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25 Ideas for the Perfect Europe Itinerary

Jessica Spiegel
By 
Jessica Spiegel
Freelance Writer
11 min read
Last updated 
June 22, 2020

Whether it’s your first time in Europe or your fifteenth, choosing where to go can be overwhelming. With 40+ nations and hundreds of popular cities and towns, there are nearly endless options for itineraries. We’ve pulled together some of our favorites perfect for weeklong (give or take) trips, with details on how to get around and how to spend your time. 

Note: the suggested duration for each trip is just that—a suggestion. You may want to allot more or less time depending on your travel style and interests. 

1. Balkan Roadtrip: Mostar, Kotor, and Dubrovnik

Kotor, Montenegro

Long gone are the days when former Yugoslavian countries like Croatia, Montenegro, or Bosnia and Herzegovina were truly off the beaten path. With beautiful city centers and long stretches of sparkling coastline, however, there’s no reason to let the increasing popularity of the area keep you away.

Travelers who swoon over well-preserved historic towns and who also want to squeeze in some beach time will love Mostar, Dubrovnik, and Kotor. All three have eminently photographable historic centers, including a famous bridge and scenery that may look familiar to Game of Thrones fans, and Dubrovnik’s beach life is well-known.

The drive between each destination listed is roughly 2.5–3 hours, and going in the order listed above keeps any one travel day from being too long. You could fly in and out of Dubrovnik, though that would require some backtracking on the road, or fly into Sarajevo (a 2.5-hour drive from Mostar) and out of Dubrovnik.

  • Duration: 7-10 days
  • Best time to go: April-June and September-October see the best combo of good weather and reasonable crowds
  • Getting Between Cities: Car (driving in historic city centers can be a challenge; ask your accommodation about parking options that can help you avoid the narrowest streets)
  • Don’t miss: Mostar’s iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge); a boat ride on Kotor Bay to visit other waterfront towns; walking Dubrovnik’s old city walls
  • Add-ons: If you fly into Sarajevo and have closer to two weeks, spend a few days in the Bosnian capital. Nature excursions to the Kravice Waterfalls (from Mostar) or Locven National Park (from Kotor) are easy with a car, and ferries run regularly from Dubrovnik to the nearby islands.
  • Fly into: Podgorica (90 minutes from Kotor) or Dubrovnik

Some of the deals we've found to Podgorica and Dubrovnik: 

2. Spanish Sampler: Barcelona, Madrid, and Sevilla

By European standards, Spain is a big place (it’s nearly as large as neighboring France), which means travelers with limited time can only see a little bit of the country. The good news is that Spain’s high-speed trains allow visitors to see some of the most popular spots—Barcelona, Madrid, and Sevilla—in a short amount of time.

Start in Barcelona, the Catalonian capital, and soak in the surreal sights of famed architect, Antoni Gaudí—including the still-under-construction Sagrada Familia church. Head to the very center of Spain, the capital of Madrid, to see the fabulous Prado Museum and enjoy the local tapas. Finish your trip in sunny Sevilla with a tour of the Alcázar and a flamenco show.

Each train trip is roughly 2.5 hours, giving you ample time to explore each city without spending all day in transit. Flying into Barcelona and out of Sevilla means you don’t have to backtrack at the end of your trip, but even the return journey from Sevilla to Barcelona is only 5.5 hours on RENFE’s fastest trains.

  • Duration: 6-9 days
  • Best time to go: September-May; avoid summer, when the heat can be brutal
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: Barcelona’s Gaudí masterpieces; the Prado Museum (Madrid); Alcázar Palace (Sevilla)
  • Add-ons: From Barcelona, it’s easy to add a day trip to the beautiful medieval city of Girona (it’s about a 40-minute train ride one-way). Walk through its historic center, visit the Girona cathedral, and tour the well-preserved Jewish quarter.
  • Fly into: Barcelona or Madrid

Some of the deals we've found to Madrid: 

3. Cosmopolitan Charmers: Barcelona and Paris

Paris and Barcelona may both be cosmopolitan cities that appeal to the same kinds of travelers, but they each have a distinct personality.

The sprawling French capital is awash in historic neighborhoods to explore. Whether you’re on the hunt for boutique shopping, famous museums and monuments, or classic examples of French cuisine, Paris caters to nearly every taste. Barcelona buzzes with its own energy, balancing a well-deserved reputation for fashion and culture with a relaxed Spanish vibe.

Both Barcelona and Paris are well-served by major and small airlines alike, so flying into either one as a starting point is easy—as is flying between the two. If you can get an open-jaw ticket to fly into one and out of the other, that saves you time; flights between Paris and Barcelona are usually around 1 hour and 45 minutes.

