Self-drive family holiday
10 countries in 20 days
If you have a family of four or five it may well save you money to rent a car and drive yourself. This site has details on where to stay, how to book etc as well as about 220 photographs of major cities and beautiful scenery taken on a trip we did in July, 2010. Below is a summary and further notes. Hotel details are on the photo pages. All photos are copyright Doug & Yoice Cotton. Click here to purchase stock images.
Day 1: Fly to London Heathrow, rent a car, park in Islington and take a bus to the city.
Day 2: Go on a sight-seeing bus tour around London and return to Islington.
Day 3: Drive via Channel shuttle and Brussels (Belgium) to Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Day 4: Drive via Frankfurt (Germany) to Strasbourg (France) and stay the night there.
Day 5: Drive via Zurich and St Gallen through the beautiful Alps to Innsbruck, Austria.
Day 6: Spend a couple of hours in romantic Verona and stay in the vicinity of Milano.
Day 7: Explore Milan then drive to Florence (Italy) and stay the night there.
Day 8: Spend the morning in Florence and drive to a hotel in the Rome vicinity.
Day 9: Go on a sight-seeing bus tour around Rome and stay a second night there.
Day 10: Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa and stay the night in Genova.
Day 11: Drive via Nice and Marseilles in France to Montpellier.
Day 12: Visit Barcelona (Spain) and return to the same hotel in Montpellier, France.
Day 13: Drive via Avignon and Lyon to a hotel in the vicinity of Geneva, Switzerland.
Day 14: Look around Lausanne on Lake Geneva, then drive to a hotel near Paris.
Day 15: Go on a sight-seeing bus tour around Paris and return to the same hotel.
Day 16: Drive (via Channel shuttle) to Dover Castle and stay at Maidstone, England.
Day 17: Visit Stonehenge then drive via Manchester to Liverpool, England.
Day 18: Drive via Carlisle Castle to Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Day 19: Drive via historic Durham and York, staying the night at Rotherham.
Day 20: Visit Sheffield and Oxford University, return your car and fly home that night.
The best time to do the trip is in late June and early July before the German school holidays start in late July. Be sure to take a GPS (Sat Nav) and download UK and Europe data beforehand. You are certain to get lost without one. You should check that you have a suitable card (e.g. Visa debit card) that will work overseas in cash machines (ATM's.) Also check that your phone has roaming enabled, but remember it is expensive. You may prefer to use public phones to confirm hotel bookings as there can be errors with internet bookings.
We selected hotels with family rooms through expedia.com.au where there were special deals available. We also rented a standard size manual Vauxhall from Thrifty (Heathrow) through expedia.com.au. Before leaving home check that all your family's bags will fit in the boot of a similar size car. You will have to pay extra to take an English rented car to Europe because of the extra paperwork for insurance and roadside service cover. Remember to drive on the right hand side of the road in Europe and to go anticlockwise at roundabouts. In the UK you drive on the left and go clockwise at roundabouts. You are also going to need an international driver's license (from road service associations or automobile clubs) and a traveller's pack with a safety triangle etc which you can buy at the Eurotunnel shops at Folkestone. (Click here to book your return trip on the Eurotunnel train.) In Austria you should buy a vignette from a service station. You will have to buy one in Switzerland (40 Euro) in lieu of paying tolls for motorways. Such tolls are prolific in Austria, Italy and France, but are based on distance, so don't worry about turning off a motorway to visit some city. You will get a ticket when entering a motorway and then pay cash when exiting the motorway.
Make use of the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing buses in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. In London the "Big Bus" blue route is the most complete, taking several hours. They operate from 8.30am to 6.30pm and you could easily spend all that time if you get off at several stops. If you arrive late morning the first day in London it may be best just to walk around Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery etc and then do the Sightseeing bus tour the second day. Note however that Westminster Abbey is not open on Sundays. Rome wasn't built in a day, but you should try to see it (and Paris) in one day by making an early start.
P.S. You could save a day by skipping Milan on Day 6 and going straight from Verona to Hotel Pedrini, Bologna (with family rooms for 4) then seeing Florence the next day and driving on to Rome for that night. You could also save a further day by skipping Barcelona and staying only one night in Montpellier.
A further day could be saved by skipping Amsterdam, perhaps doing Europe anticlockwise by going from London to Paris, Geneva, Montpellier etc, ending with a long drive straight from Strasbourg to Maidstone.