European Itinerary: London, Paris, & Rome

September 7, 2018

This might be your first visit to Europe, and you would like to have a “taste” of the most popular and famous cities. Because they are centers of culture for the western world and bases for day trips, our suggestion is to start with London, Paris, and Rome. You will see royal palaces, priceless art, historical wonders, and nature at her best — and wait until you try the food!

  • London: Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Crown Jewels, Hyde Park, free museums, fabulous live theatre, afternoon tea, day trip to Stonehenge
  • Paris: Stroll along the Seine, visit the Louvre, Notre Dame, evening at the Eiffel Tower, pastries and baguettes, day trip to Versailles
  • Rome: Visit the Vatican, the Coliseum, Cathedrals filled with historical art, plazas with fountains, perfect pizza and pasta, day trip to Florence

The flights to Europe and transfers between cities are easy and affordable. One suggestion would be to fly to Heathrow for 5 days in London, then a train for about $70-80 through the channel tunnel (The Chunnel) to Paris for the next 5 days, a flight for about $60 to Rome, then leave from Rome for your flight back home. Prices differ depending on the days you travel, how far ahead you book, the time of year, and airline deals. A travel agent may be able to save you money and stress by helping you with this portion of your planning.

5 Days in London

London is the perfect city to begin your European adventure, especially if English is your Primary language. There is a perfect blend of historical sites and modern art, outdoor gardens and indoor theatre, public transportation and beautiful walks — you will have a GLORIOUS TIME.

Your flight will probably arrive mid-afternoon, and your goal will be to stay awake and become acclimated to the new time zone. If you have chosen London Connection’s car service, you will be driven straight from the airport to your London vacation apartment and be greeted by the let-in manager.

Arrival Day

  • Get settled in your accommodation: some of the guests prefer to spend an hour getting unpacked so when they return after dinner they can easily begin their bedtime routine. Some prefer to get out and see the city immediately. Just don’t take a nap!
  • Find the hop-on hop-off bus, preferably the open top one, at a nearby intersection. Enjoy taking a loop around the city and back to your neighborhood. If you prefer more activity, you can take a bike tour of the city and parks.
  • Walk through the neighborhood and find a nearby market. Purchase a few groceries for snacks and your breakfast for the next couple of days. As you walk, be watching for a nearby restaurant that appeals to you.
  • After putting your groceries away, head back to that restaurant and enjoy a fine meal. And then finally — hit the pillow for a good night’s rest!

Daytime Adventures

  • Palaces: Visit Kensington Palace to see where Queen Victoria grew up and where Prince William and Prince Harry and their families still live. Buckingham Palace where you can view the Changing of the Guards. There are several ways to enjoy the palace at the Queen’s Gallery, the Royal Mews, and tours of the state rooms and gardens during select times of the year. If you happen to be in London during a time the palace is open, by all means — GO INSIDE.
  • Parks: You can’t go wrong by visiting any of the Royal Parks. Their grounds are all exquisite. Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James’s are all close to each other, yet each have their own feel. If you love flowers, then the 30 minute tube ride to Kew Gardens would be perfect. The orchids, palm house, and seasonal plantings throughout the 299 acres will take your breath away, and your camera will be happy.
  • Museums: Victoria & Albert is the world’s leading museum of art and design, British Museum houses the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, and Natural History Museum which has 80 million artifacts. Most museums in London are FREE.
  • Top Attractions:Tower of London with the Crown Jewels is a MUST for each London visitor. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance to skip the long line waiting to buy tickets there. The huge ferris wheel called the London Eye gives you a scenic view of the Royal City. Covent Garden with its cobblestone streets, shops, and restaurants will let you know you are in London! St. Charles Cathedral is stunning, it is worth all the stairs to the top. Of course Westminster Abbey is an icon, and you need to walk across the Millenium Bridge. Read more detail here: Top 15 Can’t Miss Attractions in London.
  • Culture: Theatrical productions, Opera, Ballet, and the Shakespeare Globe have matinee and evening performances. Tate Modern Art Gallery is a favorite of many. The National Gallery on the edge of Trafalgar Square showcases murals, tapestries, sculptures, altarpieces, religious art, contemporary, and the Great Masters.

Evening Activities

  • Piccadilly Square with the huge neon billboards and shops, Trafalgar Square with the columns and fountains. People love to gather at both places.
  • Enjoy a walk along the South Bank of the Thames from Tate Modern across the Waterloo Bridge to Jubilee Gardens. See the view across the river of Elizabeth Tower which houses the bell “Big Ben”, Tower Bridge, and Westminster — it is magical! With no stops, only 30 minutes, 1.3 miles/2 km.
  • Ceremony of the Keys: accompany the guards as they lock up the Tower of London. Books a year in advance — it is that good!

Day Trip

Stonehenge, an iconic landmark, is on the top of the list for many tourists to London. It is a sight to behold, but it is quite a distance outside the city and it can be a bit of a challenge for transportation on your own. There are many options for tours of Stonehenge that allow you to relax and let someone else do the driving. Our ideal day trip would include Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. Large group tours take 40-50 people on modern buses. Some prefer less of a crowd. If so, an organized small group tour of Stonehenge might be better for you.