  • Duration: 6-7 days
  • Best time to go: April-May and September-early November; crowds peak in summer (June to August) and winter can be dreary in Paris
  • Getting Between Cities: Plane
  • Don’t Miss: Stroll along the chic Champs-Élysées (Paris) and pedestrian-friendly Las Ramblas (Barcelona)
  • Add-ons: From Paris, a day trip to the Palace and Gardens of Versailles is easy (~50 minutes by train) either on your own or as a package tour. From Barcelona, popular Costa Brava resort Lloret de Mar is about one hour away by bus, but you don’t even have to leave the city to add beach time to your itinerary—Nova Icaria and Barceloneta are two of many beaches within walking distance of central Barcelona.
  • Fly into: Barcelona or Paris

Some of the deals we've found to Paris: 

4. Old World Romance: Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam

When you glance at a map of Western Europe, it’s easy to see why the Paris–Brussels–Amsterdam route is such a popular one with travelers. These cities are so close together that each train trip is less than two hours, giving you even more time to explore.

The attractions of Paris are plentiful and well-known, including the graceful Eiffel Tower and art-filled Louvre Museum—and there are hundreds of smaller museums, monuments, and markets to keep any traveler entertained. Brussels is a city with both historic buildings and museums as well as the headquarters of the European Union. Amsterdam packs a lot into a small space, from the fabulous art museums to the Anne Frank House, not to mention countless canals to explore on foot or (like the locals) by bicycle.

With large international airports in both Amsterdam and Paris, it’s easy to start in either one. Not only that, because the travel times are so short, it’s less crucial to fly into one city and out of the other (though it’s great if you can do that). If you find a super deal on a roundtrip fare into either Amsterdam or Paris, this itinerary is a great option.

  • Duration: 6-9 days
  • Best time to go: Spring is particularly lovely in Amsterdam; you’ll get the best weather March-May and September-early November.
  • Getting Between Cities:Train
  • Don’t Miss: Sainte-Chapelle (Paris); Atomium (Brussels); Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam)
  • Add-ons: A day trip to Bruges from Brussels (~one hour by train one-way) gives you a chance to see the Flemish side of Belgium.
  • Fly into: Paris, Brussels, or Amsterdam

Some of the deals we've found to Amsterdam: 

5. Classic Europe: Paris and London

This is a classic trip for first-time visitors to Europe, but that doesn’t mean Paris and London don’t hold charms to entice travelers who may have visited each city dozens of times. With a dizzying array of famous monuments and excellent museums between them, not to mention countless day trip options, the English and French capitals are always a good idea.

There are wonderful museums and beautiful churches in both cities. London is one of the finest places in the world for live theatre, and Paris’ cafe scene is almost impossible to beat. France’s culinary scene is rightly legendary, and English cuisine is definitely not the brunt of jokes that it once was—especially in London, where 70 restaurants have earned Michelin stars.

Major airports in both cities make it easy to plan an itinerary in either direction, whether you fly into one city and out of the other or you’ve got a standard roundtrip ticket. The EuroStar connects the two cities via the Channel Tunnel in less than 2.5 hours.

  • Duration: 5–7 days
  • Best time to go: April-early June and September-early November; Christmas and New Year’s is also very festive 
  • Getting Between Cities: Train (note that EuroStar prices tend to rise close to travel, so book early)
  • Don’t Miss: Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower (Paris); survey the landscape from the London Eye
  • Add-ons: From Paris, popular day trips include the Palace and Gardens of Versailles, the chateaux of the Loire Valley, Monet’s garden at Giverny, and the D-Day beaches of Normandy. From London, popular day trips include the historic university cities of Cambridge and Oxford, the charming towns of the Cotswolds, and the iconic standing stones at Stonehenge.
  • Fly into: Paris or London

Some of the deals we've found to London: 

6. Great Britain (Almost) Top to Toe: Edinburgh, Skye, and London

Isle of Skye, Scotland.

On an island as small as Great Britain, the differences between the cities of Edinburgh and London—not to mention the remote Isle of Skye—might surprise visitors.

London is one of the world’s great cities, a bustling center of culture and commerce, and an ideal place to start. From the English capital, head north to the Scottish capital. The historic center of Edinburgh is a joy to explore on foot, with the castle and Holyrood Palace bookending the pedestrian-friendly Royal Mile. Next, leave the urban centers behind—rent a car and drive through the heart of Scotland to the rugged and dramatic Isle of Skye to get a feel for the famed Highlands.

Yes, you’ll be driving on the left-hand side of the road. If you’re uncomfortable with that idea, we recommend you find a rental car pickup location outside the city (countryside driving is often less stressful). Or, if you prefer, you can take a train to Inverness followed by a bus to Portree (total travel time ~8 hours).

  • Duration: 8-10 days
  • Best time to go: While crowds peak in summer (June-August), it’s your best bet for warm, sunny days. April-May and September-October are also pleasant. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Car (Edinburgh to Portree is ~4.5 hours by car), train (London to Edinburgh is ~4.5 hours by train)
  • Don’t Miss: Westminster Abbey (London); Edinburgh Castle; Dunvegan Castle (Skye)
  • Add-ons: The famous golf course at St. Andrews is an easy day trip from Edinburgh (though it’s not easy to get a tee time), but if you’re driving to Skye and back there are ample opportunities for stops along the way—including Cairngorms National Park. 
  • Fly into: Edinburgh or London

Some of the deals we've found to Edinburgh: 

7. Scottish Roadtrip: Edinburgh and the Highlands

For most visitors to Scotland, a roadtrip means getting used to driving on the “other” side of the road. Intrepid travelers who are up to the challenge (or travelers from places that already stick to the same side of the road as the Scots) will be rewarded with one of the best roadtrips in Europe.

