How to plan a trip to Europe

If this is your first trip to Europe, the experience can be daunting. Which direction should you take? What will the cost be? How many locations are possible to visit?

Does this ring a bell?

Every day, we receive questions from people seeking guidance on organizing their first vacation to Europe. And we see the same questions repeatedly. As a result, we produced this piece to address your concerns and provide you with some food for thought as you plan your Europe itinerary.

How to Plan Your First Trip to Europe

Don’t Try to See Everything on Your First Visit

I cannot tell you how frequently we receive emails that begin, “I have ten days in Europe and intend to see Rome, Venice, Paris, London, and Belgium.” Do you believe that was a little hasty?”

It’s the equivalent of saying, “I’ll be in the United States for ten days.” Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Chicago are all places I’d like to visit. Do you believe that was a little hasty?”

We comprehend. Europe is vast and brimming with “must-see” attractions. Paris, Rome, Barcelona, London, Amsterdam, and Venice are all on many first-time visitors to Europe’s must-see list. They are all excellent locations to visit. And with so many incredible places to visit, it might be difficult to limit down your list to just a few destinations.

You’ll have a far more enjoyable vacation if you avoid attempting to visit a new city every day. The more time you spend in each location, the more familiar you become with it. Certain cities, such as London, Paris, and Rome, may literally keep you busy and entertained for five or more days.

Here are some general suggestions for how many places you can visit based on your available time:

  • With seven days, you can visit two destinations OR one city with day trips.
  • With ten days, you can visit three cities OR two cities with day trips.
  • With 14 days, you can visit four cities OR take a road/train journey through one or two countries.

If you look at your plan and question if you’re going too quickly or cramming too much in, chances are you are.

If you have ten days and wish to see four big cities, it is possible, but the trip will be rushed and taxing. And the majority of that time will be spent on trains and planes. Not to mention the time spent commuting between destinations, packing, unpacking, and checking into hotels.

A sample schedule via London, Amsterdam, and Paris is as follows:

  1. Arrival in London on Day 1
  2. London, Day 2
  3. 3rd Day: London
  4. London on Day 4
  5. Day 5: Train to Amsterdam in the morning, touring in the afternoon
  6. Amsterdam on Day 6
  7. Day 7: Morning train to Paris, afternoon touring
  8. Paris, Day 8
  9. Paris, Day 9
  10. Day 10: Return home

This tour takes you to three significant cities. Additionally, this itinerary is a touch hurried. You could easily spend an additional day in each place due to the abundance of things to see and do.

For other ideas on how to arrange a 10-day trip to Europe, consider the following itineraries:

Three cities as examples:

Gdansk, Warsaw, and Krakow in Ten Days

Several examples of investigating a single region:

Itinerary for Ten Days in Bavaria

Ten Days in Norway: The Ultimate Fjord Road Trip

Don’t Forget to Take Travel Time into Account

Assume you have ten days in Europe and have restricted your plan to three places. How do you navigate?

That is dependent on your destination.

The train is the ideal alternative for cities that are close together, such as Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville. If you’re visiting Stockholm, Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, you’ll go by airline and train.

Naturally, traveling between cities takes time. And you must take this into account not just while organizing your itinerary, but also when deciding where to visit.

To give you a ballpark estimate, it will take around four hours, or nearly half a day, to travel between two cities. This time may increase if the cities are located a great distance apart. Thus, if you visit three cities, you will spend approximately one day traveling between them.

Typically, we schedule transfers between cities early in the morning. By boarding an early train, we are usually able to check into our hotel by midday and have the remainder of the afternoon to explore. On occasion, we’ll take an evening train to allow for some extra time in our departure city.

WHAT ABOUT Luggage? Assume you arrive in Florence by rail at 11 a.m. It’s too early to check into your hotel, so what are your options for luggage storage? You have two alternatives. You can store your luggage at the train station’s luggage storage room (and recover it at the end of the day) or have your hotel store it for you. We contact our hotel in advance to ensure they can hold our stuff for us (but so far no one has told us no).

Trains vs. Planes

In some instances, you may have the option of flying or taking the train between cities. When traveling times are considered, a one-hour flight may appear to be significantly more time efficient than a three-hour high-speed rail, but this is not always the case.

