I know that a long time ago (about a year to be exact), I promised to be posting about my travels while I was studying abroad and actually traveling on a regular basis. After all, that was my original inspiration for starting this blog.
Well, it’s been a long wait and you all are still here. I was feeling inspired today and decided, why not reflect a little bit?
So, here are my top three favorite destinations I visited during my time in Europe. My reasoning will range from favorite coffee shops, bars and tourist spots to simply being able to call a place home. Hope you enjoy.
3. Paris, France
This one is cliche, I know. It’s an honest choice though. I had an amazing time in Paris. There’s a reason it’s always on must-see destination lists.
For me, Paris was a place I had always dreamed of traveling to but I never thought I would actually make it to. Another dream that would only remain a dream. Ever since our lesson on the city and its architecture back in my freshman year French class in high school, Paris was up there on places I had to visit. So, when I got the opportunity to live and travel around Europe, I knew one city that was going to be on my checklist that semester. And if it didn’t get checked off, I knew I would have regretted it.
One thing that was particularly special about my visit to Paris was that I visited almost a month after the 2015 terror attacks. On my bus ride from the airport, I passed the Stade de France where both suicide blasts occurred and which was one of the prime targets during the attacks.
However, despite the tragedy, the city appeared resilient and its beauty and strength was still prevalent. There were a lot more French flags hanging in apartments and peace signs with the Eiffel Tower, but the attacks didn’t keep me away. A lot of my friends and family were surprised I still planned my visit and a good amount of my plane was empty, but I thought that now was more important than ever to see the city.
Before I get into further detail about my visit, one coincidental experience happened to me before getting on the plane. I flew from Prague and I ran into another student who was also studying in Prague and was visiting Paris that same weekend. We also ended up staying at the same hostel so we hung out a bit while we were in the city. One of the stories she told me while she was on a tour was that the guide thanked them for still choosing to travel to Paris because of course, weeks and months following the attacks, the country was suffering from a decrease in the tourism industry. I thought that was interesting to hear how thankful they were for people choosing to overlook the terror that happened and still focus on why travelers decided to visit the country in the first place, before the attacks happened.
Now, there are several reasons why Paris was one of my favorite cities. The cheap Nutella crepes. The beautiful architecture. The tourist destinations that while popular and crowded, are still a must-see. The great food. The sun setting on the Seine. These are all incredible things to experience and I was incredibly grateful the entire time I was there.
I also visited during the holiday season, so that contributed to my visit. My second night, I took the train and walked around the Champs-Elysees, which if you’ve never seen it at Christmas time, I highly recommend. There’s a reason it’s called The City of Lights. It was breathtaking. There are people everywhere. Horns honking all around you. But that adds to the experience. While I couldn’t nearly afford any of the shops, I stumbled upon an extravagant Christmas market that was placed on the avenue that ran near the Place de la Concorde. This was one of my favorite memories from the trip: simply walking around, enjoying the city atmosphere and stumbling upon things that I didn’t know existed until I saw them.
This is one of the benefits of traveling alone. You have the freedom to do whatever you want on your own schedule. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with people too. But I would just sit on the stairs and stare at the Eiffel Tower at night or take a bunch of pictures of the view from Sacre Coeur, just because I could. That is one of the reasons I love traveling because you feel invincible. You feel that there are no limitations and you finally have some control over your life. It’s an incredible feeling and I definitely felt that in Paris.
I hope I have convinced you even a little bit to see this city, if you already weren’t convinced. It’s a cliche recommendation, but it’s worth it. Trust me.
Here are a few more pictures before we move on:
2. Budapest, Hungary
I’ll be honest: I had no expectations before we went to Budapest. I went because my roommate and our friend were planning to go and I was like, why not? Our Czech flat buddy also highly recommended it to all of us in the program. I did a little bit of research of what there is to do before going, but for the most part I just waited to see what happened until we got there – and I’m so glad I did.
