Julie Itinerary, Travel Advice 153 Comments

If you are planning your first trip to Europe, it can be an overwhelming experience. Where should you go? How much will it cost? How many places can you visit?

Does this sound familiar?

We get emails every day from people who want advice planning their first trip to Europe. And we see the same questions over and over again. So we wrote this post to answer your questions and give you some things to think about 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 can’t tell you how many times we get emails that go something like this: “I have 10 days in Europe and I am planning to visit Rome, Venice, Paris, London and Belgium. Do you think that’s too rushed?”

It’s just like saying “I have 10 days in the United States. I would like to visit Boston, New York City, Washington DC, Miami, and Los Angeles. Do you think that’s too rushed?”

We get it. Europe is huge and it’s loaded with “must-see” spots. Paris, Rome, Barcelona, London, Amsterdam, and Venice all make the must-see list for many first time travelers Europe. They are all amazing places to visit. And with so many fantastic sites to see, it can be very difficult to narrow your list down to just a few destinations.

You will have a much better time if you don’t try to get to a new city every day. The longer you spend in each place, the more you get to know it. There are some cities, like London, Paris, and Rome, which literally could keep you very busy and very entertained for a good five or more days.

Here are some basic guidelines for how many places you can visit depending on how much time you have:

  • With 7 days: 2 cities OR one city with day trips
  • With 10 days: 3 cities OR 2 cities with day trips
  • With 14 days: 4 cities OR a road/train trip through one or two countries

Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain

If you look at your itinerary and you wonder if you are moving too fast or you are trying to squeeze too much in, odds are, you probably are.

If you have 10 days and you plan to visit 4 major cities, it can be done, but it will be a rushed, exhausting experience. And you will be spending most of that time on trains and planes. Don’t forget that you will have to spend time traveling between destinations as well as packing, unpacking, and checking into hotels.

Here is a sample itinerary through London, Amsterdam, and Paris:
  • Day 1: Arrive in London
  • Day 2: London
  • Day 3: London
  • Day 4: London
  • Day 5: Morning train to Amsterdam, sightseeing in the afternoon
  • Day 6: Amsterdam
  • Day 7: Morning train to Paris, sightseeing in the afternoon
  • Day 8: Paris
  • Day 9: Paris
  • Day 10: Fly home

On this itinerary you get to three major cities. And even this itinerary is a bit rushed. You could really use an extra day in each city simply because there is so much to see and do in each of them.

For some more examples on how to plan 10 days in Europe, check out these itineraries:

Examples of visiting 3 cities:

Examples of exploring one region:

Amsterdam at Twilight

Amsterdam

Don’t Forget to Factor in Travel Time

So let’s say that you have 10 days in Europe and you’ve narrowed down your itinerary to 3 cities. How do you get around?

That depends on where you are going.

For cities that are close to one another, say Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville, the train would be your best option. If you are visiting Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam, then you will use a combination of planes and trains to get around.

Getting from city to city takes time, of course. And you need to factor this in, not only when planning your itinerary but also choosing where to go.

Just as a rough estimate, it will take about 4 hours, or half of a day, to get between two cities. This time can go up if the cities are far apart. So, if you are visiting three cities, you will lose about one day in total just traveling from place to place.

We usually plan to transfer between cities first thing in the morning. By taking an early train, we can usually check into our hotel by noon and have the entire afternoon for sightseeing. Occasionally, we will take an evening train if we want to have a little extra time in our departure city.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: What about luggage? Let’s say you arrive by train to Florence at 11 am. It’s too early to check into your hotel, so what should you do with your luggage? You have two options. You can either store you luggage at the luggage storage area in the train station (and retrieve it at the end of the day) or have your hotel hold your luggage for you. We email our hotel ahead of time just to make sure they can hold our luggage for us (but so far no one has told us no).

Dubrovnik Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Using Trains versus Planes

In some scenarios, you might have the option to fly or to take a train to get from one city to another. When looking at travel times, a one hour flight may look a lot more time efficient than a 3 hour high speed train, but that is not always the case.

There is much longer check-in process for flights (we usually check in two hours before our flight). For train travel, in most cases you can arrive just before your departure time, although some high-speed trains request that you arrive 30 minutes before departure time.

Train stations are located in city centers. From the station, it might be just a short walk or metro ride to get you to your hotel. Airports are located outside of the cities and it can take 15 to 30 minutes (or even longer in some cities) to get into the city center. You’ll have to do this twice and this could tack on another hour to your travel time if you plan to fly.

