As I leave for Europe in three weeks, three days and six hours, I am getting incredibly excited about my trip and Europe in general. The last few weeks have been a constant of organizing, buying travel supplies and clothes, and talking everything Europe.
So, I thought that for one of my last posts before my trip, I would try writing something different!
Below, in no particular order, are some of my favourite cities that I visited in Europe, and some tips to keep your trip to the city a bit less expensive. Of course I have not been everywhere yet, but it’s on my list!
Where I stayed: I stayed at two different hostels, but would not highly recommend either as they were cheaper options: London Backpackers Hostel (a little far), Smart Hyde Park Inn Hostel.
Day Trips: I didn’t take any while in London, but there are many places that are easy to travel to!
Things to see or do: London Eye; Buckingham Palace; Royal British Museum; parks!
London is an interesting and enticing city! There is so much to do in London, whether you want a tourist or local experience.
One really great thing about the UK is that all museums are free! I really enjoyed wandering the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum. There are so many interesting things to see, and so much history. There are also many parks and markets to wander around for the afternoon. Hyde and Regent’s parks are beautiful to wander on a sunny afternoon, or to have a picnic on the lawns. Also, Camden Market is only a short ride on the tube, where you can see all the shops and buy souvenirs – and, if you have seen the movie, the World’s End pub is located here!
Of course, there are all the usual things to see in London as well: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Shard, Tower Bridge, London Tower, Buckingham Palace, King’s Cross Station, and the well-known London Eye. I have not been inside all of these as it can add up costs quite quickly. If you have never done it, I seriously suggest going on the London Eye, but it is easiest to buy your tickets ahead of time online or in person.
Honestly, my favourite was to simply wander the city and see the sights. You can cross multiple bridges along the Thames, and wander back and forth to different sides of the city. There are parks, chuches, pubs, and beautiful views that you can find simply wandering. On my wanders, I found a poet for hire, a small book sale under a bridge, and Churchill’s childhood home.
London has something to do for everyone, and even though it can be expensive, it is an amazing city to experience.
Where I stayed: HelloBCN Hostel
Day Trips: Montserrat
Things to see or do: La Sagrada Familia; Parc Guell; Barceloneta Beach; Picasso Museum; try tapas!
I have never been to a more vibrant and exciting city than Barcelona. This was my first taste of Spain and it was absolutely amazing!
Barcelona offers so many things to do to immerse yourself in the culture. The artist Gaudi is found everywhere, even just wandering down the street, in his various buildings and architectural designs. Honestly, you don’t need to see the inside of every single one, but pick one for sure. I chose La Sagrada Familia. You can tour the inside, and for not much more, even go to the top of one of the towers to view all of Barcelona – this was probably one of my favourite experiences of the entire trip. (I seriously suggest buying the tickets ahead of time online, though). Parc Guell is beautiful, but I only walked around the outside.
Barceloneta Beach is the famous beach of Barcelona. It is incredibly busy on nice days, so go early if you want to find a spot on the beach and definitely watch anything you bring with you. But it’s a great place to be able to dip your feet in the Mediterranean Sea!
Wandering the city is also a great experience. There are some lesser known places to go around the city, including the amazing and free Picasso Museum. The Mercado de La Boqueria is a massive market place that you can get food at and wander. The fruit and juices are delicious! And, as always, there are many amazing churches and cathedrals to see in the city. My favourite was Catedral del Mar – a cathedral built by sailors who were not allowed in the main cathedral. It is gorgeous, and the stories behind it are very interesting.
My friends and I went on a day trip to the Montserrat monastery. It is an amazing and beautiful monastery on the top of a mountain. You can wander the area and go through the monastery, or you can be adventurous and hike through the surrounding areas. It can get really hot and the hikes can be long, so make sure you’re prepared.
And, of course, the food! Thankfully, if you can find the right areas, food in Barcelona can be quite cheap. My favourite was definitely having tapas! Around the corner from our hostel, there was a street with various tapas restaurants that we ate at many nights in a row.
