When traveling in a new country, sightseeing is one of the most important activities that comes at the top of your bucket list. Even frequent travelers like me sometimes get stressed about checking all the items off the list and seeing all the main attractions in the town within one day. It is usually smart to plan only two to three important things per day that you want to do, and then enjoy the city spontaneously or get lost! Here are some top tips I have summed up for travelers to Europe:
Timing is important
Wake up early! Before 9 AM is the best time to enjoy the less-crowded and calmer atmosphere of hectic cities like Venice and Rome. You will experience a completely different picture of these places, which are normally packed with tourists. Do not miss the sunrise and sunset moments for great photographs. Another advantage of starting your day early is to avoid lines in front of museums and famous attractions. If you are more digital-savvy and entirely sure about your sightseeing schedule, book tickets online to avoid massive queues in front of places like the Eiffel Tower (France) or Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany). Avoid sightseeing during midday as the weather can be very hot and humid during summer, making it exhausting to move around, especially with a bike. Make sure you pick dates with good weather for sightseeing and leave the days with bad weather for transiting between cities.
How to use maps wisely and save time with apps
Free paper maps are often available for free in local hostels and tourist offices. These maps are associated with locally rated attractions, restaurants, and bars, and sometimes discount cards may be given by your hostel as well (for example The Midland Hostel in Bucharest). Use-it maps in Bruges and Venice were some of my favourite paper maps. I prefer using offline digital maps on Google Maps in order not to carry too many papers while traveling around many cities, and also to avoid looking like a lost tourist. Other handy digital maps I recommend are from City2Go.
Learn the European art and history in museums
My favourite thing about traveling in Europe and that keeps me in the continent for so long is its richness of art, history and culture. Don’t miss checking out some of the largest museums in Europe such as the Louvre (Paris), Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), British Museum (London), Hermitage (St.Petersburg) and Vatican Museum (Rome). Many museums in Europe are free once per month.
Dont miss the religious sites too
Understanding more about a country while visiting thoroughly requires visiting a church or cathedral to see local religious practices. Some must-see sites around Europe I recommend are the Sagrada Família (Barcelona), Notre Dame de Paris (Paris) and the Acropolis (Athens). Most churches and cathedrals in Europe, even some of the most famous ones like Florence Cathedral and Cologne Cathedral, can be visited for free (some parts only). Dress wisely before entering and keep an eye on their photography policies! Some places do not allow photography, such as the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in Milan, which is home to The Last Supper masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci. There are plenty of spiritual and stunning mosques in Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque in Sarajevo. Churches in Greece are also unique sights.
Sightseeing by bus or bike tour
For families and those who would like to avoid too much walking, take a sightseeing tour by bus or bike. Whether you go with a guide or not, a bus or bike tour is always an exciting alternative way to discover places at a faster speed and in a more convenient way. There are several bike tours worth trying in Paris, such as Fat Tire Tours, and Amsterdam, including Mike’s Bike Tours. Mike’s Bike Tours is suitable for middle-aged people, and my friend’s grandparents also tried one of their tours. Some hostels, such as Castle Hostel 1004 in Bled, even let you borrow a bike for free if there is one available. Bus tours are more pricey but exceptionally compatible with older couples traveling.
Sightseeing by boat
In cities dominated by hypnotizing waterways and canals, such as Bruges and Ghent (both in Belgium), sightseeing by boat, ferry, or gondola is a must-do. Popular romantic dinner cruises for couples tend to be expensive; you can save money on your sightseeing budget by renting the same boat with friends or taking public transportations like a water taxi in Hamburg or Rotterdam, or a vaporetto in Venice.
Sightseeing on foot
Despite highly recommending bike and boat tours in Europe, I think the best way to see a city is by walking. Some European cities are small and walkable. You would be able to stroll around, ask a local about directions, or start a conversation with a pedestrian more easily. For inexperienced travelers, taking free walking tours organized by associations such as Sandemans New Europe, InMunich Tours, and Can You Handle It, or by local hostels, is one of the best ways to grasp a general picture of the place on the first day of your arrival. You could also ask a local via Couchsurfing to walk with you through the city.
The best way to see Europe
Taking slow trains or buses rather than hopping on a plane is usually better for enjoying the splendid nature surrounding the tracks. Forget the tempting parties, put sightseeing as the first priority and enjoy the vibrant nightlife of places like Amsterdam or Barcelona on the last night of your trip.
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