Where to go in Europe…

October 30th, 2009

I’ve wanted to visit Europe for years, and just haven’t quite made it. School, jobs, kids, all got in the way. Well, it looks like Terah and I may have a chance to spend a week there in March. We’re trying to figure out where to go.

There are two main reasons I want to go: history, and experiencing different cultures. I’m especially interested in old buildings: anything from castles to old country churches and everything in between.

Terah would really prefer to avoid too much adventure. Something that feels not too different would be her preference for our first trip. That means probably proper private hotel rooms or B&B.

We prefer to avoid having to rent cars when we travel, but would if we had to. We usually like to stay in one hotel for a whole trip, rather than a day in 5 different places.

Between us, we know English (of course), and a few bits of Spanish and German.

Right now, I think we’re leaning towards England or Wales. That can satisfy Terah’s “not too adventurous” criteria (yes, we do know that many Europeans speak English), while also my history criteria. Of all the cultures in Europe, though, I’m probably most familiar with Britain already.

But I have also long wanted to see other parts of Europe too.

I’m ready to stock up with Lonely Planet books in my (sadly US-only) Kindle, but would gladly accept any suggestions people have too.

Categories: Travel

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  1. John Goerzen (jgoerzen) 's status on Saturday, 31-Oct-09 02:49:08 UTC - Identi.ca

    [...] http://changelog.complete.org/archives/1204-where-to-go-in-europe a few seconds ago from Twidge [...]

  2. Bryan O'Sullivan

    I’d suggest Ireland (I bet you’re shocked to hear that!) or Wales. They’ve a bit more cultural distinctiveness to them than England.

    If you don’t mind being a bit adventurous, the Basque country of France and Spain is amazingly beautiful. Language will be a bit of a barrier, though. English is often the third language.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    Any particular places in Ireland or Wales you’d particularly recommend?


  3. jef

    I’d also recommend Ireland. You would do better to rent a car as public transport may not get you to the most interesting places. The country is beautiful and full of history, and is still accessible to people who may not feel adventurous enough to visit someplace more exotic. I’ve been twice and loved every minute of both trips. Consider Northern Ireland as well as the Republic.


  4. Greg

    My wife and I did our honeymoon in Budapest this summer and we had an amazing time. Not sure what the weather would be like this time of year.


  5. Magnus

    In case you miss my tweet :-)

    http://wikitravel.org is a good free online resource.

    Besides England and Wales I would add Ireland and Scotland to the list of possible destinations. I think I’d put Scotland on the top of the list actually, and I’m not even Scottish :-)


  6. panos

    If you like culture and old buildings you should definitely visit Prague. It seems like a travel back in time.


  7. Bart

    I’d suggest to head to Rome for 3-4 days, and then eg. Amsterdam.

    Rome is beautiful itself. You’ll find a lot of great buildings and architecture there, and quite good and nice hotels in-between. And weather at this time of year should be quite nice (I went there with my GF last year, in the middle of November, and it was like +14 – +18).

    And Amsterdam – lets say it’s just cool :-)


  8. Matthias

    Why don’t you give Belgium a shot? Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp and – of course – Bruges are the must-visit places.

    We do have serious historic and cultural heritage!


    Björn Buckwalter Reply:

    The Belgium suggestion is good. I’ve been only to Antwerp which is very nice but as Matthias mentions there are lots of interesting cities and sites (including castles and coastline) within daytrip distance, not only in Belgium but also in Germany, The Netherlands, France, and Luxembourg.


  9. Alexandre Franke

    I’d suggest Strasbourg, France, we too have a serious historic and cultural heritage :)


  10. Russell Coker

    Ireland is nice if you like lush countryside and historic buildings.

    If you are more into cities then The Netherlands is a really good option. In NL everyone who was born after WW2 speaks English fluently (some of them criticise me for the way I speak). In Amsterdam they are so used to tourists that anyone who seems in any way confused or lost will be spoken to in English.

    Amsterdam is about 6 hours train ride from London. The train in question goes through France and Belgium. You could stop off for a couple of days in either of those countries.


  11. Brad Schmidt

    How does Berlin – Wittenberg – Leipzig/Halle – Dresden – Prague sound? The cities are all about a two hour or less train ride away (in that progression). Also, I would be willing to act as a tour guide for some of the stops.


  12. pachi

    I’d recommend you northwest spain (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria). It’s very beautiful, full of interesting architecture and beautiful towns and superb cuisine. You could go the Route of Santiago de Compostela, the first UNESCO world heritage itinerary. You could go by car, by walking, by bicycle or even on a horse.


  13. wjl


    if you like castles and such, you definitely shouldn’t miss the middle Rhine river. Best would be to get a rental car and to drive along from Bingen to Koblenz – you can stop anywhere you like and even visit some of those castles.

    And since Bingen isn’t too far from our place (we live very close to Frankurt airport), you’re invited to come along and – if you want to – stay at our place.