Barcelona is an amazing city, and I cannot wait to go back there on this trip for new experiences. Our hostel was amazing, however, so I will be staying there again this trip. The people who stayed and worked there were absolutely incredible, and the location was perfect.
Where I stayed: Suite Hostel
Things to see or do: Buda Castle; Great Market Hall; Chain Bridge.
Budapest is a beautiful and interesting city. I knew nothing about this city before travelling to it, but I am so glad that I went there.
This city has incredible history. The Buda Castle is beautiful to walk around. I was too late to go inside, but I am sure there is even more incredible sights inside the castle. I loved the beautiful views of the city from the Castle grounds.
On the other side of the city, the House of Terror Museum shows the history of Budapest through all the terrors of the wars and after, and the Heroes Square has statues of the various heroes in Hungarian history. I found these as really interesting experiences to learn more about the history of Hungary.
The Great Market Hall was very close to our hostel, so we went there a few times. The market is two floors, with lots of food and souvenirs. The building is interesting, and it’s really fun to just wander around the market.
I included Chain Bridge in the list of things to see simply because it is an amazing sight. The bridges to cross the Danube are amazing to walk across for views, but also for the architecture of the bridges themselves.
My favourite experience was the day we took to simply wander the city. Walking along the Danube allows you to see many amazing sights. You can see the castle across the river, and you walk by the incredible Parliament Buildings – the buildings have some of the most interesting and beautiful architecture! There is also a memorial for the Jews and people murdered along the Danube River, a very moving piece of art to remember a tragedy.
Two things that we did miss out on were the ruin bars and thermal spas. I am told that these are great experiences, and I hope to have these experiences this time I go to Budapest.
Prague, Czech Republic
Where I stayed: Santini Hostel
Things to see or do: Old Town Square; Prague Castle; Charles Bridge; Jewish district.
Just like Budapest, I knew nothing about Prague when I went there. Of course, lots travel photographers on Instagram have posted beautiful photos of Charles Bridge, enticing me to go there.
Prague is an amazing city – probably one of my very favourite cities that I’ve been to. It is absolutely beautiful! I suggest finding a free walking tour through your accommodations or online, as it is an easy way to see all of the city and hear the amazing history.
Old Town Square is very central to the city, and the place most people know about. In the square, you can see old buildings, cafes, locals and tourists mixing, and the amazing astronomical clock. (I suggest the walking tour or online research to find out all of the interesting information about this really cool clock.) On the same side of the river, you can find the Opera House, the Dancing House, and the Jewish District.
The Jewish District was an extremely interesting experience, especially if you are interested in history. We bought a ticket to have access to the various museums and the cemetery. The one building we went to was a humbling experience, as it had the names of all of the people who died from Budapest in the Holocaust. The cemetery was moving and sad, but an interesting experience – as it’s the only place that Jewish people could be buried, there are multiple graves on top of each other.
Charles Bridge can take you across the river to the other part of Prague. The bridge is famous for being beautiful, and for the numerous buskers that you can meet, day or night, along the bridge. Walking across the bridge during the day time is a completely different experience than wandering it at night. And, as you walk up the hill, you are led straight to Prague Castle. We only wandered the castle and gardens, as the lineups to go inside the cathedral were extremely long.
There are lots of other small things throughout Prague as well, including the Lennon Wall, the Metronome, and many other areas. There is also a park that has the original statues from Charles Bridge (which I unfortunately don’t remember the name of). Under Charles Bridge, on the same side as the castle, was a great little market that I went to last trip. The food was amazing, and not expensive, and there were lots of little vendors and interesting things.
I absolutely loved Prague, as there is so much to do, and cannot wait to go back there again this trip!
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Where I stayed: Airbnb
Things to see or do: Iamsterdam sign; Vondelpark; Anne Frank House; Flower Market; rent bikes; canal cruise; museums!
