Help me decide where in Europe to go for a few days…

It looks like I might have three days to spend in Europe next month (as a stopover), and I’d like to visit a new city. I’m just looking for a place with lots to see, good food, and nice hotels that do a good job of honoring elite benefits (I have top tier status with Hyatt, InterContinental, and Starwood and am happy to use points or pay).

I’m considering the following cities:
1) Amsterdam
2) Barcelona
3) Dublin
4) Madrid
5) Munich
6) Prague
7) Zurich

I’m also open to any other destinations, though these sprung to mind first.

I should mention I’m also totally open to obscure or less popular destinations, or even destinations that are more “country” than “city,” as long as it’s fairly easy to get to them.

If anyone has any thoughts, especially a recommendation including both a city and a hotel based on past experiences, that would be awesome!

Filed Under: Travel
  1. I vote for Madrid. TPG’s recent post does a good job of explaining why…But looking at the list, I don’t think you can go wrong.

  2. You’ve never been to Munich???
    But if you come to Amsterdam, I’ll buy you a good Heineken! 😀

  3. I’m assuming you speak German, but do you speak Spanish?

    Barcelona/Malaga/Marbella are great, but in my opinion not as accessible without Spanish.

    Munich is my favorite city in Germany, although my two favorite hotels, Rocco Forte Charles and Bayerischer Hof, are not members of hotel groups, to my knowledge. The Sofitel is not bad, but also has their own program, I believe. Weisswurst und weisbier for breakfast, always my preferred breakfast in Munich.

    Would you consider anywhere in France?

  4. Ralph 🙂 arnt you only 15 ? or am i confusing you with another ralp from FT ? 😀

    but yeah

    Ben, you need to visit Amsterdam !

  5. Thanks for the ideas!

    @ Ralph — It’s been years since I’ve been.

    @ Jimbo — German? Ja. Spanish? Un poco.

    @ Mike — ROFL!

  6. I just got back from St. Petersburg, Russia. I was blown away – the Hermitage is the greatest museum I’ve ever seen (including the Louvre) and the city is gorgeous this time of year. The W Hotel is very nice (but watch out for spurious “registration charges”). The biggest drawback is the very strict and cumbersome Russian visa process.

  7. I live in Barcelona and it’s a very nice place to visit, but, being realistic summer is not the best place (english is not a problem). I won’t recomend to go south in summer as they tend to be very hot places. But all of the places are really nice places to visit (more than once)

  8. Consider Helsinki, a friendly smaller-sized city with good hotels (Starwood’s Hotel Kamp is my personal favorite in Europe), fresh seafood, and beautiful Baltic views.

  9. Zurich is fun for a day or so (especially if you get to stay at the Park Hyatt), and I would recommend splurging on breakfast/brunch upstairs at Sprungli (although I’ve done the latter on a four-hour layover).

    Madrid and Barcelona can both be great for the nightlife, depending on what you’re interested in 😉

  10. Of the hotel groups from which you sport top tier status, I can only see a lonely Holiday Inn Express in Barcelona, my city of choice on your list. However, the NH Hotels group has two great hotels in Barcelona close to city center, the NH Calderon and the NH Podium, and both of them are excellent. I don’t know if they’ll match your status with other programs, however. The Calderon would be preferred because it’s just moments from Las Ramblas, and if you want to see, taste, and experience all that the culture of Catalunya has to offer, that’s where you want to be.

  11. Tallinn, Estonia. I’ve been to Tallinn for about ten times since 1999 and I love the place. Good food, good hotels, incredible medieval architecture – but not much on the points/elite side, apart from Goldpoints, maybe. Terrific place, though.

  12. Did I mention, Tallinn is just a short ferry ride from Helsinki? So, practically speaking two places for the price of one…

  13. The Warsaw IC is pretty good on the benefits – suit or lounge as RA and a great pool on the 43 floor (similar to the Tokyo Hyatt I think). The rates are great too – even below 50 USD per day. City itself should be pretty fun for a stopover, you could also do day trips to Krakow or Gdansk – and sample a new airline in the process.