    Best to you alll,


  14. Luca Falavigna

    Give a shot at Italy: Rome, Florence, Venice, Sicily… these places are full of history and definitely wonderful.


  15. wjl

    Ooops – I just saw that I should have pointed you to this Wikipedia, or to the the UNESCO sites about that area of the Rhine river.

    Happy reading and planning…


    John Goerzen Reply:

    Thank you for the suggestion and kind offer! We’re still deciding but will consider it.


  16. Simon Farnsworth

    If you’re planning to visit the UK, I’d suggest starting in Durham, and seeing the cathedral and castle (they’re both beautiful ancient buildings). I seem to recall that you’ve said your son is keen on trains, so my next step would be to the train up to Edinburgh, crossing from England to Scotland. In Edinburgh, there’s plenty to see; I’d particularly recommend visiting the camera obscura, which is set up for entertaining small children. Beyond that, a good tourist guide to Edinburgh should find plenty to entertain you.


  17. Peter De Schrijver

    You should obviously visit belgium for the beer and some Nordic countries (sweden, finland, estonia) for Nordic and baltic nature and culture.


  18. Pedro Ribeiro

    I would suggest you come to Portugal, you can see lots of castles and historical places, beautiful countryside, beach and mountain. There are a lot of nice hotels and its very easy to drive around and see a lot of places in short time. Also food is excellent and cheap :)


  19. alex

    As a happy user of offlineimap and Debian, I’d be happy to advise you if you want to visit Barcelona.


  20. .

    I’d go with Luca and propose Florence in particular. It combines history and greatness with being concentrated enough to get by just walking.


  21. John Goerzen

    Wow! Thanks everyone so much for all the suggestions! I obviously need to spend some time reading up on several of these places!


  22. Andy Cater

    You could do worse than here. An hour away from Wales, forty minutes from Oxford, an hour from Bath or Bristol,a couple of hours from the centre of London. Tewkesbury a mediaeval town is ten minutes away …
    Andy, Cheltenham, England (but Cheltenham is a bit snooty and therefore expensive though it does claim to be the center of the Cotswolds :) )


  23. martin f. krafft

    Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Dresden, the middle Rhine area (as suggested above), or Ireland by car. Italy also has marvelous places to offer, such as Bologna, the Liguria region, or yes, Rome. I would avoid Florence, which is such a tourist magnet. And then there’s Switzerland, of course, e.g. the Interlaken region, or Graubünden (Chur and about).


  24. Grüezi

    Of course Switzerland


  25. bill

    Anywhere in tuscany (especially Florence)

    if you want nice wheater consider sicily


  26. Deb

    If you love good life then go to Andalusia, Spain.


  27. Matt Doar

    May as well chime in as a Brit living in California. March and Europe means rain in most of the northern countries, so pack a mack and expect to get wet sometimes. England is easy for the language and good for the history (as everywhere is really). The pubs are good to hang out in and some even have pretty good food. London is a big city like many others but with plenty of cool places to visit. Personally, I still like Cambridge, Lincoln and York.

    Have a great trip,



  28. Michael Goetze

    Well, I see you have lots of suggestions for specific places already, so I’ll not bother with that. You didn’t even mention whether you’re looking for a city holiday or a countryside one. ;)

    I will point out, though, that if you want to do a big city, renting a car is almost certainly a bad idea. I realize that this will seem nonobvious to an American, but in big European cities you generally just use public transport, especially in touristy areas. Or walk, for that matter… I recently visited Budapest and hardly needed the subway pass I bought, there were 5 full days worth of attractions more or less within walking distance of the hostel where I stayed.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    It’s obvious enough to Americans that have been in American cities with good mass transit too :-) That, sadly, may be a minority of Americans.

    I’m not sure if we’re looking for city or countryside either, really. Maybe a bit of both. We live in the countryside, so oddly enough going to a city has the “get away” factor for us.


  29. Jon Kåre Hellan

    You want to go on a narrowboat cruise on the English/Welsh canals. You have a mobile base, that’s perfect with kids your age. These boats move practically at walking speed, so anybody should be able to handle them. There are skippered cruises, but most people just charter their own boat. The Langollen canal is spectacular, crossing far above the Dee river valley on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
    We used http://www.black-prince.com/, but there are many others.


  30. Julian Adams

    I think my favourite part of England is the Lake District: http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/. Beautiful mountains, hills and lakes. My favourite area is around Ullswater. Absolutely beautiful.


  31. Oscar

    I’d recomment Italy (Rome, Venice, Syracuse, Napoli), France (you never get tired of Paris), Spain (Barcelona, Madrid), Amsterdam and London. You can take day-trips to other interesting cities from most of these cities.

    As for the language I would say it’s no problem. Most people in the EU can speak some English.


  32. Peter Van Eynde

    One thing that you might be interested in is Italy or Greece. For example Naples isn’t a normal tourist trap, but you cannot beat the history that is there. Take the ‘Naples Underground’ tour and see the ‘Romans go home!’ graffiti on the walls, next to the ‘Americans go home!’ writing…
    Language wise you would be better of in Belgium, Ireland or the UK of course, but language problems are part of the package IMHO ;-).


