Intro: Gear Up for your Adventure | After spending the last six years living all over Europe and running my young travel company, I want to share a handful of insider tips picked up from a life on the road.
By Emily Rose
If you’re reading this and have no idea where the Czech Republic is then don’t worry, you’re in the same boat as 90% of the people who asked where I was spending my semester abroad and looked utterly confused when I responded with the Czech Republic. I ended up studying in the Czech Republic because I knew nothing about it and wanted to be challenged and after spending 114 days living in that country, I can honestly tell you that it was the most amazing experience of my life and it all had to do because of the country and city that I was in.
In the words of one of Prague’s most famous writers, Franz Kafka “Prague never lets you go...this dear little mother has sharp claws.” I never really understood why this Kafka guy was so in love with Prague until I left and realized that Prague had sunk its sharp claws into me. This is why you need to study abroad in Prague:
The Food: Let me start by saying that if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, then it is going to be hard for you to fall in love with the food of Prague; unless you’re down to eat dumplings for every meal. The food in Prague is all hearty, stick-to-your-ribs type of food. You’re not going to find a farm fresh salad, instead you’ll be seeing a lot of beef, duck and parts of animals that you never thought that you would like. My personal favorite is the Czech pork knuckle. Yes, you heard that right I loved to eat the foot of a pig. But let’s not forget the most important meal of the day dessert. Sure tredelnik is cool, but the real Czechs know that the chocolate cake from Prague is where you go to have your chocolate cake dreams realized.
It’s Cheap To Live There!: I didn’t realize how cheap it was for me to live and go to school in Prague until I actually got over there. A really good meal that will fill you up and convince you that you will be full for the rest of your life will cost you around $8 USD, and a half liter of beer will set you back a whopping $1 USD. If you’re ballin’ on a budget then Prague will definitely be your new bff.
The Drinks: Beer, beer, and more beer. The Czechs love beer like Oprah loves bread, and if you don’t like beer then look at studying abroad in a different country. The Czechs drink beer more than water which is a-ok with me, and the best part is that the beer actually tastes good in the Czech Republic! The two most popular (and tastiest) Czech beers are Pilsner-Urquell and Budweiser Budvar but don’t take my word for it, go and get a bottle and decide for yourself! If you’re more of a wine drinker then you HAVE TO study abroad during the fall semester for one reason: Burčák. It is a special type of wine that is only available in September and it will change your life. The best way to explain what burčák is that it is lemonade with a little devil inside. It tastes like sparkling lemonade but if you have too much your liver will be gasping for air and wondering what it ever did to deserve that type of treatment.
The Views: I could never manage to get over the amazing views that Prague has to offer even after a full semester there. Take a 15 minute walk from Old Town Square and you can find yourself at either Letna Park or Prague Castle, both of which have amazing views of the city. For a real experience, go up to Letna Park right before sunset with your friends and watch the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. If you don’t believe me just Czech out (I’m sorry, I had to) this sweet pic from the top of Letna!
The other parts of the Czech Republic that aren’t Prague: The CR is so much more than just Prague! Sure Prague is absolutely amazing but the rest of the CR is equally as beautiful. In the Eastern part of the Czech Republic is the city of Brno which is home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals! Or if you’re feeling more adventurous and you want to get in some hiking you can go to Czech Switzerland and stand in awe of the rock formations.
Location, location, location: One of the best parts about living the in Czech Republic is that it is a country that is quite literally smack dab in the middle of Europe. Since the CR is bordered by Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Austria you can take a train or a cheap and quick flight to any of the bordering countries for a weekend away!
No matter where you may end up studying, make sure that you set aside one of your weekends to experience Prague and all that it has to offer. If you end up studying in Prague then prepare yourself for one of the best experiences of your life...and the amazing beer of course! Explore more of Central Europe with our Best of Central Europe Trip!
By Christian Roberts
Back home in the states, where Tinder is centered around dating and hookups, the app may raise a few eyebrows. But in Europe, it's a popular and easy way to connect with locals and fellow students abroad. Our WSA Intern (studying in Madrid) took a leap into the Tinder pool, and found results way beyond what was expected.