We tend to lean towards train travel whenever possible. It’s fast, it’s cheap, and it’s much more eco-friendly than plane travel.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: You can save time (and money on a hotel room) by booking an overnight train. It might also be worth getting a rail pass if you plan to hop from city to city.

Use Open Jaw Flights to Maximize Your Time

Open jaw flights arrive in one city and depart from a different city (for example, you arrive in London and depart from Paris).

You can save a lot of time by booking different arrival and departure cities.

Let’s say you want to visit Rome, Florence and Venice (who wouldn’t?!). If you fly to Rome and then fly home from Venice, you save about half of a day, the time it would take to backtrack to Rome.

In many cases, it is not more expensive to do this. We have flown open jaw many times for the same price as a round trip flight.

In some cases, it may be more expensive to fly open jaw. If it is, then you have to decide if it is worth spending a little extra money to save some time. Maybe it’s worth spending a little more money for extra time in Venice than to take the train back to Rome (and don’t forget to figure that train cost into the decision to take an open jaw flight).

Hallstatt Austria

Hallstatt, Austria

What about Jet Lag?

Jet lag is the feeling of fatigue you get from crossing multiple time zones. Some lucky people have minimal symptoms while others can feel exhausted for several days.

If you are flying to Europe from the USA, most likely you will be on an overnight flight, arriving in the morning or midday. There is a very good chance that you will feel tired on your first day but if you had trouble sleeping on the airplane, you may feel more like a zombie.

To get over jet lag quickly, it’s usually best to stay awake that first day and go to bed early. I will admit that there have been a few times where we took a midday nap because we desperately needed it.

With this being said, it is usually best not to schedule a busy list of things to do on the first day of your itinerary. Sure, you will be excited to be in a new place and that can be energizing, but it will still be difficult for most people to function at 100% on that first day.

Should You Rent a Car?

There are some spots in Europe that are simply perfect for a road trip. Norway, Ireland, Slovenia and the Balkan Peninsula are all some of our favorite spots to explore with the freedom that a rental car provides. But before you rent a car there are some things you should know before you go.

If you are considering renting a car for your European trip, we have an article all about exciting things like International Drivers Licenses, how to choose a rental car company, vignettes and more. Read it here:
 

10 Things to Know Before Renting a Car in Europe

Colmar France

Colmar, France

How Do We Plan Our Itineraries?

Before you plan out your itinerary you need to do some research first. Flight costs, time of year, hotel availability, and tour availability all need to be factored into your decision-making.

Let’s say you decide to spend 10 days in Ireland. What do you need to know before you start making reservations?

We start off by researching flight costs. If you can be flexible with your dates you might be able to save money by flying mid-week versus the weekend.

Once we have our flight dates, we plan out our itinerary within those specific dates.

If you are planning a tour or a visit to a major attraction, make sure those dates align and work with your itinerary.

You can also do a quick hotel search to make sure that there are no surprises with hotel costs or availability. If you are booking your trip well in advance (4 months or earlier) this will be less of an issue. But at destinations like the Isle of Skye, the Lofoten Islands, the Cinque Terre, the islands in Croatia, and the south coast of Iceland, hotels can sell out many months in advance, leaving either no availability or dreadful places that you normally wouldn’t consider.

Once everything looks like it works out, we book our flights and then book the hotels, the rental car (if necessary) and activities.

Nowadays, with the increase in tourism, it also helps to research the main sights you are visiting and then book your tickets in advance. We recently went to San Francisco and missed out on touring Alcatraz because tickets were sold out for three months!!

In our articles, we let you know what you need to reserve ahead of time to avoid disappointment (like our Alcatraz experience). It may be extra work to book your tickets ahead of time, but in today’s world it has become a necessity in order to see some of the world’s most popular sites.


Have fun planning your first trip to Europe! And if you still have questions about your itinerary, feel free to comment below.

For more travel ideas and inspiration, take a look at our Itineraries page. We have lots of sample itineraries for Europe as well as Asia, Africa, South America, and the USA.

More Information to Help You Plan your First Trip to Europe

EUROPE TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in Europe, check out our article 30 Beautiful Places to Visit in Europe and the 20 Best Hikes in Europe.

EUROPE ITINERARY IDEAS: Let us take the guesswork out of planning your next trip to Europe. Check out our articles 10 Ways to Spend 10 Days in Europe and One Week in Europe: 25 Amazing Itineraries.