Originally, Amsterdam wasn’t on my list of places to see, and I definitely did not go there or love it for the reasons that most young people do.
Amsterdam is a beautiful and historic city. I loved wandering this city, seeing the beautiful canals, and the differences between the city center and the outlying buildings. I saw the city three different ways, and seriously recommend any of the three: walking, renting bikes, or going on a canal cruise. The canal cruise is amazing day or night, and shows you a completely different view of the city.
Walking along the canals is an amazing experience. You will probably want to stop and take pictures every few feet with the amazing views across the canals. The Flower Market is a floating market on the canals. If you’re there when the flowers are in season, it is amazing. Even if there aren’t a lot of flowers, the market is still a really cool experience, and a great place to look for some little souvenirs.
Vondelpark is a massive and beautiful park in Amsterdam. I really enjoyed riding a bike through the park, but you can walk around it to see enough as well. Dam Square is the main square in Amsterdam, and there are so many shops, small restaurants and coffee places. You can go to Madame Tussaud’s, or if you go to the top of the department store, there are views across Dam Square.
Of course, as I love history, I had to see the Anne Frank House. I seriously suggest going to see this incredible place of historic importance! Walking through the house was an incredible experience that I am so glad to have had. However, I do want to warn you that the lineups can get very long – you can look online to find the best times of day to have a shorter lineup. I believe that we went around lunch time, but the lineup is usually quite long anyways. If you also like history, I didn’t get to check it out but there is the Dutch Resistance Museum as well, which I heard is really interesting.
Amsterdam is a really pretty city, and there is so much to do!
Day trips: Kilkenny; Galway; Wicklow Mountains; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland.
Things to see or do: Trinity College; Kilmainham Gaol; Guinness Storehouse; National Museum of Ireland.
Of course, having lived in Ireland, Dublin was one of my favourite cities. There are many other cities in Ireland that I love as much or more, but Dublin has something for everyone.
Dublin is a great center to get around to different places in Ireland. Although I didn’t take day trips from there, it is easy to drive or hop on a bus to places all over, including Kilkenny or Waterford, Galway, the Wicklow Mountains, or Belfast and the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland. For the majority of cities, Ireland is easy to travel around by simply taking buses.
In Dublin, there is just as much to do. If you happen to be there during St. Patrick’s Day, be ready for an unforgettable experience! There are parades, parties, and people out wandering the city.
Trinity College is really cool to walk around, and you can pay to go into the library to see the Book of Kells. Just around the corner from the college is the National Museum of Ireland. I absolutely loved wandering this free museum. There are so many artifacts here for Irish history, and you can see the infamous bog bodies – slightly creepy, but incredibly interesting.
Kilmainham Gaol is a jail that is a large part of Irish history – you can tour the jail for a few euros, and see the places where the leaders of the resistance were kept and executed. It is a very interesting experience! And, not far from the jail, is the Guinness Storehouse. Anyone who loves Guinness must visit the storehouse for a really cool beer experience. Not only can you see everything used to make Guinness, but you can pull your own beer to enjoy in the Sky Top bar – with a view of the entire city. I went here twice and would definitely suggest the experience!
And, like any other great city there are gorgeous parks, like St. Stephen’s Green, and many cathedrals and churches, like Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The churches cost money, but you can wander around the parks and see the churches for a free and interesting afternoon.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without checking out the pubs. Temple Bar is the most famous, and you can find many bars along the street. However, it is far better to wander a bit out of Temple Bar to find the true gems of the city. A few that I loved were the Porterhouse, the Market, and O’Neill’s near Trinity College. If you want to say that you’ve had a drink in a church, head to The Church – but be warned that it’s a little pricey.
Dublin is an amazing city full of history and culture, and lots of interesting things to do!
