If you’re going to be in Spain for any length of time, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of the fact that you’re in Europe and see as much of it as possible. After all, the expensive part is getting here. Believe it or not, many major European cities and capitals can be reached in a mere two or three hours from Barajas – and without breaking the bank! If you plan ahead and have flexible travel plans, you can get some real deals on airfare, making it all the more worth the while. The only remaining question is where to go. Thus, in this post we’d like to recommend 7 trips around Europe so you can get to know the old continent.
Old European destinations
The first city on our list is none other than la Ville Lumière – the City of Light – Paris. This is an obvious choice and for myriad reasons. First of all, Paris is close to Madrid and can be reached by air in just two hours, making it an excellent weekend getaway. Assuming you’re on a budget, this might be the perfect length of time to experience the city without having to clean out your savings account. Secondly, Paris has been one of – if not the – most important centers of culture and finance in the Western world, resulting in a whole host of places to visit and things to see. If it’s your first visit, you’ll definitely want to check out the Louvre Museum, les Champs-Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the many cemeteries containing famous graves. Perhaps this is a lot for a weekend, but as the streets of Paris are hailed as some of the most beautiful in the world, you may just choose to stroll around at a leisurely pace and take it all in. Whatever the case may be, Paris is a must – that’s why it’s first on our list!
Number two on our list is another legendary city: Venice. Located in the northeast of Italy, near the foot of the Alps, lies what is considered to be one of the most romantic cities in the world. Spread across the mainland and several islands in the Venetian Lagoon, Venice is famous for its stunning canals, art, and architecture. Once a great center of trade and commerce, the city, which acted as its own republic for over a millennium, exercised a considerable sphere of influence over the Adriatic Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. Now declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Venice receives an overwhelming amount of visitors every year, estimated just a few years ago at fifty thousand tourists daily. Some of the places you should visit while in Venice are Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, the Clock Tower, and the many palaces which house priceless works of art. If you’re feeling adventurous, jump on the vaporetto and head over to some of the other islands, such as Murano, which is well-known for its glassblowing, or Lido, the luxury island with a beach on the Adriatic. Just make sure that when you visit Venice that you avoid times when the city may be too full of tourists to enjoy, such as the summertime or during Carnival.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’, this next city on the list is also traversed by a large number of canals and has benefited greatly over the years through trade and commerce. This aside, however, Amsterdam is unique and has a flavor all of its own. The city became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, and has since become one of the top financial centers in the world: top companies such as Philips and ING have their headquarters there. Visited by more than three-and-a-half million tourists a year, this city of less than one million inhabitants draws a staggering amount of tourists due its many museums and historical buildings, as well as its red light district and coffee shops. Some of the important places to visit are the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, and of course, the canals themselves.
Of course, no stay in Europe would be complete without visiting London, one of the leading cities in the world for finances, culture, and diversity, among other things. Originally settled by the Romans as Londinium in the first century AD, the current population of over eight million makes it the most populous municipality in the European Union. Despite not forming part of Continental Europe, London is easily accessed from Spain due to the many flights available from Barajas to at least four of the region’s airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton. The flight is a bit under two and a half hours and can be purchased quite cheaply – if bought ahead of time – due to the amount of low-cost airlines which fly the route. London boasts several World Heritage Sites, such as the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, the Palace of Westminster/the Houses of Parliament/Big Ben, and others. In addition to these sites, London has an great deal of interesting places to visit, be it streets and squares, markets, museums, or shopping. Some of these include Piccadilly Circus, St. Pauls’ Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, the Tate Modern, Victoria Station, the London Eye, Covent Garden, and countless others. There is so much to see, you may have to do two trips!
Next on the list is Germany’s capital city: Berlin. Today a modern city, Berlin has served as the capital of many different political unions, such as the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich. The city was divided after World War II and remained so throughout the Cold War until German Reunification in 1990, after which it was restored as the capital. As a result of such colorful history, Berlin has a great many places to visit, such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm), the Reichstag Building and Dome, the Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates, and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. In addition to its historic buildings and other structures, Berlin is very famous for its vibrant nightlife, which is said to be one of the most diverse in the world.
Coastal cities in Europe
A city which is very easy to visit from Madrid, but little-known by many, is the northwestern Portuguese city of Porto. The second most important city after Lisbon, Porto has a population of a bit over a million inhabitants. Settlement of the area precedes Roman times, when the city was known as Portus Cale, and later, Portucale, which gave rise to the name of the country. The modern Porto is famous for its Historic Center, which was named a World Heritage Site in 1996. Among the historical buildings are the many churches, such as the Cathedral of Porto and Igreja Monumento de S. Francisco de Assis, and others such as São Bento Station, which is decorated with a great number of tiles depicting important events in the country’s history. Perhaps the most emblematic structures, however, are the bridges that span the Douro River right in the city center, chiefly Ponte Maria Pia and Ponte Luís I. These wrought iron bridges were built towards the end of the 19th century, the former being designed by Gustave Eiffel and Téophile Seyrig, and the latter by Seyrig alone. In addition to these structures, Porto is also famous for the many tile façades found throughout the city, many of which have a nostalgic and decadent feel. After all, Porto was named as the Best European Destination in 2014, so go see for yourself!
Though not actually in Europe, this North African city is a very popular destination from Madrid. Providing a stark contrast from destinations in Northern and Central Europe, Marrakesh allows for a glimpse into the Arab culture that influenced Spain so extensively during the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from 711-1492. Although somewhat of a modern city, the old town of Marrakesh is reminiscent of what Spain was perhaps like a hundred or so years ago. The best way to experience the city is to find the central square, known as Jemaa El Fna, and wonder from there. Close by are the many souqs, or markets, which you can peruse through and hunt for bargains. The best place to stay is by far one of the many riads in the old section, which are Moroccan-style houses with a courtyard, many of which have been converted into guest houses. There is also a new part of the city, Gueliz, but is only worth visiting if you get tired of dodging donkey carts in the narrow streets of the medina.
Although we’ve taken the liberty to suggest trips that we find worthwhile, there are literally hundreds of places in Europe that are easily accessed from the Spanish capital. You be the judge; Europe is your playground!