Touring Europe-Part 2

LODGING WE LOVE:

Ibis hotels—we stayed in these often! good prices, clean rooms, and a front desk person (we really like hotels over apartment rentals/BnBs because of the front desk person. We’ve had a few mis-steps with Air BnB rentals where the person who was supposed to meet us wasn’t there or didn’t have the right keys or had the wrong dates.  It always worked out eventually but it is so frustrating). 

homeaway.com and TripAdvisor are both excellent. We book hotels with minimum 3 stars. We always look for breakfast included (and even pay the 3 or 4 euro per person additional if this is an option) 2 star accommodations are just not very nice to stay in. We’ve also stayed in hostels–some locations have family rooms that sleep 6 in bunk beds. Simple breakfasts (coffee and stale pastries) and common shower facilities but a fun experience.

We used VRBO for apartment rentals…in Rome, Austria and Germany. We got a 2 bedroom apartment that slept 6, about a mile from the Vatican. Not near ANY public transportation. We did a lot of walking that trip. The next time to Rome we stayed at a hotel near the main train station. More convenient for seeing the city. But Rome has a poor metro layout anyway so you’ll walk no matter where you’re going in Rome.

LONDON WINNERS:

Tower of London-off with her head! Great tour. 

British Museum—Awesome. plan about 4 hours here.

Walking tour of the city (we did an evening ghost/mystery story tour)

Westminster Abbey—you can tour the abbey but I recommend attending worship service. We sat in Poet’s Corner on 1st Sunday of advent—a Harry Potter experience.

National Gallery—art museum. If you enjoy art, this a a must-see.

Drink and eat awhile in a pub. Shepherd’s Pie is a favorite dish.

Hyde Park is lovely especially in spring and summer

Stonehenge is great  but takes a full day; you’ll need a car rental or bus transportation.

Stratford upon Avon—if you love Shakespeare, this is the place to go.

London Misses:

Buckingham Palace and changing of the guard. Boring.

Tate Museum–even for our art-loving family, this museum was a snooze-fest.

Amsterdam Winners

Rijksmuseum. The lighting in this museum is phenomenal and brings the art to life.

Take a photo in front of I AM AMSTERDAM sculpture

Resistance Museum. https://www.verzetsmuseum.org/museum/nl/museum. Many Dutch-american immigrants were part of the war resistance efforts. This museum is very well done.

Zaanse Schans open air museum.  Terrific place to see windmills, dutch shoes being made, dutch cheese, etc.

The canal tour is good; gives a nice overview of Architecture of city and a little history.  There are a lot of these tours offered around town. 

Walk Red Light District. Don’t buy marijuana.

Ann Frank House—very moving experience. Buy tickets online before visit!

Don’t rent bikes! but if you do, it’s cut throat. It’s really not fun to ride a bike in the city. Watch for trollies and trams…we almost got hit a number of times. 

Best restaurant: Pancake Bakery. https://pancake.nl/  We’ve been there a number of times.  order pancakes for dinner. This is a dutch staple.  

Outside city center: tour of Rotterdam, Delft and the Hague. Lovely dutch villages with lots of world history rolled in.

Paris Winners

Nighttime in paris is beautiful. Eiffel Tower as seen from Arc de Triomphe is beautifully lit and it twinkled when we were there. 

Take a Seine River cruise. Great way to see the city. 

The Louvre. totally worth it. Security is pretty tight. If possible, leave as much as  you can in your apartment/hotel room. There are several entry points to the museum—you don’t need to enter through the glass pyramid (however, there will be a LONG line here making you think this is the only entrance)

Eiffel Tower: we have never taken elevator to the top. We have gone to the second landing.  Lines in summer are long even if you’ve pre-purchased tickets.  The view of Eiffel Tower from Arc de Triomphe at night is spectacular (climb to top of arch). There are great photo spots of the tower in the background all over the area. Look for where other groups of people are posing. 

Palace of Versailles is really wonderful. This will be a train trip from the city (if you go…buy a return ticket before departing.  There is a long line to purchase return tickets at Versailles) and the visit will take up most of your day. Buy tickets for palace online to avoid the ticket office. You can download the Rick Steves audio tour for your phone BUT the audio guide at the palace is included in your admission price. A lot of people go here! Line to enter is long, even if you have online reservations. Be prepared. If you visit in summer, they have music playing and the fountains are in full display. Also, you can rent bicycles and ride around.  BEST afternoon in Paris.

The Latin Quarter is a great place to walk around and eat street food. The restaurants are also fairly inexpensive and plentiful.

Army Museum has Napoleon’s Tomb and stuffed horse

Sit on chairs by the Seine.  We spent so much time just eating and sipping coffee outdoors.

Notre Dame cathedral.  Another place with long lines but wonderful.  Highly recommend visiting. Walk Behind the cathedral and there is a hidden gem…Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation (Jewish outdoor museum). No talking, no pictures but impactful. 

If you love art…Rodin Museum and sculpture garden (The Thinker and Gates of Hell are here) The outdoor garden was enough for me; inside was a little boring. Musee de l’Orangerie—Monet’s water lillies. This place was designed to house the paintings so it’s pretty interesting but the Monets are the only thing really to see here.

Munich Winners

Lunch or dinner at Hofbrau Haus. Order beer…I’d also suggest getting a raddler (1/2 beer 1/2 lemonade). This place is packed and in Germany, you can share tables with other folks. Don’t be shy…ask to share.  Order a typical german meal too—sausages and large pretzel with mustard.