From the minute we arrived in the city, it wasn’t your ordinary trip. First of all, we got there incredibly early in the morning before anything was open. So, while we were waiting for this coffee shop to open, we ventured around a market and played on a seesaw in a public playground. We eventually went hiking up to Gellert Hill (an incredible view of the city and a perfect introduction to your trip to Budapest). After our hike, we stopped and played at another playground (I personally love the swings) and we continued on. (Side note: I didn’t realize until I got to the city that Buda and Pest are technically two different sections of the city split by the Danube River. I guess I’m more ignorant than I thought).
One of my favorite things about Budapest was the nightlife. Think about any college town you have ever been to, or if you have ever gone out in a huge city like New York, and multiply that by about ten. Our hostel was in a prime location in Buda for the nightlife and every night we went out and explored the city. The streets were condensed and meant for drunk pedestrians. There were always groups of people walking around, planning their trip to the next bar. They were all young people too. I barely noticed any older people hanging around after a certain time of day.
One of the most unique attractions about Budapest are the ruined pubs. They are these bars/clubs that have been converted from an abandoned building. Normally, they are huge and have different sections. There are typically multiple bars in each pub and multiple dance floors, not to mention bizarre decorations.
One thing I distinctly remember about one of the pubs we visited, was there was an old-school film projector sitting on a table in the middle of the bar on the second floor. It was projecting an old foreign cartoon on a huge wall the floor below, where there was a large crowd of people. That was something I had never seen anywhere else I had been to. There were also notes and writings written on the walls left by patrons that have visited prior. All around it was an incredible experience.
While Budapest may not be on the radar as much as Paris, I highly recommend it if you are visiting Europe for the first time. You’re never at a loss for things to do, the nightlife is amazing and did I mention it’s ridiculously cheap? That part is kind of important.
Oh, you might also want to check out one of the local public bath spas. They are kind of a tourist trap but depending on the one you go to, it might be more secluded. We ended up going to a more touristy one but it’s a great experience, and an absolute must for your first visit to the city.
Like before, here are a few more photos from my trip:
1. Prague, Czech Republic
For me, it was obvious to put Prague at the top of my list. This was the city that I got the opportunity to live in, get to know and call home for four months out of my life. I couldn’t have been able to experience a better European city to live in.
I don’t even know where to begin to explain why I love Prague so much. While I believe it is starting to get a bit more well-known and popular in regards to European tourism, it still has not gotten among the ranks of Rome or Paris and I kind of hope it stays that way. Prague has a particular fairy tale charm to it and anyone who has been understands what I’m saying as they read this. Prague is this destination that doesn’t appear real while you’re there as if you have stumbled back into the past and yet it is still modern enough that you are never out of things to do.
One of my initial favorite aspects of Prague in regards to other European cities is that it’s incredibly affordable. As most of Eastern Europe is, in Prague, you can get a delicious Czech beer with a traditional Czech meal for less than $5. It’s that cheap. I saved so much money living in Prague, therefore I had more money available to travel to other cities on the weekends. Sure, the tourist spots such as Old Town Square or Prague Castle can get a little pricy, but it’s still not ridiculously expensive compared to tourist spots in Western Europe.
Another one of my favorite aspects of the city were all the great coffee shops. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a caffeine addict. While I wouldn’t call myself a coffee snob, relaxing in coffee shops and enjoying a delicious cup of coffee is one of my favorite hobbies. We had a good amount of great local coffee shops to choose from near our apartment and there were even more in the city center.
I highly recommend visiting Kavarna V Sedmem Nebi in Prague 5 if you ever are in the city. It’s a cozy local coffee shop with great food and unique decor, including an angel that hangs on the second floor. I frequented this spot a lot during my semester.
Like Budapest, I had little expectations prior to arriving in Prague. I try to purposely do this before traveling so that there is a bit more of a surprise. I enjoyed seeing all of the popular tourist spots as well as the neighborhoods that aren’t as popular. From all of the colorful buildings to Stalin Hill that has a gorgeous view of the city, especially at night, I tried to never take a second of this place for granted. It’s truly special and there’s no other place like it in the world.
So, there you have it. My top three cities in Europe. I hope you enjoyed reading this and as a thank you, here are a few more photos of Prague to convince you to visit: