Fairy castles, Alpine villages and magical old towns. For the ultimate winter trip of your life, you wouldn’t settle for anything less than that, right?
Winter travels have their pros and cons, but if you weigh the pros (affordability being the top of the list, then comes: 2. Less crowd, 3. Winterscape makes all the places look even more magical, 4. Hot cocoa tastes a million times better, 5. FINALLY FLAUNT THAT COAT that you just scored on the final end year sale last week!), I bet they beat all the cons (1. IT’S FREAKING COLD, 2. Daytimes are shorter/less exploring time because after the sun sets you just feel the urge to hibernate, and 3. You’ll look like a stuffed bear on most of your vacation pics, because the aforementioned coat is sure classy and stylish and freaking useless in this weather.)
Can only survive this inside seven layers of warm clothes. So long story short; I, my mom and her friends had scored a sweet deal for a return ticket to Paris earlier this year, and I was tasked to plan the whole itinerary for the seven of us. I can’t be more excited than this. Being a slightly (ok, overly) list-obsessed control freak, I always tend to put a WHOLE LOT of time into planning and started to list down all my dream destinations that would soon become reality. For the whole month before leaving, 95% of my browser history contained (thousands of) Pinterest links, AirBnb and Skyscanner. Seriously got no chill.
But after awhile, I realised that this is far from simple. There are indeed a zillion possible routes, destinations and experiences one can have in Europe, so understandably, it wasn’t easy to come down with only a few selections. Also bearing in mind that this is a group of (older) peeps, I had to make sure the city-hopping route and itinerary is still fairly logical that still gets to see a lot without giving anyone aneurysm.
So the good news, we did it! We survived the cold and had a wonderful time (to say the least!) And here’s a better news for today, I’m going to share you the exact itinerary we had, complete with the accommodations, transportation modes and rates, and of course photo ops! You’re very welcome.
But wait, it gets even better: We explored five countries in two weeks for less than €1000 (per person*)! And that’s including three days in Swiss! What magic?!
*not including return plane ticket to Paris.
Here’s our (a little bit ambitious, but proven pretty decent in the end) itinerary:
Paris (2 nights) – Amsterdam (2 nights) – Prague (2 nights) – Hluboka nad Vlatou, Cesky Krumlov & Hallstatt (overnight) – Salzburg (overnight) – Bern (2 nights) – Paris (4 nights)
Note 1: Being a photographer, most (if not all) of my itineraries are prioritised on sightseeing spots before others. That means you will mostly see pretty places instead of restaurant recommendations, bars, shopping, other activities not related to photography, etc. Places where we eat are always within distance proximity to the photo-taking locations that day. Which is seriously okay guys. I’m the kind of person who’s happy enough if I don’t starve, and who sticks with the same restaurant over and over again so my culinary opinion would be far from… credible. I promise tho your eyes will thank you.
Day 1: Arriving in Paris early in the morning
We stayed in a cozy Airbnb in the middle of Rue Saint Honore that is within walking distance to Tuileries metro and all the central sightseeing spots (The apartment is very homey and accommodating for seven people. Here’s the link to Linda’s place.) Most of the people in the team are Paris first timers, so naturally we took them to all the obligatory Parisian sightseeing spots.
Walking & Metro route : Tuileries Garden, Palais Royal, Musee du Louvre (only the courtyard, cos Mona requires hours of queuing to visit and us got no time for dat), Latin Quarter, Notre Dame Cathedral.
Note 2: Save money by purchasing a carnet of 10 tickets for €14,50 (€4.5 less than buying individual ticket) from vending machines or counters inside the Métro stations. A single ticket will take you anywhere within the city of Paris on the Métro, buses and RER networks and I believe it has no expiry date, provided it hasn’t been used.
Day 2: Paris
Walking & Metro Route : Grand Palais/Petit Palais, Pont Alexandre iii, Pont Bir Hakeim, Trocadero, Palais Garnier (Entry is €12), Printemps & Galeries Lafayette.
