My wife and I are trying to plan a trip to Europe while I am in FL for work during the end of June. Going to fly directly somewhere(probably from MIA). We would like to hit London, Paris, Amsterdamn, Spain. We are not sure how to do this trip, start X and end in Y. We are up for any suggestions, taking trains etc.... Would love to use points the whole way. I know there is the "Travel Destination Experiences to use for excursion as well for tours. Anything will help, can't wait to hear answers! We don't have to do the places I mentioned above those are just thoughts. Spain, Paris, and London are top thoughts.
If you are interested in train travel, I highly recommend: The Man in Seat Sixty-One - the train travel guide...
Lots of info on routes, how to buy tickets, etc... This April, we are flying to Brussels and then will take the train to Cologne, Vienna, and then Budapest where we will catch a return flight.
If you are going to do something like that you may want to search for open jaw flights at Matrix - ITA Software by Google. Here is a "how to" blog post: http://maphappy.org/2014/05/how-to-book-cheap-open-jaw-tickets/
If those are the cities you want, I would do London - Paris - Barcelona (or the reverse).
From the site I mentioned: How to travel by train from London to Spain: Madrid, Barcelona, Seville...
I have not stayed in London yet, so definitely give others advice more weight. But, the Eurostar train to Paris leaves from St. Pancras station and I would love to stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance so I would at least stay there one night. It appears to be a bit away from most of the "sights" in London though, so you may want to split the stay between it and the London Marriott County Hall.
When I visited Paris, I stayed at a friend's apartment. So, once again, I have no first hand experience. In fact, (unlike London) I haven't even done much research on Paris properties, so I don't think I'll even try to recommend one here.
In Barcelona, I stayed at the AC Hotel Sants. I picked it because it's very cheap and also very convenient to the train station and I planned to take train to do all my sightseeing. Downside to this in June is that the local metro trains & stations are not (or weren't when I was there at least) air-conditioned and were very hot. Also, AC Hotels are pretty basic with no lounge or anything (though they did give me a nice corner room. But, if I had the points (or cash) I'd love to do the Hotel Arts Barcelona (which is a Ritz-Carlton).
A few suggestions.
The Rive Gauche Marriott is an excellent value. Contact Valerie in guest relations and she is always very helpful.
It's a good location for Metro.
The Amsterdam Marriott is one of the best hotels I have stayed in, anywhere. If you are gold or above, the Concierge Lounge has the best dinners I have had in any lounge in the Marriott chain.
For booking train travel in Europe, it is convenient and a good value to use Rail Europe.
So if you are departing the US from MIA here's my suggestion.
MIA -> LHR (London). Spend some time in central London (County Hall, JW Grosvener House, others are well reviewed here) I know AA flies direct on that route with a 777. Other airlines do as well with various equipment. There are plenty of central London properties that will have you near all the main "touristy" spots and great food. Mind you those areas are not necessarily listed on "the cheap way to see London" list but you can certainly do your homework and find quality spots that fit any budget.
If Amsterdam is high enough on the agenda, I'd fly from LHR -> AMS. You can find plenty of cheap flights on BA or KLM or perhaps fly out of other London airports. RyanAir, which if you follow all the rules...and there's many... can save you a ton on flights but also can nickle and dime the heck out of you. I've done the AMS flight on BA a number of times, easy and you can catch a train into city center. Plenty of reviews on here for hotel recommendations but I'll toss out the Ren. downtown. Very easy to get to, TONS of things within an easy walk for any tastes.
From there you can look at a cheap KLM flight to CDG or Spain. I'd suggest looking at the high speed train back to Paris (Gare du Nord station) which will put you downtown. Tons of great hotels in that area, you can easily get around without a car via public transport or walking. Also right in the heart of "touristy" spots. You can also, if you wanted, stop in Brussels along the way from Amsterdam to Paris on the train. You can see the city center pretty easily and get a good taste of the city if you have 8hrs "layover" between trains. Just a thought to maximize your visit.
Look at the train to your destination in Spain from Paris. Plenty of options, alternatively CDG flying Air France or Iberia perhaps will get you some flights to various main cities in Spain. CDG however is a little haul from city center, depending on where you are going the train could work out the better time option if you can get a high speed direct (express) route.
