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How to decide where to go on a short trip to Europe

Europe may not be large in size compared to other continents across the world, but it definitely is enormous in what it offers for travelers. If you have months of time to travel through Europe, then deciding where to go might not be too big of an issue. But if you’re one of the majority of us with a two or – if you’re lucky – three week vacation period, it can be tricky to decide where to visit. Here, I’ve tried to make that decision a little bit easier (but seriously, good luck!)

First up, if you are wanting to try and fit a lot into a small amount of time, I would suggest a tour company. Travel companies like Contiki, Top Deck, Trafalgar or G Adventures – just to name a few – are a good start. Read more about European travel companies and especially, what I thought about Contiki tours.

These are great ways to fit a lot in, but after doing a few myself, I realized they can be quite pricey – for a backpacker like myself anyway – and too rushed to really get to know the city or town your exploring. Fitting the likes of Paris, Rome, London or even Berlin in a day or two is almost impossible, not to mention exhausting. And a holiday is supposed to be relaxing right?

Here are some simple guidelines and ideas that highlight different sorts of European trips you can take in just a few weeks.

European hotspots

LONDON – PARIS – ROME – VENICE – BERLINScreen shot 2015-05-30 at 11.46.33 AM

This is a great list of places for your first holiday to Europe. Yes, they are major tourist hot spots and very cliche, but they are popular for a reason. Try to avoid the major summer months of June, July and August, as crowds get crazy and prices go up. April, May, September and October would be the best time to visit considering crowds, weather etc

HighlightsIMG_6419
  • Big Ben – London > pictured
  • Camden markets – London
  • Stonehenge – day trip from London
  • Eiffel Tower – Paris
  • Views of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triumphe
  • Catacombs of Paris
  • Colosseum – Rome
  • Trevi Fountain – Rome
  • Piazza Navona – Rome
  • Leaning tower of Pisa and Florence (pictured) – day trip from Rome
  • Vatican CityIMG_2887
  • Grand Canal & Rialto Bridge – Venice
  • Burano Island – near Venice
  • Berlin Wall
  • Brandenburg Gate – Berlin > pictured
  • Charlottenburg Palace – Berlin
  • Berlin Cathedral
  • Holocaust Memorial – Berlin
Extension ideasIMG_7766

Have a little extra time and want to hit some more spots close by? Look into stopping by Lucerne, Switzerland to see the Swiss Alps. For some other big city stops, try Florence, Munich, Frankfurt or Prague.

The Mediterranean S’s. (Sun, Sand & Sangria)

BARCELONA – PALMA DE MALLORCA – IBIZA – NICE – SPLIT – DUBROVNIK

Screen shot 2015-05-30 at 11.52.57 AM

If relaxing on the beach, dining at outdoor restaurants in the sun and then partying the night away is your idea of a perfect holiday, then this itinerary might be for you. Enjoy some Spanish tapas and sangria, then feel a million bucks on the French Riviera before hitting up the country that is rapidly becoming one of the hottest spots in Europe, Croatia.

HighlightsIMG_7890
  • Park Guell – Barcelona > pictured
  • Port Olimpia (nightlife) – Barcelona
  • Las Ramblas – Barcelona
  • Sagrada Familia – Barcelona
  • Magic Fountain show – Barcelona
  • Palma Cathedral
  • Cuevas del Drach & Coves dels Hams – Palma
  • Cafe del Mar for the sunset – San Antonio, Ibiza
  • Bora Bora beach club – Ibiza
  • Russian Orthodox Cathedral – Nicedubrovnik
  • Monaco & the Monte Carlo casino – day trip from Nice
  • Cathedral of Saint Duje (up the bell tower for amazing views) – Split
  • Krka falls – day trip from Split
  • Green and Blue caves –
    day trip from Split
  • Dubrovnik Cable Car > pictured
  • Walk the old town walls – Dubrovnik
  • Game of Thrones tour – Dubrovnik
  • Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina) – day trip from Dubrovnik > pictured
Extension ideasDSCN2213

Croatia has endless beautiful locations that would love your attention if you have more time. Try Zadar, Plitvice National Park, Zagreb (the capital) or island locations like Hvar or Korcula. Better yet, go on a sail through the beautiful islands. Read about my experience on Sail Croatia.

