How to Book Your Own Grand European Tour
An epic tour of the Continent is the time-tested way to see Europe—if you've got a month or three and a pile of cash. Until you win the lotto, we'll help you hit the grandest sites on your wish list.
How can I do a Grand Tour on my own?
For a classic loop—between London, Paris, and Rome, say—devote at least two days in each city. You can cut down on intercity travel time by taking advantage of low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet. Their baggage fees can add up, but their fares are hard to beat: A recent search on Ryanair found one-way flights from Paris to Rome for $12! If you have more time and would prefer to go by train, you don't necessarily need a pricey rail pass. Mark Smith, who maintains a European-train guide at seat61.com, generally advises booking point-to-point tickets with the service provider—such as bahn.com for trips in Germany or tgv-europe.com for France's high-speed line. Just remember one thing: "grand" doesn't have to mean "once in a lifetime." Don't try to see and do too much. After all, this is a vacation. Have fun—or, as they say, bon voyage!
Big Adventures on a Smaller Scale
If you don't want to conquer Europe in one fell swoop, these outfitted trips offer low-stress tastes of the Continent. Even better: They take care of most logistics but leave plenty of opportunities to explore on your own.
Pilot the canals of France
Book a self-driven cruise with Florida-based Le Boat, and after an in-depth primer, you're left to explore the waterways of Europe on your own. Weekly boat rentals are offered across the Continent, but nowhere are they more popular—for good reason—than in France, where cruisers putter among the vineyards, villages, and castles of romantic Brittany, Alsace-Lorraine, or Burgundy. leboat.com, one-week rental sleeping four from $1,970.
Hike the Italian Dolomites
High-mountain huts dot the Alps, rewarding hikers with comfy beds, hearty meals, and sweeping views. DIY is doable, but Distant Journeys can take care of all the particulars—plotting routes on maps, booking accommodations and most meals, and even prepaying taxi transfers and arranging for laundry services. distantjourneys.com, eight-night self-guided tour from $1,875.
Bike from Brussels to Bruges
After pedaling 20 to 40 miles a day along rivers and meadows, you're more than entitled to enjoy the two rich products Belgium is known for: chocolate and beer. BikeToursDirect offers packages with detailed maps, luggage transport, breakfast, and six nights at three- and four-star hotels. BYO bike, or rent a 21-speed for $80. biketoursdirect.com, self-guided tour from $675.
Play house in a Bavarian castle
Untours, a Pennsylvania-based operator, specializes in trips combining local transportation (rail pass or car) and one-of-a-kind apartments as lodging. In Germany, guests choose among five apartments in Schloss Sommersdorf, a 14th-century castle with a baron serving as host. untours.com, one-week package from $829 per person.
Road-trip in Ireland
Sceptre Tours makes international road trips a cinch. Their six-day Ireland getaway includes a week's car rental, along with one night's hotel in Dublin or Shannon at the beginning of the trip and five vouchers to be used at B&Bs of your choosing throughout the Emerald Isle. sceptretours.com, from $829 per person.
Cruise the Mediterranean
From May to October, Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas sails to all the can't-miss Italian, French, and Spanish ports: Cannes, Pisa, Civitavecchia (Rome), Palermo, and Palma de Mallorca. You might want to consider paying up front for the cruise line's new all-you-can-drink option, starting at $29 per day. royalcaribbean.com, from $600 for seven-night August sailings.
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