Where should I go in Europe?

From June 30 to August 3, I will not be around the MB. Where will I be? - Europe! (If you haven’t guessed by now, maybe you shouldn’t be here either… ;)).

So, I’m looking for suggestions on places to go. There’s a plethora of information about all the usual touristy places (which I plan on seeing, this being my first time and all). However, I’m sure there are some experienced travellers here who have their own suggestions.

Sorry to those who thought this should be MPSIMS, but I didn’t think it was mundane or pointless and I’m looking for answers (rather than just sharing).

Note: I’ve purchased “Europe through the Backdoor” by Rick Steves. It has a lot of nice out of the way places.

Eurpoe is a big place, my friend. You’re not going to see it all in a month. Could you narrow things down a bit for me? Also, an indication of your general interests would be helpful.
Overall advise: Travel by train within Europe. It’s a great way to see a lot of the countryside, and it saves the hassle of trying to follow the road signs (although if you go to Germany, do rent a car and try out the autobahn.) You can also save a few restraunt bills—if you’re going to be on the train for, say, 5 hours, go to the grocery store first, buy yourself some bread and cheese, some pastry–whatever–and have it on the train. You can even, in many places, buy pre-mixed cocktails in aluminum cans at the grocery. Talk about progressive ; )

“I think it would be a great idea” Mohandas Ghandi’s answer when asked what he thought of Western civilization

I’d be happy to oblige, SW. But first; Where are you flying into and out of and what are your transportation plans (rental car, trains, hiking, etc)?

Prague, defifitely Prague. It’s so georgeous, I don’t even know where to begin.

And London is pretty fantastic too.

And this may sound crazy, but WALES. Beautiful. See Cardiff, then bum around the countryside a bit. Try to stop by Stonehenge on your way in or back.

Very important: While you’re in Wales, make it obvious to everyone that you are an American. Pretty much all Welsh people speak English, but they may suddenly not be able to if they think you are English. Americans, they love, though.

Oh, and similar advice in Prague, if you happen to speak Russian. Speak it badly, so they know you’re not actually Russian. Everyone in Prague up to fall of the Soviet Union had to study Russian in school, and resents the hell out of it. They won’t speak Russian to Russians-- in fact, if you go into a store speaking Russian, it may suddenly close.

They’ll speak Russian to Americans, though.

Shopping is still cheaper than therapy. --my Aunt Franny

I’ve seen the same phenomenon in Montreal.

I really enjoyed Italy, especially Rome and Venice, Scotland and Amsterdam (what I can remember of it).

President of the Vernon Dent fan club.

Luck Dog!

Buy a Eurail Pass. No question, THE way to go.

You will find nowhere more beautiful than Ireland (North or Eire). Friendliest people in the whole world.

Visit the Newgrange burial site, about 20 km north of Dublin. 5000 year old burial mound, which has been restored and you can go inside. Very weird and atmospheric.

Scotland is also wonderful. Give Edinburgh Castle a miss, and go to Stirling Castle instead–actually more historic than Edinburgh Castle and less touristy and crowded. Also spend a few days in Glasgow–people think its a grimy industrial city, but it ain’t so anymore–great Victorian buildings, and save your pennies for lunch at Rogano’s an original 1930s diner, still in its full Art Deco glory. More ideas later!

Bruges, Belgium was one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever visited. I also liked Salzburgh, Austria. My best recommendation though, is not to think you can see everything, or even all the highlights, in one month. Don’t even try.

I think we really need more information to answer this question properly. What part of Europe are you going to? (Northern or southern? Coast or inland? Travelling around or staying in one place?) Also, what are you interested in? (Mountains or beaches? Art? Music? Architecture? History? Food?)

With no other information I would suggest Austria, but I’m a skier. Of course, you probably won’t be skiing in August.

“You can’t run away forever; but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.” — Jim Steinman

Dennis Matheson — Dennis@mountaindiver.com
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb — www.mountaindiver.com

Oh, bother! I didn’t realize I had been so sketchy. I’ll be over in the corner with my dunce cap now…
Anyway, here’s the main gist:
Flying into London, out of Rome, buying a Eurail pass with about 15 days worth of travel in a 30 day period. Main contries are England, Ireland, France and Italy. Since England isn’t on Eurail (they use Britrail, which is fairly expensive unless you’re travelling a lot in England), my time in Ireland and England will be brief. A few days in London and a few days in Dublin will probably be it (with a trip on the way to Stonehenge).

