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3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

Duluth, Minnesota
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3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

Hi Everyone -

My wife and I are planning on a three-week trip to Europe from mid- to late-October. My second trip (although it's been nearly 15 years since my first) and my wife's first time leaving America.

We. Need. Help.

My wife tends toward more unique and small-town experiences. I'm a big-city, big-attraction kind of guy. We want an itinerary that balances both. Our first crack at this has us landing in London before travelling to Ireland and Scotland, then to Paris (with a day trip or two outside of it), train to Bruges and then train to Amsterdam for the flight home. But we're not sure exactly the best way to do this itinerary, or if it is even the best itinerary. Like, there's no Italy and it kind of kills me to get all the way to Europe and not see Italy. But three weeks isn't a lot of time and we have to make decisions. That's where you travel geniuses come in.

Here's the list of places on our dream trip list. We fully realize we can't do all of these. We know we'll likely have to cut a country or two completely. But we'd like to see a lot. To do that, I need help planning our itinerary. Here's our list of locations. What can't we miss? What can we? What essential am I (God forbid) forgetting? What's the best way to do this? Am I insane?

I know this is asking a lot. And I won't be paying you any, like, you know, commission. But you will have our eternal gratitude!

ENGLAND

London

Bath

Cotswolds

Glastonbury

Wells

Stonehenge

IRELAND

Dublin

Galway

Cliffs of Mohrer

Giant's Causeway

SCOTLAND

Edinburgh

Isle of Skye

Loch Ness

Glencoe

FRANCE

Paris

Versailles

A small medieval town like Rouen or Provins or Chartres or Rochefort-en-Terre

Lyon

Nice

Eze

BELGIUM

Brussels

Bruges

THE NETHERLANDS

Amsterdam

ITALY

Rome

Florence

Pisa

Capri

Amalfi Coast

Venice

Milan

Sicily

Cinque Terre

Tuscany

Umbria

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Edinburgh, United...
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1. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

Right, well you already have more places in your wish list than you have days so something is going to have to give!! Your list does however have a good mix of places for both of you, it's refining it that's going to be a tough decision.

Everyone will give you their preferences for places based on personal opinion so only you can decide what's most important.

I would start with the most convenient place to fly into and out of for your transatlantic leg - it doesn't have to be the same place if that easiest and maxmises your time e.g. fly into London and out of somewhere in Europe - Amsterdam and Paris are both big hubs so it sounds like you've thought that bit through. You can also get some good transatlantic deals on flights to Dublin so that's worth considering as a starting point.

Then consider if you're going to hire a car at any point or purely use public transport.

London needs at least half a week, Edinburgh 2-3 days to do it justice, similarly any other major city on your list......

Europe is quite well served by budget airlines which might be an option for getting you from A to B - easiest way to look at routes I find is to look at the airport website and check out the online departure/arrivals board for where planes are going to and from and with which operator. Easyjet, Ryanair, Jet2, FlyBe as well as the national airlines like BA, AirFrance etc.

I think to cover those UK places and Ireland you need at least 2 weeks so either something there goes or the Belgium/Netherlands goes to fit in Italy.

Cardiff, United...
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2. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

I think you're underestimating at cutting 'a country or two'. Three weeks would be pushing it just for the British Isles parts.

Not sure anyone else can choose your priorities for you.

Logistically, if London and Amsterdam are fixed as your start and end points (are they?) then Ireland and Scotland are in the wrong directions. Could do England - France - Belgium/Holland. Remember everytime you move location you remove time from your actual holiday for seeing things. If your flights aren't fixed and you do want to do Ireland, flying into Dublin would be a better start point. But it'll be easier for people to give specific advice when you cut down your wish list to an actual coherent plan.

Bucks, UK
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3. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

Only you can decide what you want to see, but given that you've listed nearly twice as many destinations in Italy as in nearly any other country, that may give you a clue as to where to concentrate your efforts (assuming your wife agrees with this list). However, it would take the whole 3 weeks to visit all these places in Italy, so you need to get sensible.

