Planning a Europe trip can be overwhelming. There’s so much history, culture and beautiful sights packed in one continent—but you only have so much time! How do you decide which places to visit?
There’s also the question of how to link these places together, especially if you’re planning to venture outside big cities. And then there’s that little budget problem—dammit, why does Europe have to be so expensive?
Don’t worry. Using a sample itinerary from my recent Europe trip, I hope I can help you make some decisions and sort a few things out.
Where to Go in Europe?
For first-timers, you can start by plotting your routes around iconic cities like London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Barcelona and Athens. When I first visited Europe two years ago, I focused entirely on France, Switzerland and Italy. The next year, I did an excursion around the classic sights of Greece.
It only gets more daunting from there. Once you’ve checked the basics from your bucket list, the possibilities are now endless. Should you head to the Scandinavia? Or move slightly eastwards to Central Europe? What about all those beautiful small towns you didn’t know exist?
This itinerary focuses more on such “intermediate” European sights. I will rate each city between 1-3 hearts (the more hearts the more I love them), share a few key highlights, and how I move between the cities.
I started the adventure from Oslo (♥)—exploring the supposedly haunted Akershus Fortress, the bizarre Vigeland Park and many postmodern buildings around the city.
The next morning, I took a scenic train ride to Bergen (♥♥, via NSB) to see the picturesque Hanseatic Wharf. I also tried a whale burger from Fisketorget—whale meat is tough, but tasty!
I cruised through the beautiful Nærøyfjord towards this small village called Flåm (♥♥♥, via Bus 162 to Gudvangen before taking the Visit Flåm ferry). The view from Flåm Marina & Apartment and hiking points of Fretheim Cultural Park are particularly stunning.
I took the spectacular Flåmsbana railway (via NSB) with a stopover at the frozen Kjosfossen waterfall.
My NSB train continued all the way to Trondheim (♥♥). The entire town is just sooo pretty, but the best viewpoints are from the Old Town Bridge (Gamle Bybro) and Kristiansten Fortress.
And after a long day of train, ferry and hiking, I finally reached Reine (♥♥♥, via NSB train to Bodø and Torghatten Nord ferry to Moskenes), which I so desperately wanted to visit and was my laptop’s wallpaper. The view didn’t disappoint.
It was a cloudy day and I wasn’t expecting to see Northern Lights anymore. But I thought, “Never mind, I’ll go out and practice how to do dark-night photography.” To my surprise, the cloud began to clear up and after two-hour hike to Hamnøy (♥♥♥), I saw the aurora!
The entire Lofoten Islands is just amazing. From Reine, I took 177 Nordland bus to the fishing villages of Å (♥♥) and Svolvær (♥♥♥). The bus ride took three hours, but the journey is full of mind-blowing scenery. Svolvær is dope, especially the view when you walk through the bridge towards Svinøya:
And then I officially crossed the Arctic Circle during my panoramic Hurtigruten cruise to Tromsø (♥). Unfortunately, my aurora luck wasn’t with me on my second night, but I enjoyed my visit to a husky dog farm with Sami camps.
On last-minute plan, I decided to take a 6am bus to Narvik (♥♥, via Troms flykestrafikk) instead of the 10am one. Man, that was a GOOD decision! Narvik’s mini-Switzerland charm is definitely worth more than just a short stopover.
Hello, Stockholm (♥♥, via SJ)! I was really happy to see colors after nine days of snow mountains. Stockholm is HUGEEE, and if you have only 1 day, I suggest to focus your energy on Riddarholmen, Gamla Stan, and Montelliusvägen.
I woke up the next day in Copenhagen (♥♥, via SJ), ready to explore the magnificent bronze-colored architectures and especially boating along the Nyhavn waterfront!
Finally leaving the expensive Scandinavia, Bremen (♥♥♥, via Eurolines) totally won me over. I LOVE sitting down doing nothing at the Town Hall area, just listening to street musicians. The small streets of Schnoor and Böttcherstraße are really charming too.
…before continuing to Zaanse Schans countryside (♥♥♥, via Bus 391). Zaanse Schans turns out to be way more than just ‘the obligatory windmills visit’—walking along the green and yellow fields that stretch into the horizon is a really enchanting experience. Don’t miss out the tasty cheese sampling at Cheese Farm Catharina Hoeve!
Finally, Amsterdam (♥♥) itself is a really unique place: the ubiquitous smell of cocaine permeating the air, a church(!) right in the middle of Red Light District, and what-nots. Its museums are really one-of-a-kind too—Anne Frank House is moving and Red Light Secrets is… ahem, very informative.
Würzburg (♥♥, via DB Bahn) marked the start of my Germany’s Romantic Road excursion. At first, it looked just like another big European city. But once I climbed up to Marienberg Fortress and saw dozens of spires piercing into the sky, I was like… WHOAA, this place is amazeballs!
