A Eurotrip is arguably a right of passage. Europe was the first place I headed to when I started to travel on my own since it offered a wide variety of sites and attractions. The problem is, how do you narrow down you must-do experiences for your first trip to Europe? The continent is huge and even if you spent a few months there, it would be impossible to see everything.
I partnered with the team over at Contiki Holidays Canada and we came up with a list of 10 must-do experiences for your first trip to Europe. Some of these are my personal favourite things to do while Contiki picked experiences as voted by millennials from across the world. Remember, don’t try to do everything. Pick things that make sense for your route and don’t be afraid to splurge now and then. This is your first Eurotrip after all.
Experience serenity among the magical blue domes of Santorini
Arguably one of the most beautiful of the Greek islands, Santorini is a notorious spot for lovebirds and adventures alike who seek solace and escape amongst the whitewashed walls, bougainvillaea scented air and the glittering Aegean Sea. It’s true, the island does get packed with tourists, but there’s no denying the beauty of the island. Instead of rushing things, spend a few nights so you really get to relax.
Live the good life in Florence
Florence is absolutely breathtaking. With the scene-stealing Duomo Cathedral as your backdrop, it’s hard not to fall in love at first sight and embrace la dolce vita with this capital of the Tuscany region. This is definitely the city you’ll want to take lots of leisurely strolls in, especially along the River Arno. Opt to walk along the river at sunset towards the medieval Ponte Vecchio Bridge. By the time you get to the bridge, you’ll be swooning over the golden scenery, tons of little shops, and serenading musicians you’ll pass along your way. Of course, the Statue of David and Uffizi Gallery can’t be missed. If time permits, learn how to make pizza from the masters.
Feel like a royal in Sintra
Just a 50-minute train ride from Lisbon is the town of Sintra which was once an escape for Portuguese royals and nobles. The pastel colours of Pena Palace make it feel like you’re in a children’s storybook, but that’s what makes Sintra great. The restored Moors Castle is an interesting look at what life would have been like during the 9th century while Quinta da Regaleira has enough secret passages to make you wonder who came up with this crazy design.
Throughout Europe, you’ll find some pretty crazy attractions underground. The Catacombs in Paris features the remains of more than six million people rest. In London, you can check out the Churchill War Rooms including his bunker and learn how Winston Churchill spent his time during World War II. There’s also the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul which is the largest of several hundred cisterns that run under the city.
Melt away in an outdoor thermal pool in Budapest
In Budapest, often referred to as the City of Baths, there are 118 of these mineral pools, so packing your bathing suit is a must. Széchenyi Thermal Bath is the city’s largest, grandest, busiest and very first thermal bath. Surrounded by ornate neo-baroque architecture in City Park, swimming in this place is like bathing in a palace. See those water jets? They’re not just sweet decoration: they’re neck massagers. Prefer a dip in the nude? Budapest also has segregated Turkish baths for the more adventurous. Other popular spots include Gellért Thermal Bath and Lukács Baths.
Get buzzed on culture and Italian coffee in Rome
Nothing can prepare you for the first time you step out onto the streets of Rome. As if walking into a history book, every twist and turn unearths an ancient icon – hardly surprising given the city’s 3,000-year-old history. A cityscape truly like no other, spectacles such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon fool you into believing, if only for a second, that you’ve stepped back into the Roman age. But oh no, Rome is very much the 21st-century city, where priests in Prada sip espressos alongside aspiring fashionistas, and people watching is considered the city’s unofficial pastime. Note that ordering an espresso at the bar is almost always cheaper than sipping a coffee at a table.
Get lost (and found) in Barcelona’s gothic quarter
Barcelona’s Barri Gótic, or “Gothic Quarter,” contains all the layers of this city’s deep history. From its origins as an ancient Roman outpost to the capital of the Crown Aragon in the Middle Ages, and later transitioning into a modern metropolis in the 19th century; the Gothic Quarter has been at the centre of Barcelona’s progressive transformation. While the old city is no longer separated from the rest of Barcelona by stone walls, the Gothic Quarter retains its distinct atmosphere.
Visit the real-life Sleeping Beauty castle in Bavaria
This is pretty much the castle of all castles. Is that Hogwarts, you say? No, this one is legit, and it’s one of Germany’s top tourist attractions for obvious reasons. Neuschwanstein is straight out of a fairytale and was the inspiration behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. What else could you ask for but 65,000 square feet of royal seclusion, perched on a hill, and a drop dead gorgeous view of Bavaria on all sides with a limestone exterior? Maybe a dressing room bathed in purple silk, and your very own grotto and fountains?
Become a wine expert in the Rhine Valley
The Rhine Valley is one of Germany’s largest wine producing regions. Here, you can drink local wines like Spätburgunder or Riesling, with tastings in a nearby candlelit underground cellar. A must is a visit to Café und Backer in St. Goar (rated #1 restaurant in St. Goar) for a slice of traditional Black Forest cake or “Schwarzwälderkirschtorte,“ four layers of chocolate sponge cake covered with cherries, chocolate shavings and whipped cream. Pure bliss.
Tandem paragliding over the snowcapped Austrian mountains
Nothing beats the beauty of the Austrian Tyrol, and when seen from above, wowzers. Glide like a bird above quaint Tyrolean villages, rolling green hills and the freshest air you’ve ever had the pleasure of breathing. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a fan of thrills, work up the courage and trust your instructor for one of the most epic adventures in the world.