The Six Best Island Vacations in Europe 

Guest post by Priya Ghatol

How about slowing down the pace and opting for an island vacation in Europe?

 

Surprisingly, Europe has an excellent collection of islands that are perfect for a barefoot leisure holiday or an adventurous expedition. They’re also an ideal way to escape from daily realities of life and the hoards of tourists that frequent Europe’s most popular cities. So, why not head to these exquisite islands to experience a unique European holiday?

Islands of Greece

Best Island Vacations in Europe

When it comes to planning an island holiday in Europe, Greece is on top of the list. This gorgeous nation is made up of a cluster of islands scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. The moment someone mentions Greece, images of endless stretches of azure waters lapping on white sandy beaches and sunny blue skies surface in one’s mind.

Set in the southeastern Europe, Greece is a fabled land filled with rich culture and ancient civilizations. The country’s the Ionian Islands or the Seven Islands are known for their breathtaking panoramas, while the islands of Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Cephalonia, Zakynthos, and Cerigo are steeped in culture and historical influences from many European settlements.

A cruise visit to each of these islands is a great way to explore the unique experiences they have to offer. An expedition into diverse landscapes, sheltered bays and caves, and serene lagoons with a backdrop of soaring cliffs are mesmerizing to behold. Santorini is one of the best islands to visit in Greece. Here, take in a sunset from the coastal township, and a stop for a photo opportunity on one of the picturesque whitewashed lanes lined with churches.

Isle of Skye, Scotland 

Best Island Vacations in Europe

Spectacular sceneries of rugged cliffs and clear lochs wait for you at Isle of Skye in Scotland. With a unique landscape of jagged cliffs and mountainous terrains dominating the panorama, Isle of Skye offers some of the most dramatic vistas in Scotland. Not the usual sight of open bright blue seas or white sandy beaches, Isle of Sky surprises you with misty brown mountains and clear waters.

If you’re interested in an island vacation that includes wilderness adventures, the Isle of Skye offers amazing hiking trails and walks of varying levels of difficulty. Hardcore adventurers can push their limits with challenging climbs. Those who love to stroll through nature can opt for pictorial walking tours to Coral Beach, Cuillin Mountains, Boreraig, and Talisker Beach to name a few places. On the way, you may even spot white-tailed sea eagles, puffins, otters, seals, whales, dolphins, and red deer. Stop by the Scottish villages of Portree, Dunvegan, and Trotternish for a pint of the finest Scottish malt whiskey. Have a pleasant time mingling with locals and savoring some Scottish meals.

Canary Islands, Spain

Best Island Vacations in Europe

A fusion of stunning beaches, spectacular natural sceneries, charming culture, and pleasantly warm weather, the Canary Islands are your answer to a tranquil Spanish holiday without the chaos of tourists. Considered as one of Europe’s best winter sun destinations due to their moderate climates, the Canary islands offer a thrilling island adventure amid extraordinary scenic settings. An archipelago set deep in the Atlantic Ocean, away from the Spanish borders, the islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, El Hierro, La Gomera, and La Palma offer sanctuary for those seeking tranquil escapes and cater to all kinds of beach lovers.

The unspoiled beaches, turquoise waters, and glorious sunshine coupled with tropical forests that are dotted with waterfalls, quaint seaside villages teeming, and charming locals, the islands allure their visitors with spectacular natural vistas and a vibrant verve.

There is always an event or celebration going on throughout the year. For leisure seekers, relax on laid-back sunny beaches after a dip in the tepid waters or set sail into the ocean to spot dolphins and whales. For outdoorsy adventurers, hike on meandering trails, or try scuba diving beneath the deep blue waters. Take some time to visit the seaside hamlets and historic townships, and don’t forget to watch a superb sunset along the horizon or stay at the beach late into the night for an awe-inspiring star-gazing experience.

Madeira, Portugal

Best Island Vacations in Europe

Deemed one of Europe’s most exotic places to visit, Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago consisting of four islands that lie far away from the European coast. Located in the Atlantic Ocean north of the Canary Islands, Madeira is a mountainous region rather than a beach destination.