  14. @Mike Yes I’m that Ralph, but although I’m 15, I can get my stuff LOL 😉

    @Jimbo Barcelona is very touristic and people speak relatively good English

    @Lucky If you do decide Amsterdam, take in consideration to visit other cities like R’dam, The Hague or Den Bosch. Very easy by train and far less touristic.
    Actually, I hate Amsterdam and am quite ashamed for our capital when I see the tourists discovering Amsterdam. I get the feeling they only see the stuff that has a bit of a bad impression of the Netherlands (coffee shops, Red Light District, scams, being ripped off at bad restaurants etc).
    The other cities I mentioned are far more nicer in terms of atmosphere, and also offer some interesting things to visit.

  15. Regensburg, Germany. A short train ride from Munich and not that crowded in the summer. Stayed at a small local hotel and I don’t know how many reward type hotels are there.

  16. Hi Lucky,

    Last month I was in Zurich, Prague, Barcelona and Madrid and have also visited the other cities on your list. I’d go with Madrid. Amsterdam and Prague are wonderful must-sees, Barcelona is great, I would rate Dublin and Zurich as not must-sees.
    Madrid has an energy, especially now for some reason, that I found captivating. All-night socializing, great food, fabulous museums.
    I stayed at the Westin Palace which is unbeatable for location and a beautiful breakfast rotunda. As only a gold spg I did not receive any special treatment, I was told the hotel was fully booked.
    I also stayed at the W Barcelona which is spectacular from a distance and has large standard rooms. I didn’t quite go for the “cool music and mood lighting” style, but it has a distinct vibe. Again no upgrade as gold.Location is near water and beach but a bit removed from the bustle of Barcelona.
    Also stayed at Hilton Old Town Prague, again great location and got a great suite upgrade as only Hilton Silver (not sure why).
    It will be hot weather, but the food in Spain beats Swiss, Dutch or Czech in my opinion.

  17. I don’t hate Amsterdam at all, I love the architecture and old style buildings. If you’re into art it has great museums as well.

    However I do agree that taking a train ride (cheap, fast & reliable!) to another city might be very worth it. I recommend Utrecht and or Haarlem.

  18. My vote is for Barcelona. We were there this spring and we did Tapas crawls…Loved the Squid………

  19. The Pulitzer in Amsterdam and the Meridien/W in Barcelona are all great Starwood properties… As a Cat 5, the Pulitzer is a deal, comparatively.

  20. I loved Barcelona – its a city with everything – beach/history/shops/sights/nightlife and great food! I would also look at Munich, a very beautiful city with great culture and the weather is gorgeous right now!

  21. I’d encourage you to try and visit Portugal, Lisbon maybe. Your Spanish and a smile should help you get by there in Portuguese land.
    It’s an EU destination that I’d love to visit in the next year or two, but have never seen a mileage blogger write about.

  22. If you go to amsterdam, which is great due to fun cheap food, great museums, easy bike rentals, and architecture, also hit Aakmaar which has the most amazing square on Fridays with their 500 pound wheels of cheese on display.

    But my favorite two european cities are Dublin and Barcelona for pure fun

  23. If you go to Switzerland, go to Bern instead of Zurich. I liked it a lot better – plus bears!

    I really liked the reviews the Frugal Travel Guy gave of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Sounds like a must visit location.

  24. If you happen to choose Amsterdam, I’m happy to show you around if I am in Holland at that time!

  25. Madrid! The Westin Palace and IC Madrid are both very nice hotels. Plus, the GM at the Palace is very eager to please Platinums, so you’d almost certainly end up in a nice suite, like I have on every single visit over the past 3 years.

    If you missed my post on why, check it out here: . If not MAD, then I say go for Amsterdam and stay at the Pulitzer.

  26. From Amsterdam you could also do a day trip to The Hague and stay at the Des Indes, a fabulous Luxury collection hotel with great Platinum recognition.

  27. Barcelona!!! Great food, tons to see & do, wonderful people and my limited Spanish skills were never a problem.

    Although…..Barcelona weather is pretty good year round so you might want to consider going somewhere you wouldn’t want to visit during the dead of winter.

