Europe with teens

Archives are several years old...  We're considering taking our kids to Europe for the first time next summer.  They'll be 17, 15 and 12.  Main interests are Spain, Italy and England.  Is it possible to hit a few highlights in all these countries on a 2-week trip?  Is it best to fly between countries, or take trains?  Rent a car?  (Sorry, not interested in camping.)  What are some "can't-miss" spots in Spain?   Any advice greatly appreciated.

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RE: Europe with teens ()

Two weeks, three non-boarding countries you are not going to have much time in each country.  On the last two week trip we took to Europe we didn't take any suitcases or check any baggage we just used back-backs.  Not only did we not have to pay the luggage fees we didn't have to wait of checked luggage.  It was so much easier and was a huge time saver.  Everyone carried their own back-back.  Anything we forgot/didn't bring can be bought there.  It forced all of us to pack light and you are less likely to have any luggage stolen. 

You are going to want to fly between countries, take a look at EasyJet or Ryanair.  Bring an International smartphone (or buy a burners phone) and get a pre-paid SIM card for data and maps when you land.  (Don't use US plans they are expensive.)

For Spain we've only been to Barcelona and San Sebastian.  There's a lot to see and do in both, but the beaches in San Sebastian are incredible.  Barcelona is in the Catalonia region and San Sabastian is Basque.  (Vastly different.)  In Barcelona visit Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas, The Dalí Museum, Maritime Museum, and Museum d' Història de Catalunya.

In San Sebastian/Basque region old town/ Parte Vieja, La Concha Beach, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Monte Urgull, and maybe Iglesia de Santa Maria del Coro.

Word of Caution - Barcelona has a fair amount tourist crime.  (Scams from fake nuns to teams of pickpockets and luggage thieves) They are professionals and are incredibly good at what they do.  It's easy to get around in Barcelona and San Sebastian using public transpiration.

There is so much to do in the UK and London.  The tube/taxis are wonderful and it’s easy get around on foot.   I would not drive in the UK as they drive on the other side or the road, lots of traffic, and the streets are a maze.  If you can, catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and visit Harrods food court.

We’ve taken the TGV from London to Paris and the train from Paris to Spain.  You will wind up in Irun.  From Basque region you can take the bus to Barcelona.  And from Barcelona a ferry to Italy.

Hope you have a wonderful time.

RE: Europe with teens ()

I haven't been to Spain but I've been to Italy and England and other European countries a few times with teens. Last summer we spent 2 weeks in Italy with teens.  Two years before that we were 2 weeks in England and Wales.  I've also been to Germany and Amsterdam with teens (teens love Amsterdam).   

I would advise you to pick only one of the countries on your list. Pick the main city you want to visit, and either use it as a base, or divide your time between it and a second city, and take the train or rent a car in between.  You don't want to spend your precious time transporting yourselves and your luggage from England to Italy or from Italy to Spain. That wipes out pretty much an entire day.  Say you've stayed in one city 2 or 3 days and then everybody has to pack up again, get to the airport, spend time waiting at the airport which can be unpredictable, time on the flight, get off the plane and find transport to your new place, unpack again, try to get your bearings in a new place, and then do the same thing 3 days later. I've done this, and it's no fun, especially for kids.  Plus if you are only in a city like Rome or London or Barcelona for 2 or 3 days, you will feel pressure to spend ALL your time there hitting the major attractions, which all the other tourists will also be hitting.  At the most famous places, you will be standing in line with hoards of tourists while locals try to sell you selfie sticks and sun hats and bottled water, and then a quick in and out to see the sights.  You know the anchovy tank at Monterey Bay Aquarium where they swim round and round in a big clump?  It feels like that.

I'm not recommending you skip the major sites or the big cities. They are a blast as long as you are not ONLY at tourist sites. The real fun comes on the days when you have the time to wander around randomly, soaking it all in, visiting some quirky hidden place, trying out cafes that you happen upon and then go back to a second time - you're a regular now! You can get to know a city so much better if you can spend at least 5 days there. So focus on one main city for 5 days at least, or stay there the whole time and take day trips out to other places. Once in a city, get the major attractions out of the way your first day or two there, and then spend the rest of your time enjoying the city.  Walking tours, cafes and delis, flea markets and farmers markets, water taxis in London or Venice -  all fun ways to mingle with the locals and get a feel for a city.

