12 Day Grand Tour of Europe: Part One – Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris

Recently I undertook a grand tour of Europe with my parents. 12 days, 6 countries, 8 cities. Here’s a quick run down of our trip.

Day 1: Birmingham to Amsterdam

1115: Fly into Amsterdam from Birmingham. Book tickets with skyscanner.
1200: Take the express train to Amsterdam Central station. You can buy tickets from the yellow ticket machines at the airport.
1400: Take a bus and boat cruise in Amsterdam.
This is great way to get introduced to the city. Amsterdam has as many canals as Venice, so a boat tour is a great way to see the city. We had time to complete the bus tour and one boat tour this afternoon. City sightseeing do a good combined bus and boat ticket, with bus route and 2 boat routes valid for 24 hours. Only downside is the audio guides in the 3 routes tend to repeat things a bit.

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Where to stay: We picked the Ibis hotel. It’s a bit basic, but its right next to Amsterdam Centraal station and walking distance to everything else.

Day 2: Amsterdam

1100: Visited the Van Gogh museum. This is the largest collection of Van Gogh artworks anywhere in the World. The tickets are only available online and you have to book in advance.

1400: We spent the middle part of the day on the remaining boat tour. Alternatively, you can visit the Rijksmuseum, or hang around at museum square.

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1715: In the evening, we visited Anne Frank Huis. This is where Anne Frank her family hid for 2 years under Nazi occupation of Holland. A must visit for any visitor to Amsterdam. Again, tickets are only available online. Tickets go fast, especially for the mornings, so book early.

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Day 3: Amsterdam to Paris, via Brussels

0822: Catch a morning train to Brussels from Amsterdam Centraal. Book tickets here. You can buy tickets on the day, but booking early saves time at the station, and you get a slightly cheaper fare.

1110: Alighted in Brussels Central and stowed our luggage. Lockers are available at Brussels Central and costs 4-6 euros, depending on the lockers size. You will need coins.

1130: Explore Grand Place, arcade and have lunch. We also paid a visit to the Brussels Comic book museum and discovered the last (unfinished) Tintin story by Herge.

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1600: Catch the train to Paris. Book tickets here.  It takes just 1.5 hrs from Brussels to Paris, but tickets are cheaper if you break the journey in Lille.

1800: Arriving in Paris Nord is a bit of a shock to the system. Station is extremely busy, especially if as we did, you arrive on a Friday during rush hour. You need to buy subway tickets. A single ticket costs 1.90 Euros. You can buy a pack of ten (or a carnett) for 14.90 Euros.

1900: Arrive at our hotel for the next 3 nights, Europe hotel, Paris Eiffel.

Where to stay: Paris, like many other large capitals of the world, it is hard to decide where to stay. So what I tend to do is pick somewhere close to where you definitely going to visit, but also very close to an underground station. This is why we picked Europe hotel Paris Eiffel, walking distance to Eiffel tower, but also two minutes to the metro. Plus, the staff are really nice and helpful.

Day 4: Paris

1000: Visited to the Louvre museum. Book tickets online to avoid the queues and the crowds. Home to the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, Egyptian Antiquities, Renaissance Paintings, Greek Statues, you can easily spend a week in the Louvre.

Tips for the Louvre: Pay extra for the audio guide. There’s so many pieces in the collections, and not all of them have written descriptions next to them.

Tips for the Louvre: Unless you are planning to spend the whole day (or a week in the Louvre, it is a good idea to have an idea of the highlights you want to visit. I found this article is a good starting point.

1500: After 5 hours in the Louvre, our feet were like lead, so we boarded a city sightseeing tour bus and allowed it to take us around the city. It takes about 2 hours to complete the full route. I wasn’t best impressed by the choices of city sightseeing tour busses in Paris. They all seem to have bad reviews. The only good one big bus is expensive and it is a 1 day or 2 day tickets, rather than 24 hours, so you have to dedicate the whole day to just going around on the bus. We picked city sightseeing, as it gave us a 24 hour ticket for a bus trip and a boat tour on the Seine for the same price as a day ticket from big bus.

Tip: If your legs are not too tired from the Louvre, walk to Notre Dame Cathedral nearby, and then get on the bus from there.

Day 5: Paris – Versailles

We decided to head to Versailles. Easiest way to get to Versailles from Paris is to get the RER. Get the train to Versailles-Château – Rive Gauche. The Palace is a 10-15 minute walk from the station.

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Book tickets online, otherwise you are in for a long wait. We got there about 9.30 a.m. on a Sunday morning and the entry queue was very long. Alternatively, visit the palace in the afternoon (after 2 pm).

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You can buy tickets to the garden, or the palace and the gardens. To me buying the tickets to both is well worth it.

Few tips for visiting Versailles:

  • If you are visiting the palace and the gardens both, then visit the palace first then the garden.
  • If you are visiting on a day where the fountains are operating, make sure you are in the gardens when the fountains are on. They are spectacular. The information desk at the entry point can tell you the operating times for the fountains.

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  • Explore the groves: The groves are not open every day, so if these are open, take time to visit these. They are full of hidden corners, fountains and statues.
  • Take time to visit the Petite Trianon and its gardens. The Queens hamlet is specially delightful.
  • There is a mini train that will take you from the Palace to the Grand Trianon and Petite Trainon, but it costs 4 Euros for each trip. So I would suggest walking to Grand Trainon and Petite Trainon and getting the train back.

1530: Headed back to Paris on the train.

1630: Boat cruise on the Seine with Vedettes de Paris. The cruise starts near the Eiffel tower and takes you past many of the famous monuments in Paris up to Notre Dame Cathedral before returning the same way. It takes about 1 hour, and the audio description tells you about what you are seeing on the way.

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1900: Evening visit to the Eiffel tower.  I booked tickets at 1930, so that we could see Paris at day time as well as at night. After night fall, the tower is lit up. but on the hour every hour, there is a fantastic light show.

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Day 6: Paris to Interlaken

1023: Boarded the train to Basel from Gare du Lyon. The train is clean, comfortable and fast. There is a bar car as well as a restuarant. Book tickets here.

1334:  Arrive in Basel and boarded train to Interlaken. From Basel to Interlaken it takes another another 2 hours. The scenery starts being really pretty after Thun.

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1600: Arrive in Interlaken. We spent the rest of the day exploring Interlaken. It was great to watch the para gliders landing in the centre of Interlaken.

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Tips on Swiss Train travel

  • Swiss train travel is expensive. Depending on how many days you are staying and where you are going, it is could be worth investing in a Half fare card or a Swiss travel pass. The travel information centre at Basel Station can help you work out which option is best.
    Always carry your passport and the travel card with you, because they WILL check this on the train.
  • Buying tickets early, even the day before, can help you save on the tickets. Look for saver fare on the SBB app.
  • For the itinerary below, the travel pass and the half fare card worked out the same, but the travel pass is slightly better as it means you don’t have to buy tickets for each train.

Where to stay: We stayed at the Old Town House in Interlaken. It is located centrally, and only a few minutes of walk to the station and well as Interlaken high street.

Tune in next week for the rest our trip, covering Interlaken, Venice, Pisa and Rome.

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