Flights have a significantly longer check-in process (we usually check in two hours before our flight). In most situations, you can arrive just prior to your train’s departure time, while some high-speed trains need you to arrive 30 minutes prior to departure.

Cities have train stations. From the station, your accommodation may be a short walk or metro trip away. Airports are located outside of cities, and the journey into the city center might take between 15 and 30 minutes (or even longer in some cases). You’ll need to repeat this process twice, which could add another hour to your journey time if you’re flying.

Whenever possible, we prefer train travel. It’s quick, inexpensive, and significantly more environmentally friendly than flying.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: By reserving an overnight train, you can save time (and money on a hotel room). It may also be worthwhile to purchase a rail pass if you intend to travel between cities.

Utilize Open Jaw Flights to Make the Most of Your Time

Flights with an open jaw arrive in one city and depart from another (for example, you arrive in London and depart from Paris).

By arranging different arrival and departure cities, you might save considerable time.

Assume you’re interested in seeing Rome, Florence, and Venice (and who wouldn’t?!). If you fly to Rome and then return from Venice, you save approximately half a day by avoiding the time required to return to Rome.

Often, it is not more expensive to do so. We’ve flown open jaw numerous times for less than the cost of a round trip airfare.

In some instances, flying open jaw may be more expensive. If it is, you must consider whether it is worthwhile to pay a little extra money in order to save some time. Perhaps it’s worth paying a bit more money for more time in Venice rather than taking the train back to Rome (and don’t forget to factor the cost of the train into your decision to fly open mouth).

How do you feel about jet lag?

Jet lag is the weariness associated with travelling different time zones. Some people are fortunate enough to experience little symptoms, while others may feel fatigued for several days.

If you are going from the United States to Europe, you will most likely take an overnight trip and arrive in the morning or midday. While you are likely to feel exhausted on your first day, if you have difficulty sleeping on the plane, you may feel more like a zombie.

To overcome jet lag quickly, it’s usually advisable to stay awake and go to bed early on the first day. I’ll admit that there have been a few occasions when we took a noon snooze out of desperation.

With this in mind, it is normally better to avoid scheduling a jam-packed agenda on the first day. While being pleased to be in a new location might be invigorating, it will still be tough for the majority of people to perform at 100% on the first day.

Is it Necessary to Rent a Car?

Certain regions of Europe are ideal for a road trip. Norway, Ireland, Slovenia, and the Balkan Peninsula are just a few of our favorite destinations to explore with the independence provided by a rental car. However, before you rent a car, there are a few things you should know.

If you’re considering hiring a car for your European vacation, we have an article dedicated to intriguing topics such as international driver’s licenses, how to choose a rental car company, and more. You may read it here:

Ten Important Things to Consider Before Renting a Car in Europe

How Do We Plan Our Itineraries?

Before you begin planning your itinerary, you should conduct some research. Flight fees, season, hotel availability, and tour availability must all be considered while making your decision.

Assume you choose to spend ten days in Ireland. What information do you require prior to making reservations?

We begin by conducting research into flight expenses. If your travel dates are flexible, you may be able to save money by travelling mid-week rather than over the weekend.

Once we know our flight dates, we build our itinerary around them.

If you’re arranging a tour or a visit to a popular attraction, double-check that the dates correspond to your itinerary.

Additionally, you can conduct a quick hotel search to ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises regarding hotel rates or availability. This will be less of an issue if you schedule your vacation well in advance (4 months or more). However, in popular areas such as the Isle of Skye, the Lofoten Islands, the Cinque Terre, Croatia’s islands, and Iceland’s south coast, hotels can sell out months in advance, leaving either no availability or horrible places that you would typically avoid.

After confirming that everything is in order, we arrange our flights and then our accommodation, hire vehicle (if necessary), and activities.

Nowadays, with the surge in tourism, it’s also a good idea to do some research on the major attractions you’re going and then get your tickets in advance. We were recently in San Francisco and missed the Alcatraz tour due to tickets being sold out for three months!!

We inform you in our articles on what you should reserve in advance to avoid disappointment (like our Alcatraz experience). While purchasing tickets in advance may seem like extra work, in today’s world, it has become necessary to view some of the world’s most popular attractions.