As you can see, I don’t plan on visiting every country in Europe. I fully realize that a month is a short period. I’m not trying to see it all, just a month’s worth of Europe. We (I’m going with a friend) will probably do a little travelling in countries that are on our way or not too far out of the way. These might include Switzerland, Germany (far western Germany), Austria, Belgium or Luxembourg.

We’re also going to visit a few small Italian towns along the riviera that Steves talks about in his book (about untouristy places).

The travel budget is no very lavish, but we can splurge occasionally. Our interests range pretty wide. At the top would probably art and history. Other than train, our main transportation would be our feet. We’re going to go the backpacking/hostelling route.

Okay, that should help. Feel free to inquire further.

Weasel, I only have one thing to say: TAke me, please! Please, please please! You lucky dog!!!

Have a great time, see everything, and tell us all about it when you get back !!!

Have a safe trip!

The only recommendations I have are general travel things:

  1. Take a bottle of water on the plane. Never seems to be a flight attendant around when you’re thirsty.
  2. Put an extra roll of toilet paper in your bag. Boy, the things you can use toilet paper for and plus, you’re never out in a public restroom!


Carpe Diem!

Supposedly, the French are rude to Americans, but I heard nearby Holland likes American tourists. Stop and visit Andrew Tanenbaum, http://www.cs.vu.nl/~ast/

You could visit Thor and hoe in Iceland.

In the last 10 years I have visited France 6 times. I have run into exactly 1 rude Frenchman. On the other hand, I have encountered dozens of rude American tourists who (among other things) approach some unsuspecting Frenchman and blurt out some question in English without even saying hello/excuse me and/or do you speak English. This pisses the French off, and I don’t blame them.
I have no French ancestry and am not a Francophile, but I do think they get a bad rap.
If you are traveling anywhere, remember that you are a guest and behave accordingly.

OK: art and history:


Cool stuff off the beaten track:

“The Clink” is a 16th century prison, located in Southwark on the south bank of the Thames. It’s where the slang term ‘clink’ for prison comes from. Great interpretive displays, no-nonsense history with an edge; no romanticism about how tough life was back then.

The Imperial War Museum (Lambeth, near Elephant & Castle underground station) is worth a visit even if you’re not into military history, because it is set up for a general audience, and brings home the experience of war in this century as experienced by military and civilian. Very tasteful and thought-provoking, does NOT glorify war and its aftermath, plus a staggering art collection (really!)

Museum of the Moving Image: way cool techno-heavy, history of movies and TV. Sit inside a Bolshevik boxcar theatre and watch Eisenstien propaganda movies: see “Un Chien d’Andalou” on endless loop (now THAT’s surreal!), read the BBC news yourself, lots of cool interactive things.

If you’re tired of being jostled around on the tube, take a day trip out of London to Portsmouth (south coast of England), about 90 minutes by rail. Greatest collection of original naval ships I’ve seen: HMS Victory (Nelson’s ship at Trafalgar), the oldest commissioned warship in the world! Also the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship which turned turtle in the harbour and sank, full of soldiers. Incredible artifacts recovered from the silt. And HMS Warrior, the first Ironclad warship with breech-loading guns, and the submarine museum in nearby Gosport, with WWI and WWII subs you can tour; the Royal Marines Museum at Eastney barracks, which is practically a palace, full of incredible silver and art and plundered goodies from Zululand, the Summer Palace in Pekin, Bunker (or Breed’s) Hill, etc.

Another cool trip is to the industrial revolution village of Ironbridge, near Birmingham, which is presented as it was in about 1885 or so–the prices in the shops are the same as then (you buy old British money at a premium before entering the village).

If you do go to Wales, don’t miss Hay-on-Wye, the ‘village of books’: a group of London booksellers bought most of the buildings in the town in the 70s, and turned them into used/antiquarian bookstores. Plus you have to ride a bus from Hereford to get there, and listen to the local farmers speaking Welsh.

France: for a sobering experience, visit Vimy Ridge National Historic Site (actually run by Parks Canada, as the French ceded the territory to Canada as a memorial). In addition to possibly the most evocative memorial to those lost in war (after the Vietnam wall, of course), there is the only remaining stretch of WWI battlefield that hasn’t been radically altered.

