A trip to Europe is a great idea for first-time travelers. This part of the world has a well-developed tourist trail with reliable transportation links, plenty of accommodation choices, and numerous activities and entertainment options to suit a variety of travelers.
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Western Europe offers just enough challenges to keep the trip fun and adventurous without being overwhelming for those traveling for the first time. All it takes is a little bit of research, some planning, and a big sense of adventure to make the most of your first trip to Europe!
Over the last eight years, we’ve visited many of Europe’s major cities, so it’s no surprise that when it comes to the ultimate itinerary for first-time visitors, we have a few recommendations. Here’s a roundup of our favourite cities that we think are worth putting on your Europe itinerary for your first-time visit.
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Whether you’re flying to Europe from North America or Oceania, London will most likely offer the cheapest flights in and out of the region. If this is your first trip to Europe, take advantage of these great deals and put London top of your itinerary. London offers a plethora of activities to satisfy even the pickiest traveler.
Take in the Major Sights
Don’t miss the big attractions, like Buckingham Palace, London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and St Paul’s Cathedral. The best way to see the sights that interest you is to download a self-guided London walking tour map. This way you can go at your own pace and take as many photos as you like, without feeling pressured to match the pace of a guided tour.
To see as many of these popular attractions as possible, you might want to split your tour into two parts. Buckingham Palace can easily take half a day, especially if you decide to check out the stunning architecture of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, which are within short walking distance of the palace. The Tower of London, the London Eye, and the iconic Tower Bridge are about an hour’s walk from Buckingham Palace, so it’s worth either catching a ride to a starting point or just saving those sights for another day instead of rushing to visit all the destinations in one day.
Experience London Culture
Culture vultures will love London’s selection of world-class museums and art galleries, shopaholics will enjoy checking out London’s amazing markets, and foodies will go crazy for the city’s multicultural restaurants and street food finds.
Visit London Museums
The famous Madame Tussauds wax museum is a fun spot to visit, and history buffs or maritime aficionados will enjoy Cutty Sark, a historic sailing ship that has been preserved and converted into an interactive museum.
If art museums are more to your liking, the National Gallery has over 2,600 amazing works from the 13th century to present day. You’ll see artworks by Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt, and admission is free! While you’re in the city center, you can walk to Trafalgar Square and watch the street performers in Covent Garden’s cobblestone plaza.
Go on a Literature and Theatre Tour
For fans of classic literature, the Charles Dickens Museum is a fantastic hidden gem. Located in Charles Dickens’ former home on Doughty Street, this museum has over 100,000 items related to the author, including manuscripts and personal items. The home is laid out as it would have looked while the author lived there, like a time capsule!
There is no shortage of theaters in London, but Shakespeare fans should definitely visit The Globe Theatre. A reconstruction of the original theatre that burned down in 1613, this venue offers tours and has regular showings of Shakespeare’s plays. A trip to The Globe is as close as you’re ever going to get to seeing The Bard, so don’t miss it when you visit Europe.
If you are looking to take a couple of tours around London, these are the ones we recommend:
- Classic London 3.5-Hour Bike Tour: Take a morning bike ride through central London and visit some of the city’s iconic sights in an eco-friendly way.
- State Rooms at Buckingham Palace: A trip to London would be incomplete without taking in the wonders of Buckingham Palace. This tour gives you a closer look at life as a Royal, and the chance to marvel at some of the amazing treasures.
- Jack the Ripper Walking Tour: Journey back in time for a spine-chilling (and fun!) evening to discover the dark side of Jack the Ripper’s London.
- Climb The Roof of The O2 Arena: Become an urban mountaineer and get a uniquebird’s eye view of the city with a climbing tour of the O2 Arena.
Planning the London Portion of Your Europe Itinerary
Time Needed: Three to five days, although you can easily spend an entire week in London and feel like you didn’t get a chance to see everything.
