Essential Europe

  • 2 Weeks

Watching Europe from the window of a train or gazing at the sea rolling past the handrail of a ferry is the way generations of travellers have explored the continent, and it's still as idyllic today. Hit the region's most unmissable highlights on this two-week itinerary.

Start in the engaging Scottish capital Edinburgh, where highlights include its dramatic castle, then take the train to pulsating London and on to Harwich for a ferry crossing to Hoek van Holland. From here, trains connect to the dynamic, contemporary Dutch city of Rotterdam and the gabled Golden Age canal-scapes of Amsterdam.

Take a fast train to cathedral-crowned Cologne and then relax on a river cruise down the vineyard-ribboned Rhine. Alight at Mainz and connect by train through Basel to picturesque Interlaken for the slow-moving local trains and trams that wend through the majestic Alps. Then take a train past soaring mountain scenery to stylish Milan, home to da Vinci's refectory fresco The Last Supper. From Milan, fast trains zip to Tuscany's resplendent capital, Florence, a veritable Renaissance time capsule. Connect in Milan to snuggle up on the night train to Paris, feeling the romance in the rhythm of the rails.

Backroads of Europe

  • 4 Weeks

Already visited the major capitals? Start discovering the rest of Europe.

The far west of Ireland is rugged and uncrowded; start in bohemian Galway, with its colourful shopfronts and sensational music-filled pubs. A key stop on the Wild Atlantic Way, Galway is also the departure point for the wild Connemara region and windswept Aran Islands. Then travel to Northern Ireland – Belfast in particular, where world-class attractions include Titanic Belfast on the site where the liner was built. Unmissable pubs here include the ornate Crown Liquor Saloon, which is also a National Trust monument. From Belfast, it's also easy to strike out to awe-inspiring natural sights such as the Giant's Causeway. Catch a ferry to reach the dynamic Scottish city of Glasgow and check out the art nouveau architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, along with a trove of museums. Swing south to the atmospheric walled English city of York, crowned by its medieval cathedral York Minster, with outstanding museums detailing the city's history from Roman and Viking times onwards. Hop across to the Netherlands, where buzzing Rotterdam is a veritable open-air gallery of modern and cutting-edge architecture.

Travel to the dynamic eastern German cities of Leipzig, famed for its classic shopping arcades and its nightlife, and Dresden, whose historic core has been restored to its 18th-century glory. Turn south via the stunning Bavarian student hub of Regensburg, set on the banks of the Danube, to the temperate Swiss town of Lugano, on the shores of its sparkling namesake lake, bordered by a flowery promenade. Cross into Italy and stop at the cultured city of Turin, with its regal palazzi and baroque piazzas (ride the panoramic lift up its iconic tower Mole Antonelliana for 360-degree views), followed by beautiful Umbria spots such as Perugia, with its hilltop-perched medieval centre and splendid Gothic palace. In Italy's south, explore frenetic Naples and the winding Amalfi Coast, with villages precariously perched above the glittering sea. Scoot over to the sun-baked Mediterranean island of Sicily to experience its rugged landscapes as well as its ancient and colourful culture. Marvel at the Grecian Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, which rivals anything in Greece itself.

Europe's Mountains

  • 2 Weeks

Buckle up for an exhilarating road trip through some of Europe's most majestic peaks.

From the storybook Austrian city of Salzburg, head east to the mountain-ringed, jewel-like lakes of the Salzkammergut region, where highlights include the precipitous Five Fingers Lookout and glittering Dachstein ice caves. To the south is the heart-in-mouth Grossglockner Road, with 36 switchbacks over 48km as it traverses Austria's highest peak, the 3798m-high Grossglockner.

Northwest, on the Austrian–German border, lies the 2962m-high Zugspitze, Germany's tallest mountain, adjacent to swish ski resort Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps. From here it's a short jaunt to Füssen, crowned by King Ludwig II's fairy-tale castle Schloss Neuschwanstein.

Swing southwest to one of Switzerland's ritziest ski resorts, St Moritz, where you can ride the Bernina Express mountain railway. Continue southwest into Italy to the sparkling lakes of Lago di Como and Lago Maggiore beneath the towering peaks.

Zigzag northwest back into Switzerland to Zermatt, with dress-circle views of the 4478m-high Matterhorn. Then make your way southwest to mighty Mont Blanc – Western Europe's highest peak at 4809m – and its feted ski resort Chamonix across the border in France, by the Mer de Glace glacier.

