Europe for the first time, at 63: where to go, what to do?

I’m seriously considering a trip to Europe this year with my partner. I can probably afford two weeks. I’ve never been before, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to go again.

What should I not miss?

In general, my interest is not centered around food or drink, but more on the cultural line. Museums and art, music, festivals, etc. I know I can’t see or do everything, or even really very much in 2 weeks, but I’d like to make it memorable.

I’m thinking maybe late September or early October to get decent weather that isn’t too hot, but I’m open to persuasion, especially if a don’t-miss event happens at another time.

My partner is interested in shopping, but that’s not a biggie for me.

If you’re into culture, museums and so forth, then how about:

London: 4 days
Paris: 4 days
Venice: 2 days
Rome: 4 days

You could swap Venice out for Florence if so inclined, to see the Uffizi. Venice is an amazing place, however, and if you’re only ever going to be in Europe once, you probably should see it.

Europe is very expensive.

I was to Switzerland twice last year, and I highly recommend Zurich if you like interesting architecture and sidewalk dining in a beautiful city, or Interlaken if you like outdoors beauty in a very lovely tourist-oriented village.

The entire country pretty much runs by train, and RailEurope can get you all over Europe. I bought my 6-day all-you-can-ride Swisspass online and received the physical ticket by courier within 48 hours from their US office.

I also visited Paris for 5 days last year, and as I said, it’s very expensive all-round, but so much history and gorgeous architecture, everyone should try to make it there at least once in their life.

Everybody is going to tell you to visit their favorite places… and only your own taste can really dictate where you should go. I’ll tell you what I’ve thought of the places I’ve been:

London–a charming playground, I felt so happy there. Great food.
Paris–a gorgeous playground, practically a theme park. Polite people.
France otherwise–pleasant in itself but the people can be real stinkers.
Italy generally–gorgeous and disorganized, food has never bothered my tummy.
Florence–so much to see. I’ve been twice, I recommend it.
Venice–hard to explain really; you love it or hate it. Only a two hour train ride from Florence, if you go there I’d do a day trip.
Germany/Austria/Switzerland–weirdly clean and efficient but the food disagreed with me; everything extremely fatty and salty (this coming from an American!)
Copenhagen–filthy, few restaurants, and I got miserably ill. I hated it.
Moscow–an incredible place to have been but I wouldn’t go without a Russian or German speaking guide; you can’t read the alphabet to half-figure things out and you can’t necessarily find someone who speaks English either.

I suggest you pick two or three locations that interest you, and divide your time between them. My choice would be to fly into London, take the train to Paris, then grab a cheap flight to Rome, flying out of Rome at the end of your trip. All three of these destinations have tons of historical and cultural sites, plus enough good food and shopping to satisfy anyone.

Another idea is to choose just one city and spend a week there, and then rent a car and explore the countryside for the following week.

And the David if you go to Florence.

I agree with the idea of picking two or three places at most. Even though the travel time between cities tends to be manageable, once you start going to multiple places, the bag drag really adds up to significant amounts of lost time. Personally, I find that part of the enjoyment of travel is spending just enough time somewhere to get the flavor of the place, not just making a circuit of the top couple of landmarks in a bunch of places.

I agree with others that a London-Paris-Rome itinerary would be a good basic starting point. I also think late September is a great time to go.

Yep. It’s one of those works of art that you don’t really understand until you see it in person. Ditto on Botticelli’s Primavera, which is also in Florence.

Paris: As many days as you can. I’ve been there 5 times, and still haven’t seen everything.
Barcelona: 2-3 days. If nothing else, see the architecture of Gaudì, especially Sagrada Familia.
Rome: 3-4 days
Florence or Amsterdam or Vienna: 2-3 days. For some reason, people tend to overlook Vienna. But if you’re into culture, especially art and music, you will love Vienna.

Each of these cities deserves a trip of its own, so you’ll have to prioritize what you want to see.

With regard to how long you can afford it might be worth checking out some couch surfing sites especially if you live in a region of your country that tourists might want to frequent. They’re an economical way of staying in a country once you’re ok with the quid pro quo.

London-Paris-Rome is the usual big-three. To that I would certainly consider Prague, Zurich or Amsterdam.

