My Epic Euro Adventure
Updated: Dec 12, 2018
Anybody keeping tabs on me over this past year could not have ignored my “trip of a lifetime” I found myself on last July-August. On July 21st, I boarded a plane to Europe. This was my first time out of the United States, and let’s just say I did it right! Over the course of three weeks, I had been to 7 different countries, explored over 15 new cities, flew on 11 planes, ate at countless authentic restaurants, wandered around multiple museums, and drank at too many pubs (if there’s even such a thing as “too many” pubs - haha!).
Now before you ask, no way did I go on this adventure all by myself. A coworker and I decided to take this trip together, and I am so glad we did! I was super hesitant to go (cost, amount of time away, so many unfamiliar places/languages, etc.), but after convincing myself that there will be no better time in my life to take a trip like this, I bit the bullet and went for it! Scroll down to see a few pictures from our adventure and read a little bit about where we went, some of my favorite moments from our trip, the next places on my travel bucket list, and even a few tips for anyone traveling through Europe! And stay tuned for more detailed posts of each of our stops! :)
Where we went:
The first stop on our list of countries to visit was Ireland! It was one of the places we both wanted to see, and Dublin happened to be one of the cheaper cities in Europe to fly into. After a short layover in Toronto, we landed in Dublin on a Sunday morning and with only having three days in Ireland, we wasted no time checking in to our hotel, freshening up (aka disguising the jet lag), and getting out to explore the city. We got the “full Dublin experience” on the first and third day in Ireland: the Jameson Distillery, Guinness Storehouse, Temple Bar, Book of Kells at Trinity, Brazen Head Pub, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But on our second day in Ireland, we hopped aboard a coach bus and headed out west to the Cliffs of Moher (talk about breathtaking!), making a stop along the Atlantic Way and in Galway as well. As my travel partner said, visiting the Cliffs was our first learning-experience on how “to feel beautifully insignificant in our world's quiet and spectacular places.” I could not have asked for “Moher” from our short stay in Ireland!
Stop #2 was less than an hour flight away from Dublin and we didn’t even have to leave the UK for it. Our travel itinerary had us staying in London for the next three nights (although, it ended up being four at no fault of our own -_-). While in London, we saw so many of the iconic places and monuments you see and hear about all of the time: Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, King's Cross (Platform 9 ¾), Hyde Park. I definitely stuffed my face with fish and chips, a full English breakfast, traditional meat pie, Cadbury chocolate, and afternoon tea. And on one of our days in England, we took a day-trip out of London to see Stonehenge, stopping at Windsor Castle and the historic city of Bath along the way. But when it was finally time to leave England, we got stuck at Heathrow Airport for way too long (complicated story - just know that we missed our evening flight out of London and had to get on a 6am flight the next day).
Amsterdam was already supposed to be one of our shortest stops on our trip, and the London flight complications I mentioned above made it an even shorter stop. We only had a little over 24 hours to explore Amsterdam and we didn’t waste any time doing just that! My list of Amsterdam must-dos include: a canal cruise (duh!), a stroll through Amsterdam’s Red Light District (don’t inhale too deeply - hehe!), stopping to see Anne Frank’s house (We only got to see the outside - If you want to see the inside, try to get tickets for this way in advance!), a visit to the Rijksmuseum, and trying some of Holland’s most-famous delicious fries and waffles - yum!
Berlin was next on our list, and although this was another one of our shorter stops, Germany did not disappoint! We went on a bike tour to see many of the famous and historical landmarks around the city: Berlin Wall (East Side Gallery), Checkpoint Charlie, Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, Brandenburg Gate, where Hitler's bunker was, and even where my girl Merkel lives. I was also able to get my fill of yummy German food and beer! German brats definitely have Johnsonville beat, and I don’t think it’s possible to ever spend “too long” at a biergarten, especially one on the Spree River!
