Visiting Europe during winter 2013

Next year, I qualify for a month off with pay from my work.

I’ll probably take my month off during the Northern hemisphere winter.

I want to visit museums, listen to classical music, and explore history while I’m there. I also want to visit restaurants, hang out with locals in bars, and watch sports.

So, now is the time to start saving up for my trip of my lifetime. I’m looking to spend around $5000 US. I don’t want to spend it in overpriced hotels.

I’m going to spend a few days in London, taking a day or so trip to Liverpool to fulfill my Beatles fantasy. London from Chicago O’hare airport is an inexpensive flight. The train system can easily take me to Liverpool. I’d also like to see an EPL football match.

After that, I want to go to the continent. Right now, I’m leaning towards Berlin. 20th century history fascinates me. I can explore both world wars there as well as the cold war. I think I’d love the beer there, although I can’t get excited at all about the food, unless I’m going to pay top Euro for other cuisines.

I could easily be talked into other places to vist. I’d love to visit Sienna, Italy, but it seems very much out of the way and the climate in Italy probably sucks in the winter. Italy has been on the top of places that I’d like to visit, I think I’d really like the food there.

I’m also attracted to Paris, which is easy to get to from London. I’m sure the food in Paris is excellent. I’d spend some time learning French so I wouldn’t be the ugly American. There is a lot of history in Paris as well as great music and the museums are excellent.

Of course Amsterdam should be an option as well. From what I know, I’d be the worst English speaker there!

Since I’m not looking to do 30 countries in 30 days, and assuming London is a must, where should I think about? I’d love to visit Athens, but I think Greece is too far away to consider on a trip that must include London.

Are you familiar with Ryan Air and/or EasyJet?

Flying from Berlin to Prague (or Brussels to Barcelona, or Hamburg to Lisbon, etc., etc.) can cost less $$$ than a cab ride from O’Hare to the Field Museum would run, if you schedule early enough.

Seriously, travel from one point in Europe to another is probably quicker & cheaper than at any point in modern history.

The catch is that often you are flying out of smaller, secondary airports (think Midway instead of O’Hare) and so you might have to spend a bit more time getting to the airport than you would when flying out of a major international hub, but for vacationers trying to stretch their travel budget, it’s well worth the bit of extra time spent.

A month? I might suggest London-Amsterdam-Berlin-Dresden-Prague-Vienna-Paris. Remember to make at least one day a week “sitting down day,” with a long train ride or even just a day of riding trams to the big park, watching the people, and heading back.

The climate in the UK certainly sucks in the winter- I wouldn’t use that as a reason to cut out Italy…

Looking around, I can find a flight for around £40 from London to a random Italian airport, which is considerably less than the standard train fare from London to Liverpool.

Oh, and food in Berlin is actually pretty damn good and cheap; it’s a big and very cosmopolitan city, you’re not going to be stuck with saurkraut and wurst. I spent a few weeks there on a laughably low budget I don’t recall a bad food experience, and I don’t think I ate traditional German food once, except bread (and beer, which goes without saying :smiley: ).

Are you planning to stay solely in cities? You’ll find a much more authentic atmosphere, and one where locals are more likely to hang around in the pub with you, if you go to smaller towns a bit as well. Just a thought. :slight_smile:

How badly do you want to learn French? Check out Fluent in 3 Months, a blog run by an Irish guy who says you can get to a useful level of functionality (not native-level accentlessness) in three months if you push it.

He did this with Chinese this year. Starting in Taipei in January 2012, he was able to get to this level in three months and 1 week. :slight_smile:

When I went to Europe, I read a book called “First-time Europe”. It helped quite a bit.

Another thing that helped, from the viewpoint of a budget traveller, was to use youth hostels, and also to belong to a hospitality exchange. And if you are planning a total trip cost of only $5000 for a month including travel from the States, you’ll be a budget traveller.

Youth hostels are a great bargain, and you don’t have to be a youth to use them in most places. I’m a lifetime member of Hostelling International, and between them and Pasporta Servo, I didn’t see the inside of a hotel at all during my trip. I paid the equivalent of about $30/night for accomodation. (Except in London, but that’s another story. The hostel there charged Ł24.95 a night, which at the time worked out to around $60.)

Pasporta Servo (PS)… that’s one of the other thing that cut my accommodation costs. PS is a hospitality exchange. You join it, and you can stay at other people’s houses for free. You can also host guests. (I have done both.) There are other hospitality exchanges than PS; Couch Surfing may be the most well-known, but Pasporta Servo was there first.

