Skip Navigation

Three-week first trip to Europe... advice, please

Travel Forums Europe Three-week first trip to Europe... advice, please

1. Posted by Joel_BC (Budding Member 12 posts) 4y

Hi. My wife and I are a middle-aged Canadian couple who will have a bit of time on our hands for a trip to get acquainted with southern Europe. Our plan is for about three weeks in late March & early April.

We are professionals you might say (my wife an artist and teacher of art, myself an administrator). We have travelled a lot in North America, some in the Pacific, some in Latin America, some in the UK. This will be our first trip to the European mainland. Our budget will be somewhat modest, but not super-tight - we've saved money for this.

We have interests in history and culture. At present, we think we want to land in Amsterdam & spend a few days there seeing the sights and visiting museums. From there, we'd like to travel by rail and spend a few days each in Paris, Rome, possibly very brief in Florence & Venice, possibly a few days in Spain.

We wonder about how practical it may (or may not) be to try to get hotel rooms as we arrive in the cities. ??

This will be an overview trip, to get acquainted. We know we can experience nothing in-depth, this time. Anyone have comments or suggestions about accommodations or other aspects of a short trip?

I'm sure more questions will occur to me when I've read some comments. Thanks.

2. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 4y

Well how comfortable are you with the idea of arriving at a new city that you may or may not speak the language of, and trying to find an accommodation then? Not to mention time spent to do so when you could better use it to see the sights. Cities like Amsterdam and Paris are always going to be relatively expensive in term of accommodation costs, so it's not easy to find something cheap upon arrival.

I personally prefer to search online for accommodations prior to arrival, so that as I get there, I know exactly where I'm going, and I would have already nailed down my accommodation budget within range that I'm happy with.

A number of national museums and monuments in France are free for art teacher (valid proof required) so that's something for your wife to have a look into. Additionally, the Paris Museum Pass is of good value, as long as you visit at least 2 sights per day within the list of places covered by the pass. Often, you could cluster the sights up and do more, giving it an even better value.

For Italy, in Florence and Venice, as far as I know, you should take advantage of online booking for some of the sights in order to avoid long queues which would be inevitably.

3. Posted by Joel_BC (Budding Member 12 posts) 4y

Quoting lil_lil

Well how comfortable are you with the idea of arriving at a new city that you may or may not speak the language of, and trying to find an accommodation then? Not to mention time spent to do so when you could better use it to see the sights. Cities like Amsterdam and Paris are always going to be relatively expensive in term of accommodation costs, so it's not easy to find something cheap upon arrival.

I personally prefer to search online for accommodations prior to arrival, so that as I get there, I know exactly where I'm going, and I would have already nailed down my accommodation budget within range that I'm happy with.

A number of national museums and monuments in France are free for art teacher (valid proof required) so that's something for your wife to have a look into. Additionally, the Paris Museum Pass is of good value, as long as you visit at least 2 sights per day within the list of places covered by the pass. Often, you could cluster the sights up and do more, giving it an even better value.

For Italy, in Florence and Venice, as far as I know, you should take advantage of online booking for some of the sights in order to avoid long queues which would be inevitably.

Thanks for the very level-headed and informative info.

About online booking of passes for "the sights", do you know if sort-of open-ended passes are available (so that you might have couple days' leeway to use them - in case your exact arrival to a given sight proves difficult to pin down)?

4. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 4y

Hmmm I can't think of specifics right now, but say, in Paris, the Paris Museum Pass, you can buy it when you're in Paris and it's usually not dated until you decide when to start using it. But, if you want to go to a show at the Grand Palais, which is usually excellent but the queue does get very long (I've queued for nearly 4 hours once for an exhibit there, in the winter, brrr, because I couldn't pin down a date and by the time I could, online tickets were all gone) then it's up to you to decide if it's worth taking a chance. You could, of course, estimate your arrival and buy the ticket for 2-3 days down the schedule rather than your day of arrival, which would be on a pretty safe side.

And oh, San Marco basilica in Venice, the entry is free so you can book the timeslot ahead and if you can make it, well and good. If you can't, then it's not a terribly big deal I guess. Here are a good website with tips on visiting the basilica.

Re your route: there's direct night train from Paris to Venice, and then you can travel southward from Venice to Florence to Rome. Then, if you want to continue on to Spain, grab a cheap flight from Rome over, rather than by train, because there isn't any direct train as far as I know.

5. Posted by Ursula H (Budding Member 7 posts) 4y

Hi, you mention a 'quick' visit to Florence, but as an art lover no trip to Europe would be complete without a few days in this city, you will think you've died and gone to heaven! The Uffizi is the most important art gallery in the world for reinaissance art and you will easily spend a whole day there (it has a reaurant on the roof with amazing views of the city) Tickets can be purchased on line, queues are always long.
You can spend at least another day scratching the surface of other galleries such as the Academia. Try to go here first to see Michael Angelo's 'David' it is far more dramatic than the copy in the pallazo della Signoria. The Dumo and the Baptistry in Florence are simply breathtaking. You will have to drag yourselves away from this city!