After we had our fill of beer and brats, we traveled south to Greece! Greece was one of the countries I was looking forward to the most and for good reason! My Big Fat Greek Adventure Part 1 included everything I could have dreamed of (and more!):
Acropolis (including the Parthenon) ✓
Temple of Olympian Zeus ✓
First Modern Olympic Stadium ✓
Hadrian's Arch ✓
Acropolis Museum ✓
Wander around Plaka ✓
Sunset at Lycabettus Hill ✓
Temple of Poseidon ✓
Cape Sounion ✓
Consume copious amounts of Greek yogurt and feta cheese ✓
Our Greek adventure didn’t stop in Athens! We continued to experience Greek culture by hopping on a very small plane and flying to the beautiful island of Santorini for three days. We stayed in Kamari - just a 5 minute walk from the beach, but one of the days we took a bus to Thira and Oia to explore a couple of the other cities on the island. All of the cities on the island are pretty similar as far as food, shopping, and overall culture, but if you ever find yourself in Santorini, you don’t want to miss a sunset in Oia - absolutely breathtaking!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to go to Italy and it finally happened on this trip! We stayed in Rome for three nights. It was unfortunately over 100 degrees when we were there, but we made an effort to stay hydrated, and definitely made the most of it! I found out that “when in Rome…” you see Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, eat tons of pasta and gelato, and you take a train up to Florence for a day to see the Statue of David and go on a Chianti wine tour.
France was our last stop on our trip. While we were there we obviously saw the Eiffel Tower, we said hello to Mona Lisa and Aphrodite at The Louvre, and we walked down Champs Elysee to Arc de Triomphe (stopping to buy some of the most beautiful macaroons at Laduree). We also ate lots of crepes (sweet and savory), croissants, and a variety of other yummy pastries!
How long we were gone and how long we spent in each country:
This adventure was super last-minute. It was only three weeks before we left that I met my co-worker for coffee and discussed where we would want to go IF we went to Europe. That being said, we truthfully had every intention of booking this trip by ourselves, but after attempting and feeling super overwhelmed, we decided to book through a travel agent.
After making our list of “must-gos,” we got in touch with a local travel agency to help us schedule flights and where we would stay. We stayed in hotels in all of the cities because we went through the travel agency. The hotels were nice because of the added amenities. (Some even had a full free breakfast - score!) But I’ve had lots of friends who have traveled over to Europe and have stayed in hostels or Airbnbs and they had just as pleasant of an experience. I’d say just do your research and book ahead of time and I’m sure you’ll be fine!
Once we figured out the cities we were going to, and got a decent idea of what we wanted to experience in each of them, we figured out how long we would need to stay in each place.
We were gone for three weeks (a total of 22 days). Here is how long we spent in each city:
Dublin: 2 nights
London: 3 nights (which turned into 4)
Amsterdam: 2 nights (which turned into only 1)
Berlin: 2 nights
Athens: 3 nights
Santorini: 3 nights
Rome: 3 nights
Paris: 3 nights
While I’d love to go back to a few of these places, I can say with confidence that we organized our itinerary very well and spent just about the right amount of time in each city for this kind of trip. You can read more about our day-to-day itinerary in my detailed posts (coming soon!) about each place we saw.
I can honestly say I loved every minute of this trip (well, except the plane rides and flight complications in London), but there are a few specific moments that I will forever carry with me:
Cliffs of Moher in Ireland
Eastside Gallery in Berlin, Germany
Sunset from Lycabettus Hill in Athens, Greece
Sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece
Chianti Wine Tour in Florence, Italy
Travel Tips for Europe:
Book ahead! ...for all museum tickets, day-trips, etc. that you want to check out. There is sure to be a line and a significant wait-time at any/all museums, monuments, landmarks - really anything - that is typically on a person’s list of things to see in Europe. Save yourself the trouble (and a lot of time) by purchasing tickets for things you want to do ahead of time. Viator is a great site to check for day trips and skip-the-line tickets. Speaking of which...
...be prepared to wait in lots of long lines. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll definitely save a lot of time by buying tickets for things ahead of time, but lines are inevitable anywhere you go - even with your “skip-the-line” ticket in hand. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time for each thing you want to experience and don’t overwhelm yourself with a long list of things to fit in within one day. That being said….
Be conservative and conscientious of time and how long things will take when you’re creating your trip itinerary. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely had some jam-packed days that exhausted us to no end, but we also purposely scheduled “low-key” days in between some of our busier ones just to keep us sane. Some of our slower days were the ones that we flew on. We planned that on purpose so we wouldn’t feel panicked or rushed to get to the airport to make our flight.
Pack snacks! Before leaving, I had packed a gallon-sized zip-lock bag full of granola bars, cracker packs, and trail-mix to keep in my carry-on bag. There were multiple days when we didn’t have time to get breakfast, and we spent a lot of time sitting and waiting in airports (Hello, boredom!) and we were so thankful to have snacks with us to grab n’ go.