When you’ve gotten your fill of Edinburgh’s many historic sights, head out of the Scottish capital to begin the next phase of your adventure. Outdoor enthusiasts can see how many munros they’re able to “bag” in a week, while whisky lovers will find plenty of reasons to stop and sample at some of the country’s more than 100 distilleries. Historians can explore numerous lakeside castles, and a short trip on the Jacobite Steam Train gives you a chance to ride over the famous Hogwarts Express bridge.

A roadtrip means you’ve got infinitely more flexibility about what to see and do and how quickly (or slowly) you travel. Still, it’s probably not a great idea to try this trip in anything less than a week—and if you’ve got more than 10 days, that’s even better.

  • Duration: 6-8 days
  • Best time to go: Summer (June-August) is peak season but also has the best weather. For fewer crowds but still pleasant weather, April-May and September-October are good bets.
  • Getting Between Cities: Car
  • Don’t Miss: Hike to the top of Ard Na Said (Edinburgh); Great Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis; whisky distilleries in the popular Speyside region
  • Add-ons: A stop in Culloden helps put the brutal 1746 battle between the Jacobites and the English into context, with a great museum and guided tours of the battlefield.
  • Fly into: Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness

Some of the deals we've found to Glasgow and Inverness: 

8. Take a Cue from Eurail: BeNeLux

Most Eurail Pass names are clear—they’re country names. The “Benelux” Pass, though, might make you reach for your Europe map. Until, that is, you realize it’s a cute portmanteau of three little European countries that are ideal for train exploring: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Starting in Amsterdam is easy, thanks to its major hub airport. From there, you can chart a course through the region that includes Rotterdam’s architectural wonders, Antwerp’s fashionable shops, Bruges’ Medieval streets, Brussels’ ornate Grand-Place, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg City—one of the wealthiest nations in Europe.

An open-jaw ticket is the best option for this itinerary, flying into Amsterdam and out of Luxembourg. Of the train journeys listed above, most are around an hour long. The exception is the last leg, from Brussels to Luxembourg, but even that’s still under four hours.

  • Duration: 6-9 days
  • Best time to go: March-May and September-early November.
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: Canal boat tour (Amsterdam); views from the Belfry Tower (Bruges); Grand Ducal Palace (Luxembourg)
  • Add-ons: Music lovers may want to allow for a stop in Ghent, an incredibly charming Flemish city known for its live music scene.
  • Fly into: Brussels or Amsterdam

Some of the deals we've found to Brussels: 

9. Classic Italy: Rome, Venice, and Florence

Whether it’s your first time to Italy or your hundredth, the classic itinerary covering its most popular three cities—Rome, Venice, and Florence—never gets old.

While they’re all part of Italy today, Rome, Florence, and Venice were once mighty independent states. Explore each with a keen eye toward regional differences, from the seat of the Roman Empire (not to mention Europe’s smallest nation, Vatican City) to the artistic legacy of the Medici family in Florence to the Eastern influence of Venice’s position on the spice route.

If you can find an open-jaw ticket for this trip, that’s ideal. Start at either end (both Rome and Venice are international gateways) and high-speed trains make each trip two hours or less. If you must backtrack to your origin airport, Venice and Rome are less than four hours apart by train.

  • Duration: 6-9 days
  • Best time to go: Aside from July and August (when temps soar and many Italians head to the beaches) there’s no bad time for Italy.
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: The Forum and Palatine Hill in Rome; one of the world’s finest art collections at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence; St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice
  • Add-ons: With a few extra days, you can spend some time in Tuscany’s famous hill towns (such as Siena or San Gimignano) or take a wine tasting tour.
  • Fly into: Rome, Venice, or Florence

Some of the deals we've found to Venice and Florence: 

10. Imperial Italy: Rome and the Amalfi Coast

There is no extricating the Roman Empire from modern Rome—but when you’re interested in digging deeper into ancient history, though, Rome is just the starting point.

The Italian capital is awash in ancient monuments, from the iconic Colosseum to the Pantheon to the Baths of Caracalla. To walk ancient Roman streets that haven’t been modernized, however, head south and base yourself on the Amalfi Coast for tours of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Both cities were frozen in time by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, and give visitors a chance to imagine what an ancient Roman city was like.

The slow Circumvesuviana train connects Sorrento (near, but not technically on, the Amalfi Coast) with both Pompeii and Herculaneum, while coach buses connect Sorrento with all the pretty towns perched on the Amalfi Coast. Trains from Rome to Sorrento (with a change in Naples) take less than 2.5 hours.