Swipe Left Swipe Right
A few months ago, I noticed something in the Madrid Metro; everyone around me was swiping left or right on their phones. It wasn’t long until someone explained to me that it was this new dating app called Tinder. In my mind, the red lights immediately began flashing; Are these Spanish people that desperate? Who even uses dating apps? But, after seeing more and people swiping left and right, including some of my friends, I decided to give it a go. For those of you who don’t know, in the world of Tinder, a face appears on your screen and you can choose to swipe right if you like them and swipe left if you don’t, and when you swipe right on someone who also swipes right on you, you are matched up and can begin a conversation. Pretty soon, I understood why the app was so popular. As one of my friends Justin put it, “it’s like being in an All You Can Eat Buffet, where you have a non-stop menu coming out and you just choose if you want to try something or not.”
Trying out the Tinder Game: Valencia
After becoming pretty pro at the dating app, it wasn’t long before I discovered its other great uses; one being travel. On a solo weekend trip to the Spanish coast of Valencia, I arrived early to my hostel and found that the walking tour wouldn’t be starting for another hour. To kill time, I began “Tindering” and in no time at all, I matched with a cute local who I had a friend in common with (Valencia’s Tinder response time is pretty quick in case you visit soon). I told her that I was here for the weekend and was waiting for a walking tour to start. She responded, “Con este calor? It’s too hot to walk, just to see the center. Let me show you the real Valencia!” It turned out that she had a car and was able to pick me up and give me an air-conditioned tour of the city. This was a best of both worlds scenario for me: she showed me the beautiful sites that Valencia had to offer, I tasted one of the best paellas in my life, especially since there was no tourist price attached, I got to practice my Spanish, and since we were moving so quickly, I still had time to relax at the beach. That night, she invited me out with her friends. It was a real local experience of Valencia.
Round Two: Barcelona
On another weekend trip to Barcelona, I wanted to make sure that this was a thing, so I Tindered again. (Barcelona’s response time is slower…) (Looking to have an epic weekend trip in Barcelona? Check out our trips page!) Eventually I matched up with a local who also was excited to share her city with me. It was a similar experience to Valencia (except no car), but I did get to see a hidden beauty that a regular tour might not show you: where Evanescence filmed one of their music videos, and I got to go to one of Barcelona’s biggest clubs that I didn’t have to participate in a pub crawl to get in (like most hostels will try to make you do). It was another great weekend trip, mingling with locals.
After speaking to more and more people, I realized that I wasn’t the only one that did this. There is a community of people who used Tinder to meet locals who’d be willing to show them around. “It gets rid of the awkwardness of a first date and it creates better conversation, rather than the awkward 'So where are you from?' " says another friend, Peter.
So the positives of Tindravelling (I would like Queen Elizabeth to make this a thing) are that it gives you an opportunity to travel like a local, and meet other friends who are abroad. You can get to see the cities from the perspective of someone who lives there, get solid suggestions on restaurants and shops, and you might even discover hidden sites that you wouldn’t be able to find on your own. Negatives? Well, Tinder is a dating website, so there are those who would be looking for more than just friendship. But I still encourage you to try it at least once. It’s worth it!
By Dani Thomason
Europe is a traveler’s playground. With so much fascinating history, intriguing cuisine and striking landscapes, European destinations appeal to any kind of adventurer. In the peak of summer months, traveling to Europe can bring congested crowds, never-ending lines and sky-high prices. If you want to avoid this kind of experience, consider taking your vacation during the wintertime. These cities take on a whole new persona during the colder months and are truly unique compared to summer. Whether you are looking to go hide away in the Swiss Alps or want a major city such as Paris all to yourself, try visiting these 10 European destinations this Winter.
1. Prague, Czech Republic:
With its red tiled roofs, colorful facades, and stunning architecture, Prague is a beautiful city no matter what time of year it is. Take advantage of this romantic city during the winter season when there are less tourists and cheaper accommodations. There is plenty to do and see in Prague. Take a stroll through Prague’s charming old town square or marvel at the stunning Charles Bridge. This city is simply breathtaking. If you are fortunate enough to visit during December or early January, be sure to check out their festive Christmas markets that can be found throughout the city.
2. Barcelona, Spain:
For those of you who are looking for an escape from the harsh winter climate, head down to the beautiful Mediterranean coast in Barcelona, Spain. With its traditional tapas, relaxing beaches, and extravagant nightlife, this artistic city has plenty to do all year round. Its moderate climate and off-season prices make it unbeatable compared to its touristy summer months. Whether you are feasting at La Boqueria or wandering through the el Borne district, this European destination is the perfect winter escape.
