Every time I come back from a trip to Europe, I am asked to create an ideal itinerary for people who plan to visit that side of the world. While I strongly believe that there is no ideal itinerary, except for the one which can be changed based on your mood. And frankly speaking, a place does that to you - it changes your mood in ways you can’t quite imagine. Sometimes that may mean that you want to spend all your days there (happens to me all the time when I go to Paris), or it makes to completely change the next destination itself. So if you ever think of an ideal itinerary, make sure there the non-negotiable part of it should be spontaneity!
Having said that, here’s my ideal week-long itinerary across Western Europe, including things to do in each place, that I can easily recommend. It’s still a tight itinerary and you might think that it would be too rushed due to frequent travels between cities, but please stay on till the end and I will show you how you can do it all without breaking a sweat. Also, if you plan in advance, it can also be done rather economically.
I just did a very similar trip very recently, and so the information is also latest and up-to-date. If you still have questions to ask, feel free to leave a comment and I will answer it for you! :)
Start your travel from Southern Europe - from arguably the most beautiful city in the entire world - Paris! It's a bit uncanny how gorgeous everything about Paris is - the buildings are impeccably perfect, the people are perfectly dressed, the cafes always inviting, and there is something for everyone to do here.
Well, as I said Paris has something for practically everyone and so it's difficult to make an itinerary for anyone without knowing that person very well. Here's what I did and can certainly recommend.
Start your day at the iconic and historical district of Montmartre. If you follow my advice on the place to stay below, you can actually walk up here early in the morning and then have your favorite cup of coffee along with deliciously warm chocolate croissant while watching the life pass-by. The most popular place to see would be Basilica of the Sacré Cœur but don't miss out on the narrow cobbled streets near-by as well. On a nice and clear day you can also see the Effiel Tower. But let's do that on the second day.
Once you are done here, take a train and Paris's second most iconic monument - the Notre-Dame Cathedral! Conceived in the 12th and finished in the 14th century, to me it's the most perfect example of Gothic architecture in the world. You really need to visit the place to grasp it's beauty and marvel at it's design. Also walk around in the area, especially under the canal close by - the recent Mission Impossible V was shot right there!
In the evening go for dinner at the gorgeous Le Train Bleu - an exquisite restaurant located right inside a railway station. To me it really signifies Paris of the past - rich, affluent and high class. Eating there is like eating in a different world altogether. Afterwards spend the evening exploring the area around the hotel recommended by me - it's a charming place full of secrets, and places to discover. If you would like book a ticket for Moulin Rouge - it's walking distance from the hotel.
Start your next day with a breakfast at a French cafe near the hotel and then take the metro to the Eiffel Tower. Please keep in mind that the place is the most popular destination for tourists in the city and it can be impossibly over the weekends. Book your tickets in advance and not depend on buying on the spot.
After you are done with monument watching, let me suggest something fun and very French - an innovating exploration to wine and how it's made. France and wine are inseparable, and when you pair that with an unforgettable wine tasting experience in Paris, things can’t get any better! Unlike the previous such experiences of trying out wine, the one at Les Caves du Louvre was a lot more about using senses to experience wine. To me it beautifully bought art and science together...
After that eat lunch at and then take the Thayls train from Paris Nord to Brussles later in the afternoon. There are multiple trains but make sure you book in advance for a good deal.
Villa Royale - it's a gorgeous Rococco style hotel and one that you can easily fall in love with.
How to travel?
Use Paris metro pass and walk! The metro network in Paris is extensive and sometimes overwhelming, but you get used to it fast and then life changes dramatically!
Brussels in the capital of Belgium, and believe it or not, I've already explored the city twice this year. Now most people know it is a political capital of EU with little to do in the city, and it can't be far from the truth. Having said that I am allocating only a day of explorations in the city and then will send you outside to explore some other parts of the country.
Start the morning with a heavy breakfast in the hotel (check my recommendation for the hotel below) and food-wise you will be set for a few hours. Once full, take a metro and come to the old town - this is where all action is, especially if you have just one day to explore.
In the afternoon I would suggest you try something different if you like beer - brew your own beer! Now Belgium is famous for two foodie things, beer and waffles, and making beer was one of the coolest things I did in Brussels at Brasserie 28. Here's a short video where you can know all about it :)
In the afternoon do a walk with Brussels Chatterguides to explore some of the hidden nooks and corners of the city. Our guide was brilliant and I learnt so much about Brussels from her - and then I ended up reading up even more online! I won't reveal all the secrets, but would certainly recommend doing a walk with them to learn about it all.
