Planning a trip to Europe can be hard; sometimes the most challenging part is selecting the destination in the first place. I'll help you think through your preferences and come up with the perfect locale for your next adventure across the pond!
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It's one of the most fun, and also one of the hardest vacation-related decisions to make - which cities are the right fit for your next European vacation? Check out these tips to help you pick your destination!
There is so much talk about "the best" cities to visit in Europe. While these lists are thought-provoking and truly a great way to get your travel juices flowing, of course the problem is that Europe is one of the most fascinating continents in the world. With centuries-old cities and historic cultures living smack dab next to thriving modernity, you can certainly spend your life exploring Europe. You'll want to visit a wide range of cities over the years, and sometimes picking the right city for a specific trip can seem overwhelming, with so many factors to take into consideration. While a big list can get you thinking...how do you finally select the right destination for you?
And, beyond the "where you should go," you can't help but include personal choice in your calculations- if you're a beach goer, London might not be what you're looking for on this trip. If you're more interested in museums, you might not want to post up at an isolated seaside village.
Last, but not least, there are the most practical considerations as well - what time of year will you be traveling? How will you navigate the (not inevitable?) crowds? Each trip is different, so here's how you can start to narrow down your destination options and, of course, I've listed out a few proposed cities/times of the year that I'd highly recommend!
Personal decisions: What type of European trip do you want?
First things first! What type of traveler are you? Are you looking to hit museums all day long (I'll just be honest and say that this is me!!)? Are you looking for a more relaxing trip, spent by the beach? Or perhaps an outdoor adventuring, including hiking or skiing? Here, I'm not going to make a huge number of suggestions (how could I? It's your opinion!), only to get you thinking and to reiterate that you really need to nail this down before we can move onto the next steps.
Do you want to go "off the beaten path" or are you looking for the convenience of the very beaten path, with English-speaking staff and plenty of tapas to choose from?
And finally, do you want to visit multiple cities in one trip, or are you going to stay in the same place for your entire vacation? If you are looking to include multiple cities, I do have a few suggestions. First, be sure to give each city enough time. Personally, I prefer to spend more time in one city, than to destination hop and see just the highlights of a few, far-flung places. The travel can be more exhausting than you might be anticipating. But, if you are planning multiple cities, I'd recommend looking into a vacation packaging arrangement, such as Costco Travel. I'm not generally a fan of "group tours" and this isn't a group tour - it's a packaged deal that generally includes hotel, flight, and transfers between cities during your trip. Buying in a package can help take some of the sting out of the little bits that add up, such as travel to and from the airport, or fees for flying into and out of different airports during your trip.
Ok, so for those of you who've gotten to the end of this section without an "aha!" moment and without any of my listed categories ringing a bell for you, or for first-timers who are just looking to get started, I'd recommend that you focus on "major" tourist destinations: London, Paris, Rome. There will be enough to keep you busy and there are easy day trips if you start to run out of stuff to do or need to escape the city. And, most importantly, these are incredibly tourist-friendly cities, where you won't get lost/end up somewhere strange/starve to death. And, side note: if you're worried about the Parisians being rude, don't be. Check out my tips on How to Charm the French before you go.
The inevitable crowds: What time of year should you visit Europe?
Alright - so we've nailed down the high-level pieces of what type of traveler we are. Now we need to consider the details. The fact is, when picking a city to visit in Europe, crowds are going to be on your mind.
My approach to crowds is twofold: First, accept that crowds are part of it. I would not avoid a city because it is "touristy," unless you are a true backpacker/rugged individualist. A big part of blogging about traveling seems to be disparaging "touristy" destinations. I largely disagree. It's always nice to get some relieve from crowded areas, but at least part of the reason that areas are "touristy" is because there is something there that a lot of people want to see. Is it bad to see The Colosseum because it's jam-packed full of thousands of other people wanting to do the same thing? Of course not. Would I recommend eating all of your meals on the Champs-Elysees or booking a hotel in Times Square (not Europe, but you get my point)? Certainly not.