Other Tips

  • Foods: Try high tea (with your pinkie extended), eat in a pub, Rules Restaurant–traditional British, fish and chips with vinegar, international cuisine throughout the city
  • Tipping is only 5-10% if the service is excellent. Servers are paid well, so tips really are a reward, not a necessity. Some restaurants add a service charge, so be aware of that before leaving an additional tip.
  • The public transportation in London makes travel around the very large city very easy and affordable. An Oyster Card can be purchased at the Tube Station and can be used on the bus and train, as well.

Prepare Ahead

  • Read a Charles Dickens novel to understand the poverty of Victorian England
  • Watch a movie about Queen Victoria, Such as “The Young Victoria” or “Victoria and Abdul” or the TV series “Victoria.”
  • View “The Crown” series to better know Queen Elizabeth’s early years.
  • Read the Anglophile blog to get itinerary ideas, learn more about museums and all things London.

5 Days in Paris

Paris is known as the “city of lights” and you will understand once you are there. You might be tempted to see Paris at night. Now that you are acclimated to the time zone, you might just do that — have a late night and a nice morning sleeping until noon! Ah, Paris…

If you arrive by train, you will arrive at Gare du Nord and you can take a cab directly to your accommodations. Stay as close to the Seine as possible. If you stay in the outer areas of Paris, you will spend too much time traveling back and forth to the sites.

Arrival day

  • The open top scenic bus city tour will help you get a great feel of the entire city. It is the best way to hear a brief history and get a big picture of where everything is located.
  • Walk around your neighborhood and find the nearest market, metro stop, and local shops.
  • if you arrived early enough, see one of the sites listed below.

Sites along the Seine

  • Louvre Museum of Art: early in the morning, the French don’t get up early in the morning — so there you go! Then to Notre-Dame Cathedral by early afternoon: make sure to go inside and by all means go to the top! Go behind the church, cross the little bridge to the island. It is absolutely glorious. Walk a short distance to Sainte-Chapelle which was built to house Christian relics in the 13th century. Over 1110 stained glass windows, especially on the upper level are not to be missed. My favorite memory of Paris! If you buy tickets ahead, you will save time in all the ticket lines.
  • Eiffel Tower –  book tickets online in advance to save the line. Go to the top (the Summit). For an adult ticket, it will be 25 Euros instead of 16 Euros and well worth it. Take a map of Paris with you so as you walk around the top, you can identify all the great monuments below you. As you leave, walk through the gardens of the Park Champ de Mars and past the Ecole Militaire where Napoleon went to military school — it is fascinating. Then on to Les Invalides, which is also military museums and tombs of many well known officers, including Napoleon. Cross the Pont Alexandre III bridge over the Seine and arrive at the Grand Palais and Petit Palais. A beautiful stroll — about 2 miles/3.4 km, 45 min
  • Palais Garnier is an ornate theatre that was first built for the National Opera in the 1860’s. It became even more renowned when it was used as the backdrop for a novel in 1910 that has become a movie and then musical “The Phantom of the Opera.” You might enjoy a tour to better appreciate the architecture and hidden features, or spend a classical evening with a ballet or opera performance.

Evening Ideas

  • Take the metro to the Eiffel Tower and walk to Place de l’Etoile/now called Place Charles de Gaulle “Square of the Star” where you will see the lighted Arc de Triomphe. Walk all the way down the famous Champs-Elysees which is known as one of the most beautiful avenues in the world; it is surrounded by restaurants, theatres, gardens, monuments, and shops. There are dress shops, car shops, candy shops, and so many more! This is where the grand horse parade is held on Bastille Day, which is quite a sight!  Once you reach Place de la Concorde (which is spectacular with the Luxor Obelisk), turn left and walk along Rue Royale past the famous Maxim’s restaurant until you reach Place de la Madeleine. It’s fascinating. It’s beautiful. Without stops, this walk takes about 1 hour, 3.1 miles/5km. 
  • Another evening, enjoy the gardens at the Louvre.
  • Ride down the Seine at night when the monuments are all lighted up, don’t go during the day.
  • Before you leave home, purchase a padlock and have it engraved with your name and your sweetheart’s name. One evening, as you cross a bridge you can add your lock next to hundreds of others, especially the bridge near Notre Dame. Young couples do it, people who renew their vows do it, people who love each other do it, and sometimes single people do it.

Day Trip

Versailles Palace was the residence of French royalty for over 100 years until the revolution in 1789. The acres of gardens surround the palace which is over 700,000 square feet. Bring your camera and very comfortable walking shoes! Our suggestion is to sign up for a tour that will take you there and guide you through the palace. You will not have to wait in the lines, and will enjoy all they point out while you are there and along the way. Be prepared for crowds, and remember to look up.

