You’re sitting on top of a grassy field, the wind gently blowing. The sky looks like someone put a couple drops of blue food coloring in it. You lay your head on your backpack and look around. In the distance, there’s a large land mass, only accessible by boat. All around you is ocean. Ocean for miles and miles and miles. You feel like you’re the only person left on the planet, and yet, this thought doesn’t scare you. Instead, a sense of peace and calm fills your body. You are free. Free of emails, exams, classes. You are simply free.
This is what the edge of the world feels like.
To be more clear, the "edge of the world" is actually the Great Blasket Island off of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. It’s probably one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) places I will visit in my lifetime. The activities are endless, from hiking to the top of an island once inhabited by about 100 villagers, to kayaking to cliff edges while Fungi, the friendly dolphin, pops his head up to say hi. It’s truly a worthwhile experience and a place I think everyone should go if they have a chance.
As a college student, I am constantly beaten down by the stress of classes, projects, exams and everything in between. The last two summers I’ve been able to escape to Europe to travel and explore, and it’s given me a completely different perspective on life. Something about going to a country where you don’t speak the language and navigating it by yourself is so thrilling. Sure, it can be terrifying at times, but what’s life without a little fear?
As a 21-year-old about to start her junior year, I’ve been fortunate enough to explore over 15 different countries throughout Europe. While every part of Europe is unique and beautiful in its own way, there are some places I recommend every young person travel to if they have the opportunity.
So here’s my guide to the top ten must-sees in Europe:
- Why it’s great: The people are incredibly nice. The scenery could not be more beautiful. It’s incredibly safe. The list goes on and on. You’ll also find no better ice cream in all the land than at Murphy’s Ice Cream Shop.
- Things to do: As mentioned before, I recommend taking a guided boat tour of the Great Blasket Island. Bring lunch and a blanket, as you’ll spend about six hours on the island before the boat picks you up. While the island is now deserted, there are small cabins on the island of which you can stay a few nights. Boats come every day to and from the island, so don’t ever worry about being stuck! There is also a small shack to purchase snacks and water from. You also can’t leave Dingle without paying Fungi a visit. Fungi is an incredibly friendly and energetic dolphin who has called Ireland his home for the last 30 years. Fungi loves to surprise people by swimming alongside boats. I also recommend taking a kayak out along the Dingle Peninsula. Our tour guides were incredibly funny and even took photos of us with waterproof cameras while we were out on the kayaks. And there’s even a chance Fungi could visit you while you’re kayaking.
- Why it’s great: If you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of major European cities, I definitely recommend Salzburg. Not only was "The Sound of Music" filmed here, but it’s also a town rich with history with the Austrian landscape as its backdrop.
- What to do: The ever-so-popular "The Sound of Music" tour is a must. It allows you to visit the locations where the movie was filmed, including the famous church from the wedding scene, the white Gazebo and the Mirabell Palace and Gardens. You may or may not learn a beer song at the end of the tour. But if there’s one thing you must do in Austria, its has to be Eisrienwelt, the largest ice cave in the world, which is only 25 miles from Salzburg and accessible by train.
- Why it’s great: Madrid is so lively, filled with arts, culture, music and the most amazing food. And if you’re looking for the most beautiful architecture in a city that’s very clean, Madrid is the place to be. On every corner, you’ll find street artists singing, dancing and strumming their instruments.
- What to do: The Prado in Madrid is a must-see, as it holds some of the most beautiful paintings and art I have ever seen. For the best panoramic views of Madrid, head to the rooftop bar at Circulo de Bellas Artes. For shopaholics and theatre buffs alike, head to the Gran Via.
- Why it’s great: Lisbon has a completely different vibe compared to other European cities. This city is unique with its blue and white cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways are adorned with colorful flags and flowers. You won’t find grandiose museums and churches, but as you walk through Lisbon, you’ll be sure to discover its hidden treasures. To experience a city unlike any other, Lisbon is it.
- What to do: To discover one of the most beautiful city squares, head to the Praça do Comércio, which also offers incredible views of the the 25 de Abril Bridge (a mirror image of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco) and the monument Lisbon Baixa. Head to the top of the Lisbon Baixa for spectacular views of the city. You’ll also find yourself in the center of the bustling city of Lisbon, with endless shops, cafes and restaurants. And don’t forget to take a Tuk Tuk through Lisbon because there’s simply no other way to experience this enchanting city than by Tuk Tuk.