As I mentioned at the beginning, I haven’t travelled to a lot of places yet, but these are my favourites out of where I have been. I would also suggest checking out Berlin and Cardiff as well, as they are interesting. If you read my blog posts from my trip, you will also know how much I loved Cinque Terre. BUT – for now, these are my top European cities that I have visited, and hopefully this gave a little insight into some things you can do or see in the cities!
May the road rise up to meet ya
My last post had us on a bus through the night from London to Paris. Well, that was an adventure in itself.
We had thought that the bus would just take us straight there through the night. Unbeknownst to us, we actually had to get up twice on the bus ride. Apparently, you cannot just “sleep” straight through. You have to have a passport check, and then get off the bus for the two hour ferry ride. Needless to say, there were some tired faces and exhausted bodies wandering off the bus the next morning to say ‘bonjour’ to Paris.
We had booked an apartment outside of Paris through AirBNB, and so after walking for quite some time, we found the quaint apartment. The woman was so nice, and the place was adorable. After a long siesta, we went into the city and wandered the Louvre for the night. Because it was Friday night, youth could enter for free! And it being Europe, twenty-somethings are still considered youth…
It was interesting to wander the Louvre again. This time, I tried to see some new things. Zach immediately led us to see the Venus de Milo, something I had somehow overlooked last time. And we of course ventured to find the Mona Lisa. I feel like you could go through the Louvre for hours and still not see everything. I’ve been there twice now, and I still haven’t seen a large amount of the enormous collection. I mean, that’s probably because I often get side-tracked looking at the architecture, beautiful ceilings, or amazing views out the windows. All of it is just as good as the artwork, in my opinion.
After the Louvre, we walked around Paris for a little bit. We crossed what used to be the Love Lock Bridge. Now, it is no more. There are merely boards with artwork depicting locks and keys in various and creative ways. It is crazy to think that merely two months before, I walked the same bridge – yet it looked completely different. It scared me a little, as it showed how much can change in such a short period of time.
We wandered along the Seine and ended up in front of Notre Dame. It was pretty late, so the cathedral was closed. But it looked beautiful. We were all pretty tired, so we took the metro back to our little apartment to get some sleep for the next day.
The next morning, it was really hard to get up. But when we did, Kirstin had made eggs for all of us mixed with some peppers. It was delicious. We set out on the metro to see some more sights of Paris. We got some food and ate sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower, feeling pretty cool and like typical tourists with our baguette. Then we stood in line to go up the tower.
We climbed a lot of steps. And I mean a lot. I can’t tell you how many exactly, but it was a lot. Basically, we walked up the steps to the first floor, where we looked around at the amazing views of all of Paris. Then we climbed more stairs to the second level. The view was spectacular! You could even see Sacre Coeur in the distance. It was a little smoggy, but the city looked amazing from up that high. I took a lot of pictures.
It turned into a really touristy day when we went to the Arc de Triomphe next. We walked underneath it to see the memorial, and then wandered along the Champs Elysees. Last time I walked it, it was late at night and I was crazy tired. It was nice to actually look around and see it this time. We hopped back on the metro and headed to see Sacre Coeur. We didn’t really think it through – to get up to Sacre Coeur, there are a lot of stairs. So we climbed more stairs. Needless to say, our legs were pretty tired by the end and a little sore the next day. Word to the wise: don’t do both the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur in one day…
We were again the typical tourists when we wandered the painter’s market and then grabbed some amazing crepes. Last time Zach came to Paris a few years ago, they actually stayed at Sacre Coeur – so, basically, he knew some great crepe places! I definitely ate a banana and Nutella crepe. We bought some groceries and headed back for a relaxing night of cooking and hanging out in our cozy apartment.
On June 7, we got up, caught the metro, and then went to the train station to head to Versailles. I had not gotten to see it last time, so I was quite excited to visit it now. We had to wait in an extremely long line-up to be able to buy tickets to go. We opted for the cheaper version: only going through the gardens and not the palace.