In the evening make your dinner special by doing it inside a Tram while exploring the city. The food was great (they could customise it to my vegetarian requirements) and my company of fellow travelers made it even more fun.
I stayed at the Zoom Hotel not too far from the city center - we actually walked from the hotel to the center of the town, but you can also easily take a tram too.
How to travel?
Take a one day metro pass and use that extensively. Apart from that just walk - on my first visit here I spent three days here and just walked like an old-time explorer. Saw so much more by walking.
Though there is lots more to do in Brussles, I would suggest taking an early morning train from Brussels and explore Belgium a little bit more. There are two cities I can suggest, Ghent and Bruges, you can do one or do both of these in a day and half. If you can pick just one place, I would suggest going to Bruges.
It's an almost fairy-tale like town with beautiful old houses, gorgeous canals, flowers, gardens, churches and much more. It's quite a bit touristy, but really beautiful. If you go on a weekend, there would be many people, so be prepared for it.
Where to stay?
I stayed at a hostel called Charlie Rockets Youth Hostel which is located right next to the most popular places to explore in the city. It was affordable but didn't have any air-conditioning, and I must mention that made it rather warm.
How to travel?
I just walked and walked, and that's the best way to explore the city. You will need to take a local bus from the railway station to the city center.
I think right now Rotterdam is my most favourite city in Netherlands, and is a perfect showcase of a modern city still rooted in it's history. Unfortunately during the second World War, the city was bombed and almost completely destroyed. So once the war ended, a massive reconstruction program started and the city was rebuilt to what we see today - there are still a few old buildings that are still around, but the overall feel of the city is very modern.
So while you are in Rotterdam, you can start your day a little bit early and go outside the city to explore Kinderdijk by ferry. Here's a quick video to give an overview of the place.
Once you are back in the city, I would recommend going to Fenix Food Factory for lunch and then head over to check out the iconic Cube Houses. In the 1970s these ‘cube houses’ were built in continuation of the city’s theme of modernism, yet drawing heavily from nature - each house represents a tree and all of them together represent a village.
Walk around in the area, go to a cafe, chill like the Danes do and soon it will be time for dinner. For evening, I would recommend Ayla for some great tapas and drinks. And yes, they have many vegetarian options too and they are all very good too.
Last year I stayed in a student hostel converted into a seasonal hotel in Canada, and this year also I stayed in a somewhat similar place in Rotterdam - Student Hostel.
But this isn’t just another place to live - it’s an award winning hotel which gives you an authentic experience of the city’s youthful vibe too. And if you have no friends here, just go out and say hi to the students - there’s a party going on almost every night.
How to travel?
You can walk and see a lot of the city, but it not everything. Public transport is excellent and you must use that. We also tried something new as well - water taxi and I absolutely loved it!
Now Amsterdam is well connected with Rotterdam and you can reach here within an hour in a train. The trains can be really full in the morning so be prepared for that - our trip reminded me of the not-so-pleasant journeys in the local trains in my city Mumbai :)
This was only my second visit to Amsterdam, so I did everything touristy there! What's that? Well, I explored the city through a canal ride! The first canals of Amsterdam, when the city was founded in 1250, were mainly for water management and defense, and later a way to transport goods for business.
Many of these canals were lost to the growing road traffic needs of 20th century, but many did survive. Today it’s easy to explore these canals through canal cruises as well as by yourself by hiring a boat.
After you finish the canal tour, take a metro and go for lunch at the hip restaurant, like The Lobby at Fizeaustraat.
In the evening just walk around the old city center, maybe also visit a cannabis cafe and try some legal weed if that's something you enjoy.
I wasn't satisfied exploring Netherlands by just visiting the big cities, so decided to go to a small town called Deventer with my travel buddy Madhu. We both did pretty much nothing there, except some photography while eating a lot of good food and drinking even more coffee.
Completely by chance, I ended up booking a heritage hotel, Fletcher Hotel Gilde, in Deventer. I booked the only one room available at a reasonable price without even looking at the facilities, and guess what - it was the best decision!
My hotel was located in one of the oldest buildings of the town and had stunningly beautiful art inside - like the stained glass window behind me. The building had tarted off as a church, then it was converted into a hospital, and finally into a hotel! I knew from this point on that my explorations here would be memorable.
How to travel?
You can walk and see the entire town on foot. You can also take a ferry (only two euros) to go across the river to the forest or the old windmill.
As I mentioned numerous times during the article, you can travel across all the major cities above with Europe's widest fast rail network - Thalys. They are fast, reliable, and far more convenient than taking a flight between these cities. In fact, if you book in advance, you can get great deals and the travel also becomes far more affordable.