If you’re in Italy, and want art and history, sure, spend a day or two in Rome, but get to Florence. The Medicis knew art, and knew how to live. Wonderful city, great atmosphere, less fraught than Rome, and the street market has the cheapest and best leather goods (gloves, shoes, jackets) in Europe, plus many of the vendors take plastic “Carte Si!”. Look for the Black Cock (rooster–get out of the gutter!) on your bottle of Chianti to make sure it’s the good stuff (Classico).


“A friend will help you move house. A best friend will help you move a body.”–Alexi Sayle

Thanks for all the suggestions. Keep them coming!
I just wanted to note that we’re very interested in Italy and will probably be spending a disproportionate amount of time there. Rome, Milan, Venice, Pisa and Florence are all in our plans, as well as several smaller towns like the Cinque Terra. The main problem will be finding the time to keep from rushing about from one to the next. We’ll probably wind up having to trim some of it down, though. But I really don’t want to give up any of those! Oh well. Heh. Just happy I’m going.

Oh, and BunnyGirl: maybe next time :wink:

I second Rodd’s comments on Portsmouth. There isn’t a better way to understand how that country conquered half the world than to walk the decks of what were the equivalent of the space shuttle in previous centurys. The two and a half hour train ride from London affords some beautiful veiws of the Surry, Suffolk and Hampshire countryside.

If you have time while your in Dublin, a couple hours drive to the South will bring you to what I consider the most beautiful part of Ireland; County Wicklow. Get yourself up in the mountains there and as well as meeting a lot of friendly people (The Irish are that strange breed of European who actually like Americans) the sight of the frigid, black rivers and streams cutting through the tree covered mountains is something you’ll never forget.

If you have more time, don’t waste it in the middle of the country. Although the endless green pastures are beautiful, they quickly become tedious. (Oh look, there’s some sheep! Some more sheep! Another sheep! Gosh, isn’t this country green! Wake me up when we get to Killarney!) For that old country charm that a lot of Irish-Americans are looking for, you can’t do much better than Co. Kerry. If you’re into small fishing villages and maritime heritage, you want to visit the south coast of Co. Cork. Check out the replica of an immigrant ship being built in New Ross. (I think it’s due to be completed at the end of the Summer.)

I’ve got to go, so I’ll let someone else fill you in on the continent.

Go to Slovakia. Someone recommended Prague, and it’s OK. The center is nicely preserved, although the outlying areas are pretty standard panelaky. Be aware that during the summer it can become beastly hot because the location often leads to an inversion. Because of this, and the attendant trapped pollution, most people who live in Prague leave in the summer. (If they can’t, they send their children into the country, because breathing the polluted air there in the summertime causes asthma and other respiratory diseases in young children.) Also, in the summer Prague is the center for rings of pickpockets and other thieves who prey on tourists. If you must go there, avoid the subway and be very wary around gypsies.

Slovakia is gorgeous. The Old City in Bratislava isn’t as showy as the one in Prague, but it is relaxed and peaceful, which Prague is not. Also, if you aren’t afraid to rough it a little, go east. Liptov is beautiful. Go to the High Tatras, Spis (the movie “Dragonheart” was filmed at the castle here), Lucenec, and enjoy the incredible scenery. Also, Slovaks are very hospitible, and will happily assist travellers. Most young people know some English or German, and are happy to have the opportunity to practice. It isn’t as touristy as some parts of Europe, but it is a wonderful place. (Also, at 40 Slovak crowns to the dollar, cheap.)

First and only time I went to Pisa, we parked the car, got out and looked at the tower. One guy said: "Yup, it’s leaning. and another one said: “Sure is. Anyone want to go get a beer?”. We all agreed and went to a bar.

I don’t want to sound uncultural or brutish of the wonders of my own continent, but hey, they’re all just old buildings.

Having travelled all over Europe, with many types of tranportation (yes: bus, train, boat, plane and car.) I want to offer the following advice: The sights will always be there, and you want to travel when you’re retired. See them then.

I find that meeting people, hanging out in bars, going to departments stores ASF is much more entertaining. I hade a much better time travelling around with the Metro (subway) in Paris, just jumping of at stations and going up to see what was there, than seeing the damned Eiffel tower. (my first time there, now I know the Metro and ride it like a native, which makes me a good tour guide in Paris. The Metro, BTW is fairly clean and very safe.)

