18 European Travel Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List

For a Europhile with vacation days, it can be hard to remember that there are actually seven continents. Our rally cry is “Europe or bust!” Thankfully, there’s enough on the continent to keep us exploring for a lifetime -- and we’ve got the bucket list to prove it. If you’re constantly drawn across the Atlantic to explore new corners of the Old World, consider this your ultimate travel checklist.

1. Swoon over the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

Nan Palmero/Flickr

Ah, the Eiffel Tower! How has this building become shorthand for delirious, mad-capped love? Stroll past it at night when the tower bursts into effervescent sparkling lights. Once you’ve witnessed its megawatt dazzle (on display at the top of every hour after sunset), you’ll understand completely. If you’re truly under its spell, seek out a hotel room with an Eiffel Tower view.

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2. Stuff yourself rotten in Brussels, Belgium.

Pascal Subtil/Flickr

Every European country has its indulgences, from Italy’s pasta and gelato to France’s croissants and cheeses. But Brussels is really a city made for a food bender. Whether it’s the chocolate and beer or the ultimate Belgian waffles, this town has made an art form out of all our edible vices. And we haven’t even mentioned the fries -- thick-cut potatoes twice fried and served in a paper cone with mayo. Get them with a pile of mussels for a true local experience.

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3. Count the minutes in Prague, Czech Republic.

Anthony G. Reyes/Flickr

Crowds swarm Prague’s Old Town Square at the top of the hour to witness a spectacle that’s been in progress for more than 600 years. It’s here that the city’s famed astronomical clock measures out time with its own mini parade. The clock, a gothic marvel that also tracks lunar phases and the sun’s position on the ecliptic, has a series of moving figurines, including a procession of apostles and a skeleton, plus a crowing rooster at the end. 

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4. Do a pub crawl in Dublin, Ireland.

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin/Oyster

Plenty of cities in Ireland and across the U.K. have their own pub scene, but arguably none are as iconic as Dublin. Revelers that raise a pint here follow in the footsteps of literary giants like Joyce, Beckett, and Yeats. So whether it’s The Bleeding Horse, The Norseman, or The Hairy Lemon (yes, these are the names of real pubs!) order a Guinness and pull up a stool.

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5. Ride the tram in Lisbon, Portugal.

Trams, Lisbon/Oyster

Other European cities have landmark museums or buildings, but Lisbon’s calling card is its delightful trams, usually sporting a lemon-yellow hue. Whether they’re looping around cobblestone streets or clattering up hills, they embody the capital’s Old World appeal. If you ride one to an egg tart bakery, you’ll cover two quintessential Portuguese experiences in one outing. 

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6. Tiptoe through the tulips in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Jordaan, Amsterdam/Oyster

With windmills, canal houses, and bicycles galore, Amsterdam could be Europe’s most darling capital. And certainly its streetscapes reflect that. But the thing that completes the picture is the riotous burst of color in the form of tulips. Window boxes and gardens throughout the city showcase these bulbs in bloom, and vendors on the street corners also do quick business in season. Travelers with full-blown tulipmania can do a pilgrimage out to Keukenhof Gardens

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7. Make a wish at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy.

Trevi Fountain near Hotel Fontana, Rome/Oyster

Rome is a city saturated with romance, and the Trevi Fountain could be its most starry-eyed spot. Certainly filmmaker Federico Fellini agreed, making it a backdrop for his movie “La Dolce Vita.” In it, his characters jump into the water in their formalwear, inspired to take a romantic dip. But most visitors follow the example of another film, “Three Coins in the Fountain.” Supposedly, flinging three coins into the water both ensures a return trip to Rome and puts a ring on your current relationship. 

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8. Shiver your timbers on the Vasa ship in Stockholm, Sweden.

Jon Mountjoy/Flickr

Rising up like a scene in the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, the Vasa ship in Stockholm could be a Hollywood set piece. But there’s one key difference -- this ship is the real deal. Capsized in 1628, the Vasa sat on the ocean floor for centuries until it was yanked up, polished and preserved, and put on display in this museum. As such, it’s the only one of its kind and evokes chills when you look at the mammoth vessel complete with cannons and carvings that bring the swashbuckling to life.

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9. Catch the Northern Lights in Iceland.

Northern Lights, Iceland/Oyster

The Northern Lights have been entrancing people for centuries. And for a Europhile, there’s no better place to see them than Iceland. Here, the landscape below is just as staggering as the dancing lights above. Merged together, they complete an otherworldly picture. (There’s a reason so many fantasy shows like “Game of Thrones” are filmed here.) Coming in the fall or winter will improve your chances of seeing Aurora Borealis, but the country’s natural beauty is on display year-round.

