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 Dani Thomason
You have taken a leap of faith and decided to move half way across the world to study abroad in a foreign country. Now comes the hard part. Where should you spend those unforgettable couple of months?
If you are like many Americans, Barcelona seems like a pretty good deal. With the beach, beautiful weather and outrageous nightlife what more could you possibly want? I had the privilege of studying abroad in Barcelona for a year and I can honestly say I loved every second of it. When I was making the decision of where to go, I had a very different idea of how Barcelona would be. That is why I have put together a list of pros and cons for studying abroad in this very special city that I will always call home.
1. Easy to Travel:
The majority of the study abroad students who come to Europe fully intend to hop from country to country on their free weekends. Since Barcelona is such a large city, they have one of the best international airports in Spain to travel in and out of. No matter where you are trying to go in Europe, Barcelona’s airport will have cheaper and more frequent flight options compared to that of smaller cities. Barcelona is also well connected with the RENFE trains, which can take you throughout the country if you are just traveling within Spain.
2. Food Options:
One of Barcelona’s best characteristics is the abundance of food options offered. Of course you can find those rustic traditional mom and pop tapas bars, however lots of restaurants around the city are redefining classic Spanish cuisine by offering a spin to the standard Jamon plate or Patatas Bravas. Whether you are looking for healthy vegan options or a late night kabab stand, Barcelona has you covered. There are also lots of restaurants that cater towards places you might find in America. Craving a Sunday brunch or good ole cheeseburger? Don’t worry, Barcelona really does kill it in the food game.
3. Great Public Transportation:
No matter where I travel to, I always come back to Barcelona with such an appreciation for its awesome public transportation. In the states we are so used to depending on our car to get from point A to point B, but while abroad that’s no longer an option. The metro in Barcelona is so efficient, easy, and helpful. You can effortlessly get anywhere in the city through its metro or bus system. Even if you have to take a taxi, they are very reasonably priced and cost just a couple of euros if you split one with a few friends.
4. Fun Night Life:
We all know that there is a lot more to studying abroad than just the “study” part. It’s important to keep up the social aspect of being in college. Barcelona’s crazy nightlife reputation does not disappoint, and many students who study abroad here take full advantage of the nightly club promotions and special student deals that are always offered. If clubbing Monday through Sunday isn’t quite your cup of tea, that’s not an issue at all. There are endless bars that are a lot more low-key and relaxed to check out if that’s more your scene.
5. Endless Places to See:
Even after studying abroad in Barcelona for an entire year, I can honestly say there is always something to do. If you are the kind of person who likes being busy and going on adventures, Barcelona would be perfect for you. There are so many places to see around the city in your free time. You can grab a juice from the Boqueria or stroll through the El Born neighborhood in the afternoon. Regardless where you go, you will always find something new to explore!
6. Unique Culture:
Barcelona is very different from what you might think of as “typical Spain”. In fact, I’d consider Barcelona to be its own unique breed. Since a large population of the locals refer to themselves as “Catalan” instead of Spanish, it is very interesting to see and learn about the differing ideas that make up the city. Regardless of whether you support their fight for independence from Spain or not, it is fascinating to hear all the different perspectives.
7. International Hotspot:
No matter what time of year it is, there will be travelers from all around the world visiting Barcelona. If you are someone who wants to go abroad, but might be hesitant to go somewhere too far outside of your comfort zone, Barcelona would be a great fit. Even though it’s in Spain, you don’t necessarily need to know Spanish to study there. Actually, the majority of the people in Barcelona speak English as well as Catalan and Spanish. I very rarely ran into any language barrier issues during my time in Barcelona.
8. Museums and Artists:
Barcelona has a cornucopia of museums, exhibitions, and famous architecture throughout the city. Antoni Gaudi, the architect behind the incredible Sagrada Familia Cathedral, is the main star for Barcelona when it comes to local well-known artists. You can find his distinct and whimsical work scattered through this city. There is even a museum of Picasso’s early works to check out!
9. Perfect Weather Year-round:
I think it’s safe to say that Barcelona is one of the best locations for great weather year-round. Barcelona’s few rainy days are incomparable to the rest of Europe during winter. Not only is it blessed with great weather, but it also has a wonderful beach to kickback on. Whether you are studying abroad for the fall or spring semester in Barcelona, you will still get your fair share of beach days!
1. Not "Traditional" Spain
If you are set on studying abroad in a Spanish city because of the culture, don’t go to Barcelona. I suggest you go somewhere in Andalucía if you are looking for flamenco and paella. Barcelona is a very busy and metropolitan city, and the charm that you might expect from studying abroad in Spain may be hard to find there. Keep in mind this can easily happen in any large city. You just don’t get the same “homey” feeling you would find in a smaller place. Even when it comes to celebrations, Barcelona has its own holidays and traditions separate from the rest of Spain.
2. Hard to Learn Spanish
Whenever I told people I wanted to study abroad in Barcelona and learn Spanish, I would often get asked “Don’t they speak a different language from the rest of Spain?” Although the locals speak Catalan, they also speak Spanish and English as well. I figured it’s still part of Spain, so it should be no problem to learn Spanish, right? Wrong. Everyone speaks English, so every time you try to order at a restaurant or ask a question in Spanish they almost always respond in English if they can hear that you are not a native speaker. There just isn’t a need to learn Spanish, unless you are living with a host family. For me at least, I wanted to be forced to learn the language, but everyone spoke perfect English.
3. Challenge to Meet Locals
Once again, being in a big city comes with a price. Locals seem to immediately separate “tourists” from “locals” and can come off as distant if they know you are not from Spain. I have been in smaller cities throughout the country where this was not an issue. In many cities around Spain I have found people to be more outgoing and friendly even if their English isn’t as strong. Locals from Barcelona seem to keep to themselves a lot more, which might be something to consider.
Unfortunately, pocketing is an issue in Barcelona. No matter what time of year it is, this kind of theft happens often. The worst part about it is these thieves are known to be some of the best pickpockets in all of Europe. Sadly, students from America can be a target if they come across as tourists. As long as you are being extra cautious while walking through the streets, you should have no problem.
If you are in Barcelona during or near the summer months, the city completely changes. While there are always tourists throughout the year, the city gets unbearably crowded nearing the summer months. It seems almost unavoidable no matter where you are in the city. Prices rise, streets flood with tour groups, and the city is taken over by selfie sticks. That, to me, is not how Barcelona should be enjoyed.
All in all, Barcelona is a very safe choice for studying abroad. It boils down to personal preference and what you want to get out of your experience. Personally, the romantic streets of the gothic quarter and late night trips to Bunkers del Carmel captivated me; it truly is such a unique city.
No matter what you end up choosing, just remember your experience abroad is what you make of it. By the end of your journey I guarantee that you will be calling your new host country your forever home away from home.
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.