The Best Ways to See Europe in Just 10 Days
If there’s one thing that Americans get shafted on (there’s not just one; there are loads), it’s vacation days. A 10-day trip will probably eat up a huge chunk of your annual paid time off -- so how do you make the most of it?
There’s a lot to be said for road tripping the West Coast, pigging out on BBQ in Texas, or blissing out in Hawaii. But when it comes to that big ol’ bucket list of yours, the only country you’ll cross off is the USA. Hence the appeal of burning off a solid week in Europe. Plan a trip well, and an ambitious traveler can hit up a half dozen countries for the price of one plane ticket. You grab a three-day weekend, fold in a work week, scoop out the following weekend and voila, not counting flights, you’ve knocked out a legit 10-day adventure that burns up only five days of your precious time off work.
So the emphasis here is on planning it well -- which is where we come in. We’ve created seven comprehensive itineraries to help you launch a working stiff’s Eurotrip, so you can crash across borders just like your inner dictator has always wanted. While these trips are designed for the light-footed traveler, we’ve allowed enough time to cover the big cultural essentials and sample more than a few local tipples. But hey, everyone operates at their own speed. Should you drop your bag in Italy and never pick it up again, we won’t take it personally.
1. Eurostar City Hopper: UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands
2. Côte d’Azawesome: Spain, Andorra, France, Monaco
3. Eastern Bloc Party: Germany, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria
4. Scandi Rail Trip: Denmark, Sweden, Norway
5. Italian Grand Tour: Italy, Vatican City, San Marino
6. Baltic Boat Trip: Sweden, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Latvia
7. Alps Explorer: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein
The Eurostar City Hopper: High-speed trains to Benelux, plus France and the UK
Days 1-3: London, UK
Flying into London has never been easier or cheaper thanks to new budget routes (think $400, seven hours from NYC). You’ve got a busy few days ahead. Find real-life London in hipster hangouts like Hackney and the pop-up shipping container mall in Shoreditch, and dig into great food at restaurants locals love. But don’t stifle your tourist leanings. Devote at least half a day to the Tower of London, and take your pick from world-leading, gloriously free museums.
Days 4-5: Paris, France
The super-speed Eurostar train will deliver you to the City of Light in just over two hours (from $56). Post up in the Marais for easy access to boutique shopping, or Canal Saint Martin for waterside strolls, or South Pigalle if you think you’re trendy enough. You kinda must see the must-sees, but there are less-trodden alternatives too -- get your stained glass fix at Sainte Chapelle, or just stop for some thinking time at Musée Rodin.
Day 6: Brussels, Belgium
It’s an hour and a half on the express Thalys train to Brussels (from $25), right across WWI battlefields. Here you’ll find not just the admin capital of Europe, but a multicultural metropolis with deep medieval roots. Market squares don’t come more ornate than the (extremely) Grand-Place, and be sure to check out the city’s unofficial and totally shameless mascot, Manneken Pis. Snack on moules frites (with a dollop of mayo for dipping) or raw steak tartare. After dark, get down to basement bar Delirium with 2,000 beers on offer.
Day 7: Day trip to Bruges, Belgium or Luxembourg
You got options. Choose Bruges (70 minutes by train, $20) if fairytale canals are your thing. Alternatively, rise early and head south to Luxembourg (2 hours 45 minutes, from $42) -- it's a whole new country, by the way. Get back to Brussels for bedtime, after another few of those beers.
Days 8-10: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Catch a train to Amsterdam from the Brussels-Midi station (from $25, 2 hours). Find some digs in the bohemian De Pijp neighborhood, then explore the city -- by (rental) bike of course, so you don’t stick out like a sore tourist. Get a glimpse inside the world’s most famous diary at Anne Frank’s House, or head to the Van Gogh Museum for more masterpieces than you can shake an ear at. There’s enough cultural stuff here for a truly memorable few days, but enough canalside weed-houses for a blissfully unmemorable one, too. The Schiphol Airport is a monster hub for flights, so you’ll have no trouble getting home.
The Côte d’Azawesome: Coast-hugging by car, with a detour by bus to the Pyrenees
Days 1-3: Barcelona, Spain
Your first stop promises to be one hell of a party, so sip cava ‘til dawn is a distant memory -- then bed down in Barceloneta for the beach scene, or in hip district Sant Antoni for lazy afternoons between brunch and tapas. If there’s one guy you should get to know while you’re here, it’s the architect Antonio Gaudí. Monuments to his peculiar imagination are on show at Parc Güell, Casa Batlló, and the ludicrously ambitious, must-visit Sagrada Familia. Seriously, it’s the kind of stuff a 10-year-old would dream up after one too many churros.
