*Factor in travel time in between*
Madrid – 3 days
Barcelona – 3 days
Rome – 3 days
Cinque Terra – 2 days
Venice – 2 days
Zadar – 2 days
Dubrovnik – 2 days
Athens – 2 days
Santorini – 3 days
Day One – Barcelona to Madrid
Fly into Barcelona. Take Renfe (train) to Madrid. I booked my train in advance from Barcelona to Valencia then to Madrid. If I were to do it over again, I probably would have just flown into Madrid or taken a direct train from Barcelona to Madrid. Navigating the railway system proved to be very challenging. I ended up going in the wrong direction for several hours and had to pay $60 to get where I needed to be. It was very frustrating, and this was my first day in Spain by myself. But rather than beating myself up like I would have used to, I began to reflect on all of the positives. I met a lovely friend from Portugal and told myself, “you’re doing the best you can”! I got to see pretty rural parts of Spain and took some great naps. Extend yourself grace when you travel!
Tip: Bring your Student ID Card…even if you’ve already graduated.
My friend was supposed to join me the following morning but all of the trains broke, so she was late. There is also the possibility of strikes. So, again, I probably would’ve flown into Madrid to avoid the trouble.
At the train station in Madrid, I hiked to my hostel, Hostal Gonzalo with my 40 lb pack. This hostel was in a great area of town and very clean. For dinner, I walked around the corner and had two amazing tostadas with prawns and ham. There was also a street fair daily, where I ate another tostado con jamon (ham) and tomate paste. While eating, I met a couple from San Francisco- that’s the beauty of traveling alone. You are forced to meet people!
Tip: During my time in Europe, I did not use any cellular data. I relied purely on Wifi. The trick here is to open your maps while you are on Wifi. Then, when you leave, it will keep the blue dot and tell you where you are. You can drop pins of the locations where you are going. If you get desperately lost, you can drop in a Starbucks or any coffee shop, grab a cup of coffee and a seat, recalibrate, and get your bearings.
Day Two – Madrid
Cafe con leche at a local cafe down the road from my hostel. Then, I went to the flea market el Rastro – the most popular open air flea market in Madrid. It is held every Sunday. It was so fun- lots of antique stores, fun street music, and even an outdoors shop. I broke my water bottle on the airplane, so I was able to buy a Camelbak.
Then, I got lost, wandered through old churches, found beautiful lookouts, visited tons of plazas, jardins, and the palace. I found a Starbucks, because at that point, I was very lost. My friend and I met up at the hostel.
Tip: McDonald’s is another great place to get Wifi, and you might get away without buying anything. You can simply stand outside. They also have boujee cafe drinks that are unique from America.
We walked to the San Miguel market, and I ate a cheese plane with a cone of some sort of meat. We met some people from Mississippi, who recognized our Southern accents. San Miguel is a market full of different vendors.
I went on a run around Retino Park, near our hostel. We napped in order to adjust to the time change. Our other friend arrived around 10:30 pm, and it was raining very hard. We ate at a restaurant near the hostel, and stopped by a convenience store on the way home to get some Mahou beers.
Tip: Practice your Spanish! I promise it’s get better!
Day Three – Madrid
Of course, I started with a cafe con leche and churros con chocolate. Then, we walked to Retino Park and hung out at the fountain, went on a hunt for Gigi Barcelona glasses for my dad’s birthday present. (He still gets complements to this day).
For early dinner / late lunch, we headed to Ojala. It was amazing! Then, we walked to the palace and San Miguel market for dessert. It began to storm like crazy, so we ran into a cute little dessert place near the market. We splurged on some cookies!
We went to Dubliners, a bar, that was having great happy hour specials. We met some friends from Argentina. From there, we bar hopped. There are people that walk around and recruit you to come to their bar. They bribe you with free drinks and deals.
Tip: Be open to meeting people! You can read my story about the friend I met here.