TRAVEL GUIDES: For more travel inspiration, check out our travel guides for Italy, France, Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland. Visit our Destinations page for links to all of our content about Europe.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: For more information about the camera gear we carry, check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide. And tips and tricks for taking great photos in our article How to Take Better Photos while Traveling.

 

 

First Trip to Europe Itinerary

 

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Comments 153

  1. Avatar for Lina
    Lina

    Hi! my friend and I are planning on going on a Europe trip next September, and I was hoping you could help answer some questions for us since it’ll be our first time traveling alone. We’ll both be 18 by then and we live in England. We’re hoping to visit Mykonos, Croatia, Rome, and Barcelona – in that order – but we’re unsure of some things regarding the hotel check-ins and check-outs. If I, for example, have a flight that gets into a city early in the morning/very late at night, where would we wait until the time for checking in begins? And the same for checking out? If we have to check out of our hotel by 12 pm but our flight is later at night, where would we keep our luggage until it’s time to head to the airport?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Lina. That sounds like a great trip you are planning! With hotels, check in is generally around 3 pm. You can show up early (any time before that, whether it is 1 pm or 10 am) and drop off your luggage. We do it all of the time and have never been refused. It’s a standard service that hotels provide. You could get lucky and if your room is ready, you can check in early. The same goes for check out. If check out is at noon, and you don’t have a flight or train until late in the day, the hotel can hold your luggage for you until you need it. Sometimes, you can request a late check out, which allows you to stay in your room a little longer. But this depends on whether or not your room is reserved for someone else that same day.
       
      This all works well for hotels. It’s important to know that if you are staying in an AirBnB, an apartment, or a property that does not have a 24 hour reception desk, you may not be able to drop off you luggage before check in time. That’s one of the advantages of using a hotel.
      &snbps;
      So, if you get in at 10 am, go right to the hotel, drop off your luggage, go sightseeing, and come back later in the day to check in. On your last day, let the hotel hold your luggage while you wait to go to the airport. This allows you to go out, get lunch, and do a little more sightseeing before your flight.
       
      Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Grace Zanchetta
    Grace Zanchetta

    we are trying to decide whether to cruise Europe (but only gives you a day in certain cities) or do a self guided tour and take like 7 weeks to do. my places of interest are all the usual places, malta, italy (vience, rome, milan) sweden, switerland, germany, paris, london, scotland and whatever i have left out.. what are your suggestions PLEASE

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Seven weeks in Europe sounds wonderful!!We only do “land tours,” not cruises, because spending the night in the cities immerses you more and provides a better overall experience, in our opinion. And most places you list can’t be visited on a cruise, or at least not very easily. It’s probably best to get a Eurail pass and use this to travel through Europe. You could group Scotland and London together, then train to Paris, and then continue through Europe from here. If you need ideas on what to do an how to plan your time, you could string together a few of our 10 day itineraries or one week itineraries. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Heather Riniker
    Heather Riniker

    We will be heading to London December 17-29th with our family of 6 (all older children) My daughter will be studying there for a few weeks through January and thought it would be perfect to see her surroundings and make it a vacation. We have never been to Europe before and our list of places to see is extensive. London, Paris and Rome are a few we are sure of. With time I would like to know if we could add a 4th city. If time allows where would you pick for your 4th destination? How long do you think we should spend in each? My daughter will be doing lots of sight seeing in London since that’s where she’ll be studying so she’s not as thrilled to spend s lot of time there. If we just spend s couple days in London what are must do’s while in the city?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Heather. We will be back in London in December also, but just before you will be getting in. With 13 days, you could potentially add on a 4th city, if you only spent a few days in London. Cities I recommend adding on are Amsterdam (since it is close to London and Paris) or Florence (since it is close to Rome). Start in London, spend 3 days here, then Amsterdam for 2 days and Paris for 3 days (check out our London Amsterdam Paris itinerary). Then fly to Rome and spend the rest of your time here. Or, do London, then Paris, then fly to Rome and take the train to Florence. It would be best to fly home from Rome since traveling back to London will add on more travel time. We have a post with a long list of things to do in London, but you can cover the key sights on days 2 and 3 of our London itinerary, and do the British Museum + London Eye on your 3rd day. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Melanie
    Melanie