Day 4: Andorra la Vella, Andorra
Have your breakfast early and catch the bus from Barcelona Nord to the mountain country of Andorra (from $35, 3 hours 15 minutes). The winding route up to the roof of the Pyrenees is a total jaw-dropper. When you arrive in the capital, you’ll find a town of crumbly churches nestled in a deep-cut valley -- as well as a new stamp in your passport. In winter, hit the slopes for the best skiing this side of the Alps.
Day 5: Carcassonne, France
Rent a car from Andorra and drive over the border to Carcassonne (3 hours) -- the inter-country fees are much lower than if you drive from Spain to France. You’ll know you’ve found it the moment you think you’re hallucinating those castle walls on the hilltop. Spend the rest of the day pretending to fire arrows from the battlements.
Day 6: Montpellier, France, with an optional stop in Avignon
The French, as is their habit, nailed the architecture in Montpellier (1 hour 45 minutes away). It has all the elegance and style you’d expect, with honey-stone mansions set on stately boulevards, but there’s an edgy side to it too. Students make up a third of the population, so it’s easy to find budget-friendly meals and a wild night out.
Alternatively, press on to Avignon, just over an hour down the road. The medieval walls are stuffed with history (the Pope quit Rome for a stint here in the 1300s), and then there's the bridge from every French kid's favorite nursery rhyme, "Sur le Pont d'Avignon." By all means have a little dance in honor of the song, but don't try twirling your way across to the other bank -- half of the bridge was washed away.
Days 7-10: The Côte d’Azur, France and Monaco
Choose your own adventure when you hit the French Riviera. For lavender-scented air, head up to the hills near perfume-capital Grasse, or stay down by the sea in Antibes. Day trip to Cannes to ogle sparkling boats in the marina, Saint-Paul-de-Vence for artiness in a hilltop village, or Saint-Tropez if you’ve got a bunch of euros left and can’t find a lighter to burn them with. And don’t forget to pop into Monaco -- it’s technically another country off your list, and you miiiight win big on blackjack. Drop the car at Nice airport. Make a never-before-heard pun (“wow, it really is a nice airport!”), and hurry home before you get less tan.
The Eastern Bloc Party: Ride the rails between cool-kid capitals and opulent palaces. Featuring cheap beer.
Days 1-3: Berlin, Germany
Fly into Berlin, arguably Western Europe’s cheapest cool-kid mecca, then pick a neighborhood to hang out in. Mitte, the city center, drops you close to Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and a bunch of museums -- but you’ll get a better feel for Berlin’s alternative beat if you stay further afield. In Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain, hipsters, warehouse parties, and street art abound.
Day 4: Dresden, Germany
Take the train to Dresden (2 hours, $18). It’s basically Berlin’s little brother, with grit, glamor, and a feisty creative scene wedged into a very walkable center on the banks of the River Elbe. There are also baroque palaces (Zwinger is top dog) and soaring church spires -- many reconstructed, since the city was bombed almost into oblivion during World War II.
Days 5-6: Prague, Czechia
Catch a train to the country formerly known as the Czech Republic (2 hours and 15 minutes, from $20) and wander the maze of cobblestone streets in one of Europe’s most dazzling, history-filled beauties. Despite the hordes of tourists, you can still get a damn cheap (and damn good) beer the further you roam from Old Town Square. Definitely stop by the Museum of Communism, hit the majestic Charles Bridge (at sunrise, ideally), tour Prague Castle, and catch the overnight train to Budapest.
Day 7: Budapest, Hungary
Two things are precious on any trip: time and money. Your overnight train to Budapest (from $85, 8 hours) saves both. There are many sights to see (the palace and the parliament are the Big Two), ruin bars to drink through, and goulashes to eat, but the pro move here is a restorative dip in one of the city’s natural hot spring baths. For a grand old soak, drop into the Gellert Hotel spa, or for the most extensive multi-bath experience, go to the mahoosive Széchenyi on the outskirts of the city center.
Days 8-10: Vienna, Austria, with an optional stop in Bratislava, Slovakia
Go direct to Vienna from Budapest (from $30, 2 hours 40 minutes) if you’re desperate for a Wiener schnitzel. Or leave early and stop for lunch in Bratislava first; you can explore the Old Town and castle in a few hours. In classy, cosmopolitan Vienna, gaze at the Habsburg family’s imperial palaces and lend your ear to a classical concert -- this is the City of Music after all, and a favorite haunt of Mozart, Beethoven, and friends. There are tons of direct routes back to the States out of Vienna.
