I Heart Europe

Well, I’m back in the United States, and I’m looking back on the amazing time I had in Europe. This past semester in Sevilla has been my second study-abroad experience; last spring I studied with the Ithaca College London Centre in England. At the end of my semester there, I knew I was going to miss Europe when I went home, but I was also nearly positive that I would be studying abroad again this spring, so I didn’t worry too much about all the countries I wanted to visit that I had yet to see. However, this semester (with the CC-CS program in Sevilla) was different. Although I’m sure I will return to Europe someday, with my senior year coming up and who-knows-what on the horizon after that, I have no idea when I will find myself on the other side of the pond again. I tried to make the most I could out of the thousands of amazing things Europe has to offer and now that I’m home, I’ve been reflecting on my favourite places I’ve visited in the continent (in chronological order of when I visited).

Top Five Cities I’ve Visited in Europe:

London, England

Oxford Street decked out for last year’s Royal Wedding-palooza

London is different from the rest of the cities on this list in a number of ways. It’s much larger than the type of cities I normally enjoy; it takes significantly more time to walk from one side of it to the other (luckily it has the best public transport system I’ve ever encountered). It’s big and it’s loud and it’s absolutely wonderful. Although a semester there makes me think that it’s probably not a place I’d like to live for the rest of my life (much like other big cities I love, such as New York City), my time there was the best I’ve had in college. I love English culture (yeah, I’m one of those Americans) and being here made me appreciate it even more. Although I visited many cities while I was in the UK, London was definitely my favourite, not only because of the free museums and the history and the architecture, but just because the atmosphere was wonderful (even if the weather was not).

London Musts:

  • Take a Beatles walk: You don’t have to go to Liverpool to find historical sites related to the Fab Four; London has, among other important locations, the Palladium, Trident Sound Studios, No. 3 Saville Row, and of course, Abbey Road. Try to coordinate your group to imitate the album cover while annoyed drivers honk their horns at you.
  • Westminster Abbey: After these two semesters in Europe, I think I’ve seen enough famous churches to last me a lifetime, but this was definitely the most interesting. Great audioguide (narrated by Liam Neeson) and good for people who like history and those who are fans of the Royals.
  • Museums: A lot of the museums in London are free, which is definitely appealing for college students. My favourites were the Imperial War Museum, the National Gallery, and (although there was an admission fee) the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221 Baker Street, which makes Sherlock Holmes look like a historical figure rather than a fictional character (which is good because he definitely is a historical figure, okay?).

Firenze, Italia

The view from the top of the Campanile di Giotto

During spring break last year, I took a whirlwind trip through three cities in Italy. I didn’t particularly care for Milan, and although Rome had the perks of visiting a good friend and petting cats at the Piazza Argentina, Florence was definitely my favourite of the three. I’ve always loved architecture and particularly after having learned about dozens of churches between AP Art History senior year of high school and Architecture Across Cultures freshman year of college, I was excited to see so many churches I had learned about in real life, as well as Ghiberti and Brunelleschi’s competition plaques for the Baptistery of Florence, and Michelangelo’s David. Also, the best gelato I’ve ever had in my life.

Florence Musts:

  • Climb the Campanile: Make your way up the 414 steps for a view of the entire city. Don’t worry, there are places to stop and rest along the way, and I promise it’s worthwhile to be able to look out at all of the different architecture styles of the other churches around Florence. Then when you’re done, you can reward yourself with gelato.
  • Seriously, eat gelato: I think I had it twice each day I was in Florence (and then I worked of the calories by walking around pretty much the entire city several times each day). It’s better than the best ice cream you’ve ever eaten (except for maybe Rayas in Sevilla). My favourite flavours are stracciatella and tiramisu.
  • More museums: The Uffizi Gallery is the best museum in Florence, with one of the best collections of Italian Renaissance art in the world. However, the Galleria dell’Accademia is also worth a visit. Although most of the museum can be rushed through in half an hour or so, make sure you reserve half an hour at least just to stare at Michelangelo’s “David;” it really is that amazing.

København, Danmark

Houses along Nyhavn

When I went to Copenhagen last April, the weather was dreary. It had begun to warm up in England, but in Denmark everything was still freezing cold and miserable. Still, I fell in love with the city despite the rain and the frost. I don’t even know what exactly it is about this city that I loved so much; we spent most of the time just walking around looking at streets, debating eating more pastries (we always decided those debates by eating more pastries), and making “probably the best ____ in the world” jokes after the Carlsberg slogan, and yet I really, really loved it. The people were some of the nicest I’ve met, and on the one day when it didn’t rain, the bright colours of the buildings made the whole city look like a piece of art.