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10. Indulge in apres-ski pampering in Switzerland.

Cigar Lounge at Hotel Alpenhof, Zermatt/Oyster

The skiing in Switzerland is epic and entirely worth its own bucket-list entry. But let’s face it, the best part of slicing through the snow is coming back to your resort to warm up and treat yourself to some apres-ski pampering. Indulging in giant cauldrons of bubbling fondue, soaking in a jetted hot tub, or enjoying a massage to reset weary muscles -- this is how all ski days should end. Others might want to warm up with a nightcap by a crackling fireplace, and the bar scene in St. Moritz and Zermatt will certainly provide.

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11. Drive through the “Romantic Road” in Germany.

Poonam Agarwal/Flickr

Skip the sloppy Oktoberfest crowds. Instead, use Munich as the on-ramp for your drive up the Autobahn on Germany’s “Romantic Road.” Your first stop should be Neuschwanstein Castle, Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s digs. From there, hit the town of Füssen where the half-timber houses feel lifted off the pages of a “Hansel and Gretel” storybook. The route continues north, lacing through more charming towns and ending at Würzburg.

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12. Listen to opera in Vienna, Austria.

Jiuguang Wang/Flickr

No single European country can claim opera as its own. But it seems Vienna has the deepest gravitational pull when it comes to classical music, both in the 1700s and today. The most famous composers -- Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, and Schubert, to name a few -- all came to orbit the city and feed the public’s appetite for opera, which was the blockbuster entertainment of its time. Today, fans can go to the Vienna State Opera to experience the soaring voices and melodramas that have captivated the Viennese for centuries.

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13. Ride a gondola in Venice, Italy.

Gondolas, Venice/Oyster

Touristy? Totally! But riding a gondola in Venice is also undeniably fun. It’s impossible to remain cynical in the face of so much Venetian charm -- the boats are even curved in the shape of a smile. Plus, no one can argue it isn’t authentic. The striped shirts, straw hats, and neckerchiefs of the gondolieri all have a deep history. There’s even a national institute for their protection.

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14. Bet it all on red in Monaco.

Conor Ogle/Flickr

There are plenty of places to gamble stateside (Las Vegas automatically comes to mind), but Monaco’s casinos have a deep glamour all their own. This country, one of Europe’s smallest, has an oversized glitz factor thanks to all the high-rollers it attracts. Our suggestion: Do your best James Bond imitation at Casino de Monte-Carlo, a grand dame of gambling and the backdrop of the Bond movie “Never Say Never Again." Order a martini (shaken, not stirred), and put your chips down on red.

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15. Take afternoon tea in London, England.

English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel, London/Oyster

London is jam-packed with bucket-list worthy diversions, whether it’s watching the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace or seeing Shakespeare performed at the Globe Theatre. But nothing feels so quintessentially British as having afternoon tea. Several luxury hotels like Claridge’s, The Savoy, The Langham, and Brown’s are famed for serving a “proper” tea with elegant china and tiered stands packed with crustless sandwiches, scones, and cake. Pinkies up!

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16. Cruise down the Danube to Budapest, Hungary.

Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

One of Europe’s longest rivers, the Danube weaves through Germany, slices through the top of Austria, and dips down into Hungary. On a river cruise, there are plenty of beautiful stops along the way, including Vienna (number 12 on our list!). But there’s a reason so many sailings make Budapest either the kick-off point or the grand finale. This city was meant to be seen on the water, and the dramatic parliament building adds another level to the fanfare.

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17. See the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

Gary Campbell-Hall/Flickr

Paris has the Eiffel Tower, London has Big Ben, and Barcelona has the Sagrada Familia. This Catholic church looks nothing like the gothic cathedrals spotted elsewhere in Europe. Instead, four towers reminiscent of honeycomb front the organic structure. Architect Antoni Gaudí considered the church a “bible in stone,” so the facade is coated with ornate carvings depicting biblical stories. It’s just one of several buildings Gaudí created here, giving the whole city an “Alice in Wonderland” feel.

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18. Gaze a the sunset in Santorini, Greece.

Pedro Szekely/Flickr

Yes, it’s cliché. Yes, it’s crowded. But that doesn’t make the sunsets in Santorini any less phenomenal. Watching the horizon melt from a bluebird hue to Creamsicle orange across the sea is breathtaking. And seeing it wash over this Greek island’s white buildings as they shift into a shadowy lavender color only adds to its splendor. If the crowds make you crazy, head to the water to take a sunset cruise or consider crossing the island to the Akrotiri lighthouse, where you’ll have less company. 

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