Planning your First Trip to Europe

First trip to Europe: View of Rome from St Peter's

Planning your first trip to Europe can be a daunting experience, as there are so many countries and cities that you could possibly visit, and you only have a limited time frame, such as a month.  Many people end up taking a Europe tour, which does mean you’ll get to see a lot and not have to do the organising.

But not everyone wants to travel as such a speedy pace or to travel in a large group. If you want to organise your own independent trip to Europe, first of all answer these questions:

  • What are your own personal preferences?  Do you like art? History? Sports? Beaches? Hiking?
  • What time of year will you be going?  Winter is very different to Summer, and there’re many places that completely shut down outside of the summer season.
  • How would you prefer to travel around?  By train, plane, bus or driving?  Each option has different pros and cons: with trains you generally arrive in the centre of a city and skip on security procedures, with planes you can more easily cover longer distances, whilst buses are the cheapest and driving is the most flexible.

My suggestion if you are travelling for about 30 days would be to firstly choose about 10 different places to go to.  Most of these should be no further apart that around 4 hours if you are travelling by train or 2 hours if you are flying.

Then plan to spend 2-4 nights in each place, perhaps longer in some destinations.  If some destinations are close together and fairly small, it’s possible to just stay a night in some places, but I find that for a long trip it gets very tiring moving hotels every day, and I would try to limit this.  I prefer to spend at least 2 nights in most places, to allow time to properly experience it, plus to include some longer stays to give you a break at least once or twice during the trip.

Based on what are the most popular destinations in Europe plus also my first trip to Europe, the itinerary below is ideal for 30 nights.

One extra tip to keep in mind: even if most of your trip is independent, it still might be good to go for an organised tour for part of it. A cruise in Croatia or the Greek islands is a fun way to kick back and relax for part of your trip!

🐾 Dog-friendly: Want to bring your dog along? Europe is the most dog-friendly destination in the world. Check out my guide to travelling in Europe with a dog

Ideal 30-Night Itinerary for First Trip to Europe

Rome (3 nights): In the External City, spend one day exploring the ancient sites, including the ruins of the Forum, the Colosseum and the Pantheon, and another day exploring the Vatican City, including St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum with the Sistine Chapel.

Head to Florence, in northern Italy, on your first trip to Europe

Florence (2 nights): Travel 1 1/2 hours north by train to the capital of Tuscany, to visit the Uffizi Gallery, the Cathedral and the statue of David.

Venice (2 nights): Travel a further 2 hours north to wander through this city built on water, and perhaps take a gondola.

Lyon or Côte d’Azur (3 nights): Either fly or spend all day on a train or bus to reach the south of France.  Lyon is France’s 2nd largest city and its gourmet capital, whilst the beaches and hedonistic lifestyle of the Côte d’Azur are reknown.

Dog-friendly Paris

Paris should not be missed on your first trip to Europe

Paris (6 nights): A high speed train to Paris will only take 4 hours.  Visit the Eiffel Tour, Arc de Triomphe, Louve and Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame de Paris and Sacré-Coeur.  Then take day trips to the palace and gardens of Versaille, the castles and vineyards in the Loire Valley and the famous Champagne region.

Rhine River Valley (2 nights): Running through western Germany, the most scenic part of the Rhine River is the Gorge section located between Koblenz and Rüdesheim, just north of Mainz.  Stay in one of these towns or cities and spend the day on a cruise.  Alternatively, visit Cologne and its famous cathedral to the north.  A train will take about 4 hours.


The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is an impressive sight

Berlin (5 nights): Take another train (about 4 hours) or fly to Berlin and explore the once-divided city.  Don’t miss the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (parliament) building, the remnants of the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial, and .  Take a day trip to the former concentration camp at Dachau or the palaces of Potsdam.

London (5 nights): Fly across the Channel to London.  Visit Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St Peter’s and the excellent museums.  Take a day trip to Bath or Stonehenge.

Looking for the ideal backpack for your trip? Check out the best travel backpacks, no matter what’s your style!

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