The Scandi Rail Trip: Trains through some of the coolest stretches of Europe -- and you just know they'll be on time
Day 1-3: Copenhagen, Denmark
Devote three days to the sights of Copenhagen; namely, the satchel-carrying, bizarrely good-looking cyclists pedaling between artisan coffee houses. Visit the royal palaces your parents would want you to see, and the anarchist district of Christiania they’d surely disapprove of. Take a dip in an outdoor swimming pool, or just leap off the harbor-front like the locals (best done in the summer; pneumonia isn’t a great way to start a trip).
Days 4-5: Malmö/Gothenburg, Sweden
Take the train to Gothenburg (from $40, 3 hours 30 minutes) via the 5-mile Oresund Bridge, the longest bridge in Europe. Stop in Malmö on the way for a smorgasbord lunch in the basement vaults of the town hall at Rådhuskällaren, and a peek at the Turning Torso building designed by Santiago Calatrava (he of the Oculus in NYC). In Gothenburg, ride the rickety wooden roller coasters at Liseberg amusement park, and go island-hopping through the unspoiled archipelago.
Day 6-7: Oslo, Norway
Choo-choo north from Gothenburg to Oslo (from $40, 3 hours 45 minutes). The Norwegian capital, nestled between the sea, mountains, and a fjord, has a new special buzz about it -- thanks to a new harborside path and park inspired by the NYC High Line. Hit up the opera house one night, if that’s your kind of thing.
Day 8-10: Bergen, Norway
Considering their Viking ancestors were savage warriors who dabbled in the occasional pillage, the Norwegians are a lovely bunch. They’ve even gone to the trouble of packaging up the best bits of their gorgeous country into a neat day trip dubbed “Norway in a Nutshell.” It’s pricey (around $230) but worth every cent. It includes one of the world’s most breathtaking train journeys (the Flåm Railway), as well a boat trip through two fjords, a scenic bus ride to Voss, and a ticket to Bergen, where you can kick back on the Insta-friendly wharf. Norwegian Air has direct flights back to New York from $99 (or fly via Oslo, Copenhagen, or London if it’s easier).
The Italian Grand Tour: Honk your horn in chaotic cities, and weave your way through Chianti country
Days 1-3: Rome, Italy
It’s been 2,871 years since Rome was founded, making it roughly 10 times older than the US of A. The Roman Forum and the Pantheon are essential stops for any self-respecting touristus maximus, but you’ll stumble on history at every turn -- the city center is loaded with Renaissance frescoes, baroque fountains, and sculptures by Michelangelo. Devote one day to the Vatican City to gape at St. Peter’s Basilica. Pay for one of the reasonably priced professional tours to skip the ludicrous lines.
Day 4: Siena, Italy
Jump in a Fiat 500 (or a cherry-red Vespa, if that’s more your speed) and buzz up to Siena (2 hours 40 minutes). You’ll be coasting through red wine heartland, so make sure you’re not the designated driver and insist on diversions to Montalcino, Montepulciano, and any of the cypress-lined vineyards off the main road. Siena itself is everything you want from a Tuscan town: art-laden, buzzy medieval square, and full-to-bursting with places to stuff-a your face-a.
Days 5-6: Florence, Italy
Florence is two hours up the road, but no Tuscan road trip would be complete without stopping at a hilltop town en route. Choose San Gimignano for the storied cobbled streets, 14 towers soaring above the city walls, and the scoops of pistachio goodness at Gelateria Dondoli. When you arrive in Florence, you’ll be itching to see the Duomo and get bartering on the Ponte Vecchio -- but before you do anything else, find somewhere to park. The carabinieri cops will toot their whistles loudly at anyone who dares drive into the restricted city center zone, so either find a lot nearby or stump up cash for a hotel valet.
Day 7: San Marino
The quickest route to San Marino is via Bologna, but you’ll get more wall-to-wall panoramas of holy-shit scenery if you take the significantly wigglier road due east. Three hours later, you’ll arrive in the world’s fifth-smallest country, home to the striking clifftop castle of Guaita. Fill up on the Sanmarinese delicacy nidi di rondini -- swirls of pasta crammed with prosciutto ham and gooey cheese.
