This past summer our family of 4 (kids ages 6 and 16) went on a 2-week European road trip. It took me several months to plan our trip and it will take me several months to share all the interesting things we saw on this 15 day itinerary through Germany, Alsace (France), and Switzerland, and – I fully intend to do so in the upcoming weeks (and months!) But first, I would like to start by mapping out our journey for you.
We made 8 overnight stops on this trip, and here they are, with driving mileages, VIA points and day trips from each stop.
STOP 1. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany (1 night)
Drive: Frankfurt Airport, Germany, to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Miles: 115 (1hr 40 mins)
We flew into Frankfurt, Germany (from New York), took possession of our rental car and drove to our first destination, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (not to confuse with a couple of “other” German Rothenburgs). We explored this “straight from the fairy tale” medieval town (one of Germany’s best preserved) on foot – on our own during the day and with the Night Watchman’s Tour at night.
STOP 2. Munich, Germany (3 nights)
Drive: Rothenburg-ob der Tauber, Germany to Munich, Germany (VIA Nuremberg, Germany)
Miles: 160 (3 hrs.)
Day trips from Munich: Lake Chiemsee (islands Herreninsel and Fraueninsel); Salzburg, Austria
We left Rothenburg in the morning to start our drive South to Munich. On our way we stopped in Nuremburg to pay our tribute to WWII history at Memorial Nuremberg Trials. We highly recommend visiting this powerful Museum housed in the functioning Palace of Justice. (If not in use for current trials, you can see Room 600 where the actual trials over Nazi regime took place in 1945-1946.) Exhibit rooms tell the commanding story of this first ever International Military Tribunal: the defendants, the evidence, the prosecutors, the sentencing, and famous visitors from around the world. We followed along with the self-guided audio tours. To preserve the significance of the visit, we did not stop anywhere else in Nuremberg and spent the 1.5 hour drive to Munich in quiet reflection.
We spent the following three nights in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, a cosmopolitan city representing the Germany of today. Traditional beer houses, world class art museums, vibrant central squares Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz, an epic day trip to the islands of Lake Chiemsee and Salzburg occupied our time in this modern city with a history. We left Munich wanting more of it. Stay tuned for my “three day Munich itinerary” post in the coming weeks.
STOP 3: Ettal, Germany (Bavarian Alps), 3 nights
Drive: Munich, Germany to Ettal, Germany (VIA Lake Walchensee, Germany)
Miles: 75 (1 hr 40 mins.)
Day trips from Ettal: Neuschwanstein Castle, Fussen, Linderhof Castle, Zugspitze, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Oberammergau.
When we practically tore ourselves from last minute Munich sightseeing in the afternoon, we headed south east in the direction of Garmsich-Partenkirchen to a small town of Ettal which we have chosen as our base to explore Bavarian Alps. Over the next couple of days we swam in Alpine lakes, admired more of King Ludwig II impressive creations set against the Alps, journeyed to the top of Germany (aka Zugspitze mountain) and explored picturesque Bavarian towns of Oberammergau and Partenkirchen. And when we felt that we had enough of Bavarian country side, we headed to Switzerland.
STOP 4: Zurich, Switzerland (1 night)
Drive: Ettal, Germany to Zurich, Switzerland
Miles: 175 Miles (3.5 hours)
Our drive from Ettal to Zurich was the longest on our road trip. Our trip plan (and frankly, the budget) only allowed us a glimpse into this beautiful country, but we loved what we saw and will hopefully have a chance to explore more of Switzerland on another trip.
In elegant Zurich, the city of swans and fountains (not to mention the clocks and the banks, of course) we put Zurich Cards generously offered by Zurich Tourist Office to a good use. Here is our “24 hour Zurich” post.
STOP 5: Lucerne (1 night)
Drive: Zurich, Switzerland to Lucerne, Switzerland
Miles: 35 ( 40 mins)
Day trip from Lucerne: Mount Pilatus
From Zurich we drove south for less than an hour to Lucerne, for another “one-nighter” (we managed to squeeze 2 full sightseeing days out of our stay in Lucerne). The old town with its unique covered bridges decorated with 17th century art, blue waters of Lake Lucerne surrounded by glorious mountain tops – one of which (Mount Pilatus) we journeyed to using 5 different transports, followed by a visit to the Transport Museum itself – filled our 2 days in beautiful Lucerne to the fullest.
STOP 6: Ribeauville. (Alsace) France
Drive: Lucerne, Switzerland to Ribeauville, France (3 nights)
Miles: 110 (1.5 hrs.)
Day trips from Ribeauville: Colmar, Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg, Kayzerberg
We were only able to leave the awe inspiring Lake Lucerne at 8pm as the skies started to turn grey for the first time on our trip (this was actually welcomed after 8 days of sightseeing in intense heat).
At some point (we did not notice in the dark) during our 2 hour journey to Ribeauville we crossed the Swiss boarder over to France and found ourselves in the Alsatian wine region. We awoke in the morning to the views of the vineyards right outside our terrace. For the next 3 days the pace of our journey slowed down a bit, as we tasted local whites, walked cobblestone streets of charming towns on the Alsatian wine route and went on culinary adventures in tiny local restaurants (did you know that Alsace has the most Michelin stars restaurants in France?)
STOP 7: Baden-Baden, Germany (2 nights)
Drive: Ribeauville, France to Baden-Baden, Germany (VIA Strasbourg, France)
Miles: 77 (1.5 hrs)
We left our Ribeauville base in the morning but continued our exploration of Alsace as we headed to Alsatian capital of Strasbourg. We spent 6 busy hours putting Strasbourg City Pass to the test (it passed!) as we climbed Notre Dame Cathedral (once the tallest building in the world), toured canal-lined medieval Petite France quarter (Unesco World Heritage Site), took a boat tour along Ill river all the way to the European Parliament and admired ancient royal residence Palace Rohan which once housed Napoleon for the night.
As much as we admired Strasbourg, we were ready for some heavy duty relaxation that awaited us in the German spa town Baden-Baden at the foothills of the Black Forest.
We headed out to the famous Baden-Baden spas as soon as we unpacked. We spent the next 2 days soaking in the thermal waters of the town’s 2 main spas – Friedrichsbad and Caracalla, taking short breaks for art museums (which, may I say, included the world’s most beautiful casino decorated with original paintings and period furniture), a cable car ride up to mountain Mercur and a walk along famous Lichtentaler Allee, straight from the 19 century Russian novel. When asked if he would do anything differently on our busy trip, my husband’s (aka designated driver and photographer) only regret was that we did not spent another day in Baden Baden’s spas.
STOP 8: Frankfurt Airport, Germany (1 night)
Drive: Baden-Baden, Germany to Frankfurt Airport, Germany (VIA Bingen, Germany)
Miles:150 (2.5 hrs.)
On our last sightseeing day, after (yet another) last minute soak in the Baden’s thermal pools, we drove to Bingen to catch a cruise along the Rhine river. With its steep vineyards’ lined shores, dreamy villages of Bacharach, Boppard and St. Goar and a castle every hundred feet- it is no wonder Middle Rhine has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. We took a 4:30pm cruise with KD line out of Bingen to the village of St. Goar (and rode a train back to our car in Bingen). We spent the night at the hotel at Frankfurt Airport before taking an early morning flight to New York.
It was a beautiful ending to the road trip quite out of the ordinary.
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