Planning for our first big “adventure” to Europe, my husband and I expected to find an easy way to jump to and from the seven countries we wanted to visit with ease. Not “planners” by nature [smile] we of course waited until our flight date was two weeks out to even start laying our plan.
But after one night on the computer, we were quickly overwhelmed with so many options that we wanted to give up and “just figure it out when we got there.” What ever happened to travel agents and choose-from-a-five-option-menu?
But then we found Eurail. If you go to their website, they have several (but not too many) travel options between most European countries by train. We found a route we liked, pre-chose all our departure times (you need reservations) and went for it — done, easy. Choosing backpacks over suitcases so we wouldn’t be lugging rolling bags (my pet peeve is their dysfunctional wheels), we got the tickets in the mail, booked a few hotels and Airbnb’s five days prior, and flew over the ocean.
For those of you who want an easy, pre-planned trip to eight countries, I mapped out our train trip below. I promise it’s amazing, (and cheap!) but the only thing I might change is to add a few more days in each spot. For you planners out there, you might want to research all of these points in depth and as a result, I admit, you’ll probably have a less harried, even richer experience than we did, relying far less on Yelp.
However, I will recommend anyone getting a portable internet device so you have internet at all times — it really does help you find the best stores and restaurants without the awkwardness of asking “Do you have wifi?” in the seven different languages.
Start in Paris for three nights. This airbnb ($89 per night) sleeps two and is perfect. It’s right in the middle of Montmartre, down a few steps from the metro and an adorable coffee shop. In Paris I recommend that a trip to the Tuileries Gardens, Colette (an incredible Parisian boutique), and Versailles is completely worth it!
Take the early train to Amsterdam for two nights. After you drop your bags, take the boat tour of the city to get acquainted. Once you exit the train station, walk straight ahead to the water and chat with all of the different boat captains and choose your favorite (we picked a character who certainly made it way more fun). Then walk the “nine shopping streets” (ask anyone there and they’ll know what that means).
Next, take the early train again, this time to Berlin for a night or two. We stayed at this airbnb ($87 per night) which was classy, white, clean, and central. Don’t miss the Jewish Museum and Bauhaus Museum.
Head next to Prague for two nights and stay at this great airbnb ($44 per night) right below the famous castle. It’s a very tourist-crowded city, so I recommend walking up to the castle after 11pm — you’ll be the only people there and it’s completely enchanting. Also, make sure you walk up to the highest point of the city to see it from above and rent a boat to paddle around in the river.
Then, hit Salzberg and spend three nights at this lovely airbnb ($100 per night). It’s a nice, clean home and the owner has his own restaurant that I highly recommend! I wouldn’t suggest the Sound of Music tour for tourists. Instead, rent a motorcycle or scooter and hit all the spots yourself. Research the facts about each site online and read them aloud to one another as you wind through the streets.
Travel to the south of Germany for one night to see Neuschwanstein castle, it’s very touristy but also fantastical. It has a very mysterious story, so listen carefully to the tour. You also won’t want to miss viewing it from the bridge nearby.
Take the train for two nights in Venice. It’s true, it is possibly a sinking city! The Bauers Venezia is a famous hotel there currently run by Francesca Bortolotto Possati, granddaughter of Arnaldo Bennati, third generation of the Bennati family. It’s a boutique hotel dripping with 18th-century decor, allowing guests to experience the best of Venetian palazzo living.
If you want to splurge on one night, do it here. It’s right on the water (most rooms offer great terrace views) and has an excellent concierge that you should ask for dinner recommendations (some of them have “cross keys”— if you don’t know what this means, look it up, super interesting). A fun fact: 57,000 people live in Venice and 10 million tourists visit per year, so walk the streets late at night. Don’t spend $80 on the gondolas, instead take the water taxi back and forth up the Grand Canal for $7!
Next head to Florence for four nights. We loved our airbnb room and our host who gave us a mini tour of the city and generously bought us coffee our first day! For an incredible step by step full day in Florence, buy our Issue 9 digital version and see the article “Letters from Italy” written by our friend Franco, a native Italian.
Also, don’t forget to rent a Vespa to spend a day in Tuscany.
We did one night in Rome, but I would recommend three. A 3-day Roma City Pass will get you anywhere you want to go. The coliseum is absolutely worth it, and renting a scooter here would be fantastic as well. Sant’ Eustachio is a great cup of coffee if you are near the Pantheon. Also, head to the Trilussa and Monti neighborhoods, which are filled with locals and not touristy with the best little hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
Take a short flight to Barcelona for a night or two. I wouldn’t recommend our airbnb here, sometimes you make a bad choice — 95 stairs up, mold, and barely running water. Comes with the territory of adventure sometimes … But rent bikes and see the city in a day, it’s fantastic! Don’t forget to stop at the Zara downtown; stores are always the best in their country of origin.
We wanted to fly home on the Norwegian Air Dreamliner plane, but it only leaves from Stockholm, so we thought, why not see Sweden too? We spent two nights at the Story Hotel, which I absolutely recommend; it’s unbelievably hip, sleek, artistic and well priced. Inspired by worn down New York restaurants and chic bohemian hotels in Paris, it’s mixed with the spirit of the progressive musicians and artists that used to live in the building.
The hotel aims to be a “personal and urban hotel with a jazzy soul,” and they completely nail the vibe. It’s also right in the center of some incredible shopping (save up though, everything here is about double the price).
Norwegian Air lived up to it’s good reputation. Being a fearful flyer, I was comfortable and showered with a plethora of free good movies after an incredible journey that was not only adventurous, but gave me an idea of what places I want to go back to for a longer, deeper experience.
If given the chance, where you do want to visit in Europe?
If you try this trip, we want to hear what you thought! Post your travels on Instagram with #thatsdarling.
Images via Sarah Dubbeldam