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Best Places to Visit in Europe for First-timers

This list is for you if you have never traveled to Europe but are considering a journey to this fascinating continent. The most prominent sights and attractions in Europe, as well as some lesser-known favorite spots, are included in this list of the greatest places to visit in Europe. Most of them will be familiar to you, but some may surprise you. Continue reading to learn about the finest destinations to visit in Europe for first-time visitors.

The majority of the locations in our list are cities. These are European destinations for anyone interested in learning about European culture, architecture, traditions, cuisine, and society. This isn’t really a list for beachgoers or nature lovers. Of course, Europe has plenty of those things, but our list of locations to visit in Europe demonstrates the diversity of what you can see and do inside the continent.

If you have more than a week to spare for your first visit, even ten days is preferable to seven, especially because you are likely traveling from afar. The longer you have, the better your trip will be and the more you’ll see, but rushing from one location to the next isn’t as enjoyable as you may think. Below are 11 sample itineraries, each lasting around a week. Choose the one that appeals to you the best and work your way up from there with the time you have left.

There are 11 different initial itineraries to choose from, each of which is discussed in detail below.

  1. Classic London and Paris
  2. England and Scotland
  3. Paris and Italy
  4. Mediterranean cruise
  5. France, Belgium, and Netherlands
  6. Paris and elsewhere in France
  7. Italy
  8. Spain
  9. Germany
  10. Switzerland
  11. Best of cheap eastern Europe

Other destinations that are easy to tack on to the main cities are suggested for each itinerary.

Begin in the most well-known cities.

It’s not the time to strive to be unique or edgy on your first trip to Europe. I recommend that you concentrate on these five fantastic cities before moving out to less expensive or less well-known destinations.

Reduce the number of days you spend traveling.

By high-speed train, the closest major European cities are at least two hours apart, and it will take at least five hours from the time you check out of one hotel to the time you check into your hotel in the next city. Because a travel day isn’t much of a sightseeing day, changing cities every day or two will leave you with very little time to view the sights you’ve traveled so far to see.

Spend three or four nights in nearly every major city

London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin, Madrid, and Barcelona are all large cities with a plethora of world-class attractions. Because the day you arrive and the day you depart will provide little sightseeing time, you will need at least two full sightseeing days to see your top sights. Because so many first-time visitors plan to stay only one or two nights in major cities, I wrote a detailed explanation of why three nights is ideal for almost all European cities, even if you want to see as much as possible. On your first trip, 3 (or 4) nights in any city will suffice. Most first-time visitors are tempted to move too quickly, but moving too slowly can also be a mistake. It’s truly amazing how much you can see in two full days of sightseeing. If you spend too much time in one city, you’ll see things at the bottom of your list while you could be in another city seeing things at the top of your list.

Choose cities that are easily accessible from one another.

You don’t want to waste time by visiting distant cities because traveling from one city to another will take at least half a day. Both Prague and Madrid are fantastic cities to visit, but they are located on opposite sides of Europe. It is best to visit cities that are no more than a 5-hour train ride apart on your first trip. Rather than flying, choose cities that are connected by reasonable train rides. To expand on the previous point, finding cheap flights within Europe is simple, but train travel is a million times more enjoyable and stress-free. You’ll enjoy the train rides almost as much as the cities, so choose destinations that are only 5 hours apart by train.

BEST 1-WEEK ITINERARIES FOR FIRST-TIME VISITORS TO EUROPE

Table of Contents

ITINERARY 1: CLASSIC LONDON AND PARIS

London (3 or 4 nights)

Paris (3 or 4 nights)

Fly into either city and take the Eurostar train between them for two hours.

Honestly, unless you have a compelling reason not to, this is probably the best one-week itinerary for most first-time European visitors. If you can read this article, you will find it easy to navigate London due to language barriers. It is a major world capital with many famous sights.

Paris is far more beautiful than London, and the food is reputedly far superior. Because Paris attracts so many visitors from non-French-speaking countries, it’s easy to get by in English alone, and the Metro system makes getting around quick and easy.