Where to Stay in London
West End or Bloomsbury if you want to be near attractions and entertainment options. Kings Cross, Euston, and Camden are more popular with backpackers exploring the alternative side of London. We try to stay in eco-friendly accommodation as much as possible during our Europe trip.
Eco-Friendly Hotels in London:
- Wesley Hotel is the first hotel in the UK to receive the Social Enterprise Mark for its sustainable practices. They are located 15 minutes from King’s Cross Station, Camden Market, and other famous attractions. The onsite restaurant relies on locally sourced ingredients and offers a variety of vegan options
- The Cavendish is an award-winning eco-hotel, located a mere 10 minutes walk from Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. Conveniently located just a few minutes from the Piccadilly Tube Station, The Cavendish is the perfect home base for your visit to London.
- citizenM is situated in the heart of London and offers spectacular views of the river Thames, The Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. The Tower Hill tube station is about a minute away, so you can easily get around London.
No Europe trip itinerary would be complete without Paris. Located a quick 2.5-hour train ride from London, Paris offers visitors some of the most iconic sights in the world, like the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Élysées, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe.
This city of high fashion, glamour, and arts is also known for amazing food, wine, shopping, and entertainment options. Of all the major cities on the continent, Paris is among the most walkable, making it a perfect destination for those who visit Europe.
We recommend exploring Paris on foot, getting lost on its streets, and losing track of time while people watching in cafés along the way. Don’t miss the Sacré-Coeur and a chance to check out the Montmartre District, home of the Moulin Rouge, street artists and performers, bohemian apartments, and tiny cobblestone streets.
Have a Garden Picnic
Paris is home to some of the most beautiful public gardens in the world, and a must-see for any trip to Europe. Located in the heart of Paris, the famous Luxembourg Gardens is the perfect place for a stroll and a picnic. If you plan on visiting the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries is just down the street from the museum. While not as popular as the Luxembourg Gardens, the lovely Jardin des Tuileries will be a welcome refreshment after the Louvre.
Take a Day Trip to the Loire Valley or Champagne Region
A visit to France wouldn’t be complete without a day in the country’s gorgeous countryside. To get to the Loire Valley, it’s about a 3-hour train ride from Paris, but it’s much easier to join a guided tour. This guided tour provides transportation, a guided tour of three UNESCO-listed castles in the Loire Valley, and a wine tasting in Amboise.
With this guided tour, Champagne lovers take a day trip to learn about bubbly at the source, sample several vintages, and tour historic sites in the region. You’ll take a guided walk through a vineyard, where you’ll learn about the specific grapes suitable for Champagne, tour the abbey where Dom Perignon lived in the 17th century, and visit with vintners for a demonstration of the production process.
If you are looking to take a couple of tours around Paris, these are the ones we recommend:
- Evening at the Moulin Rouge: Feel the bohemian spirit with a show and glass of champagne at the Moulin Rouge.
- Secret Paris 3-Hour Bike Tour: Get off the beaten track and ride away from the usual tourist spots on this 3-hour bike tour. Your tour guide will take you to the hidden gems of Paris to see street art, markets, and more.
- Dinner in 58 Tour Eiffel: Make a trip to the Eiffel Tower even more special by having dinner in ‘58 Tour Eiffel’ before taking the lift to the top to look out over the city that never sleeps.
Planning the Paris Portion of Your Europe Itinerary
Time needed: two to four days, or longer if you love art, high fashion, and glamour
Getting here: Fly for $45 USD, take a 2.5-hour train for $60 USD, or take an overnight bus for $30 USD.
Where to Stay In Paris
Stay in the Montmartre District, if you want to be in close proximity to entertainment options. The 19th and 13th arrondissements offer lots of great options, too.
Eco-Friendly Hotels in Paris:
- Hotel Gavarni is the first independent hotel in Paris to receive the European ecolabel for its sustainable practices. This boutique hotel is conveniently located just a short walk from the Eiffel Tower and a quick bus ride from the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre.