I bought a Eurail pass, and was able to go almost anywhere by train. You can get passes that cover different areas. In addition to rail travel, Eurail passes often give discounts on connecting services.

The rail pass I got covered the western part of the European mainland, but not the UK. It cost around $850 at the time. Since my final destination was London, I didn’t need rail travel in the UK, and was fine with the pass not including UK rail travel. It did give me a 50% discount on the Channel Tunnel train, my last rail travel. Your need, of course, may be different.

I also saved hotel costs by taking overnight trains and sleeping on the train.

Let’s see… I’ve been to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, London, Rome, Milan, Florence and Siena in the winter.

Vienna, Prague and Budapest are relatively cold in late December / early January. Highs around freezing, lows a few degrees cooler. There may be snow and ice.

London in January isn’t that bad; highs in the 40s and 50s, lows in the 30s and 40s. All in all, milder than winter in Dallas actually. More rainy, but not that bad all in all.

Italy in general has pretty mild winter weather; even in 2010 when Europe got enough snow that all the northern European airports were shut down, Rome was still having highs in the mid-upper 50s and lows in the 40s. It just flat-out doesn’t get cold there; winter is probably the absolute best time to visit, since it’s not tourist season.

If you want to see museums and historical stuff, you really just cannot beat Rome. Paris and London are close seconds, but Rome is the hands-down winner.

Florence and Siena typically are somewhat colder- highs in the 40s, lows in the 30s and 20s, but we happened to go right before the biggest snowfall in Florence in 25 years, so my experience is not typical.

Siena was ok; the Duomo is cool as is the baptistery (watch out for the steps between the two!) but honestly, there’s not that much going on in Siena. See the Duomo, check out its Baptistery, see the Duomo museum, and get some pan forte and call it a day.

Berlin. Is. AWESOME :smiley: Just back from a week there.

If food is your concern, there are ethnic restaurants all over the place, believe me, and in all price classes. For that matter, German cuisine is more varied and interesting than its reputation. I hate sauerkraut and did not have to face it once, in nearly two weeks in Germany. And you must try currywurst at least once in your life.

The history of the city is amazing. The way Berliners live with and amidst that history is amazing. The amount of construction going on is mind-boggling.

I liked Paris and really liked Amsterdam, too, by the way.

I wouldn’t bother to learn French if you’re only going to be there for a couple days and mostly around tourist areas. Just practice: “Excuse me, please, I don’t speak French, do you perhaps speak English” “Please” “Thank you” “How much is that” " left, right, crossing" (to get directions) " “push/pull Ladies/gentlemen” open/closed no entrance (all these on doors) and you’re good to go.

The only thing that makes you an Ugly American is just starting to blab in English to the people there, assuming they will get it and that they have to understand you.

An “Excuse me, I don’t speak French” with a charming apologetic smile goes a LONG way.

NB: there are several threads on travel in the Netherlands with good tips on the Dope.

You migbt want to plan visits to more then just cities, though. See if you can plan some beaches or nature areas in there too, or industry, excursions or wellness (like the original Spa) or…30 days of city trips might be a bit much.

Ha. When visiting Paris for the first time I practiced the French for “I am very sorry but I don’t speak French, do you speak English?”

The very first time I tried it, I got a glare and a curt “oui” - I can…I’m not going to, but I can…

A big contrast with Madrid where the barman was so charmed with my attempts to speak Spanish that I got to eat in and drink in there all afternoon for virtually nothing!

Jennyrosity, in general Parisiens are not known for making feel foreigners welcome. There is a secret word, though.

I wouldn’t feel bad about skipping Athens - out of the big European cities I’ve been to (London, Rome, Barcelona, Lisbon etc) it was the most disappointing. I’ll second what bump said about Rome, too. That city is awesome if you like history.

Another vote to keep Berlin on your itinerary!

The bad news is you are traveling in winter, the good news is you are traveling in winter.
I say this as you will not get to enjoy the great outdoors as much in Berlin - and yes there are lots of great parks and waterways and things to do outside! However, prices in winter should be cheaper for hostels/pensions, so you should save quite a bit of money there. Also, Berliners are used to crappy weather, so there is lots to do there even when it is cold/snowy/rainy/drizzly/windy/dreary. As you mention, great museums, great clubs/bars, great theater, amazing shops and lots of special events.

I lived in Berlin for over 14 years and found it to be far cheaper than London or most other large European cities. Granted, you have to sniff around (or just ask) where there are some cheap(er) lodgings, restaurants, bars and clubs - but lots of Berliners live on a budget, so you will find ample company pointing you towards really great places that are also inexpensive.

