The Euro-trip is a classic trip and one everyone should take if they can. The typical traveler is young, college-aged, most likely, and is traveling extensively for the first time. There’s a pretty typical route too: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Rome. These are all fantastic cities. The Euro-NYC feel of London, the art of Paris, the beautiful canals of Amsterdam, the beer in Munich and the history of Rome are all worth a visit, and I highly recommend a visit to all of them. However, they’re not the only destinations in Europe. Here, I feature some relatively “off the beaten path” suggestions. There will still be tourists and hostels, but they might be less gentrified, or perhaps less expensive, than the more typical destinations. Take a look!
Prague: Having escaped much of the Allied bombing during World War II, as well as the dreary Soviet building, Prague is one of the most complete and historic Eastern European cities. Here, you can wander the twisted streets of the old Jewish ghetto, following in the footsteps of the legendary golem. You can also explore old castles and churches, in this city that was once the center of alchemy as well as the location of the original defenestration. If your tastes run to the more modern, there’s the Kafka museum and the Lennon Wall, filled with pro-peace and democracy graffiti. If you’re looking to party you’ve come to the right place. Prague is the home of pilsner beer, and a cold one will start a night out right. The Czech Republic isn’t on the Euro, but that might change soon, so go now while it’s still cheap.
Budapest: Another jewel of Eastern Europe, and similarly cheap. What separates Budapest from Prague, however, is its vibrancy and grit. Budapest feels like a young city just waking up, but its crumbling buildings have a splendor all to their own. Budapest is filled with history, but what really makes it special is its pulsating nightlife and hot spring baths, the ideal place to lounge after a long night out.
Granada: This Andalusian city is my favorite city in southern Spain for several reasons. Firstly, its location in the mountains makes the weather less intense than it is elsewhere in Spain. It also lends itself to excellent scenery. More importantly, Granada is home to the best remaining piece of Moorish architecture. When the Moors invaded from Morocco, they build their palace, the Alhambra, in Granada. Although Spanish Kings (and one Queen) pushed the Muslim Moors out, the palace remains intact. See it and you won’t regret it.
Barcelona: Barcelona is probably found on many Euro-trip itineraries, but all too often I see it left off in favor of Madrid or maybe Munich. This is a bad idea. Barcelona is a must-do in Europe. The tapas and paella are extraordinary and the beach is lots of fun, but what makes Barcelona truly a fantastic destination is the modernist Gaudi architecture and museums filled with the works of Catalan masters such as Picasso and Miro. Nothing quite compares to seeing the Sagrada Familia in person. It is quite simply breathtaking.
St. Petersburg: It’s worth the extra effort to get a Russian visa to see St. Petersburg. While Moscow is indisputably the capital of modern Russia, St. Petersburg has its historical treasures. Explore the art in the Hermitage and the grandeur of Peterhof palace, both the homes of Czars. Eat some Georgian food while you’re at it, and don’t forget to drink some vodka! It’s significantly easier to travel around St. Petersburg than it is to travel around Moscow, so don’t get scared off by any stories you may hear about traveling in Russia (I’ll share all of mine later…)
Istanbul: One of my all-time favorite cities, Istanbul is the perfect combination of east meets west, sort of like Europe with a Muslim flavor. Its history encompasses the Ottomans, the Byzantines, and the Romans, while modern day Istanbul is a cultural mix of hot clubs and calls to prayer echoing off of the hills.
When you go on your Euro-trip, make sure you take some of these alternative destinations into consideration. They might not be as touristy as Paris or London, but they’ll more than make up for it in cultural punch.