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I'm trying to plan a backpacking trip in Europe but I'm not really sure where to start. We'll be flying from the US into most likely London. Our budget is about 2,000 USD (per person) not including the flight and we plan on staying there for 2 weeks in September. We'd like to use the trains to travel between the cities. Do they have train passes that will take you through most of Europe or do you need to buy each ticket separately?

Ideally here are the places we would like to go to starting in London:
London
Brussels
Amsterdam
Munich
Somewhere in Switzerland (recommendations?)
Rome and Pisa
Paris
then back to London

Does this look doable on our budget and time span? We'd also really like to go to Dublin, but I don't know if we can fit that in too.

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I took the liberty of bolding some of the points that make the question specific, I hope you don't mind. Makes it easier when thinking "what time of year?" etc. –  hippietrail Nov 2 '11 at 7:25
    
How big a group? 2 or a bunch? –  hippietrail Nov 2 '11 at 7:32
    
A group of 2, maybe 3, people. Also the budget would be 2,000 USD per person. –  bmeding Nov 2 '11 at 14:23
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I scanned the itinerary first, and thought, "Oh, cool itinerary for a 3 to 4 week introduction to Europe"... –  gef05 Nov 8 '11 at 23:43
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I think money is not much of an issue, but time definitely is. Sure, you can look at all those cities within the given time span, but I doubt you'll actually see much. Also you should consider, that with such a schedule you will spend considerable amounts of time travelling, checking in and out of accommodations etc. With your selection, I'd suggest reducing it to London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, and possibly adding Brighton and the French Coast (especially Mont St. Michel) if you feel like moving a lot. –  back2dos Nov 9 '11 at 17:03

5 Answers 5

It's doable...but...you're rushing the cities, some of the best in the world!

London needs a few days to do really, you want to enjoy it. Paris simply can't be done in less than two days, I still regret that. I've been told that Rome is 4 days minimum unless you're with a tour group because of the long queues.

Amsterdam 2 days is fine, and Brussels you could do quickly. Zurich in Switzerland can be done in a weekend and is a great city.

You can buy a Eurail pass which will get you all around Europe on one ticket, PROVIDED there are spaces on the trains, of course. Usually the only place that may be a problem is on the EuroStar through the Channel tunnel.

Some awesome cities, great choices, just that it will be a whirlwind tour! :)

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If we have a Eurail pass do we need to reserve a seat on the train or can we just get on a train at anytime to go between countries? –  bmeding Nov 2 '11 at 2:25
    
It depends on the country and the network - some do, some don't, some let you do it onboard. As long as you ask at the station beforehand, they'll let you know what you need to do - most speak enough English to advise you. Or ask at your hostel, they'll have answered the question many times before :) –  Mark Mayo Nov 2 '11 at 3:31

Trains are a great way to explore Europe, the rail network and the connections are usually pretty good, especially between the big cities. Trains in Switzerland offer an awesome views when they climb up the moutains.

Grindelwald is quite a popular tourist destination in Switzerland, but not sure what you can do there in september; Ski season won't usually start before november.

Grindelwald Wetterhorn Grindelwald

If you can you should try to travel at night and sleep in the train to save some money; but most of your distances are to short for that (London - Brussels - Amsterdam: each trip on this list will probably only take ~ 1-3h with express trains). Some of the Express Trains even have 230V outlets in some seat rows and (paid) WiFi access on board in case you want to bring your laptop.

Your Schedule is pretty tight and 2000 USD will probably only cover the basics at the current exchange rate: transport, accomodation, food, some sightseeing. I would skip Belgium and stay longer in some other places instead, as it is a subject of a lot of bad jokes in europe, and i never meet anyone who was there and had something interresting or good to say about this country.

But hey, at least you don't need to worry about medical insurance - the socialist goverments across the ditch will take care of you :)

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...I rather like Belgium! –  Ginamin Nov 2 '11 at 3:23
    
Agree, Brussels and Brugge are great! Just don't require that much time... –  Mark Mayo Nov 2 '11 at 3:30
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Bruges/Brugge was one of the highlights of my first Eurotrip too. –  hippietrail Nov 2 '11 at 7:26
    
belgium is the best for beer lovers. I have not been to brussels but both brugge and antwerp is worth the trip. –  froderik Nov 2 '11 at 12:39
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True, Belgian beer was another one of the highlights of my first Eurotrip. –  hippietrail Nov 2 '11 at 14:36

Your budget sounds like plenty to me. I personally budget $1K/month and you've got $1K/week!

But the number of places you're trying to squeeze in to a short time could be a little hectic.