Rich in verdant foliage, soaring cliffs, and mountain peaks, Madeira is a haven for adventure lovers. There are many activities to do here, such as taking a cable car ride that gives you wonderful aerial views of Funchal, exploring the historic sites, or taking in the colonial architecture. Take a self-drive tour to check out the beautiful churches overlooking the cliff edges and the vast expanses of water, try surfing one of Europe’s best surf zones, or gear up for an adventure trek on the misty Pico do Arieiro.

Madeira is a spectacular epicurean destination that is famous for its wineries. A haven for keen food lovers, it is a delight to delve into a delectable range of cuisines made out of fresh farm produce and seafood that is complemented perfectly with an array of the finest sparkling wines from the region. Tourists flock to Madeira during New Year celebrations for its warm weather and astounding fireworks display that is certified as the largest fireworks show in the world by Guinness World Records.

Sicily, Italy

Best Island Vacations in Europe

Italy is undoubtedly well known as a destination drenched in art, history, and culture, but the country also offers amazing experiences of blissful island living. Italy’s assorted islands and its coastal towns are quite famous for providing insight into the quaint lifestyle steeped in authentic Italian culture and cuisine amid spellbinding scenic vistas. Sicily is the largest Italian island, offering an intense blend of unspoiled sceneries that are reminiscent of a bygone era, refreshing scents, and delectable flavors.

The colorful coastal settlement of Taormina perched right the border of the gleaming deep blue Mediterranean waters is a sight worth taking in. Mount Etna is another must visit attraction that offers stunning nature park, and grottos to explore. The UNESCO sites of the Noto Valley and Villa Romana del Casale take you back in historical times, while the refreshing sights of rolling green vineyards, olive groves, and citrus orchards are enough to confirm that the palette of food you will be relishing in will be fresh and delicious. Forget about piling up calories and let yourself loose on an amazing array of delicious Sicilian dishes, such as pastries, croquettes, ricottas, breads, tomatoes, meats, and genuine extra virgin olive oil.

Iceland

Best Island Vacations in Europe

Iceland is a one-of-a-kind experience that needs to be visited at least once in your lifetime. In contrast to its name, Iceland isn’t a country covered in sheets of ice, but its sheer natural beauty is attributed to its glacial fields. Other landscapes include volcanic mountains and lava fields, making Iceland a place where ice and fire coexist in harmony. The landscape is marvelous and distinct. There are no lush forests or tall trees, just shrubbery and moss-covered uneven topography.

The natural splendor of Iceland is astounding and surreal. The island is speckled with magnificent waterfalls, volcanic terrains, gorgeous fjords, stunning beaches, and clear lakes. The long days here give you a feeling that tomorrow may never come, and you have loads of time in one day to explore the country. The black beaches of Laugarvatn Lake, Reynisfjara, and Vik, the icy blue glaciers of Jökulsárlón and Vatnajökull National Park, the dramatic multi-hued vistas of Westfjords, the natural hot pools at Krosslaug and Deildartunguhver are some of Iceland’s extraordinary sights that will be etched in your memories forever. If you are traveling in the right season, you can even catch the gleaming Aurora borealis in Iceland.

The beauty and warmth of these European islands act as a rejuvenating salve for the tired soul. Though set apart from the mainland, a trip to these islands is an unparalleled experience and is sure to leave you wanting for more of the European island lifestyle.


Author Bio: Priya is an avid travel writer who specializes in adventurous travel writing. Her blogs and articles give deep insight about various tourist places and act as a perfect travel guide for someone who is traveling to a place for the first time. Priya has exemplary research, writing, and editing skills, which allow her to easily match the reader’s intellect and interest. She has blogged extensively about her travel experience while traveling to several places like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Europe, Dubai, USA, Canada, etc. 


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One Day in Barcelona, Spain: From Gaudi to the Gothic Quarter

So you only have one day in Barcelona, and you want to see as much as possible.

