Europe in 3 weeks

A three-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 check your bags at left-luggage and reserve a couchette for tonight's train to Frankfurt (which doesn't leave until 10pm).

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 9pm at the latest, so you won't be late for that 10pm overnight train.

Day 9: In Frankfurt, pick up a rental car, which you booked before you left the United States, and drive Bavaria's Romantic Road . Drink velvety Franconian wine while you have your lunch amid the baroque palaces of Würzburg; visit the intricate, 1510 carved altarpiece at Crelingen; and spend the late afternoon in Rothenberg, Germany's perfect medieval town of half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets. The day trippers clear out in the evening, so you'll have Rothenburg's medieval charms all to yourself as you prepare to spend the night here.
Day 10: Walk the walls of Rothenburg in the morning and then drive the rest of the Romantic Road with stops in the cute village of Dinklesbühl and the noble Renaissance city of Augsburg. Arrive in Munich  in time to have dinner, toss back a few liter mugs of Bavarian brew in a wood-lined beer hall, and check into a hotel for the night.
Day 11: Drop off the rental car, put your pack in the train station lockers, and book an overnight couchette tonight for Venice. You don't have time to do all of Munich, so I recommend a high-speed tour through the baroque splendors of Residenz in the late morning. After lunch, visit the medieval collections of the Bavarian National Museum and the Renaissance masterpieces of the Altes Pinakothek, where you can stay until it closes (if you luck into town on a Tuesday or Thursday, that gives you until 8pm; otherwise, you have until 5pm). The overnight train to Venice leaves very late (around 11:30pm), so after a rib-sticking dinner, bide your remaining time in Munich in true Bavarian style at the Augustinerkeller beer hall, five long blocks past the train station.
Day 12: When you get to Venice , check into your hotel and then head to the center of town. See San Marco and take the "Secret Itineraries" tour of the Doge's Palace. After a light, late lunch, tour the Accademia, Venice's top painting gallery, and have a leisurely dinner. After dinner, call ahead to Florence and find a hotel room for tomorrow night because you'll be arriving in town late.
Day 13: In the morning, head over to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco for a festival of Tintoretto paintings, and then forget about sightseeing and spend the early afternoon lost in the alleyways of the city, discovering the local, small-town version of Venice off the well-worn and crowded tourist paths. Be on late-afternoon train to Florence , so you can arrive in time to check into your hotel and grab a late dinner.
Day 14: Be at the Accademia before it opens to beat the lines and crowds to Michelangelo's David. Then pop over to Santa Maria Novella and its early Renaissance frescoes. After lunch, hit the Duomo, clamber up inside its ingenious dome for a Florence panorama, and visit the baptistery with its glittering medieval mosaics.
Be at the Uffizi Galleries down the road by 2 or 3pm so you can get in a good four to five hours inside, drinking in the splendors of Renaissance painting though such works as Botticelli's Birth of Venus and da Vinci's Annunciation. After overloading on great art, treat yourself to a massive Florentine steak and powerful Tuscan red wine at dinner. You've earned it.
Day 15: In the morning, hit the Bargello sculpture museum to see Donatello and early Michelangelo statues. Then head off to more Michelangelo sculptures in the Medici Chapel. The Chapel is surrounded by the stalls of Florence's outdoor leather market, so wander a while, perhaps shop a little, and pop into the food and produce market in the middle for an ultra-fresh lunch on the go. Don't forget: Before lunch, stop by a pay phone and call ahead to Rome to reserve tickets at the Galleria Borghese for tomorrow at 3pm, as explained under day 11 of the two-week tour.
Spend the riposo hours in Santa Croce with its tombs of famous Florentines, frescoes by Giotto, and a leather school. Nearby is Vivoli, serving the best gelato the world has ever known. In the afternoon, head across the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace for its painting galleries. The Pitti's neighborhood, the Oltrarno, is full of excellent restaurants in which to spend your final hours in the city of the Renaissance.

Days 16 through 19: Starting with an early-morning train to Rome , spend days 16 through 19 exactly as days 12 through 15 on the "I Got Two Weeks…" itinerary, though be sure to fit in the Trevi Fountain on Day 17.


Day 16: 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 17: 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. 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 18: 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 19: On the morning of Day 19, take your bags to the train station to check them at the left-luggage office and to book a couchette for the overnight train to Bern before heading outside the big city to spend the day in Tivoli, a nearby hill town full of palaces, gardens, and the ruins of Emperor Hadrian's wildly eclectic villa.

Leave Tivoli by 4pm to get back to Rome by 5pm in order to pick up some picnic supplies for dinner on the train. The Bern train leaves around 7:50pm.

Day 20: This is a day of many train connections and spectacular, kiss-the-sky vistas. I'm including precise hours here because you need to keep a close eye on your watch to make all the train connections. Schedules may change, however, so double-check everything with your travel agent before you go. The train from Rome pulls into Bern  around 6:35am. You have about 45 minutes to exchange some Swiss francs, check your bags, grab a snack for breakfast, and reserve a couchette on tonight's Amsterdam-bound overnight train out of Bern.
Then catch the first train you can to Interlaken. Get off at the Interlaken Ost station and grab the first Jungfraujoch-bound train. You'll be 11,333 feet high by 11am, drinking in the views across snow-capped Alps and scrambling through the glacier-carved Ice Palace. To avoid cutting all these train connections too closely, take one last panoramic look into the majestic Alpine sweep and be on the 4pm train back down to Interlaken, where you'll catch a train back to Bern. Here you have about two hours to grab a quick dinner and then collect your bags before collapsing into your reserved bunk on the overnight train to Amsterdam , the final stop.
Day 21: You went to sleep in Europe's highest country and wake up in its lowest. What an adventure! You're probably worn out from all the running around, so start the day in Amsterdam relaxing with a canal cruise, ogling all those skinny, gabled 17th-century town houses. After lunch, take a tour through the infamous Red Light district, and then sober yourself up with a visit to the Anne Frank House across town, where the young Jewish diarist hid for years from Nazi occupiers. If you're tired, take an early dinner and hit the sack.
Day 22: Be at the Van Gogh Museum when it opens at 10am and spend the morning in the company of one of the 20th century's greatest masters. Recharge your batteries with a tour of the Heineken Brewery (summer only, take the 1pm tour), and then delve into the Rijksmuseum and spend the afternoon in the company of artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Vermeer. In the evening, stroll the trendy Leidseplein district and feast like a king on an Indonesian rijsttafel at one of the neighborhood's many restaurants.
Day 23: As in the two-week tour, most flights from Amsterdam back to the United States leave in the morning or early afternoon, so you'll spend the morning getting to the airport and the day flying home.


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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.