You may find yourself tired and grumpy due to the time pressure and constant moving around. Especially during high season. This can also lead to problems among the members of the group, especially if more than two people since some might want to rest and some might want to press on.

But it may also give you just the taste that leaves you wanting more. My first trip overseas was short but enough for me to catch the travel bug I still have 22 years later.

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I think the trip is doable reasonable well, although double or triple the time wouldn't be a bad thing. You just have to concentrate on the main sights. For example in Paris, you could easily spend one or two days in the Louvre, but if you're happy with seeing it only from outside, or just take a glimpse at Mona Lisa, 1 hours is enough.

I traveled really a lot in Europe by car, train, plane, etc and my recommendation would be the following:

Day 1: Arrive early in the morning in London and spend the rest of the day sightseeing.

Day 2: Spend the whole day in London sightseeing

Day 3: Early in the morning leave London by train and go to Brussels. You can be before 10:00 in the center of Brussels. Then do some sightseeing there.

Day 4: Do sightseeing in Brussels.

Day 5: Leave early in the morning for Amsterdam. The trip takes only 2.5 hours, so you will be in Amsterdam easily before noon. The rest of the day you can spend in Amsterdam.

Day 6: Do some sightseeing in Amsterdam. In the evening take a night train to Munich and you will be in Munich before 8! In the night train you can sleep reasonable well and so you will be fit for the whole day sightseeing in Munich. I would recommend to visit the Olympic Stadium, The Hofbräuhaus, The City Center (e.g. Marienplatz, Frauenkirche, Neues Rathaus, etc.) and Thalkrichen to relax a little bit. If you're a big soccer fan you should watch a game of Bayern Munich in the evening in the beautiful Allianz Arena.

Day 7: Still sightseeing in Munich. Do the things you missed the day before ;)

Day 8: Head to Switzerland. Here it really depends on what you're interested in. If you're interested in cities, I would go to Bern, Luzern, Basel or Zürich. IF you're more a nature fan and if you want to see what Switzerland is really famous for, I would spend some time in more remote areas, namely in the high Alps ;) There I could recommend to visit small villages in Engadin or Graubünden. But the Berner Oberland is nice too. Really worth a trip is the Top of Europe! You can take a train up to 3400 meters above see level and then walk there on a glacier. You will have a spectacular view to see some of the highest mountains in Europe. For the further recommendations I assume that on day 8 you're headed to Berne to visit the city in one day. The train connection from Munich to Berne isn't really very good (takes more than 6 hours). So I would take a look if someone can take you with you in his car. There are some big internet portals that offer so called Mitfahrgelegenheit. Normally it is no problem to find someone that takes you for a really cheap price from Munich to somewhere in Switzerland. Once you're in Switzerland you can use the excellent railway system to rush to Berne.

Day 9: Leave Berne and make a day trip to the Top of Europe as mentioned before. In the evening take a night train to Rome (and skip Pisa ;) it's just that weird tower, nothing special ;)). Almost all night trains from Berne go via Zurich and Milano. You can be in Rome at sunrise.

Day 10: Arrive early morning in Rome and spend some time sightseeing. I can recommend the following sights: Colosseo, the Vatican, the Pantheon, Roman Forum, Pyramid of Cestus, Castel Sant'Angelo (well known the Dan Brown books), Capitoline Hill, the world famous Spanish Steps, the also very famous Trevi Fountain and the bridge Ponte Sant'Angelo that least to the castle with the same name.

Day 11: Still sightseeing in Rome.

Day 12: Take an early budget flight to Paris and spend the rest of the day there.

Day 13: Sightseeing in Paris. I can recommend the following sights: Arc de Triomphe, Château de Versailles ( a little bit outside the city, so only if you have enough time), The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel), La Défense, Notre Dame, Pantheon, Père-Lachaise Cementery, Sacré Coeur, The Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Centre Georges Pompidou and Les Invalides.

Day 14: Sightseeing in Paris and then take the Eurostar to London. This will only take 2:15!

So you see it is doable, but you have to spend a lot of time in trains, and you will have to take night trains. Another problem is that the price level in Switzerland is really high. So your 2000 USD are not too many in Switzerland.

