The expansion of low-cost airlines in Europe has really taken off in recent years. It is now possible to find inexpensive flights all over Europe. It is important, however, to confirm the location of the airports, as some of these companies have based themselves far outside of city centers to cut expenses; they rely on shuttle buses to connect them to the city, which can add to the cost and duration of travel. When you book a flight through a budget airline, take into account the extra expenses for bus or train transportation and perhaps an overnight stay.
The Low-Cost Airline Guide will help you find the best price to and from just about anywhere in Europe. Since Florence is a major hub in Italy, you should be able to find an abundance of interesting destinations with direct flights.
Trains are a great way to travel around Europe; they are fast and go to the heart of over 30,000 destinations across the continent. Trains are also relaxing, safe, and comfortable. Though it is not necessary, some people choose to purchase Eurorail passes before arriving in Europe. This can be a good choice if you have a defined itinerary, as the Eurorail ticket must be used within a certain time frame. Use the easy planner at www.ricksteves.com to decide which pass to use. Otherwise it is possible to purchase tickets online or from any of the train stations both for local and international trains. Visit www.trenitalia.it or www.italotreno.it for information on trains in Italy. For train travel in Europe, check out Rail Europe for itineraries from Italy to other countries.
Whether you love them or loathe them, buses have been running long distances between European cities for years. They are usually less expensive than a plane or train ticket but require long hauls to reach most far away destinations. Unless you are dealing with very long distances, it is surprisingly difficult to find good bus information in Europe because many of the services are local. Remember that reservations need to be made in advance, and be sure to understand your arrival times –2am arrivals have been known to happen, when travelers were convinced it was 2pm! Look for the links below for more information. These are just a few of the bus companies that run lines across Europe: FlixBus, www.eurolines.com and www.busabout.com
Some European Hot Spots
Given that students tend to travel to as many foreign cities as possible while studying abroad, we can dust off our crystal ball and surmise that you will head north, south, east, and west in search of exotic new places. Remember, though, that arriving in Barcelona one day and leaving the next may give you bragging rights, but anything short of a three-day stay is really just passing through. Quality is better than quantity, so it’s best not to try and see all of Europe in a semester. Choose your trips wisely and give yourself ample time to explore, soak up, and enjoy your destination. You might also consider coming a few weeks early or staying a few weeks late if you want to travel more widely. And remember: before you book any flights, we encourage you to make the cities in Italy your foremost destinations.
As the largest seaport on the Mediterranean, Barcelona is one of Europe’s most vivacious, dynamic, and quickly expanding cities. It is home to the famous artist and architect, Gaudi, many museums containing Picasso’s works, and a Gothic center almost fully intact. When touring Barcelona, don’t miss strolling along Las Ramblas, admiring the spires of the Sagrada Familia, exploring Park Guell, or sitting down to paella, a sumptuous seafood dish typical to the region. Try the red or orange hop-on-hop-off buses that leave from Placa Catalunya and stop at all the best sites. And, of course, try the tapas and Serrano ham. But do hold onto your purses, backpacks, and wallets, as Barcelona is notorious for its talented pickpocketers!
The city of lights—and reputedly the most visited city in Europe—Paris lives up to its name of being the European capital of love. This stunning capital is noted for fine cuisine, culture, and couture. Do budget carefully, as Paris can be an expensive visit, especially during the high season when the locals vacate and the city becomes an international melting pot for curious tourists. But between museums, art exhibits, restaurants, shows, and simply wandering the city streets, Paris deserves all the attention it gets.
Amsterdam has become many travelers’ favorite hangout. It is a city that thrives on juxtapositions: radically modern art installations can be found in 17th Century buildings; bicycles and BMWs ride side by side; and thick beer is enjoyed in funky, alternative cafes. Amsterdam is a tranquil and pretty place with antique houses, cobblestone alleys, bicycles, and tree-lined canals – all creating a pleasant atmosphere.
The capital of the once-most-powerful empire on the globe has become Europe’s largest melting pot and a year-round tourist destination for millions of travelers. Big Ben, the London Bridge, the National Gallery, and Benedict Cumberbatch are a few things that come to mind when picturing London but don’t forget the red phone booths, yeoman warders, and those famous red-suited guards. There is no off-season in the city, and very few of its attractions close or reduce their hours during the winter. Another nice thing about London is that, despite a generally high cost of living, you can always find cheap hostels and affordable (and delicious) curries and street food.
Called “The City of a Hundred Spires,” Prague has a stunning cityscape and was largely unscathed by the battles of WWII. Sadly, it suffered the worst floods in two centuries in 2002; now it is back in fighting shape and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town was once an old stomping ground for Kafka and Mozart, as well as Soviet tanks. Prague, in fact, was under communist leadership for more than forty years, and has maintained that distinctly eastern European feel. The city’s exquisite medieval center is fascinating, and though it is rapidly transforming, you can still find local treasures like the many traditional pubs where you can wash down delectable pork dumplings with great Czech beer.
Berlin may hog the limelight, but so much can be said about Munich, Germany’s second most popular destination. It is the largest city in Germany’s southern region of Bavaria and lies at the foot of the German Alps. Munich makes a beautiful postcard for envious friends and family, but what the city is most noted for is the famed Oktoberfest. Beyond its proud beer-lovers, however, Munich has a staggering array of museums, a vibrant art scene, and an impressive Gothic center. Unless you’re a fan of below-freezing temps, the best time to visit Munich is late spring to early fall, keeping in mind that the height of summer — and October, of course — are the most crowded times of the year.