Barcelona is a lively city with lots to see. But if you're ready to pull up your socks and put in a long day, you can pack in many of the main sights.

Be sure to stay someplace central so you can get off to an early start and be right in the heart of the action. We found the most adorable traditional Spanish apartment on Airbnb that was located right across the street from the Arc de Triomf and Parc Ciutadella. Situated in a trendy, Bohemian community in the heart of the Old Town, it was only about 1 10-minute walk to Las Ramblas and other popular attractions. Use this link for a discount on your booking.

One day in Barcelona

One day in Barcelona

One day in Barcelona

Now that you've found the perfect place to rest your head, let's take a look at how to spend one day in Barcelona so you can see plenty of what this exciting city has to offer.

Morning

Get up early so you can enjoy the energy of the morning rush as people sip their morning espresso before dashing off to work. There's an energy alive on the streets of Barcelona that simply isn't found in other parts of the world. You can literally feel it buzz through you as you wend your way through the city's streets. You simply have to experience it for yourself. It's incredible. You'll find plenty of pastry shops where you can grab a Danish or croissant. If you prefer a full meal in the morning, there are lots of curbside cafes that offer local delicacies or a traditional English breakfast of toast, eggs, and sausage or bacon. If you're staying by the Arc de Triomf, El Nostre Pa on Passeif de Luis Companys is a great place to grab a bite to eat. You can either enjoy your meal inside the shop or take it to go and walk across the street to eat in the green space surrounding the Arc de Triomf.

One day in Barcelona

Now that your stomach is sated, it's time to start your journey. If you enjoy walking, this one-day guide has plenty of it, but some sites are quite a distance apart. When you conjure up images of Barcelona in your mind, the one attraction that likely stands out most in Gaudi's infamous Sagrada Familia. A visit to this fair city simply wouldn't be complete without making a stop at this towering basilica. This is the first point of interest on our one-day tour.

one day in barcelona

One day in Barcelona

Construction of the UNESCO World Heritage site started in 1882 and is projected for completion in 2026—100 years after the death of its enlightened architect Antoni Gaudi. The site of La Sagrada Familia is perpetually under construction, with large cranes extending out at every angle—something you don't typically see in the online pictures promoting the basilica. Still, it's a sight to behold with its detailed sculptures and 18 sky-scraping spires that exude both Gothic and Art Nouveau styles. Each of the church's three facades is ornately decorated to highlight the story of Jesus's life, and the interior of the building is equally as impressive.

It will take you about 30 minutes to walk to La Sagrada from the Arc, and you'll want to spend an hour or so wandering around the site once you arrive. The details are so intricate that it's impossible to take it all in, but drink up as much as you can before starting off again, this time, in the direction of the Park Güell.

It's a 40-minute walk to the park from La Sagrada, so you may opt for a taxi to help keep your feet fresh since there's still a lot left to see later in the day. Spend an hour or so wandering around the public park, which is home to even more of Gaudi's masterpieces. In 1900, wealthy Spanish entrepreneur Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudi to build an estate for the elite. Gaudi adorned the area with his unique designs. A few years after Güell's death, his family gifted the area to the city as Park Güell.

One day in Barcelona

Much of the park is open to visitors to wander around at leisure. However, if you want to get up close and personal with Gaudi's designs, you'll need to purchase a ticket for an exclusive part of the park known as the Monumental Zone. Here, you'll find the serpent-inspired mosaic terrace, the infamous El Drac mosaic salamander and other mosaics, and the main park entrance. An additional ticket is required to visit Gaudi's house, la Torre Rosa.

Pro Tip: Get in line to purchase your ticket before you begin exploring the public parts of the park. You'll likely have to wait a while just to make your purchase, and once you do you'll be given a time to return for entry into the exclusive area. While you're waiting, you can check out the rest of the park, which includes Gaudi's colonnaded pathways and bird's nests. Alternatively, you can pre-purchase tickets that allow you to skip the line.

