In an age where everyone has been almost everywhere, Rome’s best gelato joints hardly need an introduction; the locally loved bars of Barcelona aren’t much of a secret; and most questions about the milestones of European history can be easily answered online.
The wonders of Europe aren’t exactly considered off the beaten track anymore. But still, its riches continue to lure starry-eyed vagabonds and wanderers, not with history-heavy experiences, but the promise of something deeper, more personal and unique. It’s the spontaneous adventures down back alleys of ancient cities; the rearranging of plans after recommendations from local bartenders-slash-artists-slash-scholars; the potential of whirlwind romances befit of continental love stories played out under the balmy Mediterranean sun.
For me, I couldn’t really give you in-depth details about the fall of the Roman Empire or the backstory of the Vienna Boys Choir, but I remember exactly how I felt seeing the Louvre Pyramid glow orange while zipping around its perimeter on a sunset bike ride (that life surely couldn’t get any better than this). I even remember eating kebabs (of all things) in Paris, merry and rosy-cheeked from the red wine consumed on a Seine cruise after that bike tour.
Amazing travel experiences are these chance encounters and surprising moments that could never be explained in a dog-eared Europe travel guide. Because no matter how many people have taken that clifftop photo in Positano or craned their necks up at the spires of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, no one’s going to have the same experience as you.
Need more Europe travel tips?
So whether you’re ticking off the main sites of Western Europe or venturing to parts lesser known in the east, here are four experiences that are sure to leave you with lasting memories of your first European holiday.
1. Test Your Language Skills
It may take some pre-planning, but learning another language and actually putting it to use is one of the most rewarding travel experiences. Plus, locals will appreciate your attempt to respect their culture. Even if it all goes horribly wrong, you're sure to get a memorable travel story out of it that will likely make you smile every time you think of it. Trust me, I know. My partner and I were once shouted out of a Paris bakery for not speaking fluent French.
2. Get A Rail Pass
Aside from being extremely convenient, getting a Europe rail pass is a perfect way to traverse this patchwork of different countries. Gazing out the window to watch the landscapes swish by not only offers a moment of reflection on things experienced and those yet to come, but will likely provide a welcomed moment to decompress between stops. You're also likely to see more of Europe than you planned, from the rolling hills of the French countryside to the stunning architecture of Barcelona; the beautiful bridges through the Scottish highlands to glimpsing Athens' most famous ruins.
3. Get On A Boat
Much like seeing more by train, hopping aboard a boat offers a different perspective to any city. Fortunately, Europe is ripe with boating opportunities. Even if you'd rather get off the beaten track in London, traverse the city by ferry for surprisingly rewarding photo ops of iconic landmarks such as the London Eye, Tower Bridge and Houses of Parliament. Or, sunbake beneath the Mediterranean sun as you island hop off the coast of Greece. Along with experiencing a new side to any of Europe's destinations, you're sure to meet a new friend be it local or fellow wanderluster.
4. Seek Out A Festival
From Amsterdam's King's Day to Munich's Oktoberfest, the European events calendar is jam-packed with once-in-a-lifetime festivals. It's well worth planning your holiday with these dates in mind as there is no better way to get an authentic look into local life. Join in the revelry and meet new people as you experience a different culture first hand. I still remember waking up feeling refreshed despite an uncomfortable siesta on the pavement of a tree-lined street in Benicassim, Spain, because that’s just what you did during the lulls of the Festival Internacional de Benicassim music festival.
Words by Anna Howard and Carlie Tucker