The gardens were beautiful! The palace is ornate with gold trimmings, and the garden reflected the elegance in a more natural realm. There were a lot of trees and some flowers. Most of it was set up as a maze. We had been told that we should see the fountain show that would come on at 3pm. We were a little disappointed when this “show” turned out to be just the fountains being turned on. It was great to see them on, but it should not be called a show.
We had dinner at a cute restaurant in Paris, Le Petit Cler. The food and wine was delicious! We went to a patisserie after for some sweets before wandering Paris at dusk. We waited until it got a little darker so that Kirstin could see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Unfortunately, we were all really tired after a long day, and the wind was blowing colder, so we didn’t stay out late to see it sparkle.
Our last day in Paris was a ‘do-what-you-want’ kind of day. Basically, Zach and I ventured to find a café from a movie I had recently watched, a movie that Carlos had recommended to me. There are three movies: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. It’s about a man and woman who meet on a train and spend one night wandering a city. I actually loved the movies. In the second one, they are in Paris. I couldn’t find the café, but I was able to find somewhere I had wanted to see anyways: Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It was amazing! I was so excited to finally see a place I had always wanted to visit.
We went to meet Kirstin at a tea shop, one that my friend’s parents own. My friend, Emilie, couldn’t make it to meet us, but her parents were so kind! They were very welcoming and told us about many things we should see in Paris for our last day. I bought some tea from their shop that I cannot wait to try. We wandered some shops, went to the top of a department store for an amazing view of Paris, and headed back to our apartment for some dinner. Paris was definitely different for me this time, giving me a completely different view.
We ended up having a stressful evening when we realized we had no way to get to the airport. Basically, we had to call a cab to take us to the bus station since the metro wasn’t running early enough. So flash forward to a 5am wake-up call, a taxi ride, bus ride, and a flight later until we were finally in Barcelona! We had to take a train and the metro to be able to get to our hostel – basically we took almost all kinds of transportation in one day. I was very excited to be surrounded by Spanish and to start using my minimal knowledge of the language.
We hung out at the hostel, checked in, found some free food in the kitchen, and then I took a siesta. It had been a long day, and I ended up starting properly in Spain. We then decided that we would walk around for a little while, get a feel of the city. We saw our first glimpse of Gaudi with Palau Guell, walked part of La Rambla, and then strolled along the harbor before grabbing some food.
June 10 was the first of a few great days in Spain. We got up and went straight to La Sagrada Familia. I was super excited, as it was the one place I really wanted to visit in Barcelona. The church was like nothing I had ever seen before – the towers and architecture are so unique, with intricate details and special designs. We wandered the outside and sat inside, marveling at the beauty. And waiting until our time to go up the tower.
Yes, we climbed up one of the towers of La Sagrada Familia. We rode in an elevator to the top of the Nativity Tower, and stopped to take in the amazing views as we climbed the stairs down. You could see all of Barcelona, from the hills to the sea. And I was in love with it already.
We decided to head to Parc Guell next, making it a Gaudi day. It was also one of the only other things that was far outside the city. After a lot of escalators and stairs, we finally made it to the top. Again, we had amazing views of the entire city. We didn’t want to pay to enter the other parts of the park, so we wandered around the free areas and died in the afternoon sun. We had lunch before climbing all the stairs to the bottom of the hill.
On our way back through Barcelona to the hostel, we decided to stop at a Gaudi House, La Pedrera, as we would pass right by it anyways. We walked the rest of the way back to the hostel, even seeing another Gaudi work along the way, and we got to walk all of La Rambla. We relaxed at the hostel for a bit, with Kirstin and I drinking sangria and all of us making new friends. We went for tapas, a Spanish food. Basically, it is small-ish foods that you eat while drinking late at night. It works slightly different in the various regions of Spain, but it was delicious!
