Eight Days: Paris, Barcelona, & Lisbon

Three European capitals, eight days
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Paris... an icon, a romantic ideal, and an imperative stop for all world travelers (Frederick Schussler/Weststock)
The European Wheel of Fortune
Paris, Barcelona, and Portugal are three cities best woven together by flights and overnight trains. Thanks to very competitive no-frills airlines within Western Europe, inexpensive tickets are easy to come by, especially in the fall, and country-to-country train fare is equally reasonable. But if you're aiming to save every last cent, short-distance train travel makes for a sane and scenic alternative to flying. Consider starting in Paris (because everyone must see Paris), then train into Amsterdam, where rustic enticement—especially cycling—will temper the city's vices. On the way back, stop off in one (or several) of Belgium's charming cities, from the scenic college town of Lueven to Brussels, the country's capital.

Think of this itinerary as a sample menu: a quick appetizer of French cheese, followed by Spanish paella, and topped off with a fine Portuguese port. Sure, each city really demands a few weeks—at least—to really get a taste for its many charms. But because Europe is close to the U.S., with airfare consistently dropping after the summer peak season, the next time you hop across the pond, you'll be ready for the Spanish flair for staying up well past midnight, the intoxicating allure of French wine, the quiet, pancake-flat cycling routes of the Minho region...

Day 1-2:
Fly into Paris in the a.m. (as with most European hubs, cost of airfare from the U.S. will drop along with the temperature). But before you land, spend at least part of the flight tearing through the guidebook of your choice (we like Time Out Paris) to narrow your obsessions. Ease into the scene by hitting up some of the traditional tourist spots the first day, from museums (the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Musee Picasso) to landmarks (Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame) to the more eclectic locales (the skull-lined Catacombes or Montmarte, home of the Moulin Rouge and an army of commercial artists). Ascend the Eiffel Tower at night to witness the City of Lights in full illumination, then spend your second day catching everything you missed the first day out. Eat cheap by buying fresh fruit and cheese from local stores (save the five-course meal for the less-expensive Lisbon), and be certain to take time out to sample the French café lifestyle (read, order coffee, and relax). End your last night in Paris by renting a pair of roller blades and racing through the city with 5,000 other daredevils (along with a police escort). Since 1993, Paris has hosted Europe's biggest street-skating party every Friday night at 10 p.m.; thousands of skaters converge for the three-hour moonlit tour at Montparnasse Railway Station.

Day 3:
Don't give in too much to invites for post-ride libations (even if mid-November brings the Beaujolais Nouveau Festival—young wine with a short shelf life that inspires grape-bushel-shaped balloon decoration and city-wide consumption). You wake early for an hour-long trip that'll deposit you in the forests of Fontainebleau for a balloon ride at sunrise ($285). Make a leisurely return to Paris, and wile away the hours till you depart for Barcelona.
For more ideas on Paris excursions, check out the Paris Office of Tourism's website.

Day 3-6
Score a cheap overnight train ticket (www.eurorailways.com/rail/premier) from Paris to Barcelona (promotional fares for off-season tickets run as low as $81) and arrive in this port city on the Mediterranean Sea, where two days of eating, drinking, Gaudi-mesmerized street wandering, museum going, and dancing await. If you reach the city between mid-October and mid-December, score a ticket to the International Jazz Festival. Mid-afternoon siestas will make the late dinners (say, 9 or 10 o'clock) and the much-later bedtimes tolerable. Then again, you've only got a few days; no one will fault you if you don't even sleepÂ… after all, you've got some downtime on that plane ride to Lisbon via Madrid.
For more choice adventures in the city that doesn't sleep, consult the Barcelona Office of Tourism.

Day 6-8
Fly into Lisbon, where you'll find the cost of living noticeably cheaper than Paris or Barcelona (apt justification for blowing any money you've managed to save). Land in the country during November and you can check out ArteLisboa (the International Contemporary Art Fair), where the people-watching is just as rewarding as the art on display. The city's unpretentious atmosphere, low skyline, and position on Rio Tejo will make for a tranquil locale for your last urban hopscotch through this part of Western Europe. Stroll through the Baixa District, get lost in the maze of alleyways in Alfama, and start plotting your return trip to any—or all—of these cities. Better yet, contemplate giving each European country at least two weeks. You may be broke by the end of it all, but you won't be disappointed.
See Lisbon's Office of Tourism website for more details.

Published: 18 Oct 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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