  28. Well this may not constitute a real trip, but since this is an airplane/points blog stay in Stockholm, but more importantly the converted 747 hotel. Only about $59 per stay ($235 for cockpit). Only for one night though, more could be boring.

    btw just heard about this
    no affiliation with anything swedish 😀

  29. How about Budapest? Madrid is also great.

    Amsterdam, Barcelona and Prague are going to be absolutely overrun with tourists…

  30. Brugge is a great city to visit if you’ve never been there.
    BTW, I’ll be in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona August 17th – 25th taking advantage of the really cheap US direct from PHL fare, booked via Orbitz and Spanair that was available earlier this year.
    (I’m Rittenhousesq from FT)

  31. I know you like fancy hotels and all, but why don’t you visit Dublin for the day, and bum around the Irish countryside for a few days?

  32. Park Hyatt Milan, take the train up to Como/Bellagio?

    Le Meridien Split? (Seconding @thrashsoundly on Croatia, and if it’s a Star Alliance award you might get to add Croatian to your list of airlines flown.. or do Greece and fly Aegean? Or just pick any destination served by bmi and actually fly them?)

  33. I just had an incredible stay at the Hyatt Regency in Kiev. Great hotel, great lounge, great rooms, great restaurant.

    You should visit Ukraine! No visa necessary for either of your passports.

  34. I agree with a previous commenter that one day in Zurich is sufficient, but if you do go to Zurich, make sure you take a day trip to Lucerne, about an hour away by train. It’s an incredibly scenic town. And it’s got an awesome transportation museum:
    (e.g. they have on display a flight manual for, I think, an A340, that you can browse through).

  35. @The Nomad,

    “Stop over in Zurich and take a train to Grindelwald or other small Swiss towns.”

    We stayed a few days in Grindelwald in Dec 2008 and it was nice. Took the train up to the Jungfraujoch and we lucked out with a clear day. Incredible views.

    I’m not a Zurich fan but I thought Bern was nice.

    Munich is another good one. We stayed at the Hilton which is located on top of the station and was able to do a lot of exploring.

    Probably going to be crowded/hot in much of Europe (not to mention $$$) in August. Might pay to go into the mountains or as someone else mentioned, one of the Scandinavian countries and have tons of daylight.

  36. We just got back from an amazing month in Eastern Europe, and I’d suggest that you consider (in order):

    1. Istanbul
    (I’ve been to a lot of cities and Istanbul might well be the most amazing of the bunch)

    Plus, your most recent photo contest has a photo of the Ayasofya!

    2. Kiev

    3. Krakow

  37. Go to a Greek island , weather ,food , beaches great– people are very nice –forget what you saw on T.V.–or stay in Athens –if you like to sight see — Starwoods has a fantastic hotel in Athens — most speak English

  38. I can’t believe no one has recommended Prague

    Actually all the cities you cited have neat things to see and experience. If you are going in the warmest time of year, you may want a cooler destination.

    Munich is a great city. The MUC airport isn’t very close to town. ZRH is nearer its downtown and there would also be many easy daytrips, even Geneva is only a 3 hour train ride.

    Prague could occupy 3 days.

    I was disappointed in my most recent visit to Amsterdam. It seemed overcrowded, worn out, and to have lost any remaining authenticity. (Though the Amstel was a great IC hotel.)

  39. Why not Stockholm Sweden. Ever been? So much to see plus you get light from 3:AM-Midnight this time of year!

  40. Let me be the first to suggest Luxembourg. Or Edinburgh, but you can’t escape that pesky UK tax.

  41. I would recommend both Barcelona and Madrid and in a few days get a taste for both. To get from one to another take the new bullet train or fly the brief flight. Great cities!! Enjoy!

  42. I haven’t been there, but only one person so far has mentioned (and briefly at that) Italy…is there something I should be aware of that I don’t know?!