Afternoon

Once you've had a chance to wander around the park, it will be mid-day. By now, your stomach will be rumbling, so be sure to stop for lunch. You can either grab a bite nearby or head toward your next point of interest, where there'll be plenty of places to whet your whistle.

From Park Güell, you'll make your way to Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample area of Barcelona. It's about 40 minutes of walking, so once again, you may want to hail a taxi for this leg of the trip. Passeig de Gràcia is home to some of the city's finest shopping, including everything from Cartier and Hermes to H&M and Zara. Like the shopping, food vendors runs the gamut from takeout tapas joints to trendy and chic upscale restaurants.

One day in Barcelona

One day in Barcelona

In addition to all types of fashion-forward clothing chains and popular restaurants, you'll get to glimpse two more of Gaudi's masterpieces on Passeig de Gràcia: UNESCO World Heritage Sites Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. Walk up one side of Passeig de Gràcia and back down the other until you reach Plaça Catalunya, the place where the Old Town and newer Eixample part of the city meet. If you don't dawdle, only stop into a few shops, and chow down on street food as you walk, you make your way from one end of Passeig de Gràcia to Plaça Catalunya in an hour or so.

One day in Barcelona

Considered the city center, Plaça Catalunya is a massive that square boasts a number of fountains and statues and is the gateway to many of the Barcelona's most important streets, including the popular pedestrian street known as La Rambla. Walk south from Plaça Catalunya to reach La Ramblas, the hub of tourist activity in Barcelona. The tree-lined street is approximately three quarters of a mile long and is completely free from vehicles. Here you'll find street artists entertaining the thousands of tourists that stroll this street every day. You'll also find dozens of street cafes and boutiques where you can buy all types of clothing, souvenirs, and gifts.

Pro Tip: Be sure to try the churros and chocolate. The local delicacy consists of fried pastry that is dusted in sugar and cinnamon and served with a cup of sweet, creamy chocolate. You can find the combination on the menu at just about every eatery in the area.

one day in barcelona

One day in Barcelona

At the southernmost tip of La Rambla, you'll reach the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. If it's still light out, you may want to make your way across the street and walk along the pier a ways. And if you're feeling really adventurous, from here, it's only about a 20-minute walk to the beach. Slip off your shoes and dip your toes in the sand for a short stroll along the water before the sun goes down.

Evening

Once darkness falls, it's time to head to Barri Gotic, or the Gothic Quarter. It's about a 20-munte walk from the beach, and the main attraction here is the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, or Barcelona Cathedral. Its soft lights cast an amazing aura over the area at night. After you've taken in this impressive sight, get lost in the narrow and winding streets of the Gothic Quarter. Take your time enjoying the one-of-a-kind offerings at the unique boutiques and pick up dessert at one of the tasty pastry shops.

One day in Barcelona

one day in barcelona

By the time the shops start to close, you'll be ready to call it a night. It's a short 20-minute walk from the Gothic Quarter to the Arc de Triomf, where you can kick off your shoes and give your feet a much-deserved rest.

If you only had one day in Barcelona, what would you add to this list? Leave a comment below with your suggestions. We'd love to hear from you.

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3 Ways to Travel Europe Cheap

There are so many great ways you can travel Europe cheap.

 

So you want to see as much of Europe as you can, but you have limited time and money. Lucky for you, there are a lot of options for getting around Europe for not a lot of money. Follow these easy tips make the most of your European travel budget.

1. Fly Someplace Central

One of the best things about Europe is its compact size. You can get to so many different places fast. But what’s even better? Europe is known for its budget airlines. On a good day, you can get a flight for just a few dollars. A great way to travel cheap is to fly into a central, or hub, city, and then catch a flight someplace else from there. Look for the cheapest deal. If you have time to see a few places, simply look for cheap flights from one city to the next. Another option is to take a train from the hub city. Europe’s rail system is unparalleled. It’s fast, frugal, and easy. It’s especially great for travel within a single country. You can get from Venice to Rome for just a few dollars. And it’s faster than traveling to the airport and waiting for a flight.