The best add-ons

  • Edinburgh (2 or 3 nights, from London)
  • Amsterdam (2 or 3 nights, from Paris)
  • Bruges and Brussels (2 nights, from Paris)

ITINERARY 2: ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND

  • London (3 or 4 nights)
  • York (1 night)
  • Edinburgh (2 or 3 nights)
  • London to York: 2 hours
  • York to Edinburgh: 2 hours 30 minutes

If you’d rather spend your first vacation to Europe focusing on England and Scotland, you can have a terrific time and save the rest of the continent for another trip. The obvious place to begin in London, where you should spend three or four nights before boarding the train north.

York is a small Roman city with well-preserved city walls and one of Europe’s most famous cathedrals. Edinburgh is not only Scotland’s capital, but also the United Kingdom’s second most interesting city. If you only have a limited amount of time, avoid York and spend more time in Edinburgh.

The best add-ons

Paris is a city in France (3 or 4 nights from London)

Amsterdam is a city in the Netherlands (3 nights from Paris)

If you want to spend your entire trip in the United Kingdom, check out our guide to the best itineraries in England, Scotland, and Wales.

ITINERARY 3: PARIS AND ITALY

  • Paris (3 or 4 nights)
  • Venice (1 night)
  • Florence (2 or 3 nights)
  • Rome (3 nights)

The quickest version of this incredibly popular itinerary that I recommend is 9 nights, but you could do it in 7 nights if you omit Florence. Paris is, without a doubt, the greatest spot to begin experiencing France, and three or four nights there will seem like a very thorough first visit.

You may simply fly from Paris to Venice (or adjacent Treviso) and spend around 24 hours there. Venice is small enough to explore in a whole day, but it is so congested that most visitors are content to leave after that. The idea is to remain in the main portion of the main island so you can experience Venice both before and after the cruise passengers and day-trippers come.

Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region and, for a couple hundred years, Europe’s most important city, is a highly recommended visit following Venice. Rome lives up to the hype, and even non-Catholics will enjoy a day in the Vatican City, but it’s also a crowded and busy city, so three days is usually enough for most visitors.

  • Paris to Venice flight: 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Venice to Florence: 1 hour 53 minutes
  • Florence to Rome: 1 hour 16 minutes

You could, of course, fly from Paris to Rome, then north to Florence, then to Venice, and then fly home (or back to Paris) from there.

The best add-ons

France:

  • Nice/Cannes/Monaco (2 or 3 nights)
  • Avignon (2 nights)
  • Bourges (2 nights)
  • Bordeaux (2 nights)
  • Aix-en-Provence (2 nights)
  • Reims (2 nights)
  • Dijon/Burgundy (2 nights)

Italy:

  • Milan (1 or 2 nights)
  • Lake Como (2 nights)
  • Siena (2 nights)
  • Cinque Terre (1 night)
  • Naples/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast/Pompeii/Capri (3 to 5 nights)
  • Sicily (3 to 4 nights)

ITINERARY 4: MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE

If you’ve finally chosen to visit Europe for the first time, it’s likely that you haven’t considered taking a cruise. One of the cruises departing from a popular Mediterranean port might be a good place to start (and the adjacent seas). Barcelona and Venice are two of the most popular departure ports, with cruises going west or east, as well as cruises that drop you off somewhere else in Europe or cruises that return to the departure port.

Despite their reputation as floating buffets, cruises can be a terrific opportunity to explore a large number of amazing European towns in a short period of time. The ship is usually in port from early morning to late afternoon, providing you the opportunity to dine in the city (unlike Caribbean cruises). Even better, cruise terminals are frequently located near the city center, so you can simply disembark and go sightseeing on foot or by public transportation.

Mediterranean cruises typically last 7 nights but can extend up to 3 weeks, allowing you to see the entire region without having to pack and unpack your baggage multiple times. They can also be a good deal, especially when contrasted to the cost of taking trains or planes and finding new accommodations in each location.

