7 Must have experiences in Europe

Europe is a bundle of experiences and the alternatives from which you can choose as a part of your itinerary are umpteen. All you need is a Schengen visa and a Eurail Pass and you’re good to go to 26 countries. But there are always some experiences that leave a mark in you like no other, the below 7 experiences are those for me.

  1. Unwinding in the luxurious Bath Spas of Budapest

Budapest, rightly called “City of Spas” that offers just the relaxation you need after months of backpacking and treks. While the bath spas have been a part of Hungary for several centuries, the culture of bath spa is said to increase with Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century. With over 118 thermal and medicinal hot springs, it is the best place to kickback, put your feet up and relax.

Bath Spa
Sit back, relax and unwind

Where to go:

There are several public baths, the most popular ones being Szechenyi, Gellert and Rudas. We picked Szechneyi as it was one of the largest baths and extremely accessible as it is located right next to City Park. The cost for the entrance with locker usage is just 20$ with no time limit

What to expect:

Szechneyi has about 11 bath spas in different temperatures and three main pools in the open air. The guidelines for the outfit you must wear to the bath are quite relaxed and they have excellent and economical locker facilities for all your belongings. Once you’re dressed, all you need to do is pick the right temperature for you and take a dip.

My best moment:

My best moment was taking a dip in their hottest thermal spa in the open air with the striking view of the bath spa and the open sky. A mild drizzle during the day was just a cherry on top of the pie.

How to Get There:

Located right at the city center, the bath is very much accessible by any means of public transport

  1. Trek up the Pulpit Rock – Stavanger, Norway

Preikestolen or Pulpit rock, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Norway is one of those experiences that deserves its popularity unlike most famous places. The hanging cliff, one of nature’s many accidents remains so as the rest of the mountain had melted away long ago. The remaining part of the cliff is expected to fall off soon as well, so do not miss your chance to trek those trails before it becomes a part of history

Pulpit Rock
The smiles on reaching the top!!!

Where to go:

Stavanger is your means to get to the Preikestolen Mountain Lodge which is the starting point of the trek. The best time to visit is in the months of April to October.

What to expect:

Easily a 5-hour trek through difficult terrains. The Tourism department has taken a conscious call not to put rails and fences along the trek to ensure not to tamper with the natural beauty of the trail (Rightfully so, but it only makes the path more treacherous). But when you get to the top, the view of the endless fjords will make everything it took to get there worth it.

My best moment:

My best moment would be the point at which I was not sure if I should climb on further or turn back. The cliff had a turning with hardly any footing and I made the choice to climb up amidst the racing heart, pouring rain and grappled with uncertainty. But I think I made the right choice (Considering I lived to tell the tale)

How to Get There:

The best things in life are not that easy to reach sadly, getting to the start of the trek is equally tedious – For details check out my post on Preikestolen 

  1. The Magic of Opera – Vienna, Austria

A tradition extending beyond generations, Opera takes a very different form in Austria and much more in its capital city of Vienna. It is often quoted

“Art as a religion is a way of life in Austria”

and rightfully so. The popular Vienna State Opera is regal and breath-taking like no other. The tickets for almost all shows are sold out much in advance and cost over 100s of euros, but fret not, they have two remedies for the budget traveller

Option1: Take the feel of the Opera House without seeing an actual show by signing up for Vienna Opera Tour (Costs up to 7.5 Euros per person). The tour is said to give a flavour of the history of the tradition and the grandeur that went with it. However, I was more keen on experience an Opera show on a shoe string (welcome option 2)

Option 2: There are standing places at the very top of the Opera House for which reservations cannot be made in advance. You stand in line to get the tickets and they are allotted on a first come first serve basis. While the wait is 30-45 minutes easily before the show, but the experience is worth the wait

Opera
Right before the show is about to begin

What to expect:

Drama and powerful stellar storytelling that leaves you wanting for more. Like Richard Gere’s dialogue in Pretty Women

“People’s reaction to Opera for the first time is always extreme”

You will not understand a word of the language but you will feel every single emotion played by the characters. You can feel yourself tearing up and exalting in joy as the opera moves and the symphonies rise and fall and the feeling remains with you for life

My best moment:

My best moment would be the entire feel of the place. You would see people in grand dresses and jewellery coming in in their Rolls Royces and the grandeur of the architecture, the sets and the background and the phenomenal Orchestra. The place takes you back to the 19th century with little effort.

How to Get There:

Easily accessible by Public Transport (read underground, trams and buses) All you need to do is get down at Karlsplatz (in the underground) or Opernring (in the Tram) and you will be right in front of the state opera house.

  1. A carnival like no other – Oktoberfest, Germany

Oktoberfest or “Die Wiesn” in the Theresienwiese, Munich is one of the world’s largest Beer Festival and Funfair. Started centuries ago as a celebration to commemorate the marriage of the Bavarian crown prince in the month of October, the festival has slowly moved to mid-September as the weather in the gardens is much more pleasant. However, the last Oktoberfest weekend remains in the month of October. It is inaugurated by the Mayor of Munich tapping the first keg of the Oktoberfest beer.