I don't know how easy it is to get around between cities in Spain, but in Italy you can drive from Venice to Florence, or from Florence to Rome, in just a few short hours and the countryside in between is beautiful.  Apartment rentals are much cheaper if you stay for 4+ days, or better, a week. We rented a house outside Florence for a week and it was heaven.  In England it's so easy to visit the small cities and rural England by train from London, and you can get to Wales in 2 hours from London by car. A high point was a B&B/sheep farm in Wales where we could take a footpath into Cardiff or to the local castle. The kids loved that.  Have a fun trip!

RE: Europe with teens ()

Hi. The main thing I'd recommend is that you not try to do too much. If you could stay in one place for a week, and another place for a week, and then do day trips, that would be much better. Then those who want to go on trips can go, those who want to just stay put can have down time. Unless all your kids are very easygoing and adventurous and it's not hard to make lots of transitions...But when I took my kids to Europe when they were teenagers, I wish we had just gotten to know a few places well, rather than try to see too much.

RE: Europe with teens ()

We haven't been to Spain or Italy, but last year we hired a travel agent last summer for a two week trip to the UK. London, York, Glasgow, Scottish Highlands, Isle of Skye, and back to Edinburgh. My kids were 16 and 14 at the time and they LOVED it. I had been skeptical of travel agents but we are definite fans now. She asked us some basic questions, like where did we want to go, and for how long; what was our budget, what were our general interests, what did we want to see, etc. She put together a great itinerary. A travel agent would likely be able to tell you if your plans are unrealistic, and work with you to make a good plan. One of the best things we did was hire a guide/driver for part of the trip who drove us through the Scottish highlands from Glasgow to Skye and back to Edinburgh. Again, we were skeptical, but having the driver allowed us to see more of the countryside, and he shared a bunch of history, and info about current events, etc. If you can, you might consider hiring someone too. We had a private guide but you can also do a small or large group. All that said, my friend went to the UK with her family (including teenage son) at about the same time and she did a great job hunting down air-b-n-b's and doing all the planning herself. That would have made me nuts, but she enjoyed it! So it's definitely possible to have a great time without the use of an agent. 

Other info: 1)We brought carry-on suitcases and did one load of laundry while we were there. 2)We found that staying more than one night in the same place was helpful for our sanity -- constantly moving from town to town was stressful. 3)We took trains from London to York to Glasgow, but flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow. Trains are great because they allow you to see the country and you get a chance to chill out with a book and/or some music. By the end of our trip, we were ready to get home so flying was great. 4)Pro-tip: Heathrow is a HUGE airport so if you have a connecting flight make sure you give yourself plenty of time. We had a three hour layover but our flight was delayed and we had to RUN (just like in the movies!) to make our connection back to SF. 

Our travel agent is Cheryl Moss at Peak Travel, cmoss [at] or 888.373.1953

Have fun!

RE: Europe with teens ()

Boy, this is a tough one. there are so many styles and things to consider as you plan this trip.  

I think the main question is: what is your goal? Are you looking to see the big historical/art sites that your kids have read about?  Or are you looking for a adventure with your kids?

My advice is to resist the temptation to add more sites, and pick a few places where you can stay a bit and soak in the atmosphere.  

If you are interested in the big sites, then pick London, Florence, Madrid, maybe Paris; Get an apartment in each, take the (night) train between them, and day trip.

If you are interested in more adventure, pick some smaller, older towns and day trip from there:  York, Brugges, Toledo, Parma, etc.  You get a little more "culture" than the big capitals, which are exciting, but also a bit more homogenous (but then again, all the big cities have interesting neighborhoods).

I definitely recommend using apartments--not that expensive, space to spread out, and you can eat some meals in, saving some money.  These days you can often get apartments for as little as 3 days. Hit the local markets--always fascinating. Most Tourist offices have a bunch of walking tours--it is usually worth paying for a guided tour, as the guides know so much about the town and the history. They also know how to avoid the tourist restaurants!

For Spain, we loved San Sebastian. Nice beaches, fantastic food, local cheeses and wines.  The Basque area is pretty unique itself, and we rented a car for a day trip into France, which was really fun, getting a little French Basque flair.  If you do rent a car, you can go west a couple of hours and they have caves you can tour with pre-historic art. Really worth a day. We drove from the caves to Barcelona, and discovered "paradors". Spain has taken many old castles and historic buildings in smaller towns and converted them into hotels, some fancier than others. My son was thrilled to spend a night in a castle. Toledo is a great old walled town, famous for Cevantes and knifesmithing. Easy to day-trip to Madrid from Toledo. 