- Hidden Hotel is a contemporary hotel near the Champs Elysees. The hotel’s furniture is made largely from organic farming materials like stone, wood, linen, and leather. Hidden Hotel is part of Green Globe, the first global environmental certification program designed specifically for the travel and tourism industry. The hotel is within walking distance to a few places away from the tourist crowds, including the elegant Parc Monceau, and the Paris Fashion Museum.
- For a slightly cheaper option, the Solar Hotel is a good choice for its eco-friendly nature, clean rooms, and value for money. Perks include free bicycle rentals and organic breakfast, plus a garden onsite that is open to hotel guests. Luxembourg Gardens, The Louvre, and Eiffel Tower are all a short walk or bike ride away, making Solar Hotel a great starting point for your adventures in the capital city.
While many travelers associate Amsterdam with great parties and smoky coffee shops, there’s a lot more to the Netherlands’ capital than that. The city is full of museums, architecture, and art.
It’s also one of the most eco-friendly stops on your Europe trip itinerary. It’s extremely easy to explore on foot or to enjoy on two wheels.
In our opinion, the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House are a must, as is the Leidseplein, which is the center of Amsterdam’s entertainment scene and home to nightclubs, movie theatres, concert venues, casinos, and the ubiquitous coffee shops.
Enjoy the Free Sights
If Amsterdam makes it onto your Europe trip itinerary, don’t skip the city’s amazing outdoor spaces. Located southwest of the city center and just west of Museum Quarter, Vondelpark is the largest urban park in Amsterdam. The park is full of paths, sculptures, and greenspaces, making it the perfect spot for a morning coffee or lunch picnic.
Architecture buffs will enjoy Amsterdam’s Canal Ring area. Dating back to the 17th century, this half-moon of canals is a UNESCO World Heritage Site lined with historic buildings, restaurants, shops, and bars.
If you are looking to take a couple of tours around Amsterdam, these are the ones we recommend:
- Amsterdam Walking Tour: The Fascinating Story of Anne Frank: This guided walking tour is a must for anyone with an interest in history. Learn about the city during WWII and see it through the eyes of Anne Frank.
- Henri Willig Cheese Tasting Tour with Wine: Enjoy a 45-minute cheese tasting sampling 5 different kinds of cheese while sipping on delicious red wine or specialty beer.
- Tour of the Dutch countryside: If you are planning to spend at least 10 days in Europe, you can afford to spend a little more time in Amsterdam and take a road trip to the windmills! A guided day trip to the water lands is a great way to get a break from the crowded streets of the city.
Planning the Amsterdam Portion of Your Europe Itinerary
Time needed: Two to four days
Get there: Take a 1.5-hour flight from Paris for under $55 USD, a 3-hour train ride from Paris for $57 USD or take an even cheaper overnight bus.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Stay in The Old Centre and the surrounding areas, so you can be a short walk away from the main sights and shopping and entertainment areas.
Eco-Friendly Hotels in Amsterdam:
- WestCord City Hotel for its central location and its impressive sustainable practices. Conveniently located within five minutes of Dam Square and Kalverstraat, this hotel is at the heart of Amsterdam.
- For a slightly cheaper option choose the Conscious Hotel Vondelpark. This uber eco-conscious option is perhaps among the greenest group of hotels in Amsterdam. Guests are offered rental bikes and a daily vegetarian breakfast buffet prepared with organic produce. They have a few locations around the city including the Conscious Hotel The Tire Station, and Conscious Hotel The Westerpark.
- Qbic Hotel WTC Amsterdam is an affordable quirky eco-hotel in the downtown core. This hotel is a 15-minute bus ride to Museum Quarter, where you can easily spend a day wandering around the Van Gogh Museum, the outstanding Rijksmuseum, and the Vondelpark.
Best known for its historical associations, lively nightlife, street art, and an abundance of museums, Berlin is a fascinating city to visit on your first trip to Europe. This historical hotspot is famous for the Berlin Wall, offers great nightlife, and is one of the most eco-conscious cities in Europe.