  • Duration: 6-7 days
  • Best time to go: May-early June and September-October are great months to be on the water, but temps are lower (and crowds are smaller) than in peak summer
  • Getting Between Cities: Train and bus
  • Don’t Miss: Amalfi’s beautiful cathedral; a hike on the Path of the Gods; the Terrace of Infinity in Ravello’s Villa Cimbrone
  • Add-ons: Take a day trip to the stunning island of Capri to visit Villa Jovis, the Imperial palace built in the 1st century C.E. for Emperor Tiberius.
  • Fly into: Rome or Naples

Some of the deals we've found to Rome: 

11. Northern Italian Roadtrip: Milan and the Italian Lakes Region

Lake Como

Fashionable Milan is often overlooked by travelers, but it has its own charms—not least being proximity to the lovely lakes that snake through the foothills of the Dolomites.

After a couple days in Milan, rent a car and head north. Perhaps the best-known lake in the region is Lake Como, home to beautiful Bellagio, but don’t let that keep you from exploring further. West of Como lies Lago Maggiore, which spans two Italian regions as well as two countries (Italy and Switzerland). Lesser-known lakes like Garda, Iseo, and Orta all offer pretty lakeside villages and plenty of mountain hiking.

Some of the bigger and more popular towns are connected to Italy’s rail network, but it’s generally easier to explore this region by car. This is a mountainous area, so be prepared for hairpins, climbs, and other road conditions that make travel times longer than you might think based solely on distances.

  • Duration: 6-8 days
  • Best time to go: June-August are great times to be out on the lakes and in the mountains; winter (November to March) is much quieter but also means limited services in spots
  • Getting Between Cities: Car
  • Don’t Miss: Tiny Sirmione on its own small peninsula (Lake Garda); Lago Maggiore’s Borromean Islands
  • Add-ons: If you get as far as Lake Garda, consider adding a day or two in romantic Verona to see the enormous Roman Arena—in the summer, it’s the stage for the famed Verona Opera.
  • Fly into: Milan

Some of the deals we've found to Milan: 

12. Not All Islands Are Tropical: Iceland and the Faroe Islands

Travelers who don’t mind (and even love) rugged and chilly spots far from so-called civilization will appreciate the rocky beauty of the Faroe Islands—especially since they’re pretty easy to reach from Iceland.

Icelandair’s generous free stopover policy makes it easy to add Reykjavik to your Europe itinerary, but don’t stop there. Hop a flight to the Faroe Islands, an archipelago of 18 sparsely-populated islands beloved by hikers and birders. Despite being across the water, the Faroe Islands are well-connected by car ferries, making roadtrips easy. Note that the tourism board has been known in recent years to “close” the islands for a weekend each year for maintenance—visitors are still allowed, and some will get a free stay, but only if they volunteer.

Flights from Reykjavik to the Faroe Islands are around four hours—but Iceland isn’t the only jumping-off point for these remote islands. From Copenhagen, it’s only a 4.5-hour flight.

  • Duration: 6-8 days
  • Best time to go: For a chance to see the Northern Lights, visit September-early April. For ample daylight for hiking, June-August are ideal, but see higher prices and bigger crowds. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Plane (and a car for optional roadtrips)
  • Don’t Miss: Hallgrimskirkja church (Reykjavik); Saint Olav’s Church (Faroe Islands)
  • Add-ons: With a couple more days in Iceland, rent a car in Reykjavik to drive the “Golden Circle” to see the impressive Gullfoss Waterfall plus evidence of the island’s volcanic activity—including geysers.
  • Fly into: Reykjavik or Copenhagen (then book a flight to the Faroes)

Some of the deals we've found to Reykjavik and Copenhagen: 

13. Norwegian Highlights: Oslo and Bergen

Norway’s landscapes are almost impossibly picturesque—and although some of them may seem so remote as to be equally impossible to reach, it’s not hard to see the best of what the country has to offer, both in the cities and in the countryside, in a short amount of time.

The Norwegian capital, Oslo, welcomes visitors with wonderful history museums, art galleries, and pretty parks. From there, take the scenic Oslo-Bergen Railway (Bergensbanen) to the western coast. The seven-hour trip winds through some of Norway’s most spectacular vistas, including the wild reindeer herds that live on the Hardangervidda Plateau, and it runs all year long. You can make it a multi-day trip, too—get off in Myrdal to take a historic train to stay overnight in Flåm, a picturesque village on a fjord, before continuing on to Bergen. This colorful city is surrounded by steep mountains and deep fjords, ideal for hiking, kayaking, or simply enjoying the views.

Bergen may feel quaint and small, but it’s got an airport—so if you don’t want to take the Bergensbanen back to Oslo for your flight home, you can always fly. The flight from Bergen to Oslo is less than an hour.

  • Duration: 5-7 days
  • Best time to go: Spring through fall (April-October) offer the best weather, though peak summer (June-August) also means more tourists. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum; a ride on the Fløibanen Funicular in Bergen to take in the views atop Fløyen Mountain
  • Add-ons: The little down of Drøbak, roughly a half-hour from Oslo, is a nice day trip, with sweet wooden houses lining the historic streets and the only museum in the world dedicated to lutefisk.
  • Fly into: Oslo or Bergen

Some of the deals we've found to Oslo and Bergen: 

14. War History and High Culture: Berlin, Warsaw, and Kraków

There’s no way to ignore World War II when you visit Germany and Poland—nor should you want to, really. Berlin, Kraków, and Warsaw are, however, more than history lessons. These beautiful and fascinating cities are cultural hubs with plenty to keep any traveler busy.

