When traveling to Europe, visitors often think about visiting large popular cities like Paris, Berlin, or Rome, but small towns can be interesting, too. Small towns can offer a reprieve from the busy-ness of the cities, but can also be interesting in their own right.
Visiting small towns may be a bit more difficult, though. They are not always as easy to access – should you rent a car or use public transportation? Sometimes it is difficult to find information about hotels or restaurants in small towns.
We have visited the towns of Giverny, France; Burdaard and St. Annaland, Netherlands; Bacharach, Germany; and Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France. We used rental cars for some and public transportation for others. Here is how we toured the small towns:
Giverny is an easy day trip from Paris. It has been made popular because it was a long time home of the artist, Claude Monet. I’ve written about Giverny here.
I’ve visited twice – both times using public transportation. The first time, I was with three of my daughters. We had waited in a long line to get train tickets and when it was finally our turn, we found out there were no seats on the train we hoped to travel. We bought tickets for a later trip and spent a couple hours in Paris before going to Giverny.
The second time, with just one of my daughters, we went to the train station a little earlier. We found a short line and quickly bought tickets for the next train. The train brought us to the train station in Vernon where we boarded a bus to take us the rest of the way into the town. After our visit, we rode the bus back to the train station and the train back to Paris.
It is easy to find information about Giverny and the process of taking the train and bus to reach Monet’s home. It is a popular tourist destination, so in addition to the Monet Foundation’s own website, there are reviews and helpful hints in many places on the internet.
Burdaard and St. Annaland, Netherlands
These two small towns – one in northern Netherlands and one in the south – are areas where some of our ancestors were from and where distant relatives still live. We wanted to explore our heritage.
When we visited these small towns, we planned to travel within the towns, but also throughout the countryside around the towns. In each of our three visits, we decided that a rental car would be our best option. Twice we had rented cars for our entire trips, while for the third visit, we rented a car for only a couple of days.
There is very little English tourist information about these towns on the internet, but we were able to find what we needed through our relatives. When we visited Burdaard, we stayed in the cities of Leeuwarden or Amsterdam; when we visited St. Annaland, we were able to stay in the home of our relatives.
If you do not have relatives living in the small towns to help you find information, what do you do? First of all, if you do not have relatives in a similar small town, you are less likely to stay there. If you have a compelling reason – researching your heritage – it might be best to stay in a close-by city, rent a car and drive in for the day. Once you become more familiar with the small town, you will be able to find out if there are bed-and-breakfasts or other places to stay on subsequent trips.
On one of our trips to Burdaard, we needed to find a place to eat. Even in the small town, we found a couple restaurants to choose from. We had a delicious meal before we explored the town.
Bacharach is another small town that is a popular tourist destination. It is located within the castle dominated area of the Rhine River. There is a road that connects several small Rhine River towns to Cologne in the north and Frankfurt in the south, but a train follows the same route. On some of our visits to this area, we have rented a car; on others, we used public transportation. Both options make sense.
Renting a car gives you the freedom of exploring beyond the small towns. Traffic in this area in minimal, so driving is almost as easy as a country drive in the states. When we first rented cars, we made sure we had a good map – we liked Falk maps the best – but now using the map app on our phones does the job.
Using public transportation also has its advantages. We did not have to worry about finding a place to park or looking for a gas station. I think the biggest advantage, though, is that no one has to drive. Everyone can enjoy the views out the windows of the train or bus, without worrying about where the next turn will be.
Bacharach offers an additional mode of public transportation – boats on the river. The Köln-Düsseldorfer boats (KD Rhine) run between Cologne and Mainz several times a day with stops at each small town. Although the trip takes time, it is an enjoyable way to get from one town to the next. I especially recommend the section between Koblenz and Bingen.
Vers-Pont-du-Gard is the home of the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct built in the first century. Although we didn’t spend any time in the town, we enjoyed seeing the aqueduct and walking the trails in the area.
The Pont du Gard is accessible via public transportation or car. We chose to rent a car. After reading reviews on the internet, we were concerned about the reliability of the public transportation and the time it would take to get to the aqueduct and back. We had a limited amount of time to spend in the area, but did not want to miss seeing the famous bridge.
We rented a car in Nice, France in the morning, driving through the country toward the Pont du Gard. We traveled on a toll highway most of the way, but were able to see the beautiful countryside as we drove. We stopped at an oasis-type rest area for lunch and arrived at the bridge around three in the afternoon. Since we had rented a car, we were able to stay as long as we liked before driving on to Arles where we were staying.
We spent the evening and next morning in Arles, then drove to the train station in Avignon where we turned in the car. Although we only had the car for about a day and a half, it help make our visit to the Pont du Gard more convenient.
The Next Trip
We plan to rent a car for a few days on our next trip. We might also visit Giverny again using public transportation. We find that touring the countryside and visiting small towns is an enjoyable addition to any trip. Sometimes it works better to rent a car; other times public transportation will conveniently take you where you want to go.
Have you rented a car in Europe? Have you used public transportation? Do you prefer one mode of transportation over the other? Leave a comment below.