You can find all types of routes back to the US from larger Spanish cities. Depending on time you could sneak over to Portugal. Lisbon is a great city and equally easy to get back to the US from.
Other alternatives for the route if you get to Amsterdam. You could look to dip down through Germany, Cologne has some pretty cool stuff to see if you are into historic sites. Roman stuff, the Cologne Cathedral are all right near the train station. You can also sample other parts of the city/culture, plenty of shopping etc. Dusseldorf is another option to consider perhaps if Germany was a thought.
Hope this helps, I'd look at the map and look at how many days you will have. Figure you need a minimum of 2 days in feature cities plus travel day(s). One of my best friends did a similar trip where they spent a day in London on a 10hr layover, then down to Malaga Spain for 3 days, then flew up to Barcelona for 2 days then 3 days in Rome the back to the US. They had a blast but found for them, the 3 days was really a good "taster" time but found themselves making lists for future trips. So if you are looking to really experience more than a few things in each city you'll want to allow more time away or cut back on destinations. Guess it's really more what you want from the trip. The beauty of Europe is that every major city is a half day travel or less by plane. The ones you've listed generally are pretty accessible and suspect you could time your journey such that you are traveling by train at night, thus maximizing your visit time
Hope this helps, I'm sure some others will chime in here too.
Other things to consider: Cell phone access/use while abroad, tons of options make sure you know what fees you are going to have if you use your US cell abroad. Access to money via ATM/Banks, perhaps without fees from your bank's partners. Having some local cash before leaving, makes it infinitely easier to get around. You will find places that your credit cards won't work for things so having 50-100 in local currency helps tons.
What are your interests? Medieval towns and castles, modern cities, beaches, white towns, historic sites, eating/watching the world go by, etc? What do you like?
How many days on the ground do you have, not including arrival and departure days?
Willing to rent a car?
Have any more specifics you can share?
We want to sight see, and have fun! We are used to doing only beach and water vacations! Wanted to see the world!! We have done all of Mexico, Grand Cayman, Aruba, St Thomas, BVI's, wanted to see Europe!
I think everything you said above actually sounds up our alley, a little bit of everything!!
Financially I would like to spend 3 days in each place I think, (not including traveling).
Yes, willing to rent a car. Just want to spend some time with the wife and have an amazing trip to remember!!
If you are planning to visit areas or want to see places beyond a city's public transportation zones then renting a car is a great option. There are so many wonderful places you can get to and explore or just sights along the motorways that you'd not experience otherwise.
Having rented a bunch of cars I can offer these bits of wisdom from my experiences.
1 - Check the pricing for your rental carefully. Many companies in the US offer cars abroad. Most though don't allow for free day use or earning or even status matching. Hertz does if you happen to have points with them. Also you can often find deals by booking on the country site instead of the US site.
2 - Take the insurance. Not sure if you rent cars in the US or rely on your personal insurance but the companies in the UK and Europe seem to be more particular in finding "damage" when a foreign renter is involved. Car parks are much tighter than the US as well, so a greater chance of bumper issues.
3 - Remember that they rent all kinds of cars abroad different than the US. Most every car in the US is an automatic gasoline car. Abroad there are manual transmissions and diesel. The diesel technology in the UK/EU is amazingly better than the US, like on the order of 40-60mpg. Fuel pricing is a good bit more too, so the better economy of a diesel can be great. Just make sure you fill it up correctly. I had a coworker put gas in a diesel and the bill was quite a shocker.
4 - This one actually is just a generally good idea. Get a credit card that has a chip/pin setup. Many US travel cards now have them but what you'll find is that many self service machines only allow the chip/pin transactions. If you have a traditional swipe style you'll often need to visit the full service counter, which often have longer queues.
5 - Again one tip that could play relevant beyond the car. Have a very good GPS device and map/nav system. Cell phones generally are the most used these days but they do utilize cellular/data services to provide the GPS capability. If you are bringing your phone from the US, make sure you know the data costs if your app uses data for navigation/gps. Some of the coolest places aren't on the tourist maps so having a device that you can use while walking around or diving is great. Also helps sometimes in the cities while walking, many of the buildings can look similar and road signs less obvious or similarly named.