    I am trying to plan a trip to Europe with a friend. We are wanting to visit Spain. Paris, and England! We know there is a train we can take between those countries! We do not know how to plan for the trip! Our first time traveling outside the North America continent!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      The first two questions I have are when and how much time do you have. Yes, you can get around by train to visit all of those places, depending on where you want to go in England and Spain. And if you have particular places you would like to visit in England and Spain that would be helpful too. Let me know and I can help you out. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Chelsea W
    Chelsea W

    My wife is studying abroad in Ireland for a few weeks. Afterwards we want to do some Europe travel for the month of December but are unsure what is realistic. We have friends doing Ireland, Amsterdam, Paris, Florence, Rome, and Portugal. We are also trying to be somewhat reasonable with the expenses and trying to cut costs where we can.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      If you don’t want to spend a lot, it’s best to slow travel, to help cut down on transportation costs. You can do Amsterdam and Paris together, and see them very well, with 7 to 10 days. From there, you could spend the rest of your time in Italy. You would have about 3 weeks and with that time, travel through Rome, Florence, and Tuscany. You also have enough time to add on another area, like Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, or Venice, Verona, and Milan, or Puglia (the heel of Italy).
       
      Tim and I are currently on a big 6 week road trip through Italy. We did Rome for 4 days, 10 days in Tuscany/Florence, then to Assisi, 9 days in Puglia, and currently we are in the amazing city called Matera. There is a lot to do in Tuscany, and if you like the idea of exploring picturesque hill towns, drinking wine, and eating really good food, you could spend a week to 10 days here and never run out of things to do. I think 2 to 3 nights in Florence is great (to visit Florence) and then base yourself in Siena to explore Tuscany. We did quite a lot but won’t have it written up in time for your trip.
       
      We haven’t been to Portugal yet, but planned a big trip here the summer of 2020, which was COVID-cancelled. We are hoping to get here in 2023. For the best experience, you should spend at least 10 days here (but 2 weeks or a little more would be even better), to visit Lisbon, Sintra, and then road trip through the rest of the country. In my opinion, it would be too rushed to do Paris, Amsterdam, parts of Italy, and parts of Portugal in one month. Yes, it can be done, but you would be very busy. If it were me, I’d start with Paris and Amsterdam (we love those cities) and then choose between Portugal and Italy for the rest of your month in Europe.
       
      Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for June
        June

        Hi,

        My fiancé and I want to explore more days on Rome, ,
        Austria 3,
        Spain 4,
        Paris 3,
        Germany 4,
        Norway 2,
        Greece 5 &
        London4
        within a month. Where is best to start off @ is traveling by train good enough to explore? In need of help with planning and organizing a trip for us please.

        1. Avatar for Julie Post
          Author
          Julie

          That is a lot of moving around in Europe and you will spend a lot of you time on planes and trains and buses. I recommend skipping Norway (with 2 days you will only get to see Oslo and there are many better places to go in Norway, but you need at least 7 days to do it) and Greece (it takes quite a bit of time to get there and get to the islands and is best done on a 7, 10, or 14 day trip). For Spain, pick one city for your 4 days there (Barcelona gets my vote because it is beautiful, there’s a lot to do, and you can take some great day trips).
           
          You could fly into London, spend 4 days here, take the chunnel to Paris and spend 3 days here. Fly or take a train to Munich and spend a week in Bavaria and Salzburg. Then, take the train to Venice, spend a few days here, train to Rome, spend 4 days here, and then fly to Barcelona, ending your trip here. If you have more time, you could easily add on more places in Italy, getting around by train.
           
          Cheers, Julie

  6. Avatar for Cindy
    Cindy

    Hi there,

    My family and I are planning a trip to Europe and our number #1 destination is Norway, as that is my husbands background. However, I have always wanted to go to Ireland and my daughter (grad trip) has always wanted to go to Spain. Is it just too complicated to try to make all three work on one trip? We have never been before and of course are trying to squish in as much as we can. We are hoping to be there for 3 or 4 weeks.
    Thank you!
    Cindy

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      With 3 to 4 weeks, you could do all 3, spending about a week in each one. However, I think a great trip would be 10 days in Norway, 10 days in Ireland, maybe with a few days in Edinburgh or London in between or on one end of the trip. The climate would be the same for all of these places, which makes packing easier (the weather is very different between Norway and Spain, even in the summer). If you’re set on Norway but want to do something special for your daughter’s graduation, then split your time between Norway and Spain. You will have to pack more clothing but it might keep everyone happy. But really, whatever you choose, they are all great spots. We are huge fans of Norway too and I recommend spending 10 days here to fully experience it. You can find several Norway itineraries on our Norway Travel Guide. If you have any other questions let me know. Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Karen Mousel
    Karen Mousel