I am the type of traveler who thinks it is better to sit in one or two large cities for a couple of weeks, rather than try to hit four, five or six cities in the same time; I like the idea of getting to know the locals and finding cool places to hang out and feeling like you know the area. Jumping around, it would be like visiting NYC, DC, Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Honolulu in 12 days…imagine how un-fun that would be! You wouldn’t get a clue about anything other than a blur of well-known tourist traps.

So visiting only London and Berlin would be a great first time trip! Both have quirky, fun areas to explore, as well as the traditional tourist areas. You have to realize almost everything will be new to you - transportation, foods, drinks, customs, clothing and styles, language/dialects, TV, music, sports, events, holidays…trust me when I say you wouldn’t be bored parking your ass in even ONE city during this time, but I think two would be a great option to get the real "feel’ of experiencing a different lifestyle and culture.

Take your time. Find a local cafe and have breakfast there every morning and start to mingle with the locals. Find a local pub (London) or kneipe (Berlin) for a couple of drinks every night before heading back to your lodgings so you can again mingle and meet the locals. You will come back feeling you know more, have a better feel for the people and culture, and feel more connected - far better than just coming home to finally look at 2478 photos of places in nine cities you barely remember visiting.

Have a great time! Dress warmly. Wear comfortable shoes. Relax. Enjoy. Meet people and make friends.

I’ve been all over western Europe and have visited a few major cities in eastern as well.
If I had to choose to live in one city, it would be Amsterdam. But if I had only one city to visit for a couple days, it would be Prague. Simply the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.

If you decide to go to Liverpool, this is a good tour outfit:

I used them a couple times when I took students abroad from America for a UK version of my history of rock class; they will tailor the tour for you even as an individual. Keep in mind, however, that John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes are not open to the public in the winter time (and the original gates to Strawberry Field have been replaced with reproductions in the last couple years due to vandalism and theft.)

If you want to do a Beatles/London tour, I worked with this guy for a while, again with my students, (owned by Richard Porter).

I am not, but I will be! Thank you for the tip.

I think you will be truly amazed at how incredibly cheap flights between European cities are.

I couple of years ago, I flew from Brussels to Barcelona (actually to a town about 60 miles out of Barcelona, then took the charter bus that Ryan Air contracts with to take you to Barcelona proper) for around $30 TOTAL, after the airfare, bus and taxes all combined. It had to be about a 500 mile flight, like flying from Chicago to Memphis for 30 bucks…

Also, as many above have expressed, Berlin is not to be missed. A wonderful, cosmopolitan city, and compared to London, extremely affordable for travelers trying to stretch their vacation budget. Also, you will be fine as far as food goes; I don’t eat meat, and was a little apprehensive about the stereotypical German meal of huge sausages and pork dumplings, but there is a vast, vast array of dining options and cuisines to choose from in Berlin (I had some truly excellent Thai food one late, beer-soaked night) most of them for much less than you would pay for a comparable meal in Chicago.

Finally, BEER


I’ve been doing more research, and for some strange reason, Denmark seems to be a place I think I’d really like to visit.

As I start to plan, I"m thinking 3 weeks between the UK, Denmark, and Germany. Of course, that means I’ll have to hurry back to see southern Europe.

You said you’d like to listen to classical music. Vienna is a big city where many important composers lived, and the people there love music. You could see some good concerts there.

Copenhagen is cool. I stayed there for a couple of days during my 2000 trip.

Expect to see a surreal number of bicycles. The bike parking in front of the main train station is huge. I understand they’re thinking of building bike freeways.

I believe they’ve built an entire subway system since 2000. :eek:

Because I was in Denmark, I had to visit Legoland. This was not optional. I headed out in the morning, caught the bus to the train station (15 minutes), caught the train from Copenhagen to Vejle (1.5 hours), and caught another bus to the Legoland park (30 minutes).

Now, at the time, I was living in Oakville, Ontario, and going to visit my father in Oshawa, Ontario, on the other side of the Greater Toronto Area. The trip times for that journey were almost the same, on bus, train, and bus. Granted, the Danish train was faster, but emotionally, the journey was a long day trip across the entire width of the metropolis, such as I’d done many times, even after work.

When I got back to my host’s apartment and related what I’d done, his jaw dropped and he said, “You went halfway across the country?!!

We checked the map. It was, indeed, halfway across Denmark. :slight_smile:

You are quite right, Vienna and Prague are on my detour of out Germany list