6 - Map out your route to include where you plan to park. Many places have their own parking but almost as many, particularly in towns/cities don't. That said, the parking options can be quite expensive or limited on hours. So make sure you plan that part out as well so you aren't messing around trying to find a place to park. In the larger cities you can actually book parking online in advance at some of the lots. We do that a lot when we go into London from the countryside, then just bounce around on the public transport while there. If you do take a car into London during the weekdays, they have a congestion fee. Not sure if other cities do but worth checking into. If for some reason you were to drive through Switzerland make sure your rental has a Swiss tax sticker. That was a 40CHF surprise at the boarder once.
re: #4 & 5...
4)Make sure you know the difference between true "Chip & PIN" & the "Chip & Signature" cards found in the US. I have both because my Chip & Signature card has no Foreign Transaction Fees so I prefer it, but there are some unmanned kiosks that refuse to take a non-PIN card. Then I'm stuck using the Chip & PIN card even though it costs 1%. It's better than being stranded somewhere though.
5)Not all phone based GPS apps use data, though a lot of the offline apps are not free. Given that I travel a fair amount and never know where I'm going I just bought the Sygic World app for my iPhone for about $80. Looks like they are having quite a nice sale at the moment though (shows 40Euro to me, so I'm not sure what they are charging in $). You can buy smaller regions for less money if you don't think you'll need others. Another competitor to check out would be Co-Pilot. The good thing about these phone based apps is that the maps are updated frequently and if you break your phone you just download the app on the new one (assuming you stick with the same OS.) One caveat: You download maps by country, so make sure you have all the ones you will need prior to leaving on your trip. I spent two hours sitting at the Spanish border waiting on the map to download over free mall wi-fi because I had forgotten that I had wiped my phone and not reinstalled the Spanish map yet.
This is great advice by zukracer. You definitely need a credit card with a chip (I now have three!) because toll boths on autoroutes will otherwise not read your card and many are not manned. Even though much of your insurance may be covered by your credit card, I agree that it makes sense to buy their insurance. If you get into a situation -- especially if you don't speak the language -- it could make all the difference. Remember when getting a car that many of the back roads (for example the route des Grands Crus in Burgundy) are not even wide enough for two cars and one has to pull off into the gully, forest or whatever to let the other buy. Go small! Also, the cost of oil was exorbitant (usually 3 x 4 times what it is in the US) every time I rented a car, which is another reason to go small. Also, in France at least, they have spot flashers that detect going over the speed limit that record your license plate. Even if it's a rental car you might get a bill six months later.
Hi mikeybernstein. You don't say how long you will be in London, so I will give you some suggestions/musts in some sort of order of importance. I won’t include hundreds of links to websites, as information on all these things is readily available on the internet, and the concierges in Marriott London hotels are always great in my experience.
Firstly, I ALWAYS suggest that anyone new to a city gets on a tour bus as soon as they possibly can. That way you see many of the major sights, get orientated, and can make a note of places you would like to return to. There are lots of tour buses in London.
The Tower of London. Incredibly interesting and a tourist mecca.
The London Eye (on a clear day) for terrific views all over London.
Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard. Get there early, there are always crowds.
If you like Museums, there are plenty of excellent choices. The Victoria & Albert, Churchill War Rooms and the British Museum are my favourites, but there are many many more.
Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery.
The Houses of Parliament & Westminster Abbey (next door to each other).
If you have time, a boat trip from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. In Greenwich the Cutty Sark is amazing, and the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory are excellent.
Chill out in any of the London Parks. St James Park is my first choice, but there are plenty of others. London has a lot of green space.
The above are only a “taster” selection. London keeps on giving, and other MRIs will disagree with some of my choices, and give other equally excellent selections. But if you have a particular interest (art, history etc) please let me know and I will give you specific suggestions to suit your preferences.
It is no secret that my favourite Marriott Hotel is West India Quay in Docklands. But if you have never been to London before, you would probably prefer to be more central. I know that other MRIs love County Hall, which is in an ideal location next to the London Eye, and just over the bridge from Westminster. The St Pancras Renaissance is awesome, but expensive. Although it is not as well placed for the major sights as some others, it is right on top of the underground, so transport is easy.
London is a shoppers paradise! Obviously Harrods is a must if you have never been before, but it gets crowded. The food hall and the Egyptian escalator have to be seen to be believed.