Other Tips

  • Keep your money in a pouch — secure. Pickpockets are everywhere like in any large European city, particularly now. Always be very, very careful.
  • Food: Wander and eat all the crepes you can, sandwiches on baguettes, French sauces on everything, beignets, creme brulee

Prepare Ahead

  • Understand the French revolution by reading or watching “Les Miserable” by Victor Hugo.
  • “An American in Paris” with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron will have you ready to dance along the Seine.
  • “Midnight in Paris” is Woody Allen’s impressive movie about a young man (Owen Wilson) falling out of love with his fiancee and falling in love with Paris.

5 Days in Rome

All roads lead to Rome, and after you are there you will feel the truth of that saying. Your understanding of history, art, and civilization will expand by volumes as you personally visit the “Eternal City.” You will view the ancient 7 hills, and see teens walking arm in arm as their parents and grandparents did. And what better way to learn than with some of the best food on the planet!

Take a flight from Charles de Gaulle airport to Rome. Be sure to get to the airport 2 hours ahead of time; have a driver lined up the night before. This is a connection you won’t want to miss!

Arrival day

  • First thing to do is get into your apartment. As soon as you decide to go, contact Simon Raccah at Rent in Rome for accommodations. If you are there June, July, August — make sure it is air conditioned. Winter is a wonderful time to visit, it is milder. There are no lines anywhere, even at the Coliseum. Ideal times are March, April, May, September, October, November. But if you get the chance to go to Rome anytime, TAKE IT!
  • Second thing to do if you are there in the summer is to find your air conditioner!
  • Head out and jump on to the open top bus and take the basic city tour. You will find stops located close to all the major sites. You just dazzle. You just sit there and think “2000 years ago, 2000 years ago!”

Day Activities

  • Coliseum: Definitely worth paying for a tour guide. If in the summer, go first thing in the morning to beat the heat!
  • Borghese Gardens and Gallery: You will never forget this experience. The old home and estate where Napoleon’s sister resided. You can ride a trolley through the 297 acre estate, and then to a vantage point to see the overview of all of Rome. Walk down from there to the Spanish Stairs.
  • Piazza della Repubblica, one of Rome’s main squares. Be dazzled by the world known paintings in the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, the 16th century church located there.
  • Visit Trastevere, a little area southwest of Rome on the west bank of the Tiber. It is about 2 miles/3km south of Vatican City. You will find Basilica di Santa Maria/the church of Our Lady, with the finest 12th century mosaics anywhere. You will think “how can heaven be more beautiful?”
  • Santa Maria Maggiore is a 5th century church in the center of Rome with gilded ceilings and Roman mosaics. Fabulous!
  • Vatican: Book tickets in advance, or you will stand in a line going around the block. Plan to spend an entire day here. The Vatican is its own country! You can tour the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Museums, and the newly opened Papal Tombs. Attend mass with the Pope on Wednesdays, if he is in Rome — a fascinating experience.

Evening Walks

Rome is a very safe city. You will see Polizei on every corner to ensure your safety. So get out and walk around this glorious city at night!

  • Piazza Navona which features 3 beautiful fountains, including the central Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, and the Egyptian Obelisk. Surrounded by churches and charming restaurants, it is one of the most photographed spots in Rome.
  • Trevi Fountain where you can toss a coin and make a wish to return.
  • Stroll down Via del Corso, the straight main street that is perfect for your evening passeggiata. From the gate to the city at the north, it passes several historical churches in the almost 1 mile/1.5 km of its length.

Day Trip

If you have another day, early morning take the fastest train to Florence. Take the private trains (red), go directly to the Piti Museum,go back to the Signoria Square to see David and the Duomo, and then you will want to see 2 or 3 of the other churches and monuments. Visit Ponte Vecchio across the Arno, Florence’s oldest bridge. Jewelry shops and artists galore! Go directly back to Rome on the last train. It is worth staying an extra day for this day trip.

Other Tips

  • Buy a small original watercolor from a local street artist
  • Food: You will find pizza and gelato as you walk through the streets each day. Oh, the variety of flavors! For dinner, don’t get caught in an expensive restaurant. Go down a little side street and find the small place that has a line forming before the dinner hour. Once they open and squeeze in all they can fit (don’t be surprised if you are seated at a table with people you have never met) they close the door for the evening. You are not rushed through a meal there; dinner is an event that will take hours — ravioli, cannelloni, farfalle, rigatoni, gnocchi, lasagne, macaroni!

Prepare Ahead

  • Read “The Agony and the Ecstacy,” a novel about Michelangelo to understand varied art forms, the creation of the Sistine Chapel, and David.
  • Watch Roman Holiday (1953) with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck that will give you a romantic view of the sites and culture.

And so there you have it in a nutshell — a very large one! This will be a marvelous experience that you will remember and talk about the rest of your life. Still not convinced? Read the article Benefits of Travel: Is It Really Worth It? We would suggest an enthusiastic YES. Last words of advice: pack comfortable walking shoes, bring your hearty appetite, enjoy your adventures, and take lots of photos!