Secondly, do not go blindly into dealing with the crowds in Europe. Take charge! This will save you endless hours and hassle. Research how to avoid crowds (which you are doing - cheers!). Buy tickets in advance when you can. Go to crowded places at "off" times. Make a schedule that allows you time to recuperate from big tourism days by following up one of those days with a day trip/pool day/visit to a less crowded area of the city.
European "high" season is summer - July and August when crowds surge from all across the world, including within Europe itself. Temperatures are high, lines are long, and restaurants heave with people. My first trip ever "across the pond" was in August - London. It was packed. Of course, it was my first trip, so I didn't know any differently. We got to visit Buckingham Palace during the summer opening (which is the only time the public can tour, when The Queen is away), so I was happy as a clam. That said, having been back to the U.K. since then, I realize how much more relaxing it is to visit at another time of year. Any other time of year...really.
November-February is "low season." It's cold, and you'll have to contend with fewer crowds. It's a pick-your-poison situation - when can you travel? How much is avoiding crowds worth to you? You will sacrifice some things by traveling in low season - some places won't be open or will be open for limited hours. And you might not get to really experience some of the "feel" of certain cities.
For me, when I have a choice, I'm all about traveling in September/October, often known as "shoulder season." Mid-October is perfect in my book. Bit of a chill in the air, very limited crowds, yet everything is still open, and you can very comfortably walk around for hours on end.
Practical considerations: Which European cities have the best weather?
Europe's weather is more diverse than a lot of foreigners realize. The Mediterranean keeps the surrounding countries temperate, as does the jet stream that runs through the Atlantic. Northern Europe is, obviously, a different story.
By way of example, check out the average temperatures in October:
On a hiking or beach trip, weather is going to be paramount in your decision making. When the outdoors are not as central to your day-to-day activities, you'll still want to take it into consideration. We walk an average of 10 miles/day on our normal Europe trips - between museums, monuments, and pubs, public transit can only get you so far, when you're in for a big day! While I'm certainly not arguing against winter travels, I'd just advise you to be thoughtful - perhaps think Barcelona for a February adventure. If you're interested in traveling around Christmas time, Christmas markets will definitely be on your itinerary- so Germany/Switzerland will likely top the list - just bring those boots!
As with the crowding issue above, I would try to avoid high-summer season, if you can. While weather in some places will be nice, in southern Europe, the heat combined with the crowds can really be unbearable. The weather alone is not a good reason to travel during this stressful time. Dehydration + screaming children = Frowns.
The purse: Where can I get the most value for my money in Europe?
Ah the million dollar question. When you're planning a trip, it can sometimes feel like a *literal* million dollar question...
Well, partially the answer to this question will depend on the country you're coming from (how strong your currency is against the Euro/pound), and the hour of the day. Painting the situation in extremely broad strokes, Eastern Europe tends to be cheaper. Think Poland, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Turkey. Western Europe tends to be more expensive, with cultural and tourist hubs London and Paris topping the list. The general consensus is that Prague most often tops the list of cheapest cities to visit.
Personally, I'd encourage you to start by making a budget. You will be able to visit most cities that you want to see within a reasonable budget, if you make cuts where needed. If Paris is your *must-see* city, but you're operating on a shoe string budget, you'll need to employ more money-saving tips. Air BNB, packing your lunch, seeing if you can plan to trip to coincide with free days at museums are all easy ways to save a Euro. If you venture to a more affordable city, you can loose the purse strings!
Making the decision: Which city in Europe should you visit this year?
Alright, I know, you want some actual recommendations! Feel free to reach out in the comments with specific questions. Obviously, I haven't been everywhere, but I'll try to help as best I can!
Once you've selected your location, check out my post on planning a trip to Europe, including everything you'll want to know about picking a hotel, booking tickets in advance, and scheduling your days across the pond! xx
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