There is an inexpressible feeling that we carry with us while traveling. A feeling of happiness that is not quite definable, for a moment you are transformed back into your curious, childhood self, and the world is filled with questions yet again. There have been many attempts to define this undeniable sensation. Call it wanderlust, call it curiosity, call it happy to not be at work. Whatever you choose to attribute the spark we all feel when exploring a new country or city, it’s there. While this magical feeling is ever-present for me when exploring, there are some destinations that made me pinch myself Here are five destinations in Europe, which made me feel like a princess.
Cliché much? I don’t care. Paris has my heart and I am not afraid to admit it. The Eiffel Tower, Montmartre at sunset, moonlight walks by the Seine, need I say more. I am wholeheartedly convinced that it is impossible to visit Paris without feeling its allure. I have been lucky enough to visit Paris a few times and if you didn’t fall in love with the city of love while traveling solo (are you human?), it is impossible not to fall for its charms while traversing the Champs-Elysées walking hand in hand with someone you’re crushing on.
The great thing about Paris is that you can visit it 1000 times 100 different ways and you will still be captivated. There is just not enough time to take everything in. On the flip side even one trip to Paris will change you forever. In my (obviously unbiased opinion) Paris is a place that you come to take it in, and it stays with you even after you leave. The history, culture, gastronomy, and fantasy that makes up Paris , is at times palpable but I firmly believe there is magic in the cobblestone streets of the city of lights.
How I Visited on a Budget: Have you heard of NightSwapping it’s like Airbnb/couchsurfing/tinder (not the creepy side) , combined. I was able to find a killer Parisian flat in Paris for three nights, all for less than the price of one nights stay at a cheep hotel. Chic and savvy, saving cash never looked so good.
A special time to visit: The first Saturday of October is when the Parisian community throws a dusk till dawn celebration of contemporary art. This is a great time to visit Paris not only for the new age exhibitions, October is after the peak tourism season so you’ll get fairly nice weather without the crowds.
What this small town lacks in size it makes up for in beauty. If you are flower hunting in Europe, Halle should be at the top of your list. Located about an 18 minuet train ride outside of Brussels, Halle plays host to thousands of visitors every spring. This is all thanks to a small blue flower called Hallerbos (bluebells or wild hyacinth) .
Every spring, in middle to late April, thousands of these small violet-blue flowers take over the forest floor transforming it to a sea of blue. This phenomenon has been observed in old growth forests, and old is an understatement for the Hallerbos which were first mentioned in 686 in a text of an abbey exchanging ownership. ((Read more about the history of the Hallerbos here.)
A special time to visit: At the beginning of spring this forest floor turns into a blanket of blueish-purple flowers called bluebells. The flowers take over and cover the floor as far as you can see and transforms the forest into something out of a fairytale.
Hot tip: I wish I had camped there for a night at the beginning of the peak season. That would have made for the best shots (no one gets up that early to see flowers) plus come on its pretty romantic to cuddle up in a tent next to a place that looks like something out of Snow White.
Ghent has to be one of the most under-visited cities in Europe. It unjustly has been taking third place behind the capital of Brussels and the picturesque canal town of Bruges. Not that the other two aren’t great (they are) I personally think that Ghent deserves a little more love from tourists. Its got the canals of Bruges, the party vibe of Brussels (it’s one of the biggest college towns in Belgium), and it is where one of the most mysterious heist in history took place.
This three towered city is quirky in so many ways. It has a candy which caused a street cart fued, a castle in the city center that was more prison than host to royals,a beer that you have to drink with one shoe on, a golden dragon topping the bell-tower that was stolen from Brugge and many other quirky tales fill its history and add to its charm.
Ghent also boasts a strong appreciation for street art.In a response to clean up the streets, Ghent established ‘tolerance zones’ areas of the city where graffiti artists can freely work. The result is full blown street art tourism. You can take a self guided street art tour through the zones to the most recognizable works. For you street art junkies Ghent is home to one of the most influential Graffiti artists ROA who is famous for his detailed black and white works of art which usually feature animals.
A special time to visit: Every three years Ghent holds a Light festival . Light artists from around the world and the city turns into a not to miss work of art. Buildings are turned into moving art pieces, whales are projected as jumping out of the canal ways, and abandoned buildings turn into works of art.
Food to try: Looking for things to try other than fries and chocolate, check out my post on Belgian Food You May Never Heard of for some suggestions on what to scarf down on your visit.
You’ve probably (like me) always have wanted to take a ride on a boat through the canals of Venice. But, did you know that Venice is not the only canal filled city in Europe? Giethoorn (HE-Thorn), is a picturesque town about an hour away from Amsterdam where the main form of transportation is….by boat (or ice skates depending on the season).
Giethoorn has to be one of the cutest towns I have ever visited. Located next to a nature reserve, you can spend your day putting around by boat first through the town filled with grass roof houses (find the real name) and secondly through the marshlands. I absolutely loved Giethoorn, the people were friendly and everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. Even traffic jams were fun!
How to get to Giethoorn: If you’re heading in from Amsterdam you can hop on a tour bus or take public transport. Be aware that it is about a five hour round trip so you may want to make it more than a day trip! I choose to check out Utrecht as well.
