Europe: 15 checks on your bucket list
Monday, 2 March 2020
Attention college students! Have you been putting off studying for exams and dreaming up summer plans?
If so, you've come to the right place. Three months off means you can see quite a bit of any continent, be it Europe, Asia, or North and South America. In this four-part bucket list series, we'll detail how to take on a single continent with limited funds.
This piece on Europe will focus on must-see places in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Power up your printers, make copies of this list, and start jotting down notes that can help you create the summer of your dreams.
Logistics: Transportation, food, and lodging
Flying to Europe is one of the most expensive parts of traveling there. Check out Google Flights to track prices from a variety of airlines. Opt to fly into major hubs such as London, Paris, or Rome for the best deals. Flying from Atlanta or Houston will cost you from $1,200 to $2,000 per person, but check out offers from STA Travel for potential discounts before you book. Once you're in Europe, consider booking intercontinental travel via local trains and air carriers. Ryanair and easyJet are two population options, but be aware of hidden baggage fees, even for carry-on luggage.
The food in Europe is some of the best you'll find in the world, which can make it tempting to splurge. Fight this temptation and go to local markets and have picnics in parks instead. If you must go out to eat, limit those excursions to a few times per week and only go to the places that are packed with locals.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric, UNESCO World Heritage site located a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from London. Once there, you'll see around 100 upright stone structures, all believed to have been erected more than 5,000 years ago. There are many tours you can take to check out Stonehenge, through companies like the Stonehenge Tour and VisitBritain.
2. Tower of London
If you're into the history of London and its monarchy, there is no better place to visit than the Tower of London, a complex of buildings that includes multiple exhibitions with historical artifacts, the site where Anne Boleyn was beheaded, and the Crown Jewels. Admission fees include a tour with a Yeoman Warder, otherwise known as beefeaters. You'll learn much more with a tour than if you walked around on your own, so take advantage.
3. The British Museum
The British Museum is one of London's most treasured cultural touchstones. It's free to the public and has more than enough art to fill an entire day of strolling. Opt for an audio tour and a gallery talk to get the most out of your experience.
4. The Normandy Beaches
The beaches of Normandy, located in the northern part of France, are open to the public and worth a visit, especially for history buffs. Check out the Normandy American Cemetery and take a tour of D-Day beaches, where you may even have an opportunity to raise the American flag.
France's capital, the City of Light, is a wanderer's dream, with an exciting mix of wide boulevards and tiny brick alleyways hiding delicious restaurants and boutique shops. When in Paris, it's best to take in the city by walking until you can't walk anymore. Picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower, take a nighttime boat ride down the Seine, and relax in the Luxembourg Gardens.
Aix-en-Provence is a town in southern France where people walk along leafy boulevards, gander at outdoor markets, and enjoy the local art museums and galleries. Enjoy spending a few days just walking the streets, stopping in the public squares, and gaping at the mansions.
7. Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is Madrid's expansive plaza in the center of the city. The amount of open space here is impressive—especially considering it's surrounded on all sizes with bustling streets. Take time to enjoy the space and admire the bronze statue of King Philip III in the center of the plaza.
8. Sagrada Familia
The towering Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic church in Barcelona that was designed by the late Antoni Gaudi. The structure has been under construction since breaking ground in the 1880s, and some say it won't be completed until around 2030. You can visit it today and climb the stairs for a bird's eye view of the city.
Seville (pronounced se-vee-ahh) is the gorgeous capital of Spain's southern Andalusia region. The city of around 700,000 residents attracts artists and other creative types with a variety of plazas where you can belly up to a café table and enjoy a glass—or even a whole bottle—of wine.
Portugal's vibrant capital of Lisbon has tons of things to see and do, from rooftop dining and museum-hopping to cheering on S.L. Benfica football (soccer). The city is also known as the birthplace of Fado, an ancient form of music reminiscent of very sad opera. Fado is sung on street corners and in bars, and a huge part of the culture of Lisbon. Look up local performances and be sure to drop in and listen to a piece of Portuguese history.
Porto is a historic and charming city near the coast in the central part of Portugal known as the birthplace of port wine. There are a number of port houses in the city that offer tours. A few of the best include Calem, Sandeman, and Ramos Pinto.
Algarve is the southernmost part of Portugal, and known for its cliffs, beaches, and excellent surfing conditions. It's especially fun in the summer to join a surf camp for a few days. Just book in advance and check out one of the many companies that offer camps, including Atlantic Riders, the Surf Experience, and Algarve Surf School.
13. Piazzale Michelangelo Florence
Florence is a magical city filled with historical attractions, art galleries, and tempting gelato shops. Among the many must-dos is climbing a hill on the south side of the Arno River to Piazzale Michelangelo. This is a lookout point with tiered seating that offers some of the city's best views, especially at sunset. If you're lucky, street performers will serenade you as the sun goes down.
14. Cinque Terre
Arguably one of the most beautiful spots in all of Italy, the five cliffside towns that make up Cinque Terre are must-sees when you're in the country. Stay in one of the towns (Vernazza is especially beautiful and quaint), and wake up early to hike from one village to the next. Be aware that the floods of 2011 wiped out some of the trails, so check for the best routes before you go and don't forget to bring water and snacks—the hike isn't for the faint of heart.
Budget a day or two for Venice and bring your most comfortable walking shoes. Get lost in the narrow streets and then walk up to the Grand Canal and shop around with gondoliers for the best price for a ride. Bring your camera and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the best light, go right before sunset.
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