Scenic roadtrip

GENEVA – ZURICH – LUCERNE – INNSBRUCK – MUNICH – SALZBURG – HALLSTATT – VIENNA

Screen shot 2015-05-30 at 12.00.37 PM

This itinerary would best be done by renting your own car and enjoying it at a slow pace. This route will have your camera battery flat within the first hour, with the most magnificent scenery. See the Swiss Alps, drive through gorgeous villages in Austria, drink your weight in beer in Germany and then end the trip with some amazing history and architecture in Vienna.

HighlightsSwiss Alps, Switzerland
  • Jet d’Eau (tallest fountain in the world) – Geneva
  • Zurich Old Town
  • Rhine Falls (Europe’s largest plains waterfall) – day trip from Zurich
  • See the Swiss Alps from above on Mt. Pilatus (take the cable car up) –
    Lucerne > pictured
  • Innsbruck Nordkettenbahnen cable car
  • Marienplatz (square) – Munich
  • New Town Hall – Munich
  • Hofbrauhaus – Munich
  • IMG_3567Neuschwanstein Castle – day trip from Munich
  • Hohensalzburg Castle – Salzburg > pictured
  • Mirabell Palace & Garden
    s (used in The Sound of Music) – Salzburg
  • Schonbrunn Palace – Vienna
  • Hundertwwasserhaus – Vienna
  • State Opera House – Vienna
Extension ideasHohensalzburg Castle

This may not be possible, as it’s already fitting so much in and Vienna itself deserves four days minimum, but Prague is a magnificent city if you get the chance.

Eastern Exploring

KRAKOW – PRAGUE – BRATISLAVA – BUDAPEST – ZAGREB – LJUBLJANA

Screen shot 2015-08-21 at 9.54.13 PM

This one could be done by car, or easily by public transport. These countries are a lot cheaper than their western neighbors, hold a lot of historical significance and some of the best nightlife in Europe (Prague and Budapest, I’m looking at you).

HighlightsDSCN3565
  • Main Square – Krakow
  • Salt Mines – Krakow
  • Auschwitz Concentration Camp – day trip from Krakow
  • Old Town Square & Astronomical Clock (best views from the Old Town Hall Tower) – Prague > pictured
  • John Lennon Wall – Prague
  • St Elizabeth’s Blue Church – Bratislava
  • Fisherman’s Bastion (for the best views) – Budapest
  • Hungarian Parliament Building – Budapest > pictured
  • Szechenyi Thermal Baths (go on a Saturday nights for the famous Sparty) – Budapest
  • Ruin Bars (click here to find the top 8) – Budapest
  • Ban Jelacic Square – ZagrebDSCN3287
  • Tkalciceva Street – Zagreb
  • Triple Bridge & Franciscan Church – Ljubljana > pictured
  • Lake Bled – day trip from Ljubljana
  • Soca River Valley – day trip from Ljubljana
Extension ideasDSCN2941

This is the perfect time to explore some smaller European villages, surrounded by stunning scenery. Try Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic, see beautiful Lake Balaton in Hungary or stay in Lake Bled (voted one of the most beautiful lakes in the world). Or you could start in Warsaw and see a bit more of Poland

SCANDINAVIAN ESCAPE

COPENHAGEN – BERGEN – LYSEFJORD – OSLO – STOCKHOLM  – HELSINKI

Screen shot 2015-08-21 at 7.26.28 PM

Scandinavia has been a top competitor on my bucket list, and although I am yet to get there and provide you with advice on my personal experiences, I have thoroughly researched these countries and hope I can give a touch of guidance. A little more on the pricey side, these countries will not only blow your mind, but maybe your budget (the main reason I have yet to make it there). But the beautiful fjords of Norway, amazing castles in Denmark – due to having the oldest continuous monarchy in Europe – and a chance to see the Northern Lights may just be worth every penny.

Highlights
  • Nyhavn Canal – Copenhagen > picturedCopenhagen, Nyhavn
  • Tivoli Gardens – Copenhagen
  • The Floibanen funicular to Mt Floyen – Bergen
  • Bryggen – Burgen
  • The Geirangerfjord – day trip from Bergen
  • Trolltunga – trip from Bergen or Lysefjord > pictured
  • Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock) – Lysefjord
  • Kjeragbolten – Lysefjord
  • Djurgarden – Stockholm
  • Gamla Stan – Stockholm
  • Drottningholm Palace – Stockholm
  • Sigtuna (Sweden’s first town) – day trip from Stockholm
  • Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church) – Helsinkinorway
  • Fortress Suomenlinna – Helsinki
  • Tallinn, Estonia – day trip from Helsinki
Extension ideas

Whenever I meet a Scandinavian during my travels and ask about their country, they say that to really experience it you need to get out into the countryside. So if you have a generous amount of time, love hiking and naturally beautiful landscapes, then rent a car and explore all these countries have to offer. Head up north to the Lofoten Islands in Norway, which might possibly be the most postcard worthy place on earth. Keep going north up to Tromso for the best chance of catching the Northern Lights.