Luxemburg is a fantastically beautiful city perched on clifftops, and surrounded by old city fortress, made by the famous french military architect Sebastian Vauban. The tiny country is over 3,000 times smaller than the United States yet had the second highest GDP per capita in the world as of 2014, translation, it’s not how many people you have it’s what they do that matters. Luxembourg transformed itself into the banking capital of Europe, and it is also ranked as one of the best places to live as an expat (for those of you thinking about running in case Trump is elected).
The citizens of Luxemburg speak four (yes four) languages German, French, Luxembourgish, and English! If you’re looking for a party city, Luxembourg is probably not for you. But if you are looking for an impossibly romantic getaway, or to escape the crowds of tourists, give Luxembourg a chance!
A special time to visit: I went to Luxembourg for a friends new years 2016 and it was unforgettable. Watching from the ancient city walls, you can watch fireworks shooting off in all directions for at least an hour is something I will never forget.
Prauge, Czech Republic
Prauge is on the list of every princess on a tight budget. The Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia until 1993 ) has been through many interesting revolutions, is filled with quirky art, and has a currency that is in the dumps. This is great news for tourists! An American dollar is worth over 24 korunas, a euro over 27! Your money can get you far here, so if your like me and your tastes usually outweigh your budget, Prauge is for you.
What Prauge lacks in economic power it has in beauty 10 fold. The Charles Bridge is one of the most (justly) iconic bridges in Europe. Its 30 iron statutes separate the old city from Prauge castle and old town. Painters, and performing artists line the bridge giving it a very turn of the century feel. Music is also an important player in Prauge’s history. Mozart passed a fair amount of time in Prauge, and even held his first showing of Don Giovanni in the Prauge Opera. The John Lennon wall is also a shining example of how music, peaceful political revolution, and change are entwined in Prauge.
Not to miss: If old bridges and political revolutions aren’t your thing Prague also boasts a five story nightclub and also the second cheapest beer prices in the EU.
The Royal Greenhouses , Laeken, Belgium
What screams royalty more than a stole through lavish royal botanical gardens that are only open to the public two weeks out of the year. The botanical gardens of Laeken are situated on the palace grounds of Laeken, the official residence of the Belgian royal family. The gardens main feature are the greenhouses, built between 1874 and 1895, and covering over 270,000 square feet the greenhouses are quite a site. The architect Alphonse Balat was pushed to abandon classical architecture and his project lives on today in his glass and iron art of the Botanical Gardens.
The plants are the only things that rival the beauty of the carnival glass panned structure. which come from all corners of the world, some being extremely rare and valuable. Strolling through the gardens, past the royal palace it is hard not to imagine the gatherings that take place here, and the guests the gardens have entertained over hundreds of years. I found myself daydreaming of solitary early morning walks with a cappuccino through the greenhouses, or walking with my prince dressed in a luxurious gown. (I was in jeans but hey a girl can dream right).
A special time to visit: The greenhouses are usually closed to the public however for three weeks in April they open their doors. Get there about an hour before ‘opening times’ to avoid being in the back of a rather long line.
This city is nicknamed The Pearl of The French Alps and there is no secret why. This town has to be the epitome of country chic in France. I love everything about Annecy. The old town is something out of a story book with cobblestone streets, a quaint palace that looks like an island, canals, a breathtaking alpine lake, and drool worthy regional cuisine. A sunny day in Annecy will make you want to set up roots in this alpine village.
A special time to visit: Once a year there is a special festival dedicated to the changing of the seasons or the return from the alpine pastures, the cows come down from their summer pastures in the mountains and the town celebrates with a parade, and other festivities.Street cooks are lined in front of the towns restaurants preparing delicious regional specialities like Tartiflette (potatoes with melted cheese and bacon), hot wine is in season, and the parade is quite the site. If summertime is more your thing Annecy hosts the worlds largest fireworks presentation in August, with over 70 minuets of fireworks accompanied by music over Lake Annecy.
San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastian is a small beach community located in the Basque region of Spain, apparently one of the countries most popular tourist destinations, and one of the European Capitals of Culture 2016 (how have I never heard of this paradise)! I stumbled onto San Sebastian while exploring Bilbao with my Aunt and Cousin, an elderly lady thought my cousin was calling for my aunt (they had the same name) and it sparked a conversation. This chance encounter lead to a whirlwind trip to San Sebastian. I was only able to spend a day in San Sebastian, however the small beach community left quite a mark.
A great way to see the city: Rent bikes and petal your way past the city center and up the castle walls for an unforgettable sunset view of the bay.
Chantilly is the gorgeous castle that you have never heard of in a picturesque town. Chantilly also happens to be the horse capital of France, and boast the largest stables in Europe, dedicated to preserving the culture of haute-école horse training (dressage) in Chantilly which is now a UNESCO tradition alongside french cuisine. Legend has it that the duke of Chantilly castle had the stables built because he believed that he would be reincarnated as a horse and he needed stables built that were suitable for a
person horse of his rank.
The castle and gardens are just as much a draw as the stables. The castles artwork is collectively considered one of the finest galleries in France. As if that wasn’t enough to entice you to visit, the gardens which inspired even the architects of Versailles. This castle is perfect for those looking for a day trip outside of Paris, that wont break the bank, and hopeless equine fanatics.
What are some places that you have visited that made you feel like you were walking in a fairytale?