Reminders of the war are all over Berlin, including bullet holes that still remain in the German Parliament building, yet it’s also a city with thriving nightclub and art scenes. The Old Town of Poland’s capital, Warsaw, has been restored to its former glory after sustaining heavy damage during the war. The medieval center of Kraków is beautifully-preserved, and the city’s Gothic castle is home to a lovely collection of artworks. Kraków is also the home of Oskar Schindler’s Factory (now a museum) and an historic Jewish quarter.

Trains from Berlin to Warsaw take roughly 6.5–7 hours (if you prefer to fly, it’s just 90 minutes), and from Warsaw to Kraków the trip is about 2.5 hours. If you can get an open-jaw ticket and fly into Berlin and out of Warsaw (or vice versa) that saves you a lengthy return trip to your departure airport.

  • Duration: 6-7 days
  • Best time to go: Winters in Poland and Germany can be very cold and dreary, so stick to April-early June and September-early November for the best weather. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: The largest Jewish museum in Europe (Berlin); trendy cafes in Kazimierz district (Kraków); the Warsaw Uprising Museum
  • Add-ons: With another day or two, consider adding a stop in Gdańsk to your itinerary. This town on Poland’s Baltic coast was, like Warsaw, partly rebuilt after the war. It’s also home to the European Solidarity Centre, which details the Polish fight against Communism.
  • Fly into: Berlin or Warsaw

Some of the deals we've found to Berlin and Warsaw: 

15. Alpine Roadtrip: Münich and Bavaria

Bavaria, Germany

You might think the word “Swiss” always comes before “Alps,” but it’s an extensive mountain range that ventures into several countries—including Germany. What’s more, the German state where you’ll find these mountains, Bavaria, is an excellent place for a roadtrip.

Before you pick up your rental car, enjoy a few days in Münich, the Bavarian capital. From there, drive southeast to the stunning Berchtesgaden National Park. Take a boat tour of Germany’s highest lake or visit a former Nazi retreat (now a restaurant). Next, base yourself in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a few days of hiking through dramatic scenery that includes Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitze. Colorful Alpine towns—like Oberammergau and Füssen—dot the landscape along the way and make excellent day trips.

This is an easy roundtrip adventure from Münich, which has a large international airport, and each driving day is relatively short—2–2.5 hours or less point to point—so you’ll have plenty of time to explore your gorgeous surroundings or to make each drive in a leisurely fashion.

  • Duration: 5–7 days
  • Best time to go: June-August means beautiful weather in the Alps; the best chance to avoid crowds but still benefit from warm, sunny days is May and September-October (aside from Oktoberfest). 
  • Getting Between Cities: Car
  • Don’t Miss: The storybook Neuschwanstein Castle (near Füssen); Dachau Concentration Camp (near Münich)
  • Add-ons: With another day or two, adding a visit to Salzburg in neighboring Austria is easy and worthwhile. It’s less than 30 minutes from Berchtesgaden by car, and you can see the highlights of this pretty town (including taking one of “The Sound of Music” tours) in a day.
  • Fly into: Münich

Some of the deals we've found to Münich: 

16. Empires Great and Small: Austria and Liechtenstein

Austria may seem small today, but it was once the base of the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire. Neighboring Liechtenstein is one of only a few independent states that wasn’t gobbled up by a larger European entity. And together, they make a fine travel itinerary.

Start in the Austrian capital of Vienna to indulge in decadent pastries, immerse yourself in music, and see how the other half lived with a tour of the Habsburg apartments in the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Continue on to Salzburg for “The Sound of Music” tours and Mozart’s birthplace. From there, head to tiny Liechtenstein (it’s only 62 square miles!) to admire the views over more or less the whole country from the royal family’s castle.

The train trip from Vienna to Salzburg is roughly three hours, while the trip from Salzburg to Liechtenstein is around five hours. For many, Liechtenstein is a day trip—it’s something of a novelty, unless you visit in winter when it’s heaven for skiing—but bear in mind there’s no airport in the country. You’ll either need to return to Vienna to fly home or cross another border—the international airport in Zürich is only two hours away by train.

  • Duration: 5-7 days
  • Best time to go: June-August is peak summer, when the weather is best but tourist numbers are highest. May and September-October are a good compromise. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace; cathedral where Mozart was baptized (Salzburg); Liechtenstein’s national museum
  • Add-ons: Making Liechtenstein a day trip means you may have time for the charming Swiss town of Lucerne at the end of your trip.
  • Fly into: Vienna

Some of the deals we've found to Vienna: 

17. Riverside Capitals: Budapest, Vienna, and Prague

It’s logical to build cities along rivers, particularly when that river was once the best way to get goods in and out. While the three capitals of Central Europe on this itinerary aren’t quite as important as trading centers these days, they are all absolutely must-see spots.