The medieval walled town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (♥♥♥, via DB Bahn) is the fairytalest place ever. You can find Christmas museum, teddy bear shops, German dolls kiosks, etc. And not to mention the sweetest, most sinful bakery bite to ever exist in the form of Schneeballen. Even the houses look like chocolate pieces waiting for you to pluck and pop into your mouth.
The excursion continued with a stop at Füssen (♥, via DB Bahn) and finally, Hohenschwangau (♥♥, via Bus 73, 78 or 9606). This is where the famous Sleeping Beauty castle of Neuschwanstein is in. Once done with the castle, I walked around the Alpsee lake to appreciate this lovely sight of two castles from the distance.
Munich (♥, via DB Bahn) is my last German stop. Munich is basically lots of churches, Hitler history, and a drop-dead gorgeous bird’s eye view of the city from St. Peter’s Church.
After arriving in Prague at night (via Eurolines), I took a day trip to Český Krumlov (♥, via Leo Express) the next day. The best viewpoint is from the State Castle, but other than that, the best way to experience this small town is to circle around the small alleys.
Prague (♥♥) is a really colorful place and there are lots to see: Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, Dancing House. And the food, oh my, the food… don’t forget to try svíčková, goulash, and trdelník!
I took a night train to Budapest (♥♥♥, via České dráhy) and woke up to what eventually became my favorite European capital city, ever. There’s just something so unbelievably romantic about walking along the Danube River—with the Hungarian Parliament Building on one side of the river and Buda Castle on the other—especially when the sunset bathes the city with an orange glow.
On the flip side, Bratislava (♥, via Student Agency) was the trip’s biggest let-down. It doesn’t have much to offer other than the Blue Church and Bratislava Castle (which wasn’t open for public the day I visit).
And then I went to Vienna (♥♥♥, via Student Agency), which is my favorite place to take a lazy afternoon stroll. The city just has that magic spell to slow you down and just enjoy being in the moment. I can’t even pick a highlight: its many baroque architectures and extremely-manicured gardens are absolute chef-d’œuvre. I also had great time watching Mozart & Strauss nine-piece orchestra with ballet and opera singing.
I visited the small alps town of Hallstatt (♥, via ÖBB) the next day, which you can easily walk through in just 1-1.5 hours. Bad weather and road construction kinda marred the experience a little, but it’s still quite pretty.
The next stop, Salzburg (♥♥, via ÖBB) probably surprised me most. It was merely a jump-off point to help me connect Austria with Italy, but its understated beauty grew on me fast once I woke up to the beautiful view from my hostel in Stadtalm Naturfreunderhaus. And then there’s the whole Mozart and Sound of Music history going on here that simply evokes the idyllic feeling within you.
As soon as my train entered the Italy region, I’m reminded of just how much I LOVE this country. The train finally stopped at Verona (♥♥, via ÖBB), beautiful like most small Italian towns but a little too overcrowded with tourists who are lulled by the romanticism of Juliet’s Window. Too bad I had to rush through Verona in just 3 hours, seeing that Verona is one of those towns best enjoyed when you’re just strolling lazily.
I reached Florence (via Flixbus) that night and then took a day trip to Cinque Terre (♥♥♥, via Trenitalia) the next day. I visited all 5 towns of Cinque Terre + Levanto. Manarola and Vernazza are particularly my favorites. If Santorini decided to be colorful, it’d look just like Cinque Terre.
Florence (♥♥) is literally an open-air museum. So many highlights here: Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza della Signoria, Pizzale degli Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo. Also, the pizza in this restaurant called Mostodolce is heavenly!
And then I went to the Eternal City, Rome (♥♥♥, via Megabus). It’s actually my second time in Rome, but it’s even better than I remembered! I loved walking through the ruins, sitting in Piazza Navona just observing people going on their daily lives, and I finally get to see Trevi Fountain (which was in renovation during my last visit)!
Rome was supposed to be my final city, but on last-minute stroke of madness, I booked a Naples + Pompeii tour with City Tour Only. Naples (♥) is surprisingly quite pretty, especially its coastline and castles.
The ruins of Pompeii (♥) is fascinating and best enjoyed if you have a guide to tell you the stories. The earthquake, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius—all so sudden that the civilians didn’t get a chance to escape and were forever preserved in this city under layers of ashes and lava. You can really imagine how life was here as you walked through the squares, streets and residential homes—they even had public sauna and its own Red Light District (yes I’m serious!)
On my final day, I went to the Vatican City (♥, via Rome metro). I’ve visited St. Peter’s Basilica before, so this time I went to the Vatican Museums. Sistine Chapel is undeniably the highlight, but I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the entire galleries.
