Planning the perfect itinerary
How to spend your time in Europe, whether it's a week in Italy, a two-week Grand Tour of Europe, or just a few days in Paris or Rome
These itineraries aren't perfect. Oh, I know, I just said that they were—look at the title of this page. These are simply ways to squeeze as much as possible into the limited time you have in Europe. So far, we're going well on Italy, with a good start in Paris. I'll post more soon.
Tips for Planning Your Itinerary
Do not book more hotel than you need. A two- or three-star hotel (or B&B) is perfectly fine; you don't need four or five stars. Besides: beach resorts excepted, did you really go all that way to hang around the fancy hotel, or are you there to see the sights and have fun, with the hotel merely being a place to sleep in between?
Do not rent more car than you need—say booking a rental car for two weeks in Italy when you really only need it for the three days of exploring Tuscan hilltowns and vineyards (and get a compact, not a mid-sized). Also, except for Los Angeles, you do not want (or need) a car in any major city, where driving is chaotic, parking is pricey and difficult to find, and public transportation is usually great.
Be ambitious, but know your limits. Do not try to cram a month-long trip into 10 days. Relax. Have fun. You're on vacation, after all.
Delete duplicates. Every sight in Europe is unique and worth seeing in its own right. But let's get real. After you see a few Greek temples, they all start looking the same. Unless you're an academic or have unlimited time, start getting selective. When it comes to fancy French palaces near Paris, see Versailles or Fontainebleau, but not both. In the Alps, the Jungfrau sounds good, but so does the Schilthorn. Pick one, enjoy the heck out of it, and move on.
Stay centered. Especially on a first trip, you may want to leave out some of the geographically peripheral areas—Spain and Portugal, Scandinavia, Greece, most of Eastern Europe—because they take so long to get to (though with no-frills airlines, this is less of a concern these days). Use your limited time seeing as much of Europe as you can, rather than traveling days to get to its remotest corners.
Sidetrip selectively. Day trips add variety, and I highly recommend them. But if you only have one day in Florence, don't try to fit in Pisa—you'll end up seeing neither. Pick your excursions wisely, and don't let them take away time from the main city you're visiting. Budget a full day to see any destination that's more than a city bus ride away.
Split up. Are you planning six days in London because everyone in the family wants to see different things? Don't tour Europe as Siamese triplets. You can spend another few hours in the British Museum while your spouse visits Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and your teenager heads back to drool over the arms and armor at the Tower of London. What would take the whole clan a day and a half to see has just been conveniently reduced to a single afternoon.
You shall return. Assume you'll be coming back. No matter how much you pack in, there will still be a lot left to see. Europe will wait.