Five under the radar European cities to visit when studying abroad

It was a only three weeks ago where Marist students were finalizing their applications to study abroad for the 2016 spring semester. Many students end up choosing to attend Marist because they boast a very strong study abroad program. With a variety of programs all over the world, most kids end up opting to study in Europe, with Florence and London being two very popular destinations. After some of my friends went abroad during the 2015 fall semester, I was interested to see what cities they explored.

Once we all reconvened it was interesting to hear the different pit stops they all made, but one thing struck me. They all went to the same cities. I understand that some people are visiting Europe for their first time and they want to visit all the major cities. But if you spend four months in Europe I feel like you should get some other cities under your belt. I spent a fair share of my childhood living in Switzerland, so I have been to over 20 countries in Europe. I’ve seen various angels of the continent, so compiling this list was not easy at all.

Lisbon

The city is not only the capital but it is also the largest city in Portugal. With a population of just over 550,000 Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in all of Europe. Located on the Portuguese coast, the city enjoys a nice Mediterranean climate, meaning days during the winer very rarely fall below 50 degrees. This also means that the city enjoys summer-like temperatures starting from late April up until late September.

While in Lisbon, I’d recommend going to the Mosterio Dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery). The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a must see when visiting. For the best views of the city head over to the Santa Justa lift, the only vertical one in the city. When I visited Lisbon back in 2012 I liked the “Parque das Nações” (Park of the nation) district. It is the newest district in Lisbon and plays to a very younger crowd with a revamped shopping area and trendy bars.

The view from the Santa Justa lift. Credit: www.suesterling.com

The view from the Santa Justa lift. Credit: http://www.suesterling.com

With no direct flights from Florence it may be hard to access the Portuguese capital. For you studying in London, Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted all have direct flights to Lisbon with low-cost airlines easyJet and Ryanair offering service. Easy Jet flies to Lisbon two times per day departing from both Gatwick and Luton. Ryanair also offers two daily flights from Stansted.

Ljubljana

This city gets my award as the “sleeper pick” out of the five cities. Despite being rather small with only 277,000 inhabitants, Ljubljana is a place to visit if you are looking for a non-stop weekend of partying. The pub-crawl in the city is one of the best within Europe. Additionally this city is on the cheaper side of European cities so this is a very good option if you are on a tight budget.

If you have ever seen EuroTrip think back to that scene where Jenny and Jamie start kissing after taking shots of Absinthe. That is the atmosphere you will encounter in Ljubljana (minus kissing your sister hopefully). Despite being such a small city over 50,000 students study in the Slovenian capital to give it a younger feel. The city is nicknamed “The City of Bridges” as there are over 15 footbridges in the city. A visit to the Museum of Modern Art is something that I would recommend. The outside of the building alone is very funky and with exhibitions that portray various eras of art, it’s a must see.

Europe's smallest capital is starting to get some recognition Credit: Skyscrapercity.com

Europe’s smallest capital is starting to get some recognition Credit: Skyscrapercity.com

Despite not having direct flights from Florence it would be a journey per bus which takes just under five hours. For those located in London easyJet is once again at your service offering one flight per day to the capital city leaving from Stansted. Wizz Air also offers four flights per week from Luton giving you another option.

Istanbul

Based on it’s geographical location and often high air fare, reaching Istanbul can be a hassle. But, if you have the time and the money it is a MUST to visit one of my favorite cities in Europe. While this city may not be under the radar as it’s popularity goes, it’s still a destination undiscovered by Marist students. Istanbul is the most populated city in Europe with over 14 million residents. The city has a rich history dating all the way back to 330 CE as Constantine the Great made it the capital of the Roman Empire. The city also spans over two continents as it is located in both Europe and Asia.

Known as the “Blue Mosque” the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a must visit in Istanbul as it has been around since 1616 while Ahmed I was still in power. When looking along the skyline you notice the six minarets pointing up to the sky. Additionally, the Süleymaniye Mosque is another must see as it highlights the architectural style throughout the Ottoman Empire. Lastly, the Hagia Sophia is a must see as the church turned mosque has been opened up as a museum making it an interesting site.