Day Four – Madrid to Barcelona
Renfe from Madrid to Barcelona. This time, it was easier because two of my friends were with me to navigate. Once we arrived in Barcelona, we walked to our AirBnb. We decided on an AirBnb in Barcelona, because there was going to be a total of 8 of us. The AirBnb was on Carrer Cabanes (this is the street name) in a nice neighborhood. We went to an amazing Tapas restuarant, Tasqueta, right near our AirBnb. I also found peanut butter in a local grocery store- a novelty and very expensive! If you prefer Nutella, no worries! There is no shortage throughout Europe.
Day 5 – 6 – Barcelona
I went on a run towards the arena, which was great! Then, we went to the Gothic Quarter, Cathedral of Barcelona, Arc de Triomf, Las Ramblas, Mercat de la Boqueria, Casa Batilo, Parc Guell, and had paella near our Airbnb. We went to a nightclub called Opium.
The next day, we went to Park Guell and Sagrada Familia. We ate at Brunch & Cake. That night, we went to the Shot Bar, Chuppito’s. They have over 500 flavors of shots (yes, flavors! Think S’mores, CandyLand, etc.)
Day 7 – Barcelona to Rome
We took a train to the airport. Flights are very cheap between cities in Europe on Ryanair. We took a train from the airport to our hostel, Freedom Traveller, and walked from there. Then, of course we had to have pasta for our first night in Italy. We went to the restaurant across from the Opera Theater. Then, we walked to Trevi Fountain and had gelato. There are a ton of street vendors and artists. It’s a fun night scene.
Tip: Don’t have your phone out at dinner, especially if you are sitting outside. The waiter will not be very happy, and may even tell you to leave.
Day 8 – Rome
We walked to the Colosseum, and I immediately got chills and began to tear up. I did not realize I had such a connection to the Colosseum. I think it just reminded me of the honor it is to travel. It was way too crowded, so we decided we would come back later.
We walked to the Forum, which was amazing history! Then, we walked to the Vatican and saw the Dome (great view of the city), St. Peter’s Basilica, tombs, and Sistine Chapel. We were worn out and found a cheap pizza place and gelato. On our way home, we stumbled upon the Parthenon! Can’t say that every day!
Tip: Best Gelato place with 30+ flavors….Gelateria Della Palma
Tip: Be sure to pack something to cover your shoulders and knees in Vatican city, ladies!
Day 9 – Rome
We went shopping at Zara’s and other shops that fill Italy’s streets. Then, we went to the Spanish stairs and Colosseum round two. We found a local place to grab dinner.
Tip: eat a late lunch / early dinner. You can usually catch good deals! And beat the crowd!
Back at the hostel, we had a random roommate from Argentina. We all hung out! Don’t let a group room scare you. It’s a fun way to meet people. And don’t doubt Google translate!
Day 10 – Rome to Cinque Terre
Train from Rome to Cinque Terre early in the morning, and were able to make it to Cinque Terre by 11 am. We explored 4/5 of the cities, and stayed at an AirBnb. It was postcard perfect. I didn’t realize how much I loved and missed being by the water. It was a lot less crowded than Rome.
Day 11 – Cinque Terre to Venice
Via Train. At the train station in Cinque Terre, they have the best sandwich I have ever had in my life! So I bought three for the train ride. This took all day. We had to take a ferry after getting off the train to our hostel. Depending on how long you are staying and where you are staying, you can talk to the attendant at the ferry stations to figure out which pass is most economical. We stayed off the main city, so we used the ferries a lot. We stayed at Generator Venice hostel.
Day 12 – Venice
Explore Burano – the city of colors. We also got to explore mainland Venice a little. We ate grocery store food – meat and cheese and bread. Other things to see include St. Mark’s Basilica, Grand Canal, Campanile di San March (8$ tour), Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square, Peggy Guggenheim Collection Museum, San Giorgio Maggiore Island, and Rialto Bridge.