For a recent vacation, I found a super cheap flight deal to London Gatwick. As much as I love London, I’ve been there a lot, so I wanted to spend part of my vacation in another country. I found a flight deal to Algarve, Portugal, where I stayed for five days before returning to London for the rest of my trip.

2. Business Travel Advantage

Do you travel for work? If you ever fly overseas, consider tacking a few vacations days onto the beginning or end of your trip. Your company will pay for you to fly overseas, and from there, the world is your oyster. You’ll need to pay out of pocket for airfares and accommodations in any other places you visit, but usually the most expensive part of a trip to Europe is the flight overseas. The rest is just frosting, and you can always find a good deal on the extras, like hotels and activities.

I used to fly to Frankfurt each year for work. I would fly in a few days early and immediately dash off to a different destination. One year, I got a $30 flight to Athens. Another year, it was Prague. The options are endless.

3. Rent a Boat

A great way to travel Europe cheap is by boat. With so many canals and rivers running throughout Europe, there are quite a few companies that offer affordable boat rentals. For a few hundred dollars a week, you can be the captain of your own adventure. Whether you travel via traditional penichette in France or narrowboat in England, your rental fee covers both your transportation costs and accommodations for your entire vacation. Not to mention, you can moor up just about anyplace you want, giving you the opportunity to check out villages and towns you might not otherwise have known existed. And you can save even more money by cooking your own meals on the boat.

These are just a few great ways to travel Europe cheap. What other ideas do you have? Join the conversation by becoming a member of the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

Five Hours in Funchal: From Gondolas to Street Toboggans

One of the best parts of cruising is going to places you might not have otherwise considered, like Funchal, Madeira.

 

This picturesque city has slightly more than 100,000 people and is the capital of Madeira, a Portuguese island in the North Atlantic Ocean. Funchal is magical, but before my ship entered its port, I had no idea I wanted to go there. Heck, I had no idea it existed. Within 15 minutes ashore, I knew it was one of my new favorite places in Europe, and even though I still had the whole day ahead of me, I didn’t want it to end.

I had no idea what to expect so I thought about taking a ship-sanctioned shore excursion. In the end, I decided not to take one. Instead I chose to take my chances on making my own itinerary. I studied the ship’s recommendations and decided I could see the main city sites and still have plenty of time to stroll the streets if I did things on my own. And I was right! I packed in a ton of fun and never once felt rushed. Here are my tips for the best ways to spend five hours in Funchal.

Disembarking

Funchal

To make the most of this beautiful port, I urge you to rise early and beat the crowds. If you get up at 6:30 a.m., you can be dressed, have a bite to eat, and be ready to go by 8 a.m. This was the projected arrival time for NCL Epic.

As soon as I heard the captain give the A-OK to get off the ship, I headed toward the gangway. Trust me when I tell you not to waste a single minute of time you have in this lovely place. I was the very first person to disembark for the day. And I was glad to have the quiet streets to myself for a few hours before most of the other cruisers made it off the ship.

It’s a bit of a jaunt from the ship to the heart of the action, but it’s a well-designed route once you get past the ship dock. Simply walk off the ship and keep going until you reach a fork in the road. Make a right on Avenida Do Mar, and keep on walking. The level pathway, scenic view along the waterfront, and smattering of shops make it an easy stroll. You can turn left at the first main intersection to head straight into the tourist area. But I decided to up the ante and keep walking. I had a special plan for my morning.

Morning

I walked all along the pathway for about 45 minutes at a brisk pace. I had an ulterior motive: to get on the cable cars or, as they’re called locally, Teleférico do Funchal, before the crowds of tourists arrived. I made good time, arriving by 8:45 a.m. Sadly, they didn’t open until 9 a.m. so I could have walked at a more leisurely pace and enjoyed the sights. Still, even as I waited to get inside, throngs of tourists arrived. In fact, three busloads were waiting just behind me.

I swooped in as soon as the doors were unlocked and bought my ticket to the hilltop village of Monte. Monte has lots to offer in its own right, including beautiful gardens. You can purchase tickets to various attractions at the same time as you buy your cable car fare. Just remember, Funchal also has lots to offer too. Watch the clock so you have time to enjoy both places.