Pick 3.

I’ve lived in Prague for about 10 years off and on and my three favorite cities in Europe are Istanbul, Munich and Zurich.

Where are you flying from? That’s one of the reasons that London’s a good starting point - it’s generally cheaper to get there. London is well worth visiting, so that’s a good start.

There’s another reason that London-Paris-Rome is a frequent recommendation: there are lots of train tickets for foreign travellers that give you good value for scenic routes from one to the other.

Some of those tickets are not available to EU citizens, only to tourists, so I can’t tell you how much those tickets would cost, but I’m led to believe they are good value once you take in time at customs and taxes. They’re well worth comparing against flights within Europe.

I know that you know that you can’t see all of Europe in two weeks, but three cities with good easy transfers is not bad for a holiday.

There are ways to be more creative, especially if you can travel via, say, Frankfurt quite cheaply (because that has a lot of international flights), but tbh, if I were a tourist wanting to see ‘Europe’ for the first time I’d stick to the main routes (same as I did in the US). The city centres are always worth visiting, and travel time from a main tourist city to a minor one is not trivial.

London, Paris, Rome, via train, with a two-day side-trip to Florence. Florence is mindblowing but its impact is difficult to emphasize unless you actually go there.

How interested are you in architecture? What kind of music, are we talking La Scala and El Liceo, are we talking musical theater, are we talking BEM? Art: museums which cover multiple periods (National Gallery, Louvre, Prado, L’Hermitage), museums covering specific periods (Galleria degli Uffizi or Reina Sofía?)? Painting, sculpture, arts and crafts, militaria, folklore?

Any historical sites you’re personally interested in? Is there a place in Europe that YOU always wanted to see, an artist who’s always called to you?

Figure out what exactly do you want to do; narrowing your answers will tell you where to go.

I lived in Europe for about eight years or so, traveling extensively. While I liked and enjoyed London, I would leave it out of a two-week trip that may be your only visit. See Paris, by all means, and Rome or Florence. Bruges is lovely, as is the old town area of Prague. For that matter, Lisbon has a lot of charm, particularly in the old Alfama District and the Bairro Alto. Istanbul is a stunning place, with both ancient architecture and the world’s largest covered shopping bazaar.

I suspect it may be too ‘out of the way’ for such a short trip to take it in as well as other parts of Europe, but I want to agree about the amazingness of Istanbul. One of the most incredible cities I’ve ever been.

I would agree with leaving out London for a 2-week trip. As an American, I find the continent infinitely more interesting than Britain in general. Unless, of course, the OP has special ties to or interests in Britain.

That said, there’s nothing like the British Museum and seeing Stonehenge IRL.

Fuck it. Th OP simply needs to carve out at least 3 months and do things right! :slight_smile:

London certainly has its attractions: Kew Gardens, St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace. I always enjoyed my visits there. But it’s a huge city, and, like Paris, you spend most of your time on the tube getting to where you want to go. It also doesn’t have the romance of Paris or Rome. A silly notion, I know, but there is a definite ambiance to the cities on the continent that London doesn’t seem to have.

Agree! There are “youth hostels” that are not only for the young! And you really can stay and travel cheaply in Europe if you try. Take overnight trains and sleep there - saves spending money in hostel/pension for the night and it is great to wake up in a new country, new city, new culture.
Get an open-end return flight and stay as long as you can before returning to the US.
Going to Europe for only two weeks is like eating one potato chip - good, but you want more, more, more!

This sounds lovely, but my partner is not into that sort of shoestring travel. And I am still working, so I can’t just take off indefinitely.

Maybe after I retire…

Anyway, definitely France and Italy seem to be the concensus. Paris, Florence and Venice both, maybe Rome, and my partner says he wants to go somewhere down near Naples, I don’t know exactly where he has in mind or why.

I would love to wander around Great Britain, including Scotland, Cornwall and Wales, but that would have to be a different trip. I have read so many books set in these areas that it would be a real treat to visit them, maybe doing one of those walking tours that I’ve read about. A stout pair of shoes, a stout walking stick, lots of tweed, and I’d be all set!

Thanks for all the helpful observations.