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What to expect:

Coolest carnival ever with people from all over the world pouring in in trains after trains on the gardens with Tents serving the finest beer and games to keep you entertained all day long. The excitement in the crowds is addictive to say the least and the throngs of people in costume enjoying the best of beer is a sight to see.

How to Get There:

Public Transport is the best way to get there as most of the roads are cordoned off and parking can get to be a huge nightmare. Take the U or the S Bahn and get down at the Theresienwiese or Schwanthalerhöhe stations and follow the crowd. Reservations are allowed in tents, however if you go in a little early around 9 am you can still manage to find a good spot amidst the crowds.

  1. Get a peep into the history behind most European cities through Walking Tours

I have always felt that the best way to explore any new city/town is by foot. My best memories of travel have found me blissfully lost in something mundane peculiar to the city that is so different from the way of life as I know it. Walking tours is a beautiful combination of the two with the experience of soaking up a new city with a guide telling you the most interesting stories from their culture, history and traditions. Every large town in Europe would have walking tours organised taking you through all key aspects walkable from a select starting point. And before you ask the question, let me answer you – the cost to such tours are FREE! Yes, you heard me correctly. Most walking tours are organised by volunteers who are passionate to share the heritage of their cities with tourists like you and me. You can choose to tip these volunteers after the tour depending on how much you enjoyed (Preferable to tip at least 10 euros per volunteer)

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What to expect:

Well a lot of interesting stories and a lot of walking – Simple as that.

My best moment:

This will definitely be the walking tour in Barcelona (I am slightly biased towards that city – You can read why more here.  There was just so much history to the whole tour but what intrigued me most was these little football players pooping statues they had in every souvenir shop. A Christmas tradition dating back to 17th century peasants in Spain, the neat pile of poop is equivalent to fertility and good fortune. You will find souvenir shops displaying ceramic figurines of everyone famous crouching with their pants down. The top three walking tours I enjoyed the most are in Barcelona, Berlin and Prague.

How to Get There:

Sandeman’s walking tours are popular across and they usually start at the city square. Your best bet is to check with your hotel/hostel and they can guide you to the nearest one.

  1. Experience a Live Volcano – Mt. Vesuvius, Italy

Whats the first word that comes to your mind when I say “Live Volcanoes”? While I am sure 90% of you would say RUN we did just the opposite and I must say it may not be the worst decision you can take at least for next couple of years. Vesuvius located in the Gulf of Naples just 9 Kms shy of Naples is the only live volcano in the European mainland and also the most dangerous as it is the most densely populated locality around a live volcano. While multiple eruptions have happened in the last century the last biggest eruption was in AD79 destroying entire settlements of Roman empire in Pompeii

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What to expect:

A good 40-minute hike up to the top of the volcano and what more on one side you get the view of smoke coming out like the lava is just waiting to erupt (read the adrenaline rush that comes with it) and on the other side see the sprawling view of south Italy expanding in all bright and vivid colours as far as your eyes can see

My best moment:

Kind of an obvious one here but nevertheless, that feeling when you see those tiny wisps of smoke coming out like its whispering the impending doom. If you want to go one step further you can head to Pompeii right after the visit to Vesuvius to see the ruins of what damage those tiny wisps of smoke grew into last time it erupted.

How to Get There:

The best way to get there is by road from Naples. There are several tour operators in Naples who ply buses from the pick-up point near the city centre to the starting of trek up to Vesuvius.

A word of caution:

Be wary of rogue muggers in Naples and fake tour operators demanding upfront cash. It is preferable to make your bookings for the transport through the hostels/ hotels you are staying in and ensure you watch your passport like a hawk.

  1. Hunt for northern lights – Abisko, Sweden

A trip to Scandinavia is incomplete if you do not aspire or attempt watching the most beautiful natural wonder (for me) – Aurora Borealis. A natural phenomenon that happens when electrically charged particles from the sun enter into the earth’s atmosphere and collide with our gaseous particles. Simply put, A scientific phenomenon that lights up the skies in hues of green, yellow, pink or purple. Multiple factors affect visibility of which three biggest factors remain light, clear skies and the altitude.

Abisko
The lonely roads in Abisko. Imagine the northern lights in this backdrop!!

Where to Go:

The best part of Scandinavia is that you have a plethora of venues from where you can attempt viewing the Northern Lights depending on your itinerary. Detailed outline in link here

My Best Moment:

The entire experience is very surreal and leaves you feeling in want for more. While I spent hours researching the perfect itinerary to ensure that the brief amount of time I had to spend in Abisko would be the best bet of viewing this miracle, much to my dismay I realised these things cannot be so minutely planned. While all my tips here can help you find the best window to view the Northern Lights, plan for getting more out of the experience and if you manage to catch it, well, you can always thank me later.

That is a wrap on my favorites. Share your best experiences in the comments below

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