Don’t Miss the Main Sights in Mitte
The city centre and historic district of Mitte are home to several of the most famous attractions in Berlin. You can easily spend half a day walking through the historic district, visiting the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Wall Memorial, and more sights significant to the city’s history.
See the Famous Street Art of Berlin
To explore the alternative side of the capital city, head to the Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts. Here, you’ll see the East Side Gallery and Museum, a kilometre-long stretch of the former Berlin Wall that is now covered in murals, including the famous piece of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing. For a more in-depth experience and a chance to see some hidden gems, consider a guided walking tour of Berlin’s street art.
If you are looking to take a couple of tours around Berlin, these are the ones we recommend:
- Tempelhof Airport: Hidden Places – Guided Tour: This 2-hour walking tour will take you down into the underground bunkers and tunnels beneath the city exploring the secret and off-the-beaten-path gems.
- Berlin: 3-Hour Segway Tour: Ditch the bus tours for a more sustainable 2-wheel tour of the city! You’ll glide past Berlin’s most famous monuments, learning and having fun as you go.
- Mitte Culinary Food Tour: This 3-hour tour will prove to you that Berlin is more than just German sausage!
Planning the Berlin Portion of Your Europe Itinerary
Time needed: Two to four days. Check out our 3-day Berlin itinerary here.
Get there: From Amsterdam, take an overnight bus for about $28 USD, a 6.5-hour train for $45, or a two-hour flight for around $65 USD.
Where to Stay in Berlin
Stay in Mitte to be close to major sights and attractions or the artsy areas of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg if you want to experience the best of Berlin’s nightlife.
Eco-Friendly Hotels in Berlin:
- Hotel Bleibtreu Hotels eco-focus is on using sustainable products – so all of their cleaning products are chemical free and their restaurant uses locally sourced healthy ingredients! The hotel is a short walk away from public transportation hubs, making this a convenient home base for your visit to Berlin.
- Scandic Berlin Kurfuerstendamm Hotel is located in the main shopping district of Berlin, and Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz Hotel is in the trendy Kreuzberg district. They have both won a number of awards for their sustainability efforts, including the prestigious Green Globe award.
- For a slightly cheaper option check out the Circus Hostel. This unique hotel is loved for its sustainable practices, and location close to Mitte. Dorm beds or private rooms are available. The hotel offers rental bikes, and it’s just a short walk from the Rosenthalerplatz U-Bahn Station. For a night in, Circus Hostel has an onsite microbrewery and a quirky museum dedicated to David Hasselhoff.
Germany’s diversity grants it two spots on your Europe itinerary. For a taste of true Bavarian culture, check out the picturesque town of Munich. Visit the English Garden, hang out in the Marienplatz, and see the Old Town Square alive with street performers. You can also check out München’s Viktualienmarkt, climb to the top of St. Peter’s Church for amazing views of Munich, and take part in the world-famous Oktoberfest in September.
If you are looking to take a couple of tours around Munich, these are the ones we recommend:
- Day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle: If you’re traveling to Europe for the first time you may have dreams of Disney-type castles surrounded by enchanted forests, and day trips like this one are a must for your itinerary. It’s just a 2 hours train or coach ride from Munich and the journey itself will make this the ultimate Europe trip.
- Munich Segway Tour: For a fun way to explore the city take a 2.5-hour guided Segway tour. An experienced guide will take you to visit Konigsplatz, the historic town hall square, the English Garden, Museums, and the State Chancellery.
- Scavenger Hunt through the Old Town: A great activity for those on a Europe trip with the family and is another fun and novel way to discover the city and see its most interesting sights.
Planning The Munich Portion of Your Europe Itinerary
Time needed: Two to four days
Get there: From Berlin, take an overnight bus for around $30 USD, a 6-hour train for under $25 USD, or a one-hour flight for $165 USD.
Where to Stay in Munich
Stay in the city centre to be within walking distance from Marienplatz and the Viktualienmarkt food market. Or choose one of the less touristy neighborhoods to stay in Munich.