- Why it’s great: Florence is my favorite major city in Europe. No other city boasts more beautiful churches, galleries and museums. Not only is Florence rich with Italian history and culture, but it’s also easy to experience the city’s medieval and renaissance past. Just walking the streets of Florence is enough to transport you to a different time.
- What to do: What is there not to do in Florence? Just walking the streets of this breathtaking city is an adventure in itself. However, I think every visitor to Florence needs to visit the statue of David in the Accademia Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, the Gallery at Uffizi, Florence Cathedral, and my all-time favorite: the Boboli Gardens. Walk along the canal that divides Florence, and you won’t miss the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge famous for its shops.
- Why it’s great: Gubbio is a perfect town to experience Italy in all its beauty without crowds of tourists. With the Italian countryside as its backdrop, Gubbio is quaint and authentic. Enjoy some delicious gelato or check out the shops while vespas race and up and down the narrow cobblestone streets. Gubbio is picturesque and magical and cannot be missed.
- What to do: Gubbio isn’t a city meant to keep you busy. It is a city to be experienced just by walking its streets and living the “La Dolce Vita.” However, if there is one thing to do, it's to take the Gubbio Cable Car, or Funivia, to the top of a mountain where you’ll experience breathtaking views of the town and the Italian countryside. There’s also a beautiful basilica at the top of the mountain.
- Why it’s great: For being the third most populous city in Europe, I've never experienced a city as clean and charming as Munich. I was instantly captivated. From a park that rivals Central Park in New York City to some of the most impressive architecture I have ever seen. One word perfectly describes Munich: iconic. The food rocks. The people rock. This city rocks. Enough said.
- What to do: Like London, really spend some time getting to know the ins and outs of Munich. A large number of people ride bikes through Munich, and I highly recommend taking a bike tour. And don’t forget to look for men and women in the park surfing on the Eisbach River! For traditional German music and a lively atmosphere, head over to the Hofbräuhaus. The food is the best, but the Hofbräuhaus German beer is even better…
Island of Capri, Italy
- Why it’s great: The Island of Capri is a popular tourist destination for people from all the world. There’s nothing quite like walking the shop-lined streets of Capri along the Tyrrhenian Sea on a sunny summer Italian day. From the colors and weather to the sights and smells, Capri is breathtaking and majestic. Suddenly you found yourself asking, “Am I really here?”
- What to do: Take a cab or bus along the narrow streets up to Anacapri, and take the lift at the top of the town for incredibly breathtaking 360 degree views of the island. And don’t forget to step into Carthusia, where you’ll experience perfume scents which you cannot find anywhere else in the world. And if you have the time and the funds, catch a boat ride around the island with one of the many Italian sailors. Have you ever wanted to take a boat into a dark sea cave where the water glows a deep blue? Then the Blue Grotto of Capri is a must see.
- Why it’s great: Some might think London is a little overrated, but I never felt that at all. London is huge, and when I say huge, it's an understatement. There is so much to do and so much to see. The underground tube station in London will take you to every corner of the city, with Paddington stations taking you to towns and cities outside of London.
- What to do: If you ever plan on visiting, I recommend taking a boat ride along the infamous River Thames. Sit in Trafalgar Square while the busy London life passes you by, and walk a short distance to Buckingham Palace. If you need a break, sit in St. James's Park or Green Park. I highly suggest, more than anything else, taking a walking tour of London. Not only will it help give you a lay of the land, but you’ll learn so much history. And, of course, visit the Tower of London, which my walking guide said was his favorite attraction and certainly one of mine. Finally, it wouldn’t be a proper trip to London Town without having a spot of afternoon tea.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
- Why it’s great: On the outside, you might not think much of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but you suddenly enter the outer city walls and you’re transported thousands of years back into time. This fortified town is like no other: quaint and peaceful, with buildings which have been restored but still stick to the medieval roots. There are even Christmas themed shops on every corner. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is small, but it's beauty and history are nothing short of incredible.
- What to do: Start by taking a stroll through the Castle Gardens, a name that is misleading since 12th century castles didn't actually have gardens. You’ll also need to bite into a Schneeball (snowball), which are deep fried pastry balls of deliciousness covered in cinnamon, chocolate, sugar, nuts – you name it. These sweet treats also originate from Rothenburg ob der Tauber, so you won’t try a better one anywhere else. Don’t leave without visiting the church of St. Jakob, the most important church in town. Lastly, spend some time admiring the marvelous medieval architecture of every building and listen to the stories they tell.