The Hungarian capital, Budapest, is split in two by one of the world’s most famous rivers—the Danube. Each side of the city, Buda and Pest, has its own distinct personality. Follow the Danube to Austria’s capital city, Vienna, for a slice of sachertorte in a sophisticated cafe or a visit to the Vienna State Opera. It’s not the Danube but the Vltava River that runs through the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, where you’ll find an imposing hilltop castle and a Medieval Astronomical Clock.

Trains connect Budapest and Vienna in less than 2.5 hours, while the trip from Vienna to Prague is around four hours. An open-jaw ticket (flying into Budapest and out of Prague) means you won’t have to backtrack to your starting point, though this trip can easily be done in either direction.

  • Duration: 6-9 days
  • Best time to go: The region can be very hot in summer (though it doesn’t stop crowds; June-August is peak season) so if you prefer slightly cooler temps, opt for April-May or September-October instead. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: Fisherman’s Bastion (Budapest); St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Vienna); Old Jewish Cemetery (Prague)
  • Add-ons: If three European capitals in one trip isn’t enough, the Slovakian capital of Bratislava (also on the Danube River) is an easy city to add to this itinerary between Budapest and Vienna.
  • Fly into: Vienna, Budapest, or Prague

Some of the deals we've found to Budapest and Prague: 

18. One Country, Three Languages: Zürich, Lugano, and Geneva

Switzerland may be small, but it packs quite a punch in terms of linguistic diversity. There are four official languages, and three of them are prominent in at least one canton of the country. Find out how each language influences the local culture with this trip through German Zürich, Italian Lugano, and French Geneva.

Switzerland’s largest city, Zürich, sits on Lake Zürich; a river also winds through the Old Town, providing lots of space for waterside strolling through this historic and artsy city. Lugano, the main city in Switzerland’s sole Italian-only canton, hugs the shore of Lake Lugano and feels (and looks) quite like a region in neighboring Italy—and, in fact, Italy is just on the other side of the lake. Geneva is also situated on an eponymous lake surrounded by mountains, and the city is known for its picturesque historic center as well as being the home of the United Nations.

Swiss trains are nothing if not efficient. Add that to the small size of the country and this is an easy trip to do by rail in a short amount of time. The trip from Zürich to Lugano is a little more than two hours, while the train from Lugano to Geneva takes six scenic hours. Returning to Zürich at the end of the trip takes less than three hours from Geneva, so you can get a simple roundtrip ticket.

  • Duration: 5–7 days
  • Best time to go: Swiss summers are lovely (though busy); May-early June and late August-September are nearly as lovely—and a bit quieter. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: Chagall’s stained glass windows in the Fraumünster (Zürich); Jet d’Eau water fountain on Lake Geneva; funiculars to the top of mountains around Lake Lugano for views
  • Add-ons: Language nerds who want to complete the Swiss set should head for the villages of Disentis or Scuol, a couple of the few places in the country where Romansh—the fourth official national language—is still widely spoken.
  • Fly into: Zürich or Geneva

Some of the deals we've found to Zürich and Geneva: 

19. Greek Highlights: Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos

Greece may not be the largest country by land area, but it’s so spread out and made up of so many islands that you’ll need to focus on only a couple places if you have limited time. The good news is that sticking to the capital, Athens, and the most popular islands in the Cyclades is a pretty fantastic way to spend a week.

Athens positively oozes history—you’ll be hard-pressed to go more than a few minutes in the old part of the city without seeing a ruin from the 5th century B.C.E. Ancient Greece mixes well with modern life, including a great metro network and fashionable shops. Take a 50-minute flight to the fabled island of Santorini, its backwards C-shape curling around an ancient volcanic crater. Rent a car to explore beaches and find scenic hikes. Take a car ferry to Mykonos to admire the quintessentially Greek views of whitewashed houses and sparkling blue water.

While there are ferries from the mainland to Santorini, a flight is probably your best bet when you don’t have much time to spare—the ferry can take upwards of six hours. Santorini to Mykonos by car ferry is a little more than two hours, and from there you can take a 40-minute flight back to Athens.

  • Duration: 6-7 days
  • Best time to go: July and August are peak season in Greece, so avoid the crowds (but not the sunshine) by visiting in late May-June or September-October. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Plane, car, ferry
  • Don’t Miss: The Acropolis Museum (Athens); cliffside hike from Fira to Oia (Santorini); ancient ruins and archaeological museum in Delos (near Mykonos)
  • Add-ons: With another day or two, you can add a stop in Naxos between Santorini and Mykonos, or explore mythological landmarks on the mainland like the ancient site of Delphi.
  • Fly into: Athens or the islands

Some of the deals we've found to the Greek Islands: 

20. East Meets West: Istanbul and Athens

Istanbul holds the unique distinction of being the only city on two continents—really, it’s an “east meets west” situation all by itself. Combining a visit to the Turkish capital with a visit to Athens, however, is a chance to explore an ancient Eastern culture and an ancient Western culture in one trip.

