Europe in 2 weeks

A two-week Grand Tour of Europe's greatest hits

Day 1: Your overnight plane lands in London  early. Head to Victoria Station and buy a Travelcard, book a Eurostar seat for moving on to Paris in a few days, and visit the tourist office for brochures on the Original London Sightseeing Tours (bus) and London Walks (walking tours). It'll be lunchtime by the time you check into your hotel, freshen up, and call the Globe Theatre to see whether a play is on for tomorrow at 2pm (if so, book tickets).

Try to finish lunch by 2pm, and then head to the nearest stop on the map for the Original London Sightseeing Tours and take the 90-minute bus loop past the major sights of London. When you're good and oriented, plunge right into the sightseeing at the National Gallery, which will introduce you to many of the artists and eras you'll be seeing more of as the trip goes on. Have a traditional British dinner at Rules or Porters and try to get to bed early to start resetting your internal clock. You'll be getting up early in the morning.
Day 2: Today's the day for the London of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Be at the Tower of London by 9:30am to get in on the first guided tour of this medieval bastion and its Crown Jewels. Afterward, visit St. Paul's cathedral and grab some lunch. Then head across the Thames River to tour the newly rebuilt Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and experience the open-air setting in which a play by the Bard was meant to be seen. If possible, see a play here (they start at 2pm). The tour itself only takes an hour; a play takes two to four hours.
After a particularly long play, you'll have to grab a quick dinner; if you just do the tour, you have the late afternoon to spend as you'd like. Either way, finish dinner by 6:30 or 7pm so you can join whichever historic pub walk London Walks is running that evening (they start at 7 or 7:30pm; the brochure will tell you where to meet). After your introduction to British ales and pub life, call it a night.
Day 3: Yesterday was medieval, but today you're going to stiffen your upper lip with some Victorian-era British traditions. Start out at 9am paying your respects to centuries of British heroes, poets, and kings buried at Westminster Abbey. Drop by the Victoria & Albert Museum for miles of the best in decorative arts and sculpture. Have a snack (not lunch) on your way to the world's grandest and most venerable department store, Harrod's. After a bit of high-class browsing inside, stop by the fourth floor's Georgian restaurant at 3pm sharp for a proper British high tea. Linger and enjoy it.
Head over to Big Ben and the buildings of Parliament around 5:30pm and, if government is in session (October through July), get in line to go inside and watch Parliament at work, vilifying one another in a colorfully entertaining way that makes the U.S. Congress seem like a morgue. Because you'll be out of there late, make sure you reserve a restaurant that specializes in late, after-theater meals (Chor Bizarre is a good choice).
Day 4: Spend the morning plunging into the British Museum, which catalogues human achievement across the world and throughout the ages. Takea quick lunch and embark on one of London Walks' historical tours at 2pm. It'll be done before 4pm, so you'll have just under 2 hours to head over to the Tate Gallery and indulge in some of the best art of the 19th and 20th centuries. Call it a night early so you can be up for the train to Paris tomorrow.
Day 5: Take the earliest Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel to Paris . Get settled in your hotel and then have lunch. Afterwards, head to the Rodin Museum and then hustle on over to the Eiffel Tower before sunset to get your requisite picture and drink in the panorama of Paris. Treat yourself to a first-class dinner to celebrate your arrival in one of the world capitals of cuisine.
Day 6: Be at the cathedral of Notre Dame early (8am) to beat the crowds, and then clamber up the cathedral towers once they open to examine the famed gargoyles up close. Notre Dame affords a much more intimate view across Paris than the Eiffel gets you. When you get back to ground level, cross the square in front of the cathedral and descend into the Archaeological Crypt to puzzle out Paris's earliest origins.
Continue to the far end of the square for the jewelbox chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, hidden amidst the government buildings. Grab some lunch on your way to the Picasso Museum. Don't stay too long with the works of this 20th-century master (leave by no later than 2:30pm) because one of Paris's biggies lies ahead: the impressionist treasure trove of the Musée d'Orsay. Stay in there as long as they'll let you before heading off to dinner.
Day 7: It's day trip time. Catch the RER out to Versailles to spend a day exploring the palace to end all palaces, where a string of kings Louis held court in the powdered-wig exuberance of the 18th century. Take at least one guided tour, and save time to wander the acres of gardens. You should return to Paris in time for a pleasant stroll down the quays of the River Seine before dinner.
Day 8: Get up early and head to the Gare de Lyon train station to leave your bags and reserve a couchette for tonight's train to Venice. I hope yesterday's day trip helped you recharge because this morning it's off to the Louvre, which is French for "ridiculously huge museum." Pay your respects to Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and have lunch in the cafeteria.
By midafternoon, give up on trying to see it all and take the Métro out to the original Bohemian quarter of Montmartre. Wander the streets, peek at windmills and vineyards, or people-watch and write postcards at a classic Parisian cafe, where you can rustle up an early dinner. Start back down to the Gare de Lyon by 7pm, so you won't be late for the 8pm overnight train to Venice.
Day 9: When you arrive in Venice, check out the next morning's schedule for trains on to Florence and leave your pack in the lockers; you can live out of the daypack for one night, and this trick lets you check into your hotel later in the day so you don't waste any time. Then dive into the city of canals (well, not literally). Head straight to one of Europe's prettiest squares, the canalside Piazza San Marco. Tour the glittering mosaic-filled cathedral and ride the elevator to the bell tower for sweeping views across the city and its canals.