Holiday with the lot

METEORA – ATHENS – GREEK ISLANDS – BODRUM – KUSADASI – CAPPADOCIA – ISTANBUL

Screen shot 2015-08-22 at 2.09.18 AM

This itinerary will have you very busy, but will give you a little bit of everything you could dream of in a holiday. Yes, I saved the best til last. Find some of the worlds most ancient ruins, relax on some picturesque beaches, party til the sun rises, see some unique landscapes, visit special churches and mosques, go hiking for spectacular views, eat delicious foods and be immersed in a city of rich culture.

Start in Meteora, where you will find monasteries in the sky (they are built on top of rock pillars) among stunning rocky valleys. Discover the history in Athens then sail the islands of Greece before heading to beach side towns in Turkey (Bodrum and Kusadasi won’t need much time). Hot air balloon in Cappadocia then finish with the diverse city that sits on the border of Europe and Asia.

By all means, try and get to as many of the greek islands as possible if you have the time, but I’m guessing that you’re reading this because you don’t. So, depending on what you want in your holiday you are going to want to try different islands to the next person. Here is a quick run down of the best and their highlights.

IMG_2775

Santorini: Stunning. No words could truly describe this island. I would say this is a must for everyone. There really is nothing else like it. Tip: Make sure to get out of the main village of Fira and head to Oia.
Mykonos: the streets here are incredible to walk around. Pure white with touches of blue and the parties aren’t bad too (I should be a poet). Cute local shops, bars and restaurants nestled in the maze of streets. A good island to hire mopeds and explore as well.
Ios: This one’s for the party animals. The biggest nightlife scene of them all, you won’t be short of backpackers, clubs, cheap food and cocktails. Spend your days here curing that hangover with some sea and sand before you watch yet another beautiful sunset from Pathos Lounge Bar.
Crete: the biggest of the islands, meaning there is a lot to do here. So much so that people traveling to Crete will choose to stay in only Crete. With great beaches, mountains, gorges, outdoors activities, a lot of historical sites, restaurants, bars and more, it might even be too much to fit in!
Rhodes: For the history lovers. This island is located very close to the Turkish shores, so it hosts a lot of Turkish influence, an Acropolis, temples, old town etc. Smaller villages with stunning beaches and people to match.
Paros: Paros is like a mini Mykonos… except it’s actually bigger in size. Similar look to Mykonos, with great restaurants and nightlife, but a little more relaxed and with better beaches!

HighlightsIMG_2716
  • Monasteries – Meteora
  • The Acropolis – Athens
  • Santorini – Greek Islands
  • Pamukkale  – day trip from either Bodrum or Kusadasi
  • Ancient city of Ephesus – Kusadasi > pictured
  • Hot air balloon in Cappadocia > pictured
  • Goreme National Park & The Fairy Chimneys – Cappadocia
  • Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) – Istanbul
  • Hagia Sofia – Istanbul > pictured
  • Suleymaniye Mosque – Istanbulcappadocia
  • Grand Bazaar & Egyptian Bazaar – Istanbul

So there you have it folks, my itinerary
ideas for your short getaway to Europe. Of course, there are a million and one other variations, but hopefully this gave you a bit of an idea to kick start your planning.

Traveling between each city can be done by plane, train, bus, boat or a combination of them all. Remember airlines like Ryan Air and EasyJet for cheap flights. Or use Skyscanner to find a bargain from any airline, make sure to plan a few months ahead for the cheapest deals. Fast trains are
also a great option in a lot of Western Europe.IMG_1397 Buses and trains are really cheap in the more
eastern countries, but can take a bit of time – and since this whole article is focused on not having much of that, it may not be your best option.

Whatever way you choose to see Europe and wherever you choose to spend your time, you really can’t go wrong. My favorite continent thus far, and I don’t doubt you will fall head over heels for it too.

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