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Added some more sightseeing recommendations for Paris and Rome. –  RoflcoptrException Nov 2 '11 at 12:18
    
agree on "skip pisa" - a much nicer city that also got leaning towers (twice as many as pisa actually) is bologna. –  froderik Nov 2 '11 at 12:41
    
That's a nice tour, except that I'd swap Berlin for Munich. You can still do Amsterdam-Berlin and Berlin-Zurich in a night train. –  Gilles Nov 2 '11 at 19:15
    
Yes that^s true. If I would have to choose one German city to visit I would definitively choose Berlin. –  RoflcoptrException Nov 2 '11 at 19:31
    
You forgot the BMW museum in Munich ( www.bmw-museum.de ) near the Olympia Park for day 6/7. There is also a tall skytower/ observation platform and a park right next to it if you're not into cars. –  iHaveacomputer Nov 2 '11 at 22:22

This isn't a full answer, just filling in some info from the other answers.

When you book your Eurail pass, you get a booklet that lists each country and the train services that are covered by the pass, along with info on whether you need to book reservations or not. For popular trains, especially those during commuter hours, you need to book reservations early (if reservations are required), because in countries with required reservations, like France, they have a quota of Eurail reservations that they will sell and they sell out fast. You can book your reservations from almost any country - look for the "RailTeam" symbol at booking offices.

You don't need much time in Rome really. I was there last month and even though there were large queues at times, it's easy to skip them. For the Vatican Museums book your ticket online on the Vatican website and print it out, it lets you skip the ENTIRE queue (I wasn't aware of this and spent like an hour queueing before I figured it out), you can go in at the group entrance. Just turn up early at the Colloseum - I arrived there at opening time and I was inside within five minutes.

If I were you I would skip Brussels and Munich, they are easily some of the most boring cities in Europe. Munich is at least a bit more interesting than Brussels I guess. Paris is a really amazing place and it's just impossible to fit everything in that's worth seeing into one day - I am a hardcore "take a picture and go" type of tourist and it took me three days to get through everything.

You're definitely not going to fit in Dublin ;)

I did a similar trip (4 weeks and 3x the cities) a month ago and I don't think it was overly "rushed", i.e. I got what I wanted out of the trip. It is extremely tiring to be getting on and off trains though, I can only imagine that it's probably more difficult if you're not used to the rail systems here and don't speak French or German. When I was travelling I heard so many American tourists being completely confused by the trains and really in Germany, France and Italy, the locals don't actually speak much English at all so it's hard to get help.

My only other advice would be to pack extremely light, you will get pretty tired of dragging your stuff around train stations and often the trains can be really crowded with limited luggage space (Thalys Brussels-Cologne, I'm looking at you).

2000 dollars doesn't really sound to me like enough for two people. In a two week trip I'd usually spend 1,500 euros just on myself ;) It's probably doable if you don't want to buy any souvenirs and you don't want to eat at local restaurants and try local food though. If you buy all your food from supermarkets it will be fairly cheap. As well don't assume that hostels have cooking facilities. I stayed at a Hostelling International place in Rome and it didn't have a kitchen for guests to use.

The Eurail Global Pass 10 days in 2 months is 407 euros p.p. if you're under 26. That's half your budget gone there. On top of that, the Eurostar isn't free with the pass, you have to pay a "passholder fare" that has been between £52-£88 whenever I've used it. You will also need to make reservations, which is roughly 2-3 euros a time for daytime trains, and up to 20 euros for night trains.

You might be better off buying single tickets, and the only way to check that is to go to the various train provider websites. You can start with Deustche Bahn's website http://www.bahn.de and www.seat61.com and work from there. No one else will be able to tell you which will be cheapest.

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I edited the question a bit, the 2,000 USD is per person. Should that be enough? Also, where would you recommend going in Germany if we don't go to Munich? –  bmeding Nov 2 '11 at 17:33
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If it were me I would do something like London - Amsterdam - Berlin - Venice - Rome. Although Venice isn't really a great place to stay for a long period of time, just being there for one day is kind of a "must do" thing and is far more interesting than, say, Pisa. And $2,000 per person seems like plenty to me. Hostels are usually 20-30 euros per night per person (at least when I was in Rome, Venice, Berlin and Paris in September), but if you book ahead and search around you can probably get a B&B for 60-70 euros per night (esp if you're staying in the countryside in Switzerland). –  victoriah Nov 2 '11 at 18:39
    
So if you stayed at a B&B for 70 euros every night, bought the Eurail pass and made reservations for every train, your transport and accomodation shouldn't come to more than 1,000 euros per person (by my estimates), leaving around 500 euros per person for food and souvenirs (more than enough imo) –  victoriah Nov 2 '11 at 18:44
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@bmeding Skip Munich and go to Berlin! I spent two days in Munich and felt I had enough (which doesn't happen often). I spent a week in Berlin and would go again. –  Gilles Nov 2 '11 at 19:12

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