Most sights, monuments and touristy spots in Eurpoe that Americans know of, will be terribly crowded and totally infested with souvenir stands, “street performers” and such. It won’t be long till they put up one of those conveyor belts you have in Airports in the Louvre, to really get the tourist passing Mona Lisa in a more efficient way. It’s a lot more interesting, in Paris, to take the Metro to Chateau Rouge which is the Arab quarters and one of few places in Europe that has the same feel to it as the Chinatown in SF.

In the Vatican, not only do you have to pay to get into the chappel, once in there, if you want to take the elevator up to really see the paintings by Michelangelo, not only do you have to stand in line (Disneyworld style) but you have to pay an additional fee for the elevator ride.

Many European monuments will not have any explanations (they wont even have a sign saying what it is), not even in the native language. If you haven’t studied up on a specific monument, you’re gonna have to buy a guide book on the spot (very pricey) to learn anything. Going up the Eiffel tower is standing in line for two hours…

Oh, I could go on.

Language: In the latin countries: Spain, France, Italy, English skills are poor among rural 7 working class population, and among everyone over 40. Younger, urban people will speak English to some degree. I you have any skill, in ane of these languages, try to use it. It shows your good intentions, and soon they’ll be fed up and ask you if you speak English, When they offer it, it’s OK. Try to speak English slowly and in simple phrases. Their vocabularies will not be big. A word like decaf will not be understood. Say: “coffee - no caffeine” instead. You get what I mean.

Finally, I would advice you to rent a car. It’s fairly cheap and trains (obviously) only go to train stations. There are a lot of interesting things to see between stations, which you won’t see from the train.

Finally, a short list of nice towns and places to visit outside of England. Search for them on the 'Net.

In Brittany Normandy - St. Malo, Mt. Saint-Michel. Paris (of course, and you’re gonna die in the Louvre and kick yourself in the butt, for not taking my advice), and Juan Les Pins / Antibes (big boats Koshoggis Yact-style are there) on the French Riviera.
Portovenere near La Spezia (secluded little village), Verona (very nice town), San Marino (miniature country).
Firenze is a must. Rome is fantastic.
Places to avoid at any cost:

  • Switzerland. Nice mountains, otherwise boring.
  • Monaco Crowded, expensive.
  • Venezia. DO NOT GO THERE. It’s extremely expensive. I doubt you’ll be able to find any kind of lodging for less than $200 a night. Forget what the guidebooks say, there are no cheap hotels in Venice. They will all be “fully booked.” They are also extremly good at separating you from your moneys. I bought a slize of pizza there once. it was about $1 and I thought it was a cheapo place, so I ordered a Coke. This was back in '88 and the Coke cost me $11. If you really feel you have to go there, spend the night on the mainland, ride the bus out (with a full stomach and carrying a water bottle) and use the boat buses.
    France: Marseille (the Detroit of France), Cannes, Nice (crowded, expensive).
    Luxemburg. If you’re not passing through, it’s just not worth it.

E-mail me if you want some more hints.


When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout

No matter what else you do, FOR GOD’S SAKE WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. I can think of no more fundamental rule for traveling, in Europe particularly. If you don’t, you’ll spend far too much time miserable.

I’ll say it again.

I went to France last March. Everyone was in my face before I went, Oh, they’re so rude! Having arrived in France, I did two following Highly Recommended Tourist Activities While In France:

  1. be polite;
  2. speak French, preferably fluent, unless spoken to in English.

Not one single French person I ever met was anything less than deferential. I am having a great deal of fun laughing in the face of those who warned me of rudeness.

Also, small hint for Americans: Purchase a small Canadian flag badge and sew it on your backpack or whatever. If necessary, pretend to be (for northerners) from Toronto, (for southerners) from Calgary, or (for west coasters) from Vancouver. Europeans in general like Canadians better than Americans. Sad (giggle) but true.

I avoided the Louvre but did all the touristy things in Paris anyway out of a sense of ritual. My mom, who had not been to Paris in 30 years and had missed the Eiffel Tower the first time around, loved it despite the dour predictions of the above Dopers. Use your judgment.

Public transit in Europe is always superior to driving. The Europeans have not allowed their train system to devolve, and it is fabulous in all respects. Buses and metros are far preferable to driving in every European city I know of. In Paris, you are never further than 500 metres from a metro station.

(smiles sweetly) It works both ways. I’ve had American tourists compliment me on my English. I have to restrain myself from blurting out, “Yes! Hooked on Phonics worked for me!”

Blessed Be,
Matt McLauchlin
Montreal, Quebec