    WOW! I just found your blog. Its fantastic!
    I want to plan a trip to europe for out family of 5. We want to start in Normandy France and end up in Poland to tour the concentration camps.
    I’ve looked into the euro rail, but am wondering how to get from each station to our final destination. Do we hire a car? how easy or expensive can that be? Any ideas?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hiring a car can be expensive if you start in France and end in Poland because there will be a big drop fee (lately people have been reporting drop fees from a few hundred USD up to $1000 USD). If that doesn’t deter you, could rent a car for your entire trip, or just part of your trip. The rail network in Europe is phenomenal. And as far as how to get to each station, that depends on where you want to go between Normandy and Poland. The first thing to do is figure out where you plan to go between Normandy and Poland and then figure out your transportation. As for figuring out train routes, I recommend using the website The Man in Seat 61. His website is fantastic and covers what you need to know in great detail (we use it a lot). You could move from place to place by train. If you are in an area for a few days where having a car is beneficial, you could rent it just for that time, with the same pick up and drop off location, to minimize costs. I hope this helps! Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for mary
    mary

    My friend and I and now her son (for part of it) are going to Paris, London and Amsterdam from Dec 25th leaving NY and coming home on Jan 3rd. Her son will be with us from Dec 25th-29th (leaving on the 29th) and would like to do Paris with us but I don’t want to spend 4 days in Paris nor do we want to end up in Amsterdam on NYE.

    Any suggestions would help?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      If you want to visit Paris, London, and Amsterdam and need to start in Paris, the only way to order your cities is to go Paris Amsterdam London so as to not end up in Amsterdam on NYE. You can connect all three cities by train. We have a London Amsterdam Paris itinerary that you can use to help you plan your trip. Cheers, Julie

  9. Avatar for Steve
    Steve

    Hi there. Thanks for this great site and blog – it’s incredibly helpful and friendly!

    My wife and I love Italy and have travelled there several times over the past several years to various regions, most recently Puglia. We would next like to cover northern Italy, such as Milan, Lake Como, etc. With a two week itinerary next spring or late summer (possibly with car), what else do you think we can see? Would there be enough time for Switzerland (btw, we are not skiiers)? Cinque Terre? Monaco/Nice/Cannes? So many possibilities… As a rule, we prefer “depth” to “breadth”, spending more time in a given location rather than trying to squeeze too much in.

    Any thoughts and expertise would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you.

    Steve

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      We just spent part of this summer traveling from Venice through the Dolomites to Lake Garda to Chamonix, France (with plans to visit Puglia this fall). Milan and Lake Como are wonderful. Milan needs a day or two (we have only been here for a few hours to hit the highlights). You could either day trip to Bellagio/Lake Como or spend the night here. Having just done Lake Garda, we weren’t impressed. It was super croweded and we all like Lake Como more. The Dolomites is a place to consider. It’s our favorite area of Italy, but we all really like hiking. But there is lots to do that doesn’t involve hiking as well. I recommend considering the Dolomites and spending 3 to 5 days here. We are currently in Zermatt, flying home in 2 days, and will be publishing TONS of Dolomites content over the next few weeks. Switzerland is great too.
       
      You could do a version of what we just did this summer. Fly into Venice, maybe spend a day here, or more, depending if you have been here or not. Rent a car and explore the Dolomites for 4 days. Then visit Milan (1 day), Bellagio (1 day). Travel into Switzerland, skipping Lugano and going right to Lucerne. Spend 2 days here, then Jungfrau area (Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Jungfraujoch, etc). If you still have time, do 2 days in Zermatt, and then fly home, either from Geneva or Zurich. You can drop the car in Milan or Lucerne. For the most part, the Jungfrau area is car-free so it’s no longer necessary to have a car (and the public transportation system in Switzerland is the best).
       
      If you like the idea of hiking in the Dolomites and Switzerland, late summer is better than Spring. Many hiking trails in both of these areas are not open until June because of snow.
       
      On another trip, you could start in Florence, go to the Cinque Terre, then Monaco/Nice to Provence. That would be a great trip to do in May (we did the French Riviera in May and loved it). Or do that trip next year and the following trip in 2024. You’re right, so many possibilities!
       
      Have fun planning your trip and let us know if you have any other questions. Cheers, Julie

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