Take the "Secret Itineraries" tour of the Doge's Palace at noon for a behind-the-scenes look at Venetian history and intrigue. Have a snack on your way to check into your hotel in the early afternoon, and then see the masterpieces of the Accademia in the midafternoon. Take a gondola ride before dinner and wander the quiet, romantic streets a while after your meal. Try to get to bed at a reasonable hour, because you'll have to get up early.
Day 10: Head to the train station at least 90 minutes before your train (this gives the slow water bus time to get there). Take the first morning train you can to Florence, call around for a room, and then drop your bags by the hotel. Have a lunch on the go so you don't waste time that's better spent seeing the Duomo (cathedral), climbing its ingenious and noble dome to get a city panorama, and marveling at the mosaics inside the adjacent baptistery. By 3pm, start heading a few blocks down to the world's premier museum of the Renaissance, the Uffizi Galleries. Spend the rest of the afternoon communing with Giotto, Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian until they boot you out the doors at 7:30pm. Have a Tuscan feast at Il Latini before bed.
Day 11: Be in line at the Accademia when it opens so you can see Michelangelo's David before the crowds arrive. If you don't linger too long, you can swing by Santa Maria Novella church before lunch for a look at its Renaissance frescoes (a young apprentice named Michelangelo helped out on the Ghirlandaio fresco cycle). Find a phone (this is important) and call ahead to Rome's Galleria Borghese to make an appointment "for tomorrow at 3pm" (a phrase which, in Italian, is pronounced "pair doh-ma-nee alle queen-dee-chee").
After lunch, while the city is shut down for the midday riposo (nap), make your way over to the Giotto frescoes in Santa Croce church, Florence's version of Westminster Abbey and the final resting place of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. On your way back to the heart of town, stop by Vivoli for the best gelato (ice cream) you'll probably ever have. Cross the jewelry shop-lined medieval bridge called Ponte Vecchio to get to Oltrarno, the artisan's quarter, and the Medici's grand Pitti Palace, whose painting galleries will keep you occupied until closing time at 7pm. Oltrarno is full of good, homey restaurants where you can kick back, toast your 36 hours in Florence, and vow a return.
Day 12: Get up extra early to catch the 7:30am train to Rome. You'll pull in around 9:15, which gives you plenty of time before lunch to check in, splash your face, and see the ancient Pantheon and the nearby church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, with its Michelangelo statue and Filippino Lippi frescoes. After a quick bite, head to Rome's prettiest square, Piazza Navona. Station yourself at Tre Scalini's outdoor cafe tables to enjoy their famous tartufo dessert while you watch children play soccer under the shadow of the fountains.
By 2:20pm, you should be waiting for the bus on Corso del Rinascimento. Grab the 116 minibus to the Porta Pinciana (you'll see a park). Enter the park and take the first path on your right (Viale di Museo Borghese) to get to the Galleria Borghese by 3pm. Tour its collections of Bernini sculptures and Raphael paintings until it closes at 5pm. Make your way to the top of the lively Spanish Steps, where you can mingle for a while before window-shopping down fashionable Via dei Condotti and the surrounding streets. By the time you get to the Corso, one of Rome's main drags, the evening passeggiata stroll will be in full swing, and you can strut your stuff with the Romans until it's time for a hearty and well-deserved dinner.
Day 13: Rome's all about Caesars, right? Start off your second day exploring the ruins of the Roman Forum, where orators once held forth, senators debated, and Julius Caesar strode through the streets. Unfortunately, little is left to see, but at least it will be easier to be out of there by 11:30 and on your way to see Michelangelo's Moses in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli before it closes at 12:30pm. After lunch, pay a visit to the Colosseum (you just look at it, take a peek inside at the floor plan, and you're done) and catch a bus back up Via de Fori Imperiali to Piazza Venezia.
Nearby is the elevated square Piazza del Campidoglio, where the Capitoline Museums will entertain you with ancient sculpture and Renaissance and baroque painting until 7pm. Make sure that before sunset, you go around the back right side of the central building on Piazza del Campidoglio where you're treated to a surprise panorama of the Forum from above, with the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum as a backdrop. Have dinner in the Old City tonight.
Day 14: You spend today on the other side of the river from the bulk of old Rome. Be up bright and early (I know, I never let you sleep in!) so that you beat the legions of tour buses to the Vatican Museums. Spend all morning there, drinking in such artistic wonders as Raphael's Transfiguration, Caravaggio's Deposition, the Raphael Rooms, and Michelangelo's incomparable Sistine Chapel ceiling. The Museums close at 1:45pm most of the year, so grab a snack on your way around the Vatican walls to visit the grandiose church of St. Peter's. See Michelangelo's Pietà and tour the tombs of popes under the basilica before climbing its dome for a panoramic sweep of the city across the river. If you finish with St. Peter's quickly, you may want to head to the pope's nearby Renaissance fortress, the Castle Sant'Angelo on the river, which has a nifty museum on the castle's history and lots of medieval weapons and armor to please the kids. Either way, spend the evening in the medieval neighborhood of Trastevere, with its winding evocative streets, floodlit church facade mosaics, and hordes of excellent Roman restaurants.
Day 15: Spend your last full day in Europe outside the big city at Tivoli, a nearby hill town full of palaces, gardens, and the ruins of Emperor Hadrian's wildly eclectic villa. Return to Rome in time for dinner and afterward make your way to the famous Trevi Fountain. It's tradition to toss a few coins in, which ensures that one day you'll return to this Eternal City.
Day 16: Most flights from Rome back to the United States leave either in the morning or early afternoon. Either way, the day's a wash; you'll spend the morning getting to the airport and the day in the air.

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in August 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.