Jet Setter’s Guide to Europe: How to See an Entire City in Two Days (Almost)
Spending the past semester in Madrid, Spain, you could say I became a bit of an expert in the art of jet setting. Like most students who study abroad in Europe, I tried to take advantage of the convenience of traveling and see as much of the continent as I possibly could. This meant hopping on cheap Ryanair flights of questionable safety every few weekends to experience the incredibly diverse and remarkable cities that Europe has to offer. Getting around an entire city in one weekend can be overwhelming, to say the least, especially because you most likely don’t speak the language, or maybe even have any idea where to place yourself on a map. So, here are a few things I picked up on my four-month whirlwind tour of Europe for anyone who plans to travel and see the world (and hopefully you do!).
1. Chat With a Local
There is no better way to learn firsthand about the people of another country than talking to them directly. As long as they speak some English, (or even better – if you speak their language) people are surprisingly willing and friendly to talk to foreigners, despite the stigma of the ugly, obnoxious American tourist that we all try hard to avoid when traveling (hopefully). Talking to a local can teach you things about the place you are visiting that no museum can, no matter how famous. While standing on the Charles bridge in Prague, my friends and I started chatting with a photographer who was selling prints of The Lennon Wall. What started as a friendly conversation with a street vendor turned into an entire firsthand personal history lesson about what it was like to live in the Czech Republic when it was a satellite nation of Soviet Russia, and how it still affects the lifestyle of the country today. For a history nerd like myself, this is almost more exciting than a new episode of Breaking Bad. Talking to locals is a great way to learn about the place you are visiting from someone who knows its history, its customs and its way of life. With that being said, get friendly when traveling and strike up a conversation with a stranger (with reasonable judgment, of course) – you never know what you could learn.
2. Take a Selfie at the Most Famous Landmark
Every major city in Europe is filled with history and the famous sights that landmark it. While it might be stressful to try and squeeze everything a city is famous for into one weekend, you should make it a priority to see a few famous sights – and, of course, document it with a selfie. Whether it be the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, Buckingham Palace or the Berlin Wall, who wouldn’t want a photo with a world-famous landmark in the background? Sometimes when traveling, its okay to embrace your inner cheesy American tourist and put the beloved selfie function of your iPhone to good use.
3. Try the Local Cuisine
In order to fully experience the culture and lifestyle of another country, it’s important that you have absolutely no reservations when trying the local food. Often, that could just mean eating delicious homemade pizza in Italy, a warm and gooey crepe in France, or spicy, delicious Spanish Tapas; however, it could also mean the likely possibility of eating something with a questionable name, ingredient[s], or place of origin. My ten-day trip to Eastern Europe involved me trying an array of foods, some of which were by the names of Goulash, Strudel and Curryworst. I pride myself on being a fearless eater, but even I had some reservations when trying raw octopus for the first time in Croatia. Each dish, however, made me feel like I was truly experiencing the lifestyle and culture of the place I visited. And if you love food as much as I do, you’ll probably end up liking it, even if it has as dubious a name as VeinerSchnitzel.
(In the event that you do run into some old-time favorites, I won't judge. Sometimes you just have to take advantage of feeling like you're back in the States with a good old burger from Micky D's.)
4. Experience the Night Life
Partying until the wee hours of the night is part of the European way of life. Whether it be grabbing drinks at a casual bar with a bunch of friends, or dancing the night away to techno music at a seven-story club (yes—those exist), European cities are all about the night. While traveling through Berlin, my friends and I decided to take advantage of its infamous club scene, spending the night at a drained out underground swimming pool that was turned into a techno club. Places like that just do not exist in the States. So, put your pajamas away for later ( 'cause you’ll most likely be staying in a gross hostel anyway), throw on a nice outfit, and take advantage of what the night has in store.
5. Blow All of Your Cash at a Flee Market
For budget constrained college students like us, there is nothing better than bargaining with street vendors and buying unique trinkets and souvenirs for great prices. All European cities are filled with endless rows of flea markets, selling so many different souvenir items and so much delicious street food that it can be truly overwhelming. Market shopping was one of my favorite activities when studying abroad, and it allowed me to buy souvenirs for my family, friends, and of course, myself, at great prices. Plus, I was able to buy special antique items that are not sold anywhere else in the world. So if you’re looking to buy something that you can always look at and remember the great experience you had in whatever wonderful city it is you are visiting, shopping at a flea market is the way to go. And if not, browsing is always fun too.
6. Take a Free Walking Tour
There is no better way to see the major sights and important landmarks of a city than by taking a walking tour. Whether you choose to do this with a tour guide or by yourself with the help of a guided map, you can truly get a feel for a city by walking its streets. In Berlin, my friends and I decided to take a free walking tour that we found out about through our hostel. Not only was the tour immensely interesting, but we got to see so many cool and offbeat sights we never would have known to visit on our own, most interesting being standing on the spot over the underground bunker where Hitler shot himself, which now exists under a normal, every day parking lot. Not only are walking tours an efficient, easy, and cost-effective way to visit numerous major city landmarks at once, but tour guides are often extremely nice and friendly and have great suggestions on where to eat, what to see, and anything else you might want to know about the city. And, they speak English – always a plus.
The only feeling more exhilarating than traveling to a new place is doing something
totally and completely outrageous and adventurous in that place. While visiting the Mediterranean Spanish island of Mallorca, my friends and I read in a pamphlet that it was possible to take a hot air balloon ride over the island, and decided we had to do it. I cant quite describe to you how it felt to glide over the beautiful green countryside of this tiny Mediterranean island into the setting sun while popping champagne, but I think you probably can imagine it was one of the more exciting moments of my life. So do some research before you visit a city and see what sort of exciting and offbeat adventures it has to offer. Whether it be skiing through the Swiss Alps, sky-diving over a beautiful coastline, or even just renting a car and driving on foreign streets, make sure that you do something crazy when traveling to a crazy place.
8. Have a Cultural Experience
European cities are known for their distinct cultures and the many festivals that commemorate them. Plan one of your trips around a major cultural festival to truly experience the lifestyle and customs of that city. In Spain, every city celebrates their patron Saint with a huge fiesta that can last for a day to up to a month of every year. One of my friends and I decided last minute to hop on a train from Madrid to Valencia to experience their annual festival Las Fallas, in which the Valencian locals burn huge, intricate wooden statues that they spend all year building. The weeklong festival involves huge parties and parades in the streets every day and night, and ends with the burning of the statues and what is known as the most spectacular fireworks show in the world. Seeing Valencia would have been incredible on its own, but experiencing it during its most culturally authentic time of year made the trip that much more special. So, make sure you make it to at least one cultural event while traveling through Europe because they truly are worth it.
9. Find a Rooftop View
There is nothing quite like the feeling of climbing to the top of an old church, clock tower, hilltop, what have you, and standing above the rooftops of an entire city. Every city has at least one place where you can find incredible view, and taking it all in at once can allow you to feel like you are truly seeing it in its entirety. So, since seeing everything a city has to offer in two days is pretty much impossible, work off that delicious local meal you just adventurously tried by climbing up the 200 steps to the top of your city's most famous church, and feel like the entire world is at your fingertips. I promise, it’s worth the hike.
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