Day 13 – Venice to Zadar
Flight to Croatia. Instead of direct, we took four separate flights. If I were to do it again, I would’ve booked direct. Depending on how much you are saving, sometimes it is worth it to splurge and have that extra time exploring rather than at the airport. We stayed at Three Corners Hostel, which is a great location and the staff helped us book our excursions.
We chose Zadar over Split, because it was much cheaper and also a fun coastal city rather than a crowded suburban city.
Day 14 – 15 – Zadar
We took a ferry to a cool island, Sali, and explored for the day. There were not many tourists which as a score. Right near our hostel was the best sandwich shop, Papica, and some bars.
I became friends with the sandwich shop guy, and learned a lot about Croatia. Supposedly, the government is very corrupt and that Croatians are leaving. Even if they work like a dog, they can’t save up enough to even live comfortably.
The next day we went to Krka national park about 2 hours away – took a shuttle to get there. Once we got home, we walked to the Solar Dance floor. We also visited Plitvice Lakes, a series of 16 lakes connected by waterfalls.
Day 16 – Zadar to Dubrovnik
Flight then bus to the hostel. We stayed at a horrible hostel called Hostel City Central Old Town. The hostel manager, Neno, was very controlling and creepy, but we had fun, Australian roommates.
The first day, we went to the island Lokrum, where Game of Thrones is filmed. They even have a museum! We met some friends from Michigan. We laid out and jumped off cliffs!
For dinner, we went into Old Town, which is separated by a wall. Surprisingly, we found a yummy, cheap Mexican restaurant.
That night, we went out with our new Aussie roommates and met up with the friends from Michigan at the Art Cafe. Then, we went to a club called Revlin, and danced the night away.
Day 17 – Dubrovnik
Today was another beach day, but on the main island. The beach is called Bonje beach (it actually has sand) and is walkable from the city center. It began to rain, so we hung out in a cafe. We went again to the Mexican restaurant.
Day 18 – Dubrovnik to Athens
Flight. It took a while, but we finally found our hostel called Student & Travellers Inn, Athens. There was a restaurant next door where we grabbed dinner. The hostel was horrible – no AC, gross showers, and bad wifi. Although, we had two roommates from Northern Ireland, which was fun!
Day 19 – Athens
We walked to the Acropolis, the Parthenon, Temple of Olympic Zeus, Arch of Hadrian, Panathenaic stadium, National Gardens, and shopped at the flea markets on Ermou St and Pandossou St. We ate at Smile, because they have great deal with great portions! We hung around the hostel and played a group game with everyone. Then, we barhopped a little bit.
Tip: Bring your student ID, even if you aren’t in college anymore. You get great discounts!
Day 20 – Athens to Santorini
We had to wake up very early for our ferry at 6 am. The ferry ride (that isn’t the express one) is 8 hours. Our hostel, Anny’s Studios, picked us up from the ferry. Our hostel is on the black sand beach called Perissa.
Tip: Most things we planned before we came – such as Airbnb’s and hostels and flights and train rides. But I had to book something for my last night in Athens by myself. There was a ferry protest, so I had to schedule around that. Always be aware of things like that and be flexible! Because of this protest, I had to miss out of Ios.
Day 21 – Santorini
We booked a catamaran for the morning. It was beautiful but very cold. Our skippers were fun and the food was amazing. Then we walked down the beach, ate on the beach, and laid out in the sun.
Day 22 – Santorini
We took a bus to Oia, where the blue roofs are. We got a pedicure at the fish spa. They had amazing Euros at Thira.
Day 23 – Santorini to Athens
Another long ferry ride. I stayed at Zorbas Hostel. Although it was far from most attractions, it was comfortable and a good price. Be sure to set up transportation from the ferry to hostel- I had to split a cab with a random person I met on the ferry.
Day 24 – Athens
I found a health food store. I walked through the financial district. Walked through the flea market, bought a purse, ate at Smile, and searched for travel shampoo/conditioner. I was gearing up for next months in Southeast Asia and Africa. I met a couple of my hostel roommates from San Diego, and we went out. We barhopped and walked to the Parthenon to overlook the city.