Once the center of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul has an unmistakably Eastern flavor from its skyline to its cuisine. The stunning 6th-century Hagia Sophia is the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture, and Turkish cooking shares similarities with Middle Eastern dishes. Athens, by contrast, offers visitors a look at one of the ancient seats of Western culture. Walk through the 6th-century Ancient Agora, where Socrates and Plato once stood, and climb the Acropolis to admire the 5th-century monument to Athens’ patron saint—the Parthenon.

This trip is best done as an open-jaw ticket, either flying into Istanbul and out of Athens or vice versa (each city has a major international airport, so you can do the trip in either direction). The flight between the two is a little less than two hours.

  • Duration: 6–8 days
  • Best time to go: October-November and March-May bring mild weather and fewer tourists to both cities.
  • Getting Between Cities: Plane
  • Don’t Miss: Hagia Sophia Museum (İstanbul); Parthenon (Athens)
  • Add-ons: For a scenic summer escape from the city, take a ferry from Istanbul to the Princes’ Islands—they’re popular with locals and visitors alike, and the islands are entirely car-free. You can get around by bicycle or in a horse-drawn carriage.
  • Fly into: Istanbul or Athens

Some of the deals we've found to Istanbul and Athens: 

21. Eastern Baltic Highlights: Tallinn, Helsinki, and Saint Petersburg

Tallinn, Estonia

The easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Finland touches three countries—Finland, Estonia, and Russia—making it easier than you might expect to visit these fascinating countries with distinct yet related cultures.

Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, boasts one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval centers. With historic ties to both Russia and Finland (not to mention Sweden and Denmark), the city has flavors of Scandinavia and Russia while maintaining a unique identity. A two-hour ferry trip across the Gulf of Finland brings you to Helsinki, the Finnish capital. After exploring, you can relax in one of the city’s many public saunas. In just 3.5 hours by train, you’ll arrive in Saint Petersburg to marvel at the ornately decorated onion domes and the unparalleled collection in the Hermitage.

Because of the location of each city, the order in which you travel makes a difference. Travel times would be significantly longer if you went, for instance, from Helsinki to Tallinn and then Saint Petersburg—so keep that in mind when route planning. You could do this trip in the opposite direction, however, if you wanted to start in Russia and end in Estonia.

  • Duration: 7-10 days
  • Best time to go: While winter in the region is atmospheric, it can also be brutally cold. For warm days and lots of daylight, opt for April-October instead. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Ferry, train
  • Don’t Miss: Museum of Occupation (Tallinn); Suomenlinna Fortress (Helsinki); Savior on Spilled Blood church (Saint Petersburg)
  • Add-ons: With another few days, adding Moscow to your itinerary gives you a chance to see the sights in the Russian capital—including the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum. If it’s a nature escape you’re craving, take a day trip from Tallinn to Lahemaa National Park to see bears, lynxes, and moose.
  • Note: Americans need a visa to visit Russia. 
  • Fly into: Helsinki, Tallinn, or St. Petersburg

Some of the deals we've found to Helsinki and St. Petersburg: 

22. Baltic Capitals: Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn

Travelers who enjoy getting away from the usual tourist hotspots of Europe would do well to look east. With a visit to the capital cities of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia you can see how far these three countries have come since they gained independence with the dissolution of the USSR.

Explore the historic center of Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, to admire the many Baroque buildings. You can also visit the former KGB headquarters, which is now home to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights. Hop a short flight to Riga, the capital of neighboring Latvia, where you can wander the charming Old Town or learn about the country’s fight for independence at the Museum of the Occupation. Finally, after a 50-minute flight to Tallinn, you’ll get to see what happens when Russian and Scandinavian flavors are blended together.

Intrepid travelers who don’t mind meandering may prefer to turn this into a roadtrip—and it can be a great one. Whether you drive or fly, it’s best to do this trip with open-jar flights (flying into Vilnius and out of Tallinn, or vice versa). Vilnius and Tallinn are only a 90-minute flight apart, however, so if you find a great deal on a simple roundtrip ticket that can work well, too.

  • Duration: 6-7 days
  • Best time to go: These Batlic cities can be very cold in winter; if you prefer more pleasant temps, visit April-October instead. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Plane
  • Don’t Miss: Climb Gediminas Castle Tower for the views (Vilnius); Central Market (Riga); Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Tallinn)
  • Add-ons: About an hour by train from Vilnius, the city of Kaunas gives visitors a chance to explore a well-preserved 14th-century castle. If it’s a beach you’re looking for, take a day trip from Riga to Jūrmala and its 20-mile beach.
  • Fly into: Riga, Vilnius, or Tallinn

Some of the deals we've found to Tallinn, Vilnius, and Riga: 

23. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: Dublin and Belfast

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have so much in common, not least the island they both occupy, that you might think you’re visiting one country. The two capitals, Dublin and Belfast respectively, both offer some of the same traditional Irish charms—like great music and storytelling—but with their own unique personalities.