  43. Pulitzer in Amterdam was great, be sure to enjoy the caramel cookies in the room!
    Sheraton Prague was very nice as well, and they treat elites well.
    Barcelona is so beautiful

    I’m not sure how you will choose…

  44. I’m not sure Lucky is interested in Munich because of his familiarity with Germany. My vote is for Amsterdam, the fries on Damrak is worth a visit 😉

  45. I’d definitely say Amsterdam — Would recommend the Marriott Amsterdam for how they treat elites but you aren’t a Marriott guy (Still trying to figure out why so few are.. prolly the night requirements). Definitely check out the Heineken Brewery!

  46. Bologna Italy and Bratislava Slovakia are each nice if you want to go for something different. OTOH might as well go to NL before they check for ID at coffee shops.

  47. Utrecht, Netherlands. I studied abroad there for what was supposed to be one semester, turned into two years. Doesnt get much better.

  48. I’ll have to side with Les: do consider Helsinki! August is absolutely perfect for a visit up north – warm, but not too hot. (Admittedly, I did once get a bit of a sunburn in Helsinki, though it wasn’t actually that hot – just very sunny. :D) Munich and Zurich, on the other hand, can get fairly uncomfortable during a heat spell and display a shocking lack of air conditioning.

    Hotel Kämp is a great place to stay in Helsinki – excellent service, perfect location; and a very nice spa to boot!

  49. I spent a few months in Amsterdam for work last summer/fall and I would agree that it is a great city to visit for a few days. Biking around is a lot of fun, and there are great music festivals most weekends in the summer, in addition to the museums, churches, restaurants, parks, etc that are there year round. On a few trips I stayed at the Pulitzer. The location is great, but the rooms are honestly pretty hit or miss (as they are all different)and I found it overall to be a bit boring. I think that my parents would like staying there a lot, but it is not the most fun place for a young guy (I am 2 years older than you Lucky). I don’t have another great hotel recommendation (as I got an apartment eventually). I did spend a week at the College Hotel, which was very cool, but it is independent, so no points, and I know that can be a deal breaker. If you do end up in Amsterdam check out Restaurant Red. Make sure to have a reservation, as it books up quickly. They have amazing great steak and fries (there are only two things on the menu, the other being lobster, but the steak is the winner) and the price is exceptionally reasonable for how good the food is and how trendy the place seems (the great staff too, both to talk to and look at). During my time in Europe I spent a few days in Barcelona, Madrid, and Munich (ranked in that order for where to go if not Amsterdam), but I think that Amsterdam is the best place if you are young and traveling alone to explore. It is run, everyone speak English, and you can walk everywhere.

  50. Also, for an inexpensive hotel to see a cool new concept maybe try Citizen M (the one in the city, not the airport). It is a bit out of downtown, but only at 10 minute bike ride, and they are starting to expand throughout Europe and to the US. I think it would make a fun trip report based on who different it is than your typical major brand hotel.

  51. Go to Madrid, Munich, or Prague so I can get a trip report. My gf and I are going to those three cities along with Paris in September.

  52. I’m suggesting Zurich because it is culturally extremely rich, a pretty city and close to anywhere else in Switzerland (Bern in 1h, Lucerne in 1 h).
    If you’d come around a weekend, I could even give you a Tour through Zurich or even Switzerland myself.

  53. I say: Istanbul, Krakow, Amsterdam or Barcelona

    Krakow has a great Sheraton located right across from the Wawel Castle. This is an under-rated city in my mind and we thought it was fabulous for restaurants and the town square is amazing. Plus you can do a day trip out to Aushwitz.
    In Amsterdam, the Pulitzer hotel is very cool and the location is also awesome, close to the Anne Frank house and great restaurants and the oldest bar in town (Cafe Chris, 1624)

  54. Don’t know how much this will affect your decision, but the IC in Prague has the best breakfast buffet spread I’ve ever seen. Also some weird architecture.

  55. Can’t believe I’ve been to every city on your list. I did both Madrid (return trip) and Lisbon (first time) as a combined trip this year and would love to go back to either of those for a few days. I did Holiday Inns on both trips that worked out fine. I was rather impressed with how far the dollar went in Lisbon when it came to dining.