ITINERARY 5: FRANCE, BELGIUM, AND NETHERLANDS

Paris (3 nights)

Brussels and Bruges (1 or 2 nights)

Amsterdam (2 or 3 nights)

Paris to Brussels: 1 hour 22 minutes

Brussels to Bruge: 58 minutes

Bruges to Amsterdam: 2 hours 45 minutes

Amsterdam to Paris: 3 hours 17 minutes

Starting in Paris on your first trip to Europe is perfect if you wish to save the UK for a future trip. You’ll most likely arrive in the morning, giving you almost three full days to explore Paris. After that, you can take a high-speed train to Brussels in 1 hour 22 minutes or fly straight to Amsterdam in just over 3 hours.

It would be a fantastic trip to spend four nights in Paris and three nights in Amsterdam, but if you want to see anything else in between, you have a few possibilities. My recommendation is to spend an hour in Brussels exploring the Grand Place (major square) before taking a 58-minute train ride to Bruges for a night or two. Bruges is a better alternative for most people than Brussels because Brussels isn’t a wonderful tourist city. Whatever you choose from this group, you can be back in Paris in time for your journey home on another high-speed train.

The best add-ons:

  • Luxembourg City (1 or 2 nights)
  • Cologne, Germany (1 or 2 nights)
  • London (3 or 4 nights)
  • Interlaken, Switzerland (2 or 3 nights)

ITINERARY 6: PARIS AND ELSEWHERE IN FRANCE

  • Paris (3 or 4 nights)
  • And a choice of:
  • Nice/Cannes/Monaco (2 or 3 nights)
  • Avignon (2 nights)
  • Bourges (2 nights)
  • Bordeaux (2 nights)
  • Aix-en-Provence (2 nights)
  • Reims (2 nights)
  • Dijon/Burgundy (2 nights)

France has so many tourist attractions that you might spend a month there and still feel like you’re missing out on important sights. Obviously, you should begin in Paris, and then it’s a matter of deciding what interests you the most and how much time you have.

While Nice is a fantastic tourist destination for a glimpse of the French Riviera, the major cities of Lyon and Marseilles are perhaps better left for another trip because they lack key attractions compared to many smaller towns. Wine enthusiasts can rent a car or travel to Bordeaux or Burgundy by train. Because most of these places are only 2 hours or less apart by rail, spending only 2 nights in each is a viable alternative if you want to see a lot in a short amount of time.

The best add-ons

  • More France, of course
  • London (3 or 4 nights)
  • Interlaken, Switzerland (2 or 3 nights)
  • Amsterdam (2 or 3 nights)

ITINERARY 7: ITALY

  • Rome (3 nights)
  • Florence (2 or 3 nights)
  • Venice (1 or 2 nights)
  • Rome to Florence: 1 hour 16 minutes
  • Florence to Venice: 1 hour 53 minutes

Italy is, without a doubt, the most popular destination in Europe, especially among first-time visitors. The country’s famous “Big 3” sites, Rome, Florence, and Venice, are all brimming with excellent sights and are conveniently placed only a short train journey apart. Rome is by far the largest of them all, and it’s full of amazing attractions, but it’s also a little chaotic, so three nights is a fair length of time for a first visit.

Venice is small enough that you can see all of the main sights in about 24 hours, and it’s so crowded that many people get tired of it after a day. It’s preferable to pay more for a hotel on the main island and visit quickly than to save money by staying on the mainland, where you’ll be stuck in traffic. Florence is the most relaxing of the three cities, as well as a great starting point for day trips to Pisa, Siena, and the Cinque Terre, to name a few.

The best add-ons

  • Milan (1 or 2 nights)
  • Lake Como (2 nights)
  • Siena (2 nights)
  • Cinque Terre (1 night)
  • Naples/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast/Pompeii/Capri (3 to 5 nights)
  • Sicily (3 to 4 nights)

ITINERARY 8: SPAIN

  • Madrid (4 nights) (including day trip to Toledo)
  • Barcelona (3 nights)
  • Madrid to Barcelona: 2 hours 30 minutes

Spain is another large country with a lot to see, but for your first trip to Europe, you should concentrate on its two major cities. Madrid, the capital, and Barcelona, which is located on a northern Mediterranean beach, are very different from one another and are not interchangeable. Although there are many other options, a day excursion from Madrid to Toledo on a 33-minute train ride is highly recommended.