Also search for agroturism--staying in a guesthouse on a farm can be really fun. Could be a winery, could be a dairy, could be really upscale, could be pretty rustic. Lots of opportunities for a memorable stay. Tuscany, of course, is famous for its farmhouses, but many many areas have them. 

In England, you can easily spend a week in London without running out of stuff to do. Easy to get around. Expensive though!  Outside of London, York is a great old midieval town, and Bath has a lot of old Roman ruins.  

RE: Europe with teens ()

Um why are you trying to cram 3 countries into 2 weeks? Spend the whole 2 weeks in just one of the countries and see more and experience the place more deeply. There is plenty to see in each of the countries you mention to occupy you for 2 months much less 2 weeks. I would choose Italy for your kids' ages - Venice, Rome, Florence, Naples, Siena, the coast, the food, the beauty! Have the kids read all the Dan Brown books before you go and they'll be excited to go to the Uffizi!!

RE: Europe with teens ()

I think doing three countries in two weeks is possible, but not a good idea.  Keep in mind that travel time eats up a big chunk of your vacation time if you are moving around a lot.  I would suggest some combination of two countries might work better, or if you want to do three countries, find three that are closer together than the three you mention.  Although each is a short plane flight away, getting to/from the airport eats up loads of time.  

That said, if you don't mind the getting to/from the airport, there are many budget airlines that will whisk you around Europe for relatively low prices.  Check out Veuling (esp for Spain), Ryanair, Spirit Airlines, Easyjet, etc.  I've flown on Veuling and Easyjet and they were both fine.

Taking the trains between those three countries will take a full day or more.  From England to Spain or Italy you have to traverse the equivalent of most of France, after first taking the Eurostar from London to the Continent.    Spain's in-country trains are not as fast as other countries, so until you get out of Spain and into France you won't make good time.  Italy's trains that I've taken have been efficient (especially Frecciarosa line) and can easily be used within the country.  We've done train service from Naples all the way to the Switzerland border and all the trains were on time, reasonably priced, and pleasant.  If you're interested in learning more about train travel in Europe, check out this blog, it's very helpful:

I don't know much about car travel but you can certainly use a mapping website to calculate distances/hours of driving between your destinations.  It's quite expensive, I do know that, and fuel is very expensive.  The cars also tend to be very small, so rent a bigger than usual one, and make sure that if you want an automatic transmission, you pick a car that has one.  Many are manual transmission.

Sights in Spain--Barcelona a beautiful city with lots of interesting sights, especially the Antonio Gaudi architecture.  Bilbao has the amazing Guggenheim.  Pamplona a pretty mountain city.  My brother, who lives near Bilbao, loves going to Madrid and to the Spanish beach resorts.

Just to give you an idea how we spent two weeks (actually I think 16 days each time):

1.  flew SFO-Paris; spent 7 nights in Paris; train to Swiss Alps; 3 nights in Swiss Alps; train to Zurich then direct flight to London; 4 nights in London, then back home

2. flew SFO to Rome; 6 nights in Rome (we visited Naples/Pompeii on a day train trip from Rome); train to Florence; 4 nights in Florence (took day trip to Pisa and Lucca on train); train to Lucerne, 1 night there; train to Zurich, flight to London again, with 3 nights there I think, then back home.

As you can see this didn't allow for going to too many different places in each country.  But if you fly, you will save time and could squeeze in more destinations, or you could just stay a shorter time in each spot.

One thing we found with my kids is that they needed about 2-3 days to get over the jet lag and be fully functional and appreciative of the trip they were on.  The first couple of days they are just cranky and tired.  But your kids may respond much better than mine do.

RE: Europe with teens ()

I just got back from a two week trip to France and Spain with my daughter. We wanted to spend enough time in each place to get to know it and didn't want to spend a lot of time in transit. We spent 5 nights in Paris, 5 in Provence, and 5 in Barcelona. I certainly wouldn't do less than 3 nights per location--it gets exhausting and you spend far too much time packing and unpacking and in transit.

I think it would be asking a lot to do all three countries in one trip. I'd pick two of the three, and pick up to two home bases in each. I've never flown within Europe, but the distances may be great enough to make that make sense. But an overnight train from Spain to Italy also sounds perfectly workable.