Figure out public transportation in each city you go to. Whether you take trains or buses, they’re all set up pretty similarly, and we became public transportation experts by the time our trip was over! Before we left, we had checked to make sure Uber was up and running in all of the cities and you’ll always be able to find a cab if needed, but public transportation is definitely cheapest way to go. And I liked how it helped familiarize us with each city - it’s like we got to experience each place in a unique way and it helped us disguise our touristy-looks. S/O to all the hotel concierges who helped us navigate our way through all of the cities we visited.
Depending where you go, be prepared to be rained on. Don’t let the pictures fool you - the weather did not always cooperate for us! In order to save room in our luggage, neither of us packed any raingear (i.e. umbrellas, raincoats, rain boots, etc.), but we definitely ran into some significant rain amounts. We were rained on the most in London and Amsterdam. Be conscious of the weather forecast before heading out exploring for the day, and don’t be afraid to ask your hotel concierge (aka your best friend in a foreign country) to borrow an umbrella - most hotels should have some for you to use!
Buy an outlet adaptor! It’s true that outlets are not the same in Europe (or even within the UK) and if you want a reliable and useful phone/camera/e-reader/hair tools with you, you’ll need the ability to charge it! If you stay in hotels, most of them should have outlet adapters you can borrow from the front desk. I bought one before we left - mostly for peace of mind. I found this cheapish one on Amazon and it worked perfectly to fit our charging needs.
Ask for a second room key. Europe is doing the whole “conserving energy” thing right, but it wasn’t always the most ideal or convenient for our needs. Here’s how electricity in all of our hotel rooms worked: aside from obviously needing a keycard to gain entrance to our rooms, there was also a key-slot on the wall of the room that required a key to be kept in it for the electricity to work in the room. I thought it was a really innovative way to conserve energy, but it was impossible for us to leave anything plugged in to charge while we were away from the hotel during the day. Some of the hotels gave us two keys when we checked in, but I would suggest requesting two if they don’t already provide you with more than one.
Bring a phone that allows you to make international calls. We mostly kept in contact with family and friends back home through Facebook and Snapchat whenever we had access to wifi, but before we left we both agreed we should have a phone with us that would allow us to reach someone back home immediately in case of emergency. My phone wasn't even capable of making international calls, but luckily my travel partner had an old AT&T phone that she was able to activate with an international plan for our trip. We honestly had the phone turned completely off the majority of the time, but during our "stuck in London" situation, it was a god-send. With the phone we were quickly able to reach our travel agent to help us solve the problem! If you're traveling abroad to an unknown place, I highly recommend bringing a useful, working phone you can use to contact someone back home in the case of an unfortunate event!
Check in to your flights (especially if you have a lot of them) ahead of time. Most airlines will let you checkin up to 24 hours before your plane leaves. This will save you lots of time once you get to the airport and you’ll be able to avoid [some of] the long lines.
Use local currency and carry it on you. There were so many times having cash came in handy - even some times where it was necessary! Most small street vendors and public transportation methods require cash and USD are no good over in Europe. As soon as you have a chance to, hit up an ATM and withdraw at least a couple hundred euros (you'll use it - trust me). I withdrew some initially in Ireland, and again in Berlin and Greece, and I used every bit of it (I somehow got away with not withdrawing any pounds in London, though). I also recommend charging your credit/debit card as euros instead of USD whenever you're asked - your bank or credit card company will translate the currency rate more accurately and fairly.
Next adventures on my list:
Thailand - I would love to experience Thai culture (especially the food!) and volunteer a good amount of time at an elephant sanctuary.
More of Italy! I feel like I could have spent three weeks in just Italy alone! If I ever find myself back in the country, I’d love to spend some time in Venice, Pisa, Sicily, and along the Amalfi Coast!
The Caribbean. Water, sand, sun, and drinks. What more could a girl want?
Cabo, because see #3 - And I'm actually going this month!! :)
Northern California to see wine country and the giant redwoods That would feed my love of wine and the outdoors all in one trip!
Africa - sign me up for an African Safari adventure!
All of the pictures in this post are my own. I tried to answer any/all questions I've been getting from people since going on this trip, but please ask me any more you may have about this adventure!
Thanks for reading!