The southern beaches and islands of Ibiza, Mallorca, and Tenerife account for a large portion of Spain’s tourism business. Most individuals should avoid such areas on their first trip because none of the beaches are worth spending days on when compared to the culture of the towns.

The best add-ons

  • Valencia (2 nights)
  • Seville (2 or 3 nights)
  • Granada (2 or 3 nights)
  • Lisbon (3 nights)

ITINERARY 9: GERMANY

  • Berlin (3 nights)
  • Munich (2 or 3 nights)
  • Rothenburg ob der Tauber (1 night)
  • Füssen (1 night)
  • Berlin to Munich: 6 hours 2 minutes
  • Munich to Rothenburg ob der Tauber: 2 hours 56 minutes
  • Munich to Füssen: 2 hours 4 minutes

Even if other individuals save it for a second or third trip, Germany is a popular first-time Europe destination for those having relatives and/or roots in the country. Berlin is the country’s capital and, by far, the most interesting city, and it’s also refreshingly affordable when compared to Germany’s other great cities. Munich is wealthier and more laid-back than Berlin, yet it differs in many other respects as well.

The best add-ons

  • Cologne (1 or 2 nights)
  • Hamburg (2 or 3 nights)
  • Amsterdam (3 nights)
  • Prague (3 nights)
  • Salzburg (2 or 3 nights)
  • Vienna (3 nights)
  • Interlaken, Switzerland (3 nights)
  • Lucerne, Switzerland (2 or 3 nights)

ITINERARY 10: SWITZERLAND

  • Interlaken (3 nights)
  • Bern (1 night)
  • Lucerne (3 nights)
  • Zurich Airport to Interlaken: 2 hours 10 minutes
  • Interlaken to Bern: 53 minutes
  • Bern to Lucerne: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Lucerne to Zurich Airport: 1 hour 3 minutes

Switzerland could be an excellent choice for your first trip to Europe if you aren’t much of a city person and have a strong desire to see gorgeous countryside and landscapes. The main cities in this region, such as Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, and Basel, are all quite dull and expensive, so it’s best to spend as little time as possible in them and instead travel to the smaller picturesque villages.

The ideal hub for the most dramatic Alps vistas and experiences is Interlaken. The one-hour cable car ride to the Schilthorn observation deck is unforgettable, and only the train excursion to Europe’s highest station, Jungfraujoch, is more spectacular. With a gorgeous lake at its core and wonderful mountaintop vistas nearby, Lucerne is almost as lovely. If you just have a short time to tour a Swiss city, the capital of Bern is the most intriguing and picturesque.

The best add-ons

  • Munich (3 nights)
  • Paris (3 nights)
  • Italy (as long as you’ve got)

ITINERARY 11: EASTERN EUROPE’S BEST CHEAP CITIES

  • Prague (3 nights)
  • Budapest (3 nights) and/or
  • Krakow (3 nights)

This isn’t really suggested for a first trip to Europe unless you’re a traveler who knows you’ll be able to return when you’ve saved up enough money. Prague, Budapest, and Krakow are the three best cheap European cities to visit if you can get a cheap flight. They are all around half the price of most of the other cities on this list.

Each of these cities is gorgeous and historic, but because English is not frequently spoken, it might be difficult for a first-time tourist to navigate. Another issue is that the trains between them are still relatively slow compared to the high-speed rail in the West, so getting from one to the other takes the better part of a day, and using the bus is often a better option.

  • 6 hours 41 minutes from Prague to Budapest
  • 9 hours 54 minutes from Budapest to Krakow (flying might be better)

The best add-ons

  • Cesky Krumlov, Czechia (2 nights)
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia (2 or 3 nights)
  • Split, Croatia (3 nights)
  • Belgrade, Serbia (2 or 3 nights)
  • Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2 or 3 nights)
  • Sofia, Bulgaria (2 or 3 nights)

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