe of Stephan Zweig. Ljubljana is one of the unknown treasures of Europe. It is very, very pretty, and nice to be in, and filled with friendly people. Graz is a very pretty and very Austrian city. People are friendly and the setting is beautiful. Vienna is Vienna. There is so much to see you have to go ten times, but unlike Venice, three days can give you a rich and memorable experience.
Brno is a place to go mainly for one thing: Mies van der Rohe's Villa Tugendhat. You probably need prior reservation. It's not about modern architecture, it's more like visiting the Parthenon or Versailles. There are other things to see in Brno, but you can move on. Prague has what Paris had for our grandparents, including the slightly scammy consciousness that they are the Paris of our times. It still works. The castle and it's environs - inspiration for Kafkas work and home of Vaclav Havel - is enough to see for a day. After that the living city is a joy.
Dresden is a strange place because it was totally bombed out during WW2, and it's monuments are reconstructions. Still I think it is worth a stop on the way - a memento mori, so to say.
Berlin is the cultural capital of Europe these days. This is where the major artists live and exhibit. The music scene is vibrant and there is a lot of contemporary culture to be enjoyed. But also a lot of history and culture. A great day-trip is to Potsdam, home of princes and today the site of wonderful palace grounds. You can take a boat out there and the s-train back, to get a sense of the landscape which has formed Berlin.
Copenhagen is where I live, so I am biased. But it is a fact that it is the culinary centre of the North, and when the sun is shining, also a very nice place to be. Actually, maybe you should start in the North and go south, whatever your itinerary. We are not friendly when we are cold. In Copenhagen, you can find some of the world's best restaurants, if you can afford them and reserve now. But there are lots and lots of affordable alternatives. "The world's best" doesn't come out of nothing, and they spurn a myriad of offspring as sous-chefs start their own shops. Copenhagen is a very, very rich and thus expensive city, but even out in the "multi-cultural" areas where normal people live, there are michelin-resturants, and here they are at affordable prices and it is completely safe.
Rome and Copenhagen have international airports so you can plan around those.
posted by mumimor at 3:14 PM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Paris is my favorite place in Europe. Outside of Paris, I enjoyed Amsterdam, smaller cities in France, and rural France. I extensively toured Germany and Austria once, and wish I had spent my time somewhere else. It was all entirely forgettable. Munich was cool, though.

It's very touristy, but the european place that is most burned into my brain is Cinque Terre. If I were going on your trip during that time period, I would go Mediterranean.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 3:24 PM on March 11, 2014

I'm going with wife and teenage daughters in September and October. 8 weeks with them, then another 3 weeks on my own.

We're going to be getting around by train mostly, but perhaps hiring a car for some time in the country... The south of France and northern Spain.

We fly in and out of Milan, for some reason its cheaper. Our itinerary is basically

Cinque Terre

As we'll be there during Oktoberfest I'm also trying to squeeze a few days in Munich but not sure if its doable with an already crowded itinerary.

Were going to stay mainly in private homes via airbnb to save money.

This is my first time visiting Europe so I can't personally vouch for a particular city. But 3 cities that people keep recommending to me are Prague, Berlin, and Seville.

Can't wait to go!
posted by joz at 7:10 PM on March 11, 2014

If you find yourself in Brussels, Gent or Amsterdam - each of which are awesome cities to visit - send me a memail. You'll have a gaggle of eclectic mefite guides.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:01 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I vote for Italy! So much art and opportunity to wander around and observe people. I studied in Florence and found it easy to get to the major cities and tourist spots as others mentioned (Rome, Milan, Venice, Siena, etc.) I also really liked visiting a friend in Forli and a daytrip we took to Ravenna to see the spectacular mosaics.

(Though I've never been anywhere else in mainland Europe so I might be biased.)
posted by Shadow Boxer at 6:59 AM on March 12, 2014

A couple of years ago we travelled by ferry between Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn. It might be too out of your way, but I loved Helsinki, and Tallinn has a Scandinavian feel without the expense. It's also gorgeous and full of history, both medieval and Soviet.

Also nthing Amsterdam. I really liked Utrecht too, which is 20mins away by train.
posted by mippy at 7:55 AM on March 12, 2014

Train trip along the south! From spain to italy. Works best if you can buy an open-jaw flight (ie. fly in to Spain and fly home from Italy.)

Seville > Barcelona > Nice > Aix en Provence or Montpellier > Cinque Terre > Florence > Venice> Rome.
posted by Kololo at 10:42 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:05 PM on March 13, 2014

Response by poster: I doubt anyone will ever read this, but in the end we went to Amsterdam - Berlin - Prague - Vienna - Ljubljana (our visit there included one day trip by car through western Slovenia). Long story short, everything about the trip was amazing and great.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:25 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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