Barcelona is a huge, lively city filled with thousands things to do and places to see. Although I love living here, sometimes it’s nice to have a break from the city and explore new places. Whether traveling near or far, it’s important to plan accordingly for travels and weigh all of your options.
As the capital of Catalonia, Barca gains the most attention. However, Catalonia is a fairly large region in Spain, and there are many other cities located here worth visiting. All are fairly small, but each place has its own character and charm. One, for example, is Sitges, Spain, which is a beach coastal town known for their crazy Carnaval celebration. Girona has one of the best preserved medieval quarters in the entire world, and because of this many Game of Thrones scenes have been filmed there. (I must admit a fangirled quite a bit when I visited). Figueres is the hometown of Salvador Dali, which is why you can find the super cool and interesting art museum dedicated to his works there. Montserrat means “serrated mountain” and is the perfect place for a challenging hike on a beautiful day.
Since all of these places are located in Catalonia, they are very easy to reach from Barcelona by bus or train, and usually for under or around 20 euros round trip! They are perfect for day trips because they only are about 1 hour away each, so this way you can save money on a hostel, and you still get to enjoy the night life of Barcelona if that’s where you’re leaving from. In fact, if you plan accordingly, it’s even possible to visit two or more of these cities in one day. I did a trip through an organization called Erasmus, and for just 28 euros I traveled to Girona, Figueres, and Besalu all in one day.
Catalonia is just one region of Spain (and it actually has its own very distinct culture that’s a bit different), so if you truly want to get a Spanish experience, you should visit other Spanish cities, too. Just down the coast about three hours from Barcelona, is the third largest city in Spain, Valencia, which is famous for the dish paella, surfing, and lots of beautiful beaches. Madrid, the capital city, lies right in the center of the country, and is the best place (in my opinion) for a truly Spanish experience. If you like castles, the Alhambra is a must-see in Granada, and is also where some Game of Thrones scenes have been filmed! Seville is in the region of Andalucia, in the southwest, and is known for its stunning architecture and huge Semana Santa celebration. Other Spanish cities worth mentioning are Cadiz, Malaga, Toledo, and Salamanca.
Although Spain is a relatively small country, there are endless places to go and explore. Depending on where you are coming from, some travel options are better than others. The furthest I would probably travel by bus or train is six hours, and for those long trips I prefer to travel overnight. That way I again get to save money on a hostel for a night. If you are someone who can’t stand long trips on the road, there is also high speed trains and flying, which usually tend to be around the same price.
This is my second time spending over three months in Spain, so obviously I am quite fond of this country. However, Spain is just one country in Europe; there are so many other amazing cultures and cities waiting to be explored. When I was in Europe last summer, everyone told me that visiting Paris and Rome are compulsory and they were right. Each of these places is so different from the other and they are so incredible in their own way. I was only able to spend about two days in each of those places, but I would recommend staying longer in order to not feel rushed. Hamburg, Germany is also one of my favorite cities because it’s very hip, liberal, and has beautiful waterways that remind me of the three rivers back home in Pittsburgh. Salzburg, Austria sits on the edge of the Alps and is the cutest fairytale town, and perfect for “Sound of Music” fans.
Traveling all across Europe definitely takes more careful planning and decision-making. When you have limited time in one place, it’s best to make a list of everything you want to see, and prioritize it so that you make sure to check off those must-sees. What I also like to do is to pick up a map when I arrive in a new place, that way I can not only find where each landmark is located, but also figure out the best order for my day.
Now that I am on spring break, I will be embarking on a 10-day journey through Eastern Europe to the cities Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, and Zagreb. Since I’m going from place to place, I had to be very careful about which dates I bought transportation tickets on and which times to buy them for. I usually book through goeuro.com for trains and busses, and use skyscanner and kayak for flights. For hostels, hostelworld.com is my go-to because it’s very user-friendly and has many options available. To figure out what to do in each city, I use pinterest to find travel itinerary guides. I usually look at a few of them for each place so that I can see which sights are the most important as well as to gain multiple people’s opinions and perspectives.
Sometimes planning can become stressful and challenging, but it’s always worth it in the end and it’s best to be as prepared. When I’m traveling and exploring a new place, everything is so exciting and new that it gives me the feeling that truly anything in this world is possible. Then when I look back and reflect on everything that I’ve done, I always feel so humbled and lucky that I get to live my life like this.