Eco-Friendly Hotels in Munich:
- Hotel Metropol is conveniently located within a short walking distance of Old Town and Munich Central Station. Focused on sustainability, Hotel Metropol offers guests a breakfast buffet full of delicious food prepared with ingredients from Upper Bavaria and nearby organic farms.
- The Derag Livinghotel is next to the Viktualienmarkt food market. They are very environmentally conscious and offer well-appointed, clean rooms that use renewable energy sources. The Reichenbachplatz Tram Stop is a 2-minute walk away, linking you to popular sights.
- A slightly cheaper option is the Novotel München City. They have a long list of green credentials and offer soundproof rooms at a central location. The hotel is a 20-minute walk from the heart of Munich or a 5-minute ride by subway.
Prague is considered to be one of the most unique, romantic, and beautiful cities in all of Europe. Make sure you leave enough time on a Europe trip itinerary for this Bohemian gem!
Visit Staromestske Namesti
Famous for its unique medieval architecture, the historic city center is home to famous attractions like Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, the Old City Hall, and the famed Astronomical Clock. Founded during the 12th century, this square in historical Prague is lined with stunning baroque architecture, restaurants, and galleries.
If you visit the city during the holiday season, be sure to check out the famous Christmas Markets held here every year. This is the largest of Prague’s Christmas markets, and it’s just beautiful to see at night.
If you are looking to take a couple of tours around Prague, these are the ones we recommend:
- Communism and Nuclear Bunker Tour: Excellent choice for history buffs. Enjoy a tour of Prague’s communist past.
- Prague Ghost Tour: Dark Shadows of the Old Town: If you like stories of ghosts and ghouls, give yourself a fright with this 2-hour walking tour.
- Half-day trip to Kutná Hora and Ossuary from Prague: See the weird and wonderful Church of All Saints, decorated with more than 40,000 human bones.
Planning The Prague Portion of Your Europe Itinerary
Time needed: Two to four days
Get there: From Munich, take a five-hour train for just $25 USD or a 4.5-hour bus for $25 USD. Depending on the time of year, you’ll pay around $120 USD for a 1.5-hour flight that will take you from Munich to Prague.
Where to Stay in Prague
Stay in the city centre or in the Lesser Town (Mala Strana), the historical centre of the city.
Eco-Friendly Hotels in Prague:
- Adria Hotel for its sustainable practices and location right in Wenceslas Square. Here historic charm meets modern amenities. The hotel is less than 1 km away from Old Town Square, so you can easily reach the Astronomical Clock and other sights on foot.
- For a slightly cheaper option, the Mosaic House is a nice choice. This carbon-neutral hotel is a part hostel as well. The hotel is a 15-minute walk from the Old Town Square, and close to attractions in the modern city like the Prague Botanical Garden.
- Aurea Legends is a sustainable boutique hotel housed in one of Prague’s many historic buildings. The hotel is just a short walk from the most popular sights in Prague and steps away from restaurants and cafes.
Rome is one of the most important centers for art and history in the world, and it’s chock-full of bucket-list sights and attractions. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city is famous for its millennia-old churches, grand ruins, lavish monuments, elaborate statues, and graceful fountains.
Lovers of food, art and history, beauty and love itself should put Rome on their Europe itinerary. Of all the European countries, there is no comparison to the romance of this beautiful city. If you have to be selective with your itinerary, make sure to visit Italy.
If you are looking to get the most out of Roma in your short time in the city, consider taking a couple of tours. These are the ones we recommend:
- Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s: We’re not necessarily fans of museums but there are some that are the exception and this is certainly one of them!
- Colosseum and Ancient Rome Walking Tour: Discover the ancient past of this great city on a 3.5-hour walking tour and skip the queues at the most popular sites.