    I hit the Naval Museum in Madrid this time and well worth the visit. Lisbon had a great waterfront (walkable) with cafes and restaurants and narrow alleys in the city center that I loved walking through. It reminded me of a small version of San Francisco and even had a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge on Rio Tejo.

    Lisbon has express bus service in from the airport (no trains). If you’re interested in getting out to Fatima, there’s also express bus service out there (about 90 minutes). Easy day trip out.

    I also did Dublin this year as part of 10 days in Ireland. I would not recommend a trip to Ireland if you’re only going to visit Dublin. Save Ireland for when you have time to combine Dublin with travel out west to Doolin, Dingle, Galway, or Killarney.

  56. Barcelona!

    As others mentioned is an awesome that I myself would like to visit!


    Would be a great place to visit as well if you can find a friend to go as well.

  57. I would put my vote in for Budapest. I do believe there is an IC there. The city is very beautiful and less expensive than many other choices mentioned thus far. Additionally, your travel in eastern europe seems less frequent than the rest of the continent.

  58. Another vote for Zurich here. Weather has been perfect as of lately, ZRH is a great airport, LX a great airline… what more does one need?

  59. Have had the opportunity to visit all the places you mentioned there and I believe it is hard to go too far wrong with that list. All have great things going for them.

    However cannot resist throwing another option in the ring Valencia,_Spain

    Great old/modern things to see with lovely old town,wonderful far out modern architecture, one of the best aquariums in the world. Home of paella

    They also have a very nice Westin

  60. Amsterdam.
    Barcelona & Madrid are extremely hot & humid at this time of year, not to mentioning Barcelona overflowing with tourists, and Madrid being a pretty boring city for the under-40 crowd.
    Budapest – great party town but otherwise hotter not as interesting a city as others.
    Munich – yawn!
    Amsterdam – unique, beautiful, ideal for walking around, great sightseeing, comfortable, great coffee houses and old fashioned bars, ideal weather.

  61. Within your list, it’s Barcelona — hands down. Nothing on there comes even close for the weather, beaches, nightlife, architecture, and people.

    Outside of your list, you might consider Warsaw. Interesting history, fun people, nightlife, and 3 days is the perfect amount of time (more than that and you’ll run out of things to see/do).

  62. I would have to highly recommend Madrid. Amazing food, great architecture, and awesome culture/people. If you are willing to try a new hotel chain, the ME by Melia in Plaza Santa Anna is awesome

  63. Is Iceland an option at all? Various Star Alliance carriers (Lufthansa, SAS) fly there during the summer, so this might be your best chance to go. Strongly recommended.

  64. I’m with Murphy. Check out Luxembourg. Luxembourg Air is part of the LH family and for my money there is no place I have enjoyed more. The Hilton is a bit off the path, but there is decent bus service to it. I would recommend a non-chain in town though. There is a thread on MilePoint with pictures of the city.

    If that isn’t your thing I would say Amsterdam. I’m not a huge fan of the city, but it certainly has a certain feel to it and should be on every traveler’s short list.

  65. Zurich – avoids hassle of adding addl flights intra-EU, PH Zurich is very good, good time to visit.

  66. Earlier this year, went to Portugal for the first time, spending about a week traveling from Porto to Lisbon. Both are incredible cities, and flights into Porto are much easier to get than I expected. (Star Alliance member TAP Portugal flies daily directs from Newark).

    I have a long list of places I love to spend time in in Europe (including Spain–I love Madrid and Barcelona and several of the smaller cities), but this trip put Portugal near the very top. I recommend it over anywhere in Spain, and it’s one of the cheaper destinations you can choose.

    As a bonus for a short trip, the country is small enough that it is very easy to get around. I was there too early for beach season but saw quite a bit of the rest of the country.

  67. Out of all those, I vote for Munich since you can also (if you have time) jump on a train for day trip to Salzburg, Austria. (about 1 1/2 hours each way).

    Not on your list but one of my favorite European cities if you like history, culture and style is Vienna!

