Day Trip or Overnight Stay? Paris, Oxford, Iona, Toledo and more

Posted in: Trip Planning

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Toledo's spirit changes come nightfall. Photo: Nic's Events
Toledo's spirit changes come nightfall. Photo: Nic's Events

When exploring Europe, the easy option is to choose a central city and use that as a base for exploring the area around. It often makes sense.

Paris is a sensible jumping-off point for a day trip to Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny — and in truth in mid-summer the glorious shade and pools at Giverny make a wonderful counterpoint to the heat and bustle of the city.

Dark tourism by day

Visitors to Prague make day trips to Terezín while those in Kraków make tracks to Auschwitz. Both are thought-provoking adventures in dark tourism, but neither destination is calculated to inspire an overnight stay. The horror of Auschwitz becomes bearable by day, precisely because you know you’ll be back in the comfort of Kraków by evening.

Oxford connections

Some places are just far too good to breeze into mid-morning and leave by early evening. They demand time.

The university city of Oxford is one such place. The local Cotswold stone is at its best when seen at low sun angles, and the streets of Oxford take on a new quality in the early morning and late evening in summer.

The city is less than an hour from London by fast train, so no surprise that by day the streets, the College gardens and the banks of the Thames are crowded with visitors. Stay on after the day trippers have left and you’ll discover quite another Oxford.

Iona by night

Iona also cries out for an overnight stay. No other Scottish island packs so much history into so compact an area. Travelers make hugely ambitious day trips by coach and ferry to catch the flavor of one of Europe’s most sacred spaces. Iona is remote, and it deserves time.

With the departure of the last ferry back to Mull (usually at 6.30 pm at this time of year, but a little earlier on Sundays), Iona assumes a gentler, more serene demeanor. It is a place to linger and meditate, and with the island having a couple of good hotels and several B&Bs there is a fine choice of accommodation options. It is the huge coach parties that take the edge off Iona by day. By night you’ll experience a much quieter island.

Another kind of Toledo

Madrid’s first choice destination for out-of-town forays is Toledo, just 30 minutes from the Spanish capital by frequent fast trains. No surprise that with such easy access, Toledo really pulls the crowds. By day, you’ll wonder if this was really the city that so inspired El Greco. But, come the evening you’ll discover quite another Toledo. Head for the terrace bar at the Parador and watch the sun dip down over Toledo’s choppy roofscape.

Italian diversions

It is just too tempting to try and squeeze in too much when visiting Italy. Too many travelers spend a couple of nights in Florence but judge Siena as being worthy of no more than a day trip from Florence. Siena is exquisite, and actually much easier to get to grips with than Florence. But you’ll not catch the real flavor of Siena without an overnight stay in this most magical of medieval townscapes.

One day trip much beloved by many visitors to central and northern Italy has a peculiarly international character. La Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino (what a wonderful name for a country) certainly pulls the crowds, and the narrow streets of the tiny republic’s old hilltop capital are packed by day — yet deserted by night. It is a place where an overnight stay makes sense. San Marino is special. So special in fact, that our article next week for EuroCheapo will unpack a little more of life in Europe’s most serene republic.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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2 thoughts on “Day Trip or Overnight Stay? Paris, Oxford, Iona, Toledo and more”

  1. .
    So very true, David. There’s also a tendency to assume that Europe consists of a small fragment of the continent defined by the classic travel canons – from Paris to Firenze, the Alps to the Riviera plus a few lions of central Europe: Berlin, Dresden, Kraków, Budapest, etc. The continent is of course very much larger. Half a dozen time zones.

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  2. I think that it’s a big mistake that many foreigners (read “North Americans for the most part”) make.
    What mistake? To “visit Europe” in one trip.

    Europe is more than 50 countries (and even more different cultures), more than 500 million people, more than 2,000 years history.

    You simply can’t visit it in one trip. Trying to do so will only result in not even starting to scratch the surface.

    So instead of doing that, it’s a more sensible option to restrict oneself to one, maybe two countries, and try to visit them as in depth as possible.

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