Every traveler has his or her own preferences on how to spend time abroad. A part of travelling is testing your boundaries in experiencing culture and stretching your personal preferences. Here are some personal recommendations of types of activities to at least try when travelling around Europe.
1. Walk instead of taking the bus/metro
One of the things that I did not regret was the choice to walk over taking transit. I feel like the best way to experience a city is to walk the streets. Often, the space between attractions is a 20-30 minute walk, or a few stops on a transit system. Walking will expose you to small shops, quaint eateries and many things you may not expect.
Yes, you might get a little lost sometimes and certain areas of Europe can be dangerous, so be vigilant while trekking on foot. Most tourists stand out blatantly as foreigners so do a little research to see if the city is safe to wander.
When travelling, you don’t always need to have a concrete plan. In fact, you may feel that it is less stress when schedule a day (or even a few hours) to wander a city. I tend to like to research the cities I visit in order not to miss notable sites; however, if you have some time, walk through some markets or stores. You might find things you never expected.
I avoided booking tours in advance as much as possible because that would constrict my movements for the day. Juggling food stops, attraction locations, and attraction times are some of the stresses of having a planned route. Believe me, there is some relief in knowing that you are going to definitely see the Eiffel tower, but there is a lot of scramble.
Be aware that schedules are hard to keep when travelling. Flexibility is key if you want to keep your sanity when on the road. That means sometimes you may have to miss a tourist site or spend less time at an attraction than desired.
3. Visit a museum (or more)
Europe is well-known for its history and most travelers end up visiting quite a few museums. However, some people avoid museums because of a unfair stigma that they are boring. There are museums for art, architecture, and even the most random things.
I find that it is easy to learn about the history and culture of a region by visiting their museums. Try to find the museums with exhibits in a language you can understand, or rent an audio tour guide to learn the most about a museum. I did not always opt for one, but it made each museum visit more interesting.
4. Try local food
What better way is there to experience a foreign region if not to test their gastronomical delights? Be wary about sampling foods in touirst-y areas, as there is often a discrepancy between truly local food and local food for tourists. Do a little research to find out where to sample the most authentic (and usually cheaper) local cuisine. You will probably murder the pronunciation of the food and there may be language barriers, but usually the food tastes much better.
5. Splurge on a meal
This sounds a little counter-intuitive to my last point, but I would advise you to loosen that grip on your wallet, just for one meal to really sample the fine cuisine available in Europe. It is such a great feeling to experience food of the highest quality in a foreign city. For example, most Parisian meals are multi-course affairs that consist of many small dishes that are spaced out by palate cleansers. A three-course meal consisted of nine plates from heaven.
6. Take an “off-day”
Especially on longer adventures, spending the time to relax and simply enjoy the city is extremely rewarding. Sometimes you just need to lounge on a beach or spend a few hours away from that tightly-packed schedule. Maybe plan a side-trip to a place with less historical/cultural attractions and just relax for a day.
7. See that attraction that you probably wouldn’t like
By this, I mean don’t avoid an attraction because it is not in your wheelhouse. Maybe you aren’t an art buff or you don’t enjoy learning about perfume, but I would suggest not to turn down an experience just because it isn’t what you imagined yourself doing in Europe. Who knows? You could find a new hobby.
8. Go on a hike
Travelling can be tiring and sometimes you don’t feel like walking even more to find that nice view. Being active and then able to relax in the comfort of your home is a luxury not afforded by travelers. However, Europe has many views that cannot be seen by simply driving. One of the breathtaking views that I experienced was an hour outside of Marseilles, at one of the easily accessible trails to the callanques, inlets surrounded by steep rock faces. The hour-long hike to the edge of the water was nothing compared to an afternoon spent lounging on the cliffs.