  33. Arthur van Leeuwen

    Well, as should be obvious by now from all the answers, anywhere in Europe would suit. However, and this is something to take into account, be aware that if you take Jacob and Oliver, you will want the ability to easily shop for their base necessities, and these are not necessarily provided for in the same way in every country. For instance, when we went to Paris for four days in july, we noticed that the French do not consume anywhere near as much fresh dairy products as we are used to in the Netherlands, meaning that fresh milk was relatively expensive and not always available. Fortunately our two-year old is a good eater and not too fussy…

    On the other hand, the new tastes to be gotten (Parisian macarons are one sure favourite! :)) can mitigate much of the issues. :)


  34. Carsten

    I would recommend two places, e.g. Cardiff/Wales where you can see a lot of landscape with old buildings, a “fairy tale” castle (Castell Coch) and to Carphilly where there is a very old “real” castle – along with (working) siege machines. And of course Cardiff itself is a very nice city.

    Then I would fly to a different place somewhere different, probably mediterranian or south East of Europe, e.g. Italy, Hungary…

    Being a native German, I can also recommend visiting Germany, but that’s not that far off from Wales – well, depends whom you ask ;)


  35. Laurent


    I’m a French person who has lived in the US for ten years and has an American wife, so I know what Americans like and dislike about Europe.

    As Matt Doar points out, March will be rainy in the UK, and indeed a lot of Europe, especially Northern Europe. This will be a problem if you want to see the countryside. If you want to stick with relatively “safe” places for the sake of your wife, my advice would be to stay in London. At least there will always be something to do while it rains (museums, monuments, etc.)

    If you’re willing to go to countries where English is not the first language, that opens up destinations that are more exotic, or where the weather is better, or more interesting (e.g. snow): the lakes of Northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria, are all prosperous and clean areas. Rome, Greece, slightly less so, but make up for it in sights or character.

    For your second trip to Europe I recommend France, ideally in May, June or early September.

    Oh, and IMHO the best guidebooks for Europe are Rick Steves’. The guy knows Western Europe like the back of his
    hand, and knows what Americans like and dislike. Even for France I rely on his advice.


  36. Brian Nelson

    If you’re willing to go slightly outside of Europe and don’t mind being poked and prodded by security too much, Israel would fit well with your criteria. The weather would be nice in March too.


  37. Wouter Verhelst

    You may want to go visit one of the mini-states, such as Monte Carlo, Andorra, or Liechtenstein, if you have the time. These countries are democracies like any other country, but are pretty fun in the little (no pun intended) details.

    To give but one example: in the same way that the US consists of 52 states, that Canada consist of a number of provinces, and the united kingdom consists of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, Andorra consists of 7 parishes.



  38. Wouter Verhelst

    Oh, BTW: and if you visit Belgium, make sure you let me know; I’d love to meet up and go visit something together.


  39. Jason

    It depends on what you want to do, of course.

    Switzerland is good for outdoors and scenery. It also has castles from the 1200′s, etc.

    Paris is a good size, beautiful city with great food. There are, unfortunately, beggers and scam artists around many of the attractions.

    Mallorca, Spain has fantastic sea food, the best I’ve ever had, but not cheap and this is one place where you’ll need to know the local language.

    Italy is has wonderful food and relatively cheap. Great beaches and service. We usually stay in a hotel on the beach with a full “pension” (all meals included in the price, even wine, around $100 a night).

    Germany I haven’t explored much but English wont be a problem there. In the UK I’ve only been to London, which is an enormous city. The culture is closer to America’s so you’ll have to be more on your guard than some of the other places, watch where you eat, etc.


  40. gwern

    Second the Belgium & Netherlands suggestion. They’re really nice places with better climate than Great Britain, and it seems like everyone there is friendly & speaks excellent English. (Personally, I’d love to go back and spend a week in Bruges.)


  41. kem0s

    will all your comments helped me too, to look at some of those interesting suggestions,,, coz i am planning our next trip to London or maybe Scotland.

    heey what about DUBAI, UNITED ARAB OF EMIRATES ^_^

    nice weather, nice things to see buy… your children will have extra fun … especially on blue shining beaches ^_^


    kemos, dubai, uae


  42. rohan

    well i have been to scotland & england before, this time i plan to go to europe, i have been confused since there is so much to offer, im planning to visit there for 15 days & i wish to see a blend of cities with good people & country side…i ws planning on amsterdam, paris & austria or amsterdam , paris & spain, or else i was planning to reduce the number of countries & see 1 country completey, i want a great blend scenery & part y country…can any1 suggest


  43. Anniversary: Europe Ideas? | The Changelog

    [...] very much appreciated the great tips last time I asked. Our first trip to Europe last year was great — it was nice to stay with [...]

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