Day 3: Amsterdam
We took the Thalys train to Amsterdam in the morning and arrived on lunch time. After checking in Hotel de Paris by the Leidseplein (I keep coming back to this hotel since 2008, read about Hotel de Paris and the 9 streets here), we took a walk in the flower market and headed to Skylounge Amsterdam at the Doubletree by Hilton for tea/coffee time with this gorgeous panoramic view of Amsterdam.
Tram route : Prinsengracht, Bloemenmarkt (flower market), Skylounge Amsterdam.
Note 3: Get the 48 hours GVB ticket in the Centraal Station (€12.50, the machine is close to the exit), which allows you to travel at the hours of your own convenience without any limitation throughout Amsterdam, day and night, on the bus, tram, and metro for two days.
Day 4: Zaanse Schans & Zaandam
Zaanse Schans is probably Dutch-iest place you’ve ever imagined. You know: wooden windmills, grassland, polder landscape, green overdose, ladies in traditional outfits selling cheese and chocolates. We bought the Connexxion Industrial Heritage day ticket (you can buy yours straight from the bus driver, €10) which allows us to travel anywhere within Amsterdam – Zaanstreek area for the whole day.
The Inntel Hotel in Zaandam Centrum
Bus Route: Zaanse Schans, Zaandam Centrum, back to Amsterdam: Saint Nicholas Church, Damrak.
Everyone is so tired and freezing up to this point (6pm) but I would suggest you to keep walking all the way back to the nine streets. The canals look especially picturesque at night.
Day 5: Prague
Woke up in the morning and left to Schiphol Airport by a van we booked online here (very pleased with their punctual service, good communication and pleasant ride). We arrived in the beautiful Prague after lunch hour and headed straight to our AirBnb in the Old Town area.
Walking route: Jewish Quarter, Astronomical Clock, Old Town Hall Tower, Old Town Square.
Note 4: Book a cab/van from inside the airport to avoid distance problems or unwanted miscommunication. The drivers have GPS and they have fixed price based on distance and the number of people (you can pay by Czech Koruna or Euro, but for a better deal, pay with CZK).
Note 5: If, like us, you’re low on time in Prague, make sure you climb up one of their many great towers to see the fantastic top views over the city. If you have a short time and a lazy ass, like moi, choose the Astronomical Clock/Old Town Hall Tower (90 CZK) cuz they have elevators!
Day 6: Prague
Started the day early (being here in wintertime, early means 9 am so you can hit that five minutes snooze button) and took the bus to Charles bridge before the crowd gathered. We got there at 9:30 and it was not super crowded but some tourists were already roaming here and there. You can do better than us. Get your lazy ass out of bed at 7am and brave the morning chills. There’s a Trdelnik joint in the end of the Mala Strana side so you can reward yourself with the heavenly caramelised warm strudel goodness and a cup of hot cocoa.
Walking route: Charles Bridge, Mala Strana (Lesser Town), St. Nicholas church, Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral.
Day 7: Hluboká Castle, Cesky Krumlov, Hallstatt
We left Prague early in the morning for Hallstatt by car (van pickup from CK Shuttle, again, a very recommended pickup service). On the way, we made short stops to Hluboká Castle and Cesky Krumlov, each for an hour (though I would highly recommend you to stay longer in Cesky Krumlov; it’s such a beautiful UNESCO town and especially magical during winter).
Car Route: Hluboká Castle, Cesky Krumlov, Hallstatt.
Day 8: Hallstatt, Austria
Oh Hallstatt. Admittedly I fell in love with this place when I was researching and pinning images on my “EU 2017” Pinterest board, and I just had to drag everyone here with me even though it would sacrifice other cities on the list. This place is just magical. We stayed at Hotel Heritage Hallstatt, they have beautiful, cozy rooms with gorgeous window view which made it harder for me to move my ass outside.