The cities of Dublin and Belfast are just over 100 miles apart, which makes it easy to see both in one short visit. The sights in Dublin’s pretty historic center include an historic university, a castle, and a 12th-century cathedral—not to mention the Guinness Storehouse and Old Jameson Distillery. Belfast’s Titanic Quarter reminds visitors of the doomed ship that was built at the port, while the Ulster Museum recounts the conflicts between the country’s Catholics and Protestants.

Whether you start in Dublin or Belfast, this is an easy trip to do with a simple roundtrip flight. The bus trip between the two cities is roughly two hours, giving you ample time to explore both cities and backtrack to the airport without feeling like you’re wasting time. A roadtrip is another great way to see both cities, as well as several other points of interest, so long as you’re comfortable driving on the left-hand side of the road.

  • Duration: 5–7 days
  • Best time to go: The best weather—and most visitors—are found June-August. April-May and September-October offer slightly lower temps, and fewer crowds. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Bus
  • Don’t Miss: Black Cab Taxi tour (Belfast); Book of Kells at Trinity College (Dublin)
  • Add-ons: A day trip from Dublin to Newgrange offers visitors a peek at a 5,000-year-old burial tomb (it’s older than the pyramids and Stonehenge). Giant’s Causeway, with its angular rock columns, is a popular day trip from Belfast.
  • Fly into: Dublin

Some of the deals we've found to Dublin: 

24. Emerald Isle Roadtrip: Dublin and the South of Ireland

There are some places that just seem tailor-made for roadtrips, and Ireland is one of them. Yes, you’ll need to drive on the left-hand side of the road, but the rewards for your efforts are plentiful—including the chance to see more of the gorgeous green countryside and lesser-known villages when you’re commanding your own vehicle.

You’ll start and end in Dublin, so you can visit the Irish capital at the beginning or the end of your roadtrip—just note that when you’re in the city, you’re better off without a car. Head south from Dublin, stopping in little Kilkenny before continuing to Kinsale on the southern coast, a colorful town with a castle and a huge star-shaped fort. The short drive to Killarney puts you at the start of the scenic Ring of Kerry, followed by another short trip to Dingle to explore the many shades of green on the Dingle Peninsula driving tour. Continue up to pretty Galway for a trip out to see the prehistoric sites on the Aran Islands, and then take the train back to Dublin.

While both the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula loop are short enough that they’ll each take just a day, the region around both is so stunning that it’s worth spending extra time just to relax and soak it all in. And, if you’re looking for some exercise, both routes make for very scenic (if somewhat strenuous) bike tours.

  • Duration: 7-10 days
  • Best time to go: June-August is ideal if you want sunny days and don’t mind a lot of fellow tourists; April-May and September-October are a good compromise if you’re willing to trade a few cooler days for fewer crowds. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Car, train
  • Don’t Miss: Desmond Castle (Kinsale); Muckross House (Killarney); Dún Aonghasa (Aran Islands)
  • Add-ons: Arguably Ireland’s prettiest town, Adare, is an easy stop between Dingle and Galway (it’s near Limerick). The famous Cliffs of Moher are another attraction that’s easy to add to this itinerary.
  • Fly into: Dublin, Cork, or Shannon

Some of the deals we've found to Cork and Shannon: 

25. Portuguese Highlights: Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto

Portugal feels a bit like the forgotten little sister on the Iberian Peninsula. Travelers who spend time in the small country, however, are rewarded with excellent food, historic sights, and fantastic beaches. With a limited amount of time, you can still enjoy the highlights of the country’s two main cities—Lisbon and Porto.

The Portuguese capital, Lisbon, is a colorful and vibrant city where popular neighborhoods overflow with both locals and visitors. Explore the picturesque waterfront, the crenellated castle, and a museum dedicated to the city’s ceramic tile tradition. Take the train north to Coimbra, Portugal’s first capital and home to a university that’s been educating students since the 13th century. From there, it’s a short train trip to Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal. Porto is less busy than Lisbon, but the historic center is a UNESCO site and there are tasting rooms where you can sample the city’s namesake fortified wine—port.

Train trips between each city on this itinerary are relatively short (1–2 hours), so you won’t spend too much time in transit. The trip between Lisbon and Porto is less than three hours by train, so a simple roundtrip flight in and out of Lisbon works well.

  • Duration: 5-7 days
  • Best time to go: July and August bring stifling heat and a lot of visitors; opt for May-early June and September-October for slightly lower temps. 
  • Getting Between Cities: Train
  • Don’t Miss: National Azulejo Museum (Lisbon); Igreja de Santa Cruz (Coimbra); Clérigos Tower (Porto)
  • Add-ons: Just outside Lisbon, the town of Sintra is a perfect day trip. Take in the views from the hilltop Pena Palace. Wine lovers should add the Douro Valley near Porto to their itinerary to see where port (and other local wine) is made.
  • Fly into: Lisbon or Porto

Some of the deals we've found to Lisbon and Porto: 

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Last Updated 
February 28, 2020
25 Ideas for the Perfect Europe Itinerary
Jessica Spiegel
Freelance Writer

Jessica Spiegel is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. She's an obsessive knitter and loves Italy, pho, Sazeracs, the Portland Timbers, and altruism.

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