Copenhagen Musts:

  • Probably the best brewery tour in the world: Like I said, my friends and I found Carlsberg jokes really funny on this trip. But in all seriousness, I had a good time taking a tour of the Carslberg factory. Although it wasn’t as cool as, say, the Guinness storehouse in Dublin, it was fun to see the big elephant statues and the huge collection of beer bottles from around the world.
  • Den lille havfrue: Copenhagen is the home of Hans Christian Anderson, and the Little Mermaid statue in Langelinie is one of the cities biggest tourist attractions. When we went to visit it we were told that the statue had been moved further out into the harbour to prevent vandalism, but Danish vandals must be easily deterred because it was still close enough to touch and take pictures with the tiny statue of the little mermaid.
  • Fristaden Christiania: The autonomous neighbourhood of Christiania in Christianhavn is basically a tiny hippie commune in the midst of the city. The area was once a military barracks but now the walls are covered in murals with peace symbols (although you aren’t to take pictures due to the prevalence of the marijuana trade within the neighbourhood). While we didn’t stay here as long as I would have liked, I found the atmosphere very interesting and the artistic nature of the community very appealing.

Donostia, Euskadi (San Sebastián, España)

La Perla

Sorry, Sevilla: I love you, but San Sebastián is definitely my favourite city in Spain. I’m not normally much of a beach-goer—that is, I enjoy them if I’m there, but I don’t go out of my way to visit beaches for my vacations—but San Sebastián’s Playa de La Concha, the curved stretch of sand that borders the edge of the city, is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to. Although the water was freezing when I visited in mid-March, I enjoyed walking on the sand and looking out at the bay. Add in the hike up Mount Urgull to get a view of the whole city, the incredible tapas, called pintxos, and the generally relaxing nature of being less than a mile from the water wherever I went, and San Sebastián ranks high as one of my favourites, if not my absolute favourite vacation destination this spring.

San Sebastián Musts:

  • Walk on the beach: There are two main beaches by the old town: La Concha and a nearby surf beach. No matter how cold it is, you’ll probably see people out in the water at the latter, but La Concha is a beautiful place to take a walk, even if the water is too freezing to do more than stick a foot in. Why walk from one side of the city to the other along the streets when you can walk it along the sand?
  • El Peine de Viento: These sculptures by Basque artist Eduardo Chillida are on one end of La Concha, with Mount Urgull on the other. “El Peine de Viento” means “wind comb,” and the figures do appear to be coming the wind as it comes in from the sea. Their red rust colours contrast with the blue of the ocean, and the spiky shapes look really cool against the rocks at the edge of the water.
  • Eat Pintxos: San Sebastián has a well-deserved reputation for amazing food. Although the pintxos are a bit more pricy than most tapas you’ll find in Spain (or maybe I’m just spoiled by how incredibly cheap everything is in Sevilla), they’re definitely the best you’ll ever eat. My favourites were a pepper stuffed with cod and an octopus tentacle with cabbage. Wash them down with a glass of hard cider, or sidra, for the full experience.

Praha, Česká republika

View of Charles Bridge from Prague Castle

Everyone from my dad to one of my teachers from elementary school to some random people I met in Spain told me that Prague is one of their favourite cities so, although nobody told me exactly why it was a top choice, I was really excited to visit the city this year as part of my spring break trip to Germany and the Czech Republic. I quickly came to agree with everybody’s assessment of Prague as one of the best. As I said, I love architecture, and Prague has pretty much every style of building imaginable, often right next to each other. I didn’t know much about the history or culture of the city before visiting, so this was an educational as well as entertaining experience; maybe it makes me a nerd but that’s my favourite kind of vacation.

Prague Musts:

  • Take a walking tour: If you, like me, know very little about Prague, Sandeman’s free Prague walking tour is a great way to get oriented. It’s a three hour crash course in the history and culture of the city that takes you to most of the major sites. It’s just an overview, but it gave us a good idea of what places we wanted to go back to for a more in-depth visit later. Also the tour guides are hilarious and very knowledgeable about all the interesting trivia of the city, from ancient times to the most important events of WWII and the Cold War, up to modern days.
  • Prague Castle: It doesn’t look like something out of a fairy tale the way Munich’s Neuschwanstein or even London’s Kensington Palace does, but Prague Castle much cooler than that (although I did have an amazing time when I visited Kensington’s Enchanted Palace). There’s an enormous Gothic cathedral as well as several other churches, the palace itself, and the tiny street of hobbit-sized houses where Franz Kafka once lived.
  • The Jewish Quarter: I’ve seen a ton of churches in Europe, as I said, but I hadn’t seen too many synagogues (especially not being in Spain for most of this spring). So Prague’s Jewish area was particularly interesting, to see the different types of architecture involved in the creation of the temples, as well as to learn some very moving information about World War II and the Holocaust.

Honourable Mentions: 

  • Sevilla, España
  • Oxford, England
  • Liverpool, England
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Berlin, Deutschland

Top Five European Cities I want to Visit:

  • Normandie, France
  • Istanbul, Türkiye
  • Venezia, Italia
  • Reykjavik, Ísland
  • Amsterdam, Nederland
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