We left Hallstatt at 3pm by car (booked it here, highly recommended. I changed our pickup time multiple times, even until one day before the pickup because I’m a twitchy confused nerd when planning things; and they were patient enough with me), ended the day in Salzburg for an overnight stay.
Walking Route: all around Hallstatt, the town is tiny and you’ll finish exploring all the corners within an hour or two. Transfer to Salzburg by car, and if you get there earlier, you even get a few hours to explore the Mozart city.
Day 9: Bern, Switzerland
Our flight from Salzburg to Zurich departed in the morning, and upon arriving we were transferred straight to Bern (booked the pickup here), where we’ll be based on for the next two nights. Spent the rest of the day slowly sipping the famous Swiss hot cocoa in the Rosengarten Restaurant while looking at the magical view of Bern rooftops slowly lighting up in the evening. Our hotel gave us the city transport ticket that’s valid during our stay in Bern (3 days) and can be used on bus and trams free of charge.
Walking/Bus Route: Rosengarten.
Day 10: Jungfrau region, Switzerland
I wrote about two of today’s destinations, Lauterbrunnen and Wengen here last year, but this time I’m adding a stop to Interlaken as well. The first two Alpine villages have stolen my heart the first time I visited and naturally I wanted my mom to experience it. All of these villages are on the Jungfrau train line, and you can choose to ride all the way to the Jungfraujoch (The Top of Europe) if the sky is clear. We didn’t however because the sky was really foggy that day and we didn’t want to spend so much money looking at the invisible mountain. Which is technically not looking at anything. (like what we did in Zermatt, Melvin. Where’s that freakin Toblerone mountain hiding at??)
Train Route: Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Interlaken.
Note 6: Riding the train from Bern up to Wengen (with transfers in Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken) costs around €45 roundtrip, however continuing the journey all the way up might cost you €200. It is the top of Europe, anyway. Nothing on top comes easy -or cheap. Touché. If you stay longer than a week to one month in Swiss, it’s more economics to get yourself the Swiss half-fare cards.
Day 11: Bern
Spent the day exploring the Bern Old town all the way to Bärengraben and back. Left for Paris by train (€110) in the late afternoon (and by the time we arrived we just wanted to stay in bed.)
Walking Route in the morning: Bern Altstadt (Unesco Heritage Old Town), St. Vincent Cathedral at Munsterplatz, Bärengraben.
Day 12: Paris
On our return to Paris, we strategically positioned ourselves pretty close to the Grand Magasin. Therefore after eleven days of following this crazy photographer lady, some of them can enjoy their time shopping in GL/Printemps (which I found out to be the most sought after activity), and some of us can visit museum and take more photos. Win.
Walking Route: Galeries Lafayette, Musee Gustave Moreau (Entry €5), Marais. Other recommended route: Montmartre.
Day 13: Paris
Walking Route: Champs Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Rue St. Honore (with a hot cocoa+cake stop at Angelina). Recommended route: Continue your walk to Passages of Paris.
Day 14: Paris
Today is a Saturday so most of the stalls in Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen are open (the busiest day is Sunday but we’re leaving tomorrow). The vintage market consists of 14 markets with different specialties which might be overwhelming for first timers, so I directed the team to my favorite Marche Dauphine, which has selections of books, antiques, vinyls and vintage clothings. Today is also the last day so I just had to visit my most favorite Paleontology museum in Paris. Because dinosaurs bones yo.
Metro Route: Marche Dauphine, Jardin des plantes, Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée (Entry €12).
Day 15: Flying Back Home
That’s it folks! Hope this itinerary can help you in planning your next visit exploring Europe, whether you’re traveling with your family, friends, or solo for a photo taking journey. We got a foot massage when we’re back and also more than 400 gigabytes of photos so yea, it was real fun. Peace out.
All photos were taken by me using Sony Alpha A7Rii + SEL 24-70mmZ + SEL 85mm G and Sony Cybershot RX1Rii.11