The next day was the one I had most been looking forward to. I headed down to breakfast, and even though I had been expecting him, Carlos was able to surprise me. It was so great to see him again, and I was super thankful that he had made the long train ride to hang out with us in Barcelona! We got some groceries, Carlos dropped off all of his stuff, and then we headed out.
A friend we had met at the hostel, Shane, was coming with us on our adventure as well. He was from Ireland (Cork), and we had all had great craic (fun) talking about Ireland and my experiences there the previous night in the hostel. So, we headed out for our day: we were going to take a train out of Barcelona to Montserrat.
After taking a gondola up the mountain, we wandered the basilica and then ventured up the mountain. None of us were super prepared for hiking, but we decided to do it anyways. Again, it turned out to be the hottest part of the day, and there were so many stairs! Needless to say, we ended up turning back before we made it the entire way. But before we did, we got to see some amazing views, and I even saw some climbers.
We went back into Barcelona and parted ways with Shane. The four of us headed into the city, finding ourselves at Barceloneta beach – only for a storm to blow in! I put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea, the guys got their shorts soaked from a giant wave, and then it started to pour buckets of rain on us. We ran from the beach to find a metro, but it didn’t really help, as we were completely soaked through. We also saw a man get hit by a car when he slipped on the road. It was quite scary and we were all pretty cautious for a while after that. We grabbed some tapas and beers, and headed to bed after a great day.
Our last day was probably my favourite day. Essentially, we spent the entire day just wandering the city with Carlos playing tour guide. We went to St. Joseph’s Market off of La Rambla. It was so cool! There was delicious-looking food everywhere you turned, and we all ended up buying something to do with fruit. We headed farther into the city and ended up at the Picasso Museum. Now, as I’ve already said, I am not the biggest fan of art. But the museum was really interesting! Carlos knew a lot about many of the pieces of art, and we even got to see an exhibition that showed the relationship between Dali and Picasso. I actually enjoyed it – even if I couldn’t tell what any of the paintings were of at some points, or why someone would paint a picture with twenty pigeons in it.
We stopped at the beautiful Catedral Del Mar. Carlos told us that the cathedral had been built by sailors, as they could not afford to enter the other church in the city. It took them eighty years to build the church, carrying the stones from Montjuic hill across the city. I loved the story and the church was stunning. (I didn’t double check the story, I trust Carlos – he’s an engineer, after all.) We went out for lunch at a tapas place – I tried seafood paella (with a shrimp that I had to take apart and cooked rabbit), some kind of fish, and then a cooked apple for dessert. We also drank wine with carbonated water – it was all delicious, the wine almost made better!
We wandered the city some more, seeing the Spanish version of the Arc de Triomph, walking through a few parks, and seeing a beautiful fountain. It was so cool to have Carlos tell us about everything that we saw, or order food for us in Spanish. We went back to the beach, hoping that the weather would be nicer. Kirstin was the only one who went in the water, and Carlos and I laughed from the shore as she got knocked over by a wave and was given back her flip-flop by some kind woman. It’s okay, she wasn’t hurt.
We went back to the hostel and hung out for a bit, trying wine mixed with Coke. Apparently this is something that they do in Spain and some other parts of Europe. It was actually quite good! We met up with Shane and Adam, from San Diego, and we all went to see the Magic Fountain. It was pretty cool! It is basically a fountain that is lit up and does different motions set to music. We ate churros and all hung out together. The top of the hill gave a great view of the city at night, and we had another great panoramic position when we went to the top of a shopping center.
All of us went for drinks and tapas after, staying out late and just having fun. It was such a great day. It was so great of Carlos to come and meet us to show us an amazing city. Barcelona is probably one of my favourite cities thus far, definitely making the top three. Carlos – you were an amazing tour guide, even though we got lost a few times, and you are an even better friend. Thanks so much for making the journey out to show us around an amazing city that I know you love. I’m gonna miss you a ton, but we will all see each other again soon.
“Life is about moments: don’t wait for them, create them.” [Pinterest]