Here’s the full list of all cities/towns I visited:
- Norway: Oslo, Bergen, Gudvangen, Flåm, Trondheim, Bodø, Reine, Hamnøy, Å, Svolvær, Tromsø, Narvik
- Sweden: Stockholm
- Denmark: Copenhagen
- Germany: Bremen, Würzburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Füssen, Hohenschwangau, Munich
- Netherlands: Amsterdam, Zaandam, Zaanse Schans, Zaandijk
- Czech Republic: Prague, Český Krumlov
- Hungary: Budapest
- Slovakia: Bratislava
- Austria: Vienna, Hallstatt, Salzburg
- Italy: Verona, Florence, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare, Levanto, Rome, Naples, Pompeii
- Vatican City
Where I Stayed
- Oslo: Sentrum Hostel – SGD37.44/night
- Bergen: Marken Guesthouse – SGD41/night
- Flåm: Flam Hostel – SGD41.76/night
- Trondheim: Trondheim Vandrerhjem – SGD48/night
- Reine: Reine Rorbuer – SGD203.2/night
- Tromsø: Tromsø Bed & Books – SGD47.2/night
- Bremen: Townside Hostel – SGD28.72/night
- Amsterdam: WOW Amsterdam – SGD37.92/night
- Würzburg: Babelfish Hostel – SGD30.53/night
- Füssen: Maurushaus – SGD41.87/night
- Munich: Jaeger’s Munich – SGD22.12/night
- Prague: Hostel Lipa – SGD11.59/night
- Budapest: White Rabbit Hostel – SGD9.48/night
- Vienna: Do Step Inn – SGD24.46/night
- Salzburg: Stadtalm Naturfreunderhaus – SGD33.97/night
- Florence: Ciao Hostel – SGD41.87/night
- Rome: Guesthouse Stradivari – SGD32.99/night
Some people have asked me whether is it exhausting to do so many places in just 1 month?
I suppose it’s not for everyone. But if you’re not so much of a “relaxing” person and more of a “sightseeing” person like me, it’s actually quite manageable. Even on a big city like Rome, you can finish all the main attractions within one full day. On foot.
The only times I ever felt the time’s too short were in Verona and Naples (both 3 hours). Verona wasn’t on my bucket list and just happened to be a stop-over city to connect my transport to Florence. Naples was a lunch stopover under a guided tour to Pompeii.
I could probably do with an extra day in Prague to visit some interesting museums (though I’ve already covered all the main sights on the first day). But for the other cities, I’ve covered MORE than what I originally wanted to see and do.
That being said, if you enjoy a more relaxing pace and explore a city like a local, by all means trim down the list and focus on a few cities. It’s your own trip, after all. =)
Some people also wonder whether is there too much time wasted commuting on the road?
I normally spent about 3 hours on the road everyday. These were mostly evening or late afternoon rides, which I personally think are just nice. After spending let’s say 8-10 hours exploring a city, these 3 hours were perfect for winding down, getting in touch with families and friends online, and some me-time.
I also took early morning rides and spent the time resting on train/bus before starting a new city at 9-10 am, so not much time was lost there.
When the commuting hours took longer, especially in Scandinavian countries where places are far apart, I did them on midnight. When I woke up, I’ve already reached my destination.
Okay. So what about the budget? How do I kept it within S$4.8K / €3K?
I wrote a comprehensive post detailing How to Travel Europe on a Budget (including Scandinavia) here.
Budget travel in Europe is not that difficult. In fact, I could’ve cut it down to just S$4.6K had I (1) not miss my Bremen-Amsterdam bus and re-book a last-minute train at 8x the bus price; and (2) did Naples & Pompeii on my own instead of lazily booking a tour.
I was also banking too much hope to catch aurora in Tromsø. Tromsø is the “touristy” way of doing it, but really, aurora spotting depends on luck and there are other good places too. Had I skip Tromsø and rely instead on Bodø, Reine, Svolvær, and/or Narvik (all places I visited and all within the aurora zone), I could’ve pushed the cost even further down to S$4.3K / €2.8K. True enough, the aurora appeared in Reine but not in Tromsø.
Also, your choice of countries matter. A lot.
Scandinavian countries are easily the most expensive European countries. For instance, my 9 days in Norway cost me almost as much as my 21 days everywhere else. So if you’re tight on a budget, you may want to put aside Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark for now.
On the other hand, the Eastern Europe and Balkan region are very affordable. My 5 days in Hungary and Czech Republic cost me only SGD 190.89—that’s Southeast Asia cheap!
In general, the further West and the further North you go, the more expensive your trip will likely be.
Hope you find this useful. I’ll be sharing more tips in my next updates (e.g. how to do aurora hunting, where to find the Sound of Music sites, etc) so if you haven’t followed Scarlet Scribbles’ Facebook page yet, now is the right time so that you don’t miss out on exciting updates.
Any questions or tips to share? You can use the comment box below.