A visit to Istanbul is not complete unless you visit the Grand and Spice Bazaars. The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest covered market in the whole world. Back in a 2014 a Travel + Leisure article said the Grand Bazaar was the most visited tourist attraction with over 90 million visitors per year. With booths of knockoff designer items, typical tourist items, famous Turkish lanterns and Byzantine style jewelery, the Grand Bazaar has something for everyone. If you are too overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle that the market offers, head on over to the Davidoff Cafe for a rather strong but delicious cup of Turkish coffee. One last thing, brush up upon your negotiating skills or prepared to be eaten alive by the shopkeepers.

The Istanbul skyline seen from Bosphorus Strait

The Istanbul skyline seen from Bosphorus Strait

Lastly, try to catch one of the many Istanbul based soccer teams in action. Preferably where city rivals Galatasary and Fenerbache go head to head. It is something that will blow you away and change your perspective on sport for the rest of your life. Once again if you are based in Florence you will need to head up to Milan in order to get a direct flight to Istanbul. Meanwhile, Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton offer daily service to the Eurasian city.

Valencia

Another favorite of mine. Valencia mixes the old with the new and my visit back in 2012 made me want to stay even longer in this city. Spain’s third largest city is often in the shadow of Barcelona and Madrid but you shouldn’t miss out on visiting. Europe’s fifth largest port city has stepped up the architecture found throughout the city. While they have changed so much, they still keep true to their very catholic roots

The Valencian Cathedral also known as “Iglesia Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de Valencia” is one of Europe’s most popular cathedral’s. Despite being so old, the church is still in a great state both inside and out. Valencia is also the birthplace of Spain’s most popular national dish Paella. Go into one of the many restaurants in the popular La Seu district and enjoy Valencia’s culinary delight.

You remember where I said Valencia mixes the old with the new very well? Well go on down to the Prince Philip Science Museum and explore some of the new. Not only will you be exploring every edge on the architectural delight but the museum itself is one of the most interesting you will ever encounter. For example, until October 31 they are holding an exhibit where you will be placed inside of a water ball and you will have the ability to walk on water.

Valencia's skyline.

Valencia’s skyline.

Good news for those based in Florence. Vueling will offer seasonal service to Valencia starting in December 2015. Meanwhile, British Airways will offer service from Gatwick starting in November 2015. EasyJet already offers service from Gatwick and Ryanair offers service to Luton.

Vienna

Last city on my list is Vienna. The capital of Austria is known for it’s performing arts as the city gloats on having some of the best operas and theaters in Europe. Not only does this International city offer some of the best preforming arts, it also has some of the best cuisine throughout Europe. During the Baroque era, composers would flock to Vienna as Mozart, Schubert. Beethoven and Brahms all called the city home. Furthermore, Vienna is always in the Top 5 in the living quality category making it one of Europe’s nicest cities. Located on the banks of the Danube River, this city is the home to organizations like the United Nations and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).

With over 1.7 million residents, Vienna is the biggest city in the country and the 2nd biggest German speaking city in the world. A visit to the Schoenbrunn Palace should be on the cards if you decide to visit Vienna. The UNESCO World Heritage Site offers not only the best but also the nicest sites in the city. If you have the time, put on your nicest suit and head over to the “Wiener Staatsoper” (Vienna State Opera). Decent seats will set you back only 30-40 but it’s worth it and it’s a must when visiting this classical city.

As mentioned above, the city is known for it’s cuisine. So make sure you stop at Figlmueller and indulge in a typical Wiener Schnitzel. The near half pound pork schnitzel and the side of delicious potato salad will fill you up and leave you with a full stomach. Afterwards, explore the sights of Stephansplatz and the shopping that is found on the two mile strip known as Mariahilferstrasse. After walking off the massive schnitzel from Figlmueller head over to the swanky Hotel Sacher cafe and enjoy some tea and Sacher-Torte.

Vienna and its Baroque infused architecture Credit: travelchannel.com

Vienna and its Baroque infused architecture Credit: travelchannel.com

Direct flights from Florence are possible as Austrian and Niki offer seasonal service to the Austrian capital. Meanwhile if you are in London, Heathrow, Stansted, Luton and Gatwick all offer service as well.

WOW! I did not expect to write so much. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Do you agree with me? Do you think otherwise? Would you want to visit one of these cities?

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