Tipping is not expected in Germany. However! in large cities, like Munich, the wait staff is used to being tipped by Americans. They are VERY RUDE if you do not tip.  so, leave 10% extra (in coin) with your bill. 

Watch surfers on the Isar River

Munich Residence is right in the middle of the city and gives a good overview of kings/queens and nice palace. 

Watch the glockenspiel on Marienplatz. 

At the main train station there are several info booths outside on the street with info about tours, etc.  This is the best place to make reservations for time in the city.

A walking tour of top Nazi sights and Rise of the 3rd Reich is well worth the time.  Hitler began his campaign in the city.

Outside of city: Eagle’s Nest and Berchtesgarten—this would be a car drive/bus tour but totally fits with the Nazi movement in Germany. 

Neuschwanstein Castle—there are bus tours from Munich. It’s a lovely castle and great tour. Don’t miss Queen Mary’s Bridge–a terrifying suspension bridge that has the best vantage point of the castle. Short walk from the castle.

Venice Highlights

Train drops you right at the tip of the island. Very walkable and Very busy. If you’re staying in Venice, you can hire a caddy to take your suitcases to your hotel. Walking it is also appropriate. Soon after arriving, take a canal boat ride. Rick Steves’ guidebook has an excellent commentary for what you’ll see.

St Marks’ Basilica and Square–the place to see and be seen. Feed the pigeons on the square–great photo op. Stop in the basilica–it has a decidedly byzantine feel and is majical.

Doge’s Palace is spectacular. My favorite: the mouth of truth where you could tattle on a neighbor to the government. Go down to the jail and be sure to catch the Bridge of Sighs from the window.

St Mark’s Square Campanile (bell tower) We took the elevator up to the top. Great views.

We have never paid to do a gondola ride but I think it would be romantic. They say that later in the day the prices go down because cruise ship tourists are leaving…I haven’t seen this to be true.

We didn’t think going to Murano was worth it (the glass blowing island). 

Peggy Guggenheim’s museum and home is small but fabulous.

Walk the streets and do some window shopping. Leather, Carnivale masks and Pinocchios are aplenty.

Of course, eat lunch and dinner next to a canal. Sunsets here can be gorgeous and the city starts to empty out when the cruise ships leave.

Rome Highlights

A walkable city–but it’s HUGE. The metro system isn’t as extensive as I’d wish but a good daily plan can help curb the number of miles you put on.

GELATO!! my rule:one in the morning (fruit flavored) and one in the evening  (chocolate or extra decadent flavor). One scoop should run about 1.50 euro

Carry water with you at all times. Lots of fountains throughout the city so you can fill up water bottles of delicious cold water.

Pasta galore! Everything in Rome tastes good. However, there is something such as too much pasta.  Near the main train station there are good gyro restaurants and take away food. We didn’t really see this anywhere else in the city.

Colosseum and Roman Forum—allow 4 hours to tour both (longer if you love ruins) We were approached by a tour guide in front of the colosseum and away we went. We paid for entry to both with a guide. You can go into colosseum without a guide and read the posted boards but I think a tour guide is much better. The Forum is probably my favorite place in all of Rome. With your imagination, everything comes to life.

Pantheon—of course, tour inside. But, it’s the outside area surrounding it that captivates. We’ve had dinner in this area several times…great to get an outside seat, have drinks and leisurely meal. Consider ordering aperol spritz (classic European summer drink). Table wine is cheap and good. 

Trevi Fountain—it can be in stages of repair; photos are still beautiful with scaffolding. Believe it or not, my favorite photos were taken at 11:30pm…the fountain is illuminated and there are way fewer people. During normal business hours, buy a gelato near the fountain and enjoy the crowd and view. 

Spanish Steps—I thought this was overrated but since it will be part of your normal walking route, go ahead and walk them. 

You’ll be overwhelmed by the number of churches. I’d read Rick Steves guidebook and decide what you want to see.  Toward the end of our trip, I’d go in and Tim would sit outside with a gelato.

Vatican tours….they range in costs.  From 19 euro to 55 euro/person.  Pay the extra money for reserved spaces for the tours but you don’t need to go big dollars for a private tour. We reserved Rick Steves tour. It met in front of a restaurant near Vatican museum and our guide was fabulous. Going through the museum can be a bit boring…so much art that isn’t well known. But getting into Sistine Chapel is wonderful.  There is a cafe in Vatican tour and you can sit with a coffee and snack and enjoy the grounds.  If you’re lucky, your guide may be able to get you to see the Vatican garage. (open rarely)

St Peter’s Square…I’d avoid  outdoor mass if at all possible (unless you want to possibly hear the pope. TONS of people and it’s packed.) Barricades stay up most days but you can still get decent pictures from many angles. If you pay for a tour, then you’ll finish up in the cathedral. It’s worth it to download Rick Steves audio tour (or have the guidebook) and stay longer in cathedral to explore. With a tour guide, you can get into cathedral pretty quickly; otherwise, you’ll line up for security and wait your turn.

Outside the city: Tivoli (Villa d’Este) and Catacombs. This will take a full day of touring and travel (by city bus) but we LOVED it. Walked in the steps of Peter and Paul and imagined what it would be like to be Hadrian–king of the world– with one of the best country homes in the world.

If you’re looking for more tips on what to see and do in Europe, check out this page: Travel