After I graduated from university, I went to Europe for five weeks with my best friend. This was a really diverse trip because we chose big cities and small towns, did day trips and squeezed in quick stops as well as taking more time in some places. We travelled by train, ferry and cruise ship and spent three weeks travelling independently and then two weeks on a group tour.
It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had because we were able to travel through fewer countries, but more towns. I loved inching our way through Italy and experiencing so many variations of Italian culture.
Read on for our full itinerary!
You can read my travel journal series about the trip here.
Our travel wishlist
I travelled with my best friend, who I’ve known my whole life. I’ve been to Paris three times and a number of other cities in France and Italy but was desperate to see Greece and hopefully some of Turkey. I was also really keen to see Spain.
My friend had never been on a plane, let alone out of Australia, so she was keen to cover a lot of ground for her first trip. We both agreed on Greece as a must-see. She was really open minded about where she wanted to go, which was awesome.
We decided France and Italy would be perfect for seeing lots of big sights as well as discovering new little places along the way.
We wanted to go to Spain but we were starting in Paris and it would be easier to go either left to Spain or right to Italy at the bottom of France. Spain is a huge country with at least five cities I am dying to see, so we thought it would be better for its own trip.
We were going to stay in London and visit Cambridge but it ended up getting too expensive. The train across the channel would be almost as expensive as the rest of our train trips put together! We nixed London, and I have no regrets. A day in London is better spent in Paris, in my extremely biased opinion.
Accommodation: Clean and comfortable
At the time we were both students, so we were on a budget. Neither of us wanted to stay in hostels.
We both saved all year so we could stay in comfortable accommodation. We chose B&Bs close to the centre of town since we were in most places for just a couple of days. We purposefully made time for chilling out in quieter places so that three days felt much longer.
Transport: Trains over planes
Taking a train is often cheaper than flying. It’s also much easier to board a train than it is an airplane. I’d rather spend time watching the countryside change than standing in a security queue at an airport. Train stations are also often closer to the town than airports.
Itinerary: 5 Weeks in France, Italy & Greece
- Paris (4 nights)
- Avignon (3 nights)
- Nice (3 nights) plus day trips to Cannes and Monaco, minus a failed day trip to St Tropez
- Levanto (2 nights) + day trips to Vernazza and Monterosso in Cinque Terre
- Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre (1 night) + Day trip to Corniglia and Manarola
- Milan (2 hr stopover)
- Verona (1 night) + Day trip to Venice
- Florence (3 nights)
- Rome (3 nights)
- Sorrento (2 nights) + Day trips to Capri and Amalfi
- Itinerary: 2 Weeks in Italy
- Escape the Cinque Terre crowds in Levanto
- Eating in Italy: Breakfast
- Monterosso: The best beach in Cinque Terre
- Riomaggiore: Cinque Terre’s most colourful village
- Postcards from Vernazza, Cinque Terre
- When travel gives you lemons…go to Milan
- Biting off more than we can chew in the Boboli Gardens
- Discovering Aperitivo in Rome
- Sailing around Capri & the Blue Grotto
- Treating my feet on Amalfi Beach
- Why I failed to fall in love with Rome
- Rush hour by the Rialto Bridge
- Overnight ferry from Bari to Piraeus, followed by a big drive across Greece to Athens (1 night)
- From Athens we started a cruise (3 nights) which took us to Santorini, Mykonos and Patmos
- Back to Athens (1 night) I am glad we returned to Athens, I liked it much better the second time we visited!
Independent travel vs Contiki Tours vs Cruise
I loved our time just travelling by ourselves. I wasn’t quite ready to start a group tour after three weeks of solo travel, but it was worth it. When our Roman guide took us for a walking tour of Rome I was so thankful that we had chosen a tour for part of the trip. She told us so many interesting stories that we didn’t find in guidebooks or on the Internet. She was loads of fun and had oodles of local knowledge. She was easily the best guide I’ve ever had!
We chose the Contiki Tour because we were hesitant about travelling solo through Greece during the crisis. The islands are so far out at sea, I was glad that we took a cruise. It was also really easy travelling between Italy and Greece with a group.
I wouldn’t do a cruise to places I really want to explore. I didn’t realise we’d only have 4 hours at each destination, which wasn’t nearly enough time.
- Visiting the Blue Grotto in Capri
- Pasta cooking class in Rome
- Seeing the Lido in Paris – I enjoyed it so much more than the Moulin Rouge
- Chilling out in Place des Vosges in Paris
- Eating ice cream nearly every day
- Shopping in Florence
- Spending time in the gorgeous seaside village of Levanto
- Swimming in the water at Monterosso
- Making friends in Nice and lazing around on the beach all the time
- Manarola, Cinque Terre
- Views from the Acropolis in Athens