- 4-Hour Food Tour by Night: You’ll sample some of the best food on your Europe trip to Rome, so it’s worth dedicating a whole evening to this great culinary experience
- 1-Day Rome Tour: Perfect for those on a tight timeframe. This 1-day walking tour will take you straight to all the best sights and allow you to skip the queues.
Planning The Rome Portion of Your Europe Itinerary
Time needed: Two to four days
Get there: From Prague, take an overnight train to Rome for about $50 USD. At 15 hours, it’s a pretty long train ride so if you’d rather save time, consider a 1.5-hour flight for $55 USD or less.
Where to Stay in Rome
Staying near the Termini train station is one of the most popular neighborhoods to stay in while visiting Rome since it makes it easy to get in and around Rome during your time there. However, there are a couple of other neighborhoods in Rome to consider.
- President Hotel for its sustainable practices, central location, and amazing breakfast which features Italian classic cuisine. The hotel is a little over a kilometre away from the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, and the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum.
- DVE Suite Rome is located close to Termini train station, and the Coliseum. The hotel is steps away from the Monti district, a historic section full of medieval alleys full of boutiques and trattorias away from the crowded tourist spots. They honour a series of policies to operate their business sustainably.
- Foro Romano is a sustainable boutique hotel just a few metres from the Roman Forum and Circus Maximus. Other sights, like the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Palazzo Venezia are about a 15-minute walk from the hotel. If location is your top priority, you really can’t go wrong with Foro Romano
Barcelona is full of culture, incredible food, markets, museums, rich history, and great nightlife. It makes for a great last stop on your whirlwind Europe itinerary.
Soak up the sun on Barcelona’s gorgeous beaches, enjoy street performers and cafés on La Rambla, shop at the markets, admire Gaudí’s modernist architecture, and spend the nights enjoying Barcelona’s lively nightlife.
If you are looking to take a couple of tours around Barcelona, these are the ones we recommend:
- The Ice Bar Experience: If the heat of the city is getting too much, then cool down with a trip to the Ice Bar.
- Barcelona Main Sights by E-Bike: Explore Barcelona’s sights with a local guide during a 2.5-hour electric bike tour. You’ll discover the history of the Gothic Quarter and visit some of the most iconic landmarks.
- Montserrat Monastery & Natural Park Hike: If you still have some energy left at the end of your ultimate Europe trip, then we recommend a half-day hike to Montserrat to visit the Abbey. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to hear the famous boys’ choir.
Planning The Barcelona Portion of Your Europe Itinerary
Time needed: Two to four days
Get there: From Rome, take an hour and a half flight for $30 USD.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Stay in the old city to be in close proximity to sights and attractions or along La Rambla.
- Arts Hotel for its incredible views of Barceloneta Beach, and its sustainable practices. The hotel houses a contemporary art collection and a two Michelin-starred restaurant.
- The Eco Boutique Hostal Grau is a wonderful choice for its beautiful rooms. This modern, family-run hotel is steps from the Modern Art Museum and Placa Catalunya.
- If you are willing to share a room, Twentytu Hostel is an affordable green option. In fact, they have one of the greenest properties in Barcelona and were one of the first hotel properties in Barcelona to apply green technology. The hostel also offers rental bikes, and guided tours for groups.
- Mas Salagros Eco-Resort is technically just outside the city limit, but definitely worth a mention. This luxurious resort has earned the label of 100% sustainable. The resort offers cooking classes and fragrance workshops, both using organic produce and aromatics grown onsite.
Give Yourself Time to be Flexible
Follow our recommendations above for a three to five-week Europe itinerary. Plan your route ahead of time, but give yourself a little bit of flexibility when it comes to the number of days in each city. You never know which one of these amazing European cities will steal your heart, making you linger for a few extra days.
Get Off the Beaten Path
If time permits and you’re looking to extend your stay in Europe, consider going off the beaten path and paying a visit to non-capital cities in Europe. We have a whole host of ideas on our Europe destination page.
While they might not get as much attention from travelers as the capital cities do, they pack a punch and offer some unique experiences that will make your Europe trip that much more exciting.