It might be a seven-year-old classic, but there’s a good reason why Topdeck’s 20-day-long European Getaway tour remains one of the most loved trips the award-winning tour operator has to offer. The tour visits nine countries – France, Monaco, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Vatican City and the Netherlands. With two nights spent in most locations, it sweeps you up in a whirlwind adventure of Europe’s finest cultures, cuisine and sceneries.
Topdeck creates itineraries designed for younger (18-39 years) travellers. Their tours are fast-paced, budget-minded, and include activities designed to help you meet and have fun with other young (and not quite so young) travellers from all parts of the world.
THE TRIP LEADER
Travellers are escorted by an experienced Trip Leader and Driver. They may themselves come from different parts of the world, but they share a love of the European continent. This near devotional love is demonstrated through their intimate knowledge of the continent; from its people and culture, to its history and traditions. Questions are answered with enthusiasm and experience – they can tell you where to find the best bar in Berlin, the most unique shopping experiences in Paris and the tastiest pizza bianca in Rome. Why? Because they want each person in their care to dig beneath the tourism attractions and encounter the unforgettable marvels of Europe.
The Topdeck bus is a real home away from home. The modern air-conditioned coach features true first-class comforts, such as light-cancelling curtains, power points, footrests and reclining passenger seats. Each passenger is gifted 650MBs of free Wi-Fi to use during the tour, although there’s the potential to purchase more if you’re an internet addict. To top it all off, the bus also boasts a small fridge, two televisions and a toilet.
Almost every location comes with optional activities. These range from side-splitting Cabaret shows in Paris to stomach churning helicopter rides through the Swiss Alps. You can choose whether to participate in each activity depending on your own interests, and budget. It doesn’t mean you need to haul around huge sums of cash, though – most optional activities are around just €15.
Topdeck also provides guided tours of all major cities, whether walking, cycling or by bus. These are free of charge and offer a brief glimpse of what each location has to offer. Expect the famous landmarks, like the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Berlin Wall in Berlin.
There are two types of highlights on this tour.
First, there are the classic highlights – the ones that you always knew would steal your breath. Like watching the sun set over the Parisian skyline at a romantic picnic dinner in the shade of the Eiffel Tower. Or making snow angels at the Jungfrau summit, in snow still fresh enough to squeak beneath your feet. Or even gliding through the colorful Venetian canals, ice-cream in hand, on a traditional Vaporetto.
Then, there are highlights made with friends and a small splash of alcohol. Like in Venice, for example, when three Topdeck tour groups come together to hold a masked-themed celebration. Or in Monaco, when everyone on the tour dresses up to the nines to hit the tables at the Monte Carlo Casino.
There’s a mix of accommodation options. Most nights are spent in hostels or bungalows, although travellers do get to spend one night in a traditional Austrian Gasthof.
The hostels are of high quality, with close access to transportation and centralised locations. The bungalows are similar with regards to quality and transportation, although they’re often located on campsites 30- to 60-minutes outside of major cities. Topdeck compensates for this by handing out pre-paid tickets, which can then be used to travel into the cities.
All accommodation is multi-share, with two to four people sharing a room per night. Before arriving at each destination, you’re given a rooming list and allowed to choose who to bunk with. The multi-share rooms follow single-sex policies to allow comfort and discretion for all travellers – although this doesn’t stop the occasional “sleepover” from happening.
As part of the tour expenses, Topdeck includes a food fund, to cover 19 breakfasts, four lunches and ten dinners.
All breakfasts are open buffets hosted by accommodation staff. These include a range of hot and cold regional food items. In Paris, for instance, you’ll be offered an assortment of fresh breads, mature cheeses and cured hams; while in Prague, a string of pork sausages and cheese-laden scrambled eggs are the go-to.
Lunches are provided on days when travellers are between destinations or out and about. Packed lunches consist of a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a fruit drink and a sweetie. Roadside lunches are large, buffet-styled meals which Topdeck sets up at parks or rest areas. These meals change with each location, but included a mixture of high-carb meals, fruits, sweets and drinks.
Topdeck dinners are usually hosted at charming local restaurants, although qualified Topdeck chefs serve three-course meals at the hostels throughout the Italian leg of the trip. On all occasions, dishes are laid out in the centre of the tables so travellers can pick and choose their meals. In Florence, for instance, you’re served two traditional thin-crusted pizzas (one ham, cheese and mushroom; the other, vegetarian), two bowls of spaghetti (one bolognaise, one carbonara) and a flask of local Chianti. In Berlin, you may be offered a slow-roasted lamb shoulder, sided with a heaping of gravies, salads and boiled potatoes.
Whenever meals aren’t included, travellers can venture off and find their own food. The Trip Leader always points out their favourite restaurants, cafes or supermarkets.
At £1,610 (on average), Topdeck’s 20-day European Getaway tour is a cheap and stress-free way to meet other people and explore the wonders of Europe. The only criticism I have of the tour is that it ended… and that it left me with a few extra kilos hugging the waist!