3. Grandvalira, Andorra:
Andorra is a micro country sandwiched between Spain and France. It is situated right in the heart of the Pyrenees Mountains. During the wintertime, European vacationers flock to Andorra to experience some of the most fantastic ski resorts. These slopes are perfect for every level skier and are a great alternative to other alpine resort towns. Andorra is also known for being a more affordable destination, which is always an added bonus. Head down the road less traveled and spend your holiday skiing in Andorra’s Pyrenees!
4. Interlaken, Switzerland:
Switzerland as a whole is an adventure seeker's paradise and that is no exception in the wintertime. Interlaken is a must see destination due to its pristine location. This town has a 360-degree view of soaring snow-capped mountains and is nestled between two vast lakes. Tourists visiting will still have full access to some of the best slopes in all of Europe, but see less crowds and pay less compared to its larger neighboring Swiss resort towns. Whether you are a thrill seeker exploring the mountains, or just want to relax with a cup of Switzerland’s famous hot chocolate, Interlaken is a dreamy destination for all.
5. Paris, France:
It’s safe to say that Paris is one of the top cities to travel to around the world, and that’s for good reason. It’s hard not to be swept away by the city’s romantic charm. Whether you’re strolling down the champs elysees or marveling over the grand Eiffel tower, all of these activities can be enjoyed effortlessly during the winter time. Traveling to this magical city in November-March will avoid the wave of tourists that will undeniably be there in the high season of summer.
6. Innsbruck, Austria
Tucked away in the Austrian Alps, Innsbruck is a winter lover’s heaven. With 9 local ski regions surrounding Innsbruck, this major city is the ideal destination for winter sports. In fact, it has even held three winter Olympic games. Many people visit Innsbruck during the winter because it is a large city with a great selection of restaurants, shopping, and attractions to keep all types of tourists entertained.
7. Copenhagen, Denmark:
Why did Copenhagen make the list? Because this city is absolutely beautiful. The colorful and photogenic buildings bring life to the charming waterfront harbor. Though the weather might be overcast or rainy, with no crowds, you can take full advantage of all the top sightseeing spots with peace and ease. This city seamlessly blends the old versus the new with its architecture and contemporary art. If you are looking for a laid back and relaxing holiday, consider spending it in the charming city of Copenhagen.
8. Amsterdam, The Netherlands:
There is nothing more romantic than strolling through a labyrinth of canals, and that is only heightened during the chill of winter. Even though this season in Amsterdam can be quite cold, that shouldn’t stop you from exploring this beautiful city. Amsterdam is a very popular destination in the summer months, but if you travel here in the winter, you get shorter lines, smaller prices, and all of the main attractions will still be open. Amsterdam is progressive and thought provoking. It really is one of those cities you have to go see in person. Whether you’re interested in checking out their famous “coffee shops” or enjoying a scenic bike ride through Vondelpark, this city offers endless possibilities.
9. Abisko, Sweden:
One spectacle that should be included on every traveler's bucket list is a night under the aurora borealis (also known as the northern lights). Watch as the sky transforms into a colorful light show dancing from blue to red to green. Abisko, Sweden is known for being one of the best places to view this remarkable phenomenon. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict when the northern lights will occur. The best opportunity to catch them is in the middle of winter, in really dark and cloudless skies. Even if the northern lights don’t make an appearance during your visit, all is not lost. Try other activities like snowshoeing, dog sledding, or ice-fishing.
10. Bled, Slovenia:
The city of Bled is one of the most scenic and dramatic landscapes you can find in Europe during the winter. This picturesque town captures the natural beauty of the surrounding alpine mountains and highlights a stunning lake. This town's luring attraction is a medieval castle that sits stoically on its own private island in the middle of Lake Bled. While countless tourists flock to see this spectacle each summer, this small town will be all yours in the winter months. With its plentiful mountains and cozy atmosphere, Bled should be included on every traveler’s bucket list.
Bonus City: Budapest
Winter is the perfect time to enjoy some Goulash and take a dip in the many thermal bathhouses Budapest is famous for. Each one is very different from each other and some even have Sparties (Spa+Parties) complete with DJs and Lights in the evening. Stay warm with some delicious (and cheap Hungarian wine the region is famous for.
There are also some really interesting and strange facts about Europe you probably didn’t know:
Did you know in Switzerland it is illegal to flush a toilet after 10pm? Yes really…
Europe is named after a Phoenician princess called Europa; she was seduced by Greek God Zeus when he disguised himself as a bull.
Check out this list of 21 bizarre facts about Europe that have been put together in this awesome infographic!