Bond Street is wonderful for window shopping in very, very expensive shops.
Oxford Street and Regent Street are justifiably famous shopping streets. Liberty in Regent Street is a must for the wonderful building. The inside is like a ship, and was built from old ship’s timbers.
Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly is also worth a visit.
For a food market with buzz, go to Borough Market in Southwark. Lovely for a walk around. Then go in the Market Porter pub on the edge of the market and have a pint of real British ale!
This is where it gets very much a question of personal taste. When we are in London, we love to eat at some upmarket places. Our particular favourites are Roux @ Parliament Square, booking required, and Le Gavroche, expensive and getting a table is a feat in itself. Booking is 3 months in advance, and then the tables go in minutes. BUT, who know, a concierge may be able to pull a few strings.
Basically, you would never go hungry in London. There are many wonderful restaurants and excellent pubs doing good food (Sanctuary House near Westminster Abbey is consistently good). Also, Borough Market has a lot of vendors of “street food” all of which is excellent.
So again, if you let me know your food preferences and price range, and could be more specific.
I hope all this helps, and please let me (and other MRIs of course) know when your plans are more formalised and I will do my best to help you further. London is a wonderful city, and I would be happy to try to help you make the best of your stay there.
I would stay at the Marriott Champs-Elysees in Paris. It is elegant, centrally located and I think you will have the best chance of getting a decent sized room (for Paris) compared to other Marriotts in the city (rooms at the Ren Vendome, Ren Trocadero and in my experience, the Rive Gauche are notoriously small. Not sure about the Ren Arc de Triomphe - though jerrycoin would endorse it (which says a lot) or the new Marriott at Opera. The Ren La Defense is a great hotel, but not centrally located). The Marriott Champs-Elysees does not have a CL, but you will be entitled to a nice continental breakfast in the restaurant each day, or for an 8€ upcharge, a full, hot breakfast. It is a memorable hotel and a great use of points.
For your Eurostar voyage between Paris and London, if you book online in advance, you'll get a better rate. In fact, booking in advance will benefit all of your train travel. Book directly here for the best rates: NEW! Tickets to Europe up for sale now. Book your Spring travel with Voyages-sncf.com. It is cheaper than Rail Europe.
I agree with 7's recommend of checking out the man in seat 61 for rail information. You can train from Paris to Barcelona on the TGV trains with no problem. Enjoy your planning!
mikeybernstein Sounds like an exciting plan for the summer, and you've received numerous comments already. I've traveled throughout UK, Italy, Holland, Belgium, and parts of France and Germany, but can't speak about Spain. However, I believe the mistake most infrequent travelers make - regardless of the country(ies) - is trying to take in too much at one time. Therefore, I'd suggest visiting no more than 1-2 countries at a time, and preferably near each other to minimize travel.
Unless you have some particular interest in Amsterdam, such as museums, I'd skip this town, unless you're having to fly into, or through AMS, to get somewhere else. The Netherlands countryside is much more inviting, and the same is true of Brussels. The old town is lovely, but riding through - or staying - in Brugges, Antwerp, Dinant, etc. - or touring the Ardennes, is more exciting to me. However, I'm not a big city person.
If you've never been to Paris, you could spend a week here, visiting all the typical tourist spots, along with a day trip to Versailles, but the countryside, particularly in Burgundy and the south coast are favorites of many.
Train travel, especially to cover great distances, is the best way to travel, and for the longer trips, I'd suggest purchasing a first class seat(s) on internet in advance. They will issue you an E-ticket, which you can print.
There are low-fare airlines, such as Brussels Air and Ryan Air, but you need to purchase in advance - higher price at airport - and changes are EXPENSIVE. Also, generally, these airlines, except Brussels Air, fly into smaller airports, such as Eindhoven (Netherlands) and Charleroi (Belgium).
In summary, my suggestion is plan several trips, focusing on a particular country, city(ies) to enjoy the trip better, rather than living out of your suitcase every day.
I agree with fschumpert about Amsterdam vs. Belgium. Amsterdam is one of my least favorite cities in Europe, but that's just my opinion. But there is so much that is beautiful in Belgium -- and I would add Ghent (and stay at the Ghent Marriott, which is one of the best in the world). Ditto about train travel. The trains in France are fantastic, and most other countries as well.