    I don’t think there is enough to do in Madrid, personally, and Amsterdam can feel a little grungy in the summer with the heat, stoned backpacker crowd, etc…

  68. Try Porto…. beautiful place, great wine… – and I think they just opened a new Internontinental!

  69. Madrid is a great city – I spent a week there in April. However it will be stinking hot in August (up to 40C) and there is no where to escape from the heat as the beaches are about 400km away!
    Budapest is a great city with beautiful thermal spas to relax in after a days sightseeing.
    I live in Ireland, so I also have to say Dublin, but I’d only spend a day/night in Dublin and then use the rest of the time to get away from the city and explore some of the gorgeous countryside – head to the west and southwest. Plus it won’t be hot in Ireland!

  70. I’m with Carl, why had no one else recommended Prague?!?! Fantastic old city that still has its charms. Castles, bridges, river. Great sightseeing experience.

  71. looks no consensus. I love Amsterdam. They have a great transport system in the Netherlands too. You can hop on a train and go to lots of little cities easily. But there is plenty to see in town as well.

    If you haven’t been to Copenhagen, it is a great city too. Especially this time of year. And you can jump on the train over to Malmo for a day too to see a little Sweden if you’d like.

    Another nice thing about both of those cities is that you can get the train from the airport directly into town.

  72. @Ben, I have to ask, how do you afford both in terms of time and money to be constantly traveling in the manner that you do?

  73. I recommend Budapest, especially if you are considering Prague. I thought Budapest was a much more interesting city with a lot more to do than Prague and is slightly off the beaten trail. Also, I know you don’t usually stay at Four Seasons, but this is one of the best Four Seasons in the chain and hands down the best place to stay in Budapest. FHR usually has decent rates and great upgrades there.

  74. You guys are awesome, thanks SO much for all the ideas. Frankly, y’all actually haven’t helped a whole lot, since you’ve only made the decision tougher. 😀

    It’s funny, I’ve focused on Asia for so many years after previously focusing almost exclusively on Europe. Now I realize how much I’ve missed in Europe when I was younger, so it’s time to switch the focus back to Europe for a while, it seems!

    Again, absolutely brilliant ideas. I never realized how awesome Barcelona is. I obviously need to do the other cities listed as well. I hadn’t realized Lufthansa flies to Iceland seasonally, so now I’m tempted to do that, though it won’t fit into this trip, unfortunately.

    I still haven’t decided which I’ll go with, though it seems like I’ll avoid Barcelona given that it’s the peak of summer, since it seems to be a great city to do off season. As a German I’m embarrassed to not have done more or Munich, so I’m tempted to do that, especially since I’d really like to make it out to Castle Neuschwanstein.

    Thanks again, folks! And certainly feel free to keep passing on the suggestions. If I don’t use ’em now, I’ll certainly refer back to this post when planning a future trip.

  75. I would vote for San Sebastian in Northern Spain. We went with few expectations…and hated to leave after 6 days. As in, do we really have to go to Rome? We loved it that much.
    The Hotel Maria Christina is in Starwood’s Luxury Collection, and it’s lovely.

  76. I neglected to mention the incredible food and wine. To stroll the Old Town in the evenings for pintxos was delightful, and a memory I won’t soon forget.

  77. Go to Antwerp for a few days. Just a stone’s throw from Brussels or Amsterdam by train. Great vibe, lots going on, surprisingly good museums, architecture, great restaurants and bars, and of course excellent Belgian beer. As an ex New Yorker living in the UK, it reminded me most of a city-sized version of the West Village.

  78. I just got back from Zurich & other Swiss towns. If you’re looking to stay in the city, I would not recommend Zurich. Clean and easy to get around, but relatively unfriendly and hyper-expensive compared to other European cities I’ve been to. That said, if you haven’t had a chance to get to the smaller towns in the Alps, then you are really missing something extraordinary.

  79. MUNICH is the place to be! Go into the Charles Hotel and you won`t regret your stay! You will regret having to leave!


  80. And in Prague, there is also a Hotel like the Charles Hotel.. It is the same Hotel Group, which is called Rocco Forte Hotels. The Hotel in Prague is called Augustine Hotel, half cloister, half hotel.. Amazing!

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