Monte

I bought a round-trip ticket and boarded the very first car of the morning. I’m terrified of heights, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t so bad. Treetops and roofs appear to be just a stone’s throw away for most of the ride up. There are a few places where you’re suspended fairly high above the ground, but the journey lasts only 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, I promise. And the view is so worth any anxiety you may experience.

When you reach the end of your journey, there’s not a lot of signage telling you where to go. Because I was the first tourist at the top, there wasn’t anyone to follow. If you turn right, you’ll head toward the gardens. If you turn left, you’ll make your way toward the Church of Our Lady of the Mount. It’s a short walk either way you turn.

I was hoping for a few shops and cafés where I could while away the morning in Monte, but there were no such thing. After you walk the stairs to the church and take in the exceptional view of Funchal, there’s not a lot else to do…except for maybe the most amazing experience ever. Read on.

Mid-Morning

So the real reason I wanted to make my way to the hilltop town of Monte was so that I could ride in a wicker basket back down the hill. A wicker basket! I believe the locals call it a toboggan, but I call it like I see it. For the high, high price of 25 Euros for one person or 30 Euros for two, you can sit in a basket while two men push you through the village streets at relatively fast speeds. You can’t make this stuff up.

Funchal

The men wear special boots that help them glide along the well-oiled streets. Occasionally, they slow the pace to let a car pass along at a cross road. Along the way, men will pop out from the side streets to snap your picture. You can buy it later for 10 Euros, along with a cute history of the toboggan ride. I figured no one would believe me when I told them what I’d just done without evidence, so I snapped it up. There’s also a little market where you can haggle for souvenirs and a place where you can grab a bite to eat.

Pro tip: If you plan on taking the toboggan ride down the hill, you only need to purchase a one-way ticket for the cable cars. I learned this the hard way and could have saved myself a few bucks. Oh, and try to have cash for the toboggan ride. In theory, they take credit, but it’s a hassle. My “drivers” were quite unhappy about not being paid cash.

Downhill

It’s important to note the basket ride only takes you partway down the hill. There’s still a long way to go to reach the bottom. You have three options, take a tour bus, hop in a taxi, or walk. As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I like a good walk. But I can tell you, I am the only person who chose this option. And it was a long walk at a steep angle. I’m glad I did it, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it, unless you’re really keen.

I stopped a few times along the way to take some snaps of my ship in the port. I also caught a few glimpses of locals going about their daily business. I like that sort of thing. It feels more intimidate, which can be hard to achieve with only five hours in Funchal.

Mid-Day

I’d promised my traveling companion I would return to the ship by 11 a.m. so we could spend the rest of the day in town together. Believe it or not, I had already accomplished all of that excitement and got back to the ship 15 minutes early. To my delight, she was already waiting for me outside, leaving us even more time to explore Funchal.

We spent the rest of the day meandering through the city streets. We went into every shop, walked down every alley, and ate gelato. From trendy boutiques, like Dona Hortensia, to the local market, Mercado Dos Lavradores, there are endless unique shopping options. Zara, Mossimo Dutti, Mango, and all of the other major chain stores are present too.

Funchal

It’s hard not to fall in love with the stunning scenery of town square. Quaint cafés, like The Ritz, lush greenspaces, and white buildings and cobblestone streets give Funchal a romantic glow. Praça do Município, the main square, the statue of João Gonçalves Zarco, and Sé Catedral do Funchal are not to be missed. I could spend a month just sitting at a café taking in Funchal’s beauty, writing a romance novel and enjoying the atmosphere.

In the Old Town, the Rua de Santa Maria features a public art project that’s helping to revitalize the area. Known as Arte de Portas Abertas, it features more than 200 doors painted by local artists. It’s a feast for the eyes.

Alas, with only five hours in Funchal, by mid-afternoon, it was time to make our way back to the ship. I was sad to sail away from this fairy tale town, and dream of visiting Funchal again soon.