Days 8-10: Venice
Ditch the car on arrival in Venice (3 hours north). There’s a checklist of sights to see as long as a gondola pole, but the best way to experience this utterly unique canal city is to simply get lost in its maze. Watch out for tourist traps, and don’t take your stash of pigeon seed anywhere near Piazza San Marco. If you must leave, it’s easiest to fly home via Zurich or Frankfurt.
The Baltic Boat Trip: All aboard for a cruise around Europe's low-key cool northern capitals. The Scandinavia and Russia Cruise on the M/S Serenade of the Seas sails July 2018 from $1,359.
Day 1-2: Stockholm, Sweden
Before your ship sets sail, make plenty of time for “fika” -- what the Swedes call having a chat over coffee and cake. The Old Town, Gamla Stan, is the most historic and photographed chunk (you’ll recognize the neat ochre terraces from tourist brochures worldwide), but branch out to the hip district of Södermalm (aka SoFo) and visit the Vasa warship museum.
Days 3-9: Onboard
The Baltic was designed for cruising; almost every country has a coastal capital roughly a night’s sail away. Beer is mad cheap in Tallinn, Estonia (along with pretty much everything else) but leave the bar long enough to take in the brilliant architecture along its medieval streets. You could spend a week in St. Petersburg... but then you’d miss the boat, which would hurt your bank balance and the feelings of your new-found cruise friends. So stick to just one of main attractions: the Hermitage, Peterhof, or the Catherine Palace (the latter two are slightly outside the city, but any ship worth its salt will offer coach transfers). In Helsinki, Finland, get a sweat on at a traditional sauna (at Yrjönkatu, there’s also the city’s oldest swimming baths) then complete your tour of Baltic capitals in Riga, Latvia. Learn about its long and torturous history at the Museum of Occupation, then celebrate independence with the locals on Market Square.
Day 10: Stockholm, Sweden
Aaaaand... you’re back. Go for one last spin around the archipelago, then take off for home with tales to tell and five new countries under your belt.
The Alps Explorer: Drive the mountain road over Europe's greatest range
Day 1: Zürich, Switzerland
Good news about Zürich: it’s a flight hub with tons of direct routes to the US. Better news about Zurich: there’s more to it than just bankers and unerring efficiency. The best way to explore is on a free city bike. Cruise around the Old Town and end up by the lake for a crisp Swiss lager.
Day 2: Lindau, Germany
Start your road trip with a 40-minute drive to Europe’s largest waterfall, the Rhine Falls. Follow the river to Lake Constance and celebrate your arrival in Germany with waterside lunch beneath the twin castles at Meersburg. Have a soak in the outdoor thermal baths, or head east to Kressbronn for watersports on the lake. End up at Lindau, which is at least twice as cool as most medieval market towns because it’s on its own island.
Days 3-4: Innsbruck, Austria
Drive straight across Bavaria for an hour and 20 minutes (stopping occasionally for sausage-based snacks) to the unpronounceable and unmatchable Neuschwanstein Castle, the next best thing to a Disney castle. Then take the mountain road to Innsbruck; the Nordkette funicular will drop you into the mountains for a winter ski sesh or a summer hike.
Day 5: Merano, Italy
The drive to Merano, across the Alps in the Italian part of South Tyrol, can take as little as 2 hours, but allow more time to stop and take photos around every other hairpin bend. You’ll find the town, nicknamed “The City of Flowers,” in a valley sheltered between snowy peaks. Hit the slopes again or rest up at a rococo spa with a bottle of local riesling.
Days 6-7: Lech, Austria
In truth, you could stop at any number of Austrian mountain villages and base yourself at a chalet for a couple of days’ more skiing. But Lech (3 hours’ drive) is a pinch prettier than the rest and has beginner slopes aplenty, whether you need them or just want to boost your ego by showing off in front of some kids.
Day 8: Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Cross another country off your list with a visit to Vaduz (1 hour 20 minutes from Lech), at the foot of forested mountains and overlooked by the cliff-hanging Vaduz Castle. You can’t go inside the castle (because the royal family still lives there), but you can get reacquainted with the Rhine and mooch around the pretty main square.
Days 9-10: Lucerne and Zürich, Switzerland
The drive back to Zürich is only an hour and a half, so you may as well take the scenic route. One option is to stop in the medieval lakeside city of Lucerne, where there’s a winter carnival in February, a classical music fest in August, and a yodeling contest in June (or whenever you take the initiative to start one). Head back to Zürich, take one last look at the mountains you’ve tamed, and fly home to tell your friends who live in Colorado what they’re missing out on.