In the early spring of 2013, my partner and I discovered that we could travel with our local Wilmington College on yearly European educational tours. There are no strings attached and we’re not required to be chaperones. EF Tours, or Education First Tours, organizes the tours and provides the guides, transportation, itinerary, and lodging. Each tour is facilitated by faculty and staff at the college. Since this discovery, I’ve traveled with them to Europe each spring.
One of the great thing about EF Tours is that they allow enrollees to pay with an interest-free payment plan, which spreads the cost over several months depending on when you enroll. The price is competitive with other similar trips according to my research.
This trip, my first with EF, was a nine-day tour covering the European cities of Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London.
If you’re going to Europe for the first time, I highly recommend this tour. It’s a great overview of the major cities and a fantastic way to get a taste of each country’s unique culture, food, and heritage. We had the same guide, David, with us for the entire trip. David made sure we stayed on schedule, made it to all our excursions with all our luggage, and was a great resource for suggesting activities during our unstructured time. Here are my thoughts on the entire trip.
Our itinerary in Amsterdam included:
- Walking tour of the main city center with a visit to Dam Square
- Visit to museum centers, where we had the choice to tour the Van Gogh museum, Rijksmuseum, or enjoy the area on our own.
- Walking tour of the Red Light District, the Begijnhof and the shopping and pedestrian districts
- Anne Frank Museum tour
- Canal Boat Cruise
- Amsterdam Floating Flower Market – Holland is known for its tulips, so this time of year was the perfect time to visit the market.
- Tour of Rembrandt’s Windmill and a Gouda Cheese making dairy farm. This tour was excellent and fun. The farmer also makes the iconic wooden shoes, which of course are for sale in the gift shop! We actually ran into Whoopie Goldburg here, as she was headed in as we were on our way out. For real.
Amsterdam Tour Review
Lodging: Superior! Our hotel was in a beautifully modern and distinctly European highrise on the edge of the city with a rooftop bar overlooking all of Amsterdam. We enjoyed gathering as a group in the evenings there and discussing the day’s events.
Food: Mediocre; however, I’m not a huge fan of Dutch or German food, so this might just be due to my personal preference. My favorite food stops here were the sidewalk cafes where you can sit and have coffee or wine and watch the people go by.
Excursions and itinerary: Excellent! We saw a lot for the time we spent there.
Pace: Fast, but we still had enough downtime to explore on our own.
Brussels was a lunch stop on our bus ride to Paris, but it was well worth the stop to see the gleaming public square and explore the surrounding area, try some waffles and of course, some chocolate. We spent about two hours there checking out the lace shops and just taking in the beauty. For lunch, we had a traditional Belgian waffle with smoked salmon and swiss cheese melted inside. It, along with one of their classic beers, was fantastic.
Sadly, this stop gave us a total of 36 hours in Paris, so we could only scratch the surface of all there is to see and do. Still, we managed to pack in many activities. This was my favorite stop, so I promised myself I’d go back.
Our itinerary in Paris included:
- Guided bus tour of the city
- Walking tour of the area around The Louvre
- Four hours in the Louvre
- Tour of Notre Dame Cathedral
- Dinner in the Latin District
- Boat cruise down the Seine River
- Shopping on the Champs Elysee
- Evening on our own. We decided to take the metro to the Eiffel Tower to see the view at night.
Paris Tour Review
Lodging: Good. Our room was clean and there was a nice lobby with good French wines to enjoy.
Food: Fair. I was disappointed in the dinner that was included. France is known for its cuisine, but this meal was subpar.
Excursions and Itinerary: Good! Even with only 36 hours we managed to hit the important monuments and museums.
Pace: Frantic. Because we had such a short time we really moved to get it all in. We also stayed up a good part of the night in order to see the sights. We figured we could sleep on the train to get to……
London, Bath and Stonehenge
We boarded the Eurostar early the next morning and headed through the chunnel to London, our final stop. We had three days in London to see the sights, which also included a side trip to Wales, Bath, and Stonehenge!
Our itinerary in London included:
- Visit to Saint Paul’s Cathedral
- Walking tour of downtown, including Picadilly Circus and Westminster Abby
- Tour of the Tower of London
- Ride on the London Eye
- Quick stop at Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard
- River cruise down the Thames
- Side trip to Bath and Stonehenge
- Toured the Roman Baths
- Walking tour of Bath
- Lunch in Bath
- Toured Stonehenge
- Time on our own to explore, which we used to:
- Visit Abbey Road Studio
- Visit the British Museum
- Walk along the Thames to see Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
- See the Broadway Play Wicked in the Theater district on our last night!
London Tour Review
Lodging: Good. Our room was clean and we were able to enjoy 30 minutes of free wifi according to the poster in the lobby! Unfortunately, I had a work emergency come up and needed to purchase additional wifi, which was quite expensive.
Food: Fair. Most of the food we had was bland; however, that’s typical of London so it’s not really fair to judge the tour based on the food.
Excursions and Itinerary: Excellent. I could not believe how much we were able to see and do in those three days.
Pace: Fast but worth every minute!
If You Go
If you go, which I recommend you do, be prepared to do a great deal of walking. The tour is fast paced and you’ll need a good pair of walking shoes, or several, to keep up. You’ll enjoy the educational aspect of the trip overall, great guides, and a wonderful overview of these fabulous cities. To see photos of my trips, visit my Flickr page or follow me on Instagram @offdutytraveler. I’ll see you on the next trip!
Do you have a similar tour you recommend? Let me know in the comments!