Another consideration whilst in Italy (and easily accesible from Florence by train) is Arrezzo, not nearly as crowded as the usual suspects (Venice , Rome etc) Arrezo is part of the Piero Della Francesca trail, which will take you to Sansapolcro, his birth place, and Angahari all very beautiful towns with fantastic food, wine, and people.

If you decide Florence is on your list let me know, I have a great tip for a hidden gem where you can have lunch with one of europes best views (I think)

I think Venice is also a 'must' probably my favourite city in the world, breath takingly beautiful, and so unique. If you happen to land at Marco Polo airport, take the Ailiguna public boat from outside the airport so you enter Venice via the Grand Canal.....amazing!

let me know if you need any more hints on Venice

Good luck with the plans!

6. Posted by Joel_BC (Budding Member 12 posts) 4y

Thanks so much for the info/advice, so far!

In light of the fact that this early-spring venture will be our first trip to Europe, we've been thinking of a couple of different approaches...

Scenario #1: Fairly open-ended: A thought we've had is to pre-book a hotel room in, say, Paris for three or four days. Then we've wondered - at the proposed time of year (march/april) - whether it would be practical to book our next room (in, say, Rome, Venice, Barcelona) by phone or internet from Paris? (And doing similarly from the next city/town, and the next...) ??

Scenario #2: Pre-arranging a basic structure: Or do you think it would be more practical to pre-book, before we leave Canada, hotel rooms in each major city we'll visit, thus putting a skeletal framework & schedule to our trip? (In this second scheme, we'd then be in a position to make day trips from and back to the city... but would lack the flexibility to stay spontaneously in a small inn or B&B that we simply 'find along the way' in some small community.)

7. Posted by Ursula H (Budding Member 7 posts) 4y

Hi Joel,

this is a difficult one, it all depends on how much that spontinaity means to you, and how much time you want to dedicate to looking for accommodation if that inn or B &B doesn't materialise, or is fully booked as will probably be the case. You mention March / April, please bear in mind the first weekend in April is Easter, and all of the places on your 'wish list' will be very heavily booked. I would strongly advise you book ahead in any European city if your vacation includes Easter.

I fully understand why you would want to just turn up in a beautiful village and book into a hotel you have stumbled upon, but I fear the reality is very different. The one thing the internet has done (via customer reviews) is to promote very good establishments, and expose poor ones, this means that the chances of finding a good, reasonably priced hotel in a top European town or city with room to spare, is slim.

One thing to consider is, if you do book ahead via the internet most hotels will not charge you for cancellations if made 24 / 48 hrs ahead, (check the cancellation policies on line) so if you do find yourself somewhere you just can't drag yourself away from you could always cancel your next hotel, and re-book, but still have the security of knowing its there if you need it.

We travel to Italy at least 3 time a year and I always use an online company called Venere. When you type in the city you want to stay in it will default to 'sort by most popular' change this to 'sort by reviews' I always judge hotels by these customer reviews, and have so far never had a bad one.

All in all, I would say if it's your first trip, and you don't speak the language of some of the countries, plan ahead . You will have lots and lots of research to do, and the time will fly by, before you know it you will be winging your way to Europe!

Ursula

8. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 4y

From your past posts, you seem to be travelling from major city to major city, so chances of you checking out some quaint B&B or small inn would be rather slim. You can also always book only for the first couple of days for a particular city then extend it, of course.

You could also have a look at the accommodation booking system on TP where you are required only a booking deposit of 10% to secure the room, although of course, check their terms and conditions for cancellation before you finalise everything.

9. Posted by hallyally (Budding Member 15 posts) 4y

Hi!
This is my first post on the Forum, but I agree with the person who said that any Art-lover would need to spend more than a day or so in Florence.

Have you considered hiring a campervan or motorcaravan when you arrive in Europe? This would give you the freedom to go where you please, and stay for as long as you decide at the time.
We have done many trips this way, and it's possible to do a circular trip from Northern France to the Italian Adriatic (including Venice) and back in three weeks.
You can even stay in Paris on the Bois du Bologne, at Longchamp, with a bus that takes you to the nearest Metro for easy access to all the usual sites!
It's not a really cheap option, but very flexible.

As you will be early in the season, it won't be necessary to pre-book campsites either.
I can suggest the best places to stay for art-lovers in particular - from our experience. Just ask!

Hope this helps
Alison

10. Posted by StephC90 (Inactive 4 posts) 4y

Hi, I've been reading this thread, and very interested...
What do you say the best way of getting around to all these cities is?
I'm planning a trip to the same destinations plus a few, nice choice :) however un-sure as to how to do it?
Any help would be appreciated.