I'd say you have time to do 3 countries (counting UK as one) and you need to factor in the weather a little. If you're coming in mid-late October, the weather in the British Isles tends to be wet and windy (although you may have dry weather the whole time you are here). It will also be getting darker earlier (around 5:45-6pm before the clock change, 4:30pm afterwards). Given that your Ireland itinerary involves mostly outdoor attractions (at opposite ends of the country), I would drop Ireland altogether.

You could spend 3 days in London, take the train to Bath, spend two days there, one of which could be spent on a Mad Max tour to see some of the things on your list

http://www.madmaxtours.co.uk/

Then fly to Edinburgh from Bristol, spend 2 days there and either use one of the days to do a hairy coo tour, or add an extra day to Scotland

http://thehairycoo.com/tour/Loch+Ness%2C+Highlands+%26amp%3B+Whisky/11

Fly from Edinburgh to Paris, spend a couple of days there, and visit Versailles, visit Chartres if you have time on another day but you may need to drop this bit from your schedule, you don't have much time. Skip Lyon. Take the TGV from Paris to Nice and spend 2 days there visiting 2 of Eze, Villefranche and Grasse, then take the coastal train from Nice to Ventimiglia and change there for the train to Milan.

You now need to get on the Italy forum for a sensible one-week itinerary for Italy (you have practically listed the whole country) but I would limit yourself to Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome - I don't think you have time for any more and you will find the coast rather wet and empty in October.

East Midlands
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4. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

What are *your* must sees?

From your OP it sounds like starting in England and then, in no particular order Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy and then ending in The Netherlands.

So. Assuming that London and Amsterdam are fixed and that Day One and Day Fifteen are dedicated to Inbound and Outbound travel you have thirteen days to see six countries (or seven if you include Netherlands).

Does that sound fair so far? Maybe, maybe not. Let's assume it's close.

Now you have to realise that travelling between London and Paris or London and Edinburgh or London and Dublin - from getting packed and leaving the hotel to arriving at your new base - will take a portion of your day (flying, train, time of the day, locations of accomodation, etc will all impact this but let's assume that none of these journeys, door to door, can be done in less than four hours).

Let's also assume that you leave the hotel at 06.00 with arrival at your next accomodation at 10.00. It gets dark (in the UK) at about 18.00 in October - a little earlier in Scotland, probably a bit later in mainland Europe but there or thereabouts. So, on those "travel" days you will have approx 6-7 hours of day light to play with (plus the evenings obviously).

So assume London to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Dublin, Dublin to Paris all take approx 4 hours on the day you make the change. Let's also assume that you spent the following periods in each - arrival afternoon and the next day (the next morning = travel and the next afternoon is the arrival afternoon for that destination).

Still with me? So, for London - Day One - arrival at midday, PM in London, Day Two in London.

Day Three AM = travel to Edinburgh, Day Three PM in Edinburgh, Day Four in Edinburgh

Day Five - AM travel to Dublin, PM in Dublin, Day Six in Dublin.

See how that works? Now. In that scenario you are already onto day seven and you've only seen a bit of three cities. Nothing else (a bit of scenery, maybe if you took the train from London to Edinburgh).

If Day fourteen PM is about getting to an airport hotel (or a hotel in the centre of Amsterdam - your flight time might dictate that choice) and Day Fifteen is spent travelling home you now only have:

Day 7 (PM), 8, (Paris?)

Day 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 (AM)

See? (all of this is just illustrative but you get the point .. !)

You and your wife need to nail:

a) Countries to visit

b) Specific places of interest

c) Potential arrival and departure points (those might be driven by cost).

You can do all seven countries if you want. You can't do much more than the major cities in that option. Less countries = more opportunity to see other things within the chosen countries.

I'm not sure we can do that for you (actually I am sure. We can't).

Have a rethink and come back to us with a shorter list of destinations.

East Midlands
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5. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

D'oh. Just noticed - three weeks not two! Idiot. (So 21 days not 15).