France & Iberia

  • 2 Weeks

Get a feel for three of Europe's most diverse countries on this relatively compact jaunt.

Start in Paris, discovering the magnificent monuments and hidden backstreet bistros of the City of Light. Visit the chateaux of the Loire Valley, then take the fast TGV train to Brittany. Walk the 17th-century ramparts encircling St-Malo and sample authentic Breton cider. Track south along the Atlantic coast, where red wine reaches its pinnacle around Bordeaux. Cross the border to the Basque city of Bilbao, best known for the magnificent Guggenheim Museum, before continuing to the pilgrimage shrine of Santiago de Compostela.

Spain's art-rich capital, Madrid, is prime for night owls: an evening of tapas and drinks in tiny bars can postpone dinner until midnight. Spend a day exploring the Roman aqueduct and storybook castle in beautiful Segovia. And don't skip the sandstone splendour of lively Salamanca. Plan on using a car to explore the many hill towns of Andalucía. Narrow, winding roads traverse sunburnt landscapes and olive orchards before reaching the whitewashed buildings of Ronda, whose 1785-built Plaza de Toros is considered the national home of bullfighting. Finally, go west via Seville to Portugal's pretty Algarve region, finishing in Faro.

Mediterranean Europe

  • 6 Weeks

Beautiful weather and breathtaking scenery are the draws of this comprehensive tour that takes in famous towns and cities from antiquity to the present.

Start in southern Spain in orange-blossom-scented Seville and soak up the architecture, sunshine and party atmosphere. Make your way up the eastern coast past the Moorish town of Málaga and on to Granada and Córdoba. Then it's back to the coast at Valencia, home of Spain's famous rice-dish paella, for a ferry-hop to the parties and beaches of the Balearic Islands.

Back on the mainland, Barcelona brims with the architecture of Gaudí. From here, head into France's fabled Provence region, where in Marseille you can see the fortress that was inspiration for the novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Then leave the sea for Provence's lush hills and lavender-scented towns around the rampart-hooped city of Avignon. On to the French Riviera and its playground for the rich and famous, St-Tropez. The charming seaside city Nice is a perfect jumping-off point for other nearby coastal hot spots such as glamorous Cannes.

Cruise by ferry to Corsica and experience the traditional lifestyle of quiet fishing villages. Hit the bustling old port of Bastia, Napoléon Bonaparte's home town Ajaccio, then the glittering harbour of Bonifacio to hop on a ferry south to Sardinia and on to Sicily to visit its colossal temples and famous volcano, Mt Etna.

Catch a ferry to Naples, on the Italian mainland, and take a trip to Pompeii. Move east to Brindisi for a ferry to Greece that passes rocky coasts seen by mariners for millennia, landing in Patra. Head to Athens to wonder at the Greek capital's ancient treasures before boarding a plane or ferry to magical islands such as Crete and Mykonos. Return to Italy, taking time to wander amid the ruins and piazzas of Rome. Continue north through Tuscany, stopping at Pisa to see its famous 'leaning tower'. Finish up along the Ligurian coast, travelling via the brightly coloured coastal villages making up the Cinque Terre, strung between plunging cliffs and vine-covered hills, to the port city of Genoa.

Ultimate Europe

  • 6 Weeks

Have limited time but want to see a bit of everything? Hit the highlights on this trip.

Start in Dublin, soaking up its vibrant pubs and rich literary history. From Ireland, fly to London for great theatre. Then catch the Eurostar train through the English Channel tunnel to beautiful Paris.

Travel north to Brussels for amazing beer and chocolate, then further north to free-spirited Amsterdam, making time to cruise its canals. Go east, stopping for a cruise on the Rhine, and spend a few days exploring (and surviving) the legendary nightlife in Berlin. Next, visit Vienna for architectural and classical-music riches. Zip west to Zürich and the Swiss Alps for awe-inspiring ski slopes and vistas.

Head to canal-laced Venice, art-filled Florence and historic Rome. Train it to Bari and take a ferry to Athens, then explore island beaches, starting with the stunning Santorini. Connect by air or go by ferry and train to the French Riviera (aka the Côte d'Azur) to check out quintessential Mediterranean destinations such as Nice. Continue to Barcelona, then the Moorish towns of southern Spain like Granada. End your trip in the hilly quarters of Lisbon, toasting your grand journey with Portugal's port wine.