Too many late night football games at the moment ...

[my premise is still a relatively sound one, though - clarify what you definitley want to see - you can't see all of your list (as you already know)]

Edited: 20 June 2014, 16:01
Edinburgh, United...
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6. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

Gingerchimp has a good point re. travel times - 4hrs is probably conservative even if you fly between cities with travel to/from airports, check in time and flight. The more you move the more you lose from your sightseeing. Also factor in jetlag for the first few days (or longer if you suffer badly!).

Mid-late October it will be going dark in the UK from late afternoon (4pm or so) and "properly" dark around 6pm. Sunset in Edinburgh on 20th October is given as 18:01. So you need to factor that in too. Travel late in the day if you can to maximize your daylight hours.

Skip Loch Ness, there's no monster and there's much nicer places closer to Edinburgh!

London, United...
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7. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

I'm with PoolLounger here - it looks like you want to do Italy (and it is an amazing place - just try to remember that pizza and pasta aren't endemic to the entire country!!! In Rome for example, they eat a lot of offal)

Personally (and this *is* just personal), I would dump the following:

Cotswolds (plenty of other countryside - and it's the place everyone goes to - *yawn*!)

Glastonbury (fine, but wouldn't be a European highlight)

Wells (nice, but not the easiest to get to and time is of the essence here)

Stonehenge (it's a lump of rocks in a field, let's face it)

IRELAND - all of it. Ireland is lovely but the things you want to see are miles and miles apart from each other and traveling around takes A Long Time. It's either this or Scotland, pick one.

SCOTLAND

Should be fine with Edinburgh as a base and a tour to the rest

FRANCE

Should be ok for Paris as Versaille can be done as a day trip from Paris. If you pick another near-ish old town to stay in and get the TGV fast train to it, you can do that easily too.

Lyon and Nice - ok - so you could do Lyon OR Nice and go South to Italy, or scrap these if you are staying north and doing Belgium and the Netherlands. I think it's one or the other, really.

Also, *why* Lyon and Nice? You're off to the south of France and there are loads of really nice countryside towns that are off the beaten track down here, which is something you want to do. Pick something less 'city-ish' - or ask in the France forum.

BELGIUM

Brussels and Bruges are easy as they are quite close to each other. I have heard (can report back after I go in August) that Ghent or Antwerp are a better bet than Brussels in terms of character and lack of tourists... Someone else might help here

ITALY

Well, you have to do Rome, even though it is tourist central, and then you need to get a map and pick which other places you want to see, bearing in mind that you need to concentrate really on not going backwards and forwards around the country too much as this will eat your time, as GingerChimp has illustrated.

"My wife tends toward more unique and small-town experiences." There are plenty of unique things to do in the big cities that other tourists don't get to. Ask us.

Also remember if you spend a few days in places like London you can take day trips out to smaller places such as Ely and Cambridge, or Whitstable etc, that give you the 'small town' thing.

Duluth, Minnesota
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8. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

Thank you all for the responses so far! I was well aware that this list would get all but laughed at in terms of scope, but I was hopeful the responses would help point us in a clear direction. And it has, I do believe.

Our revised plan looks to be:

London + 1 day trip to either Bath or Glastonbury

Paris + 1 day trip to Versailles or Chartres

And then hopefully two weeks in Italy. I will head over to the Italy forum to get a reasonable itinerary sorted, but any advice on London must-sees as well as off-the-tourist-track gems would be much appreciated.

Thanks everyone for your knowledge and input! And for not tearing me apart TOO hard.

London, United...
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9. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

I don't have anything to add apart from saying that the PoolLounger plan sounds very close to what I would say too. Sounds a very good starting point from which to plan in some more detail.

London, United...
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10. Re: 3 Weeks in Europe - Help Me Plan The Perfect Itinerary!

I'd give more than a week to London and Paris... 4 days in each if you can. More perhaps if you want to take trips out...

Good call on Italy :-)