Why choose between the two when you can have both on your gap year in Europe! This is a continent that embraces the old and the new, where the traditional rubs shoulders with the contemporary. Here you will find a plethora of palaces, a riot of rollercoasters and a surfeit of spas. Whatever you prefer, they all deserve a visit.
A royal welcome
Europe is known for its magnificent castles and palaces and they definitely aren’t in short supply!
The flamboyant Palace of Pena in Portugal stands proud from its vantage point. Situated on top of the green rock of Pena Park, this eye-catching building can be seen from afar. Built by King Ferdinand II, the building celebrates 19th century Romanticism and showcases the King’s creativity as each portion of the palace has its own distinctive style and colour.
Your next stop should be Romania to marvel at the 15th century Gothic Corvin Castle. Fantastically creepy from the outside, step inside to appreciate the splendour of the banquet hall before heading down to the dungeon!
The Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg, with a stunningly majestic façade, is the official residence of the current Grand Duke of Luxembourg and is where he carries out functions such as broadcasting the Christmas message.
Take a break from giving your brain a workout at all of the historical sites and jump into some of the most heart-pounding amusement parks Europe has to offer. Disneyland Paris might be one of the most famous, but there are plenty of other places for thrill-seekers to get their kicks.
Tivoli Gardens in Denmark is the second oldest amusement park in the world and the most visited seasonal park. The park opened in 1843 and has gained international recognition and celebrity fans including Walt Disney and Hans Christian Andersen (there are even rides dedicated to this author at the park).
Tivoli Gardens has a more traditional feel than other amusement parks and is festooned with various seasonal decorations throughout the year.
In Germany, you will find the gigantic Europa-Park Theme Park & Resort which allows visitors to enjoy over 100 attractions and shows, strap themselves into several rollercoasters and to wander around 13 European themed areas including Spain, Switzerland and the UK. The park has been open for 40 years and has repeatedly been voted the world’s best amusement park.
If those haven’t satisfied you, PortAventura in Spain is perfect for those who have a head for heights. Similarly to Europa-Park, PortAventura has themed areas including Polynesia, China and Mexico. Cool yourself down in the balmy Mediterranean climate and make a splash in the resort’s aquatic park, which is one of Europe’s biggest water parks.
The arts are all about embracing experimentation, and Europe showcases brilliant examples of when tradition is fused with modernity.
If you love the opera then you need to head to Austria — Vienna in particular nurtured the talents of many significant composers like Wagner, Mozart and Strauss. The grandiose Vienna State Opera is one of the leading opera houses in the world. Or for a modern twist, Austria also offers something a little different. The Bregenz Festival holds open-air opera performances on a lakeside stage. Held for four weeks in the summer, these outdoor performances have elaborate and high-tech staging, but they had humble origins: in 1946 the stage was set up on two barges and the festival has grown from there.
The unmistakeable and bizarre design of Atomium is based on the model of an elementary iron crystal that has been enlarged 165 billion times! Built for the World Fair in Brussels in 1958, this surreal monument isn’t only to be admired from the outside — five spheres are open to the public where a variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions are displayed.
The Berlin Wall in Germany combines history with modern art, and is a definite must-see on your gap year in Europe. This epic construction is a symbol of the Cold War and Communist repression. It separated East and West Germany from 1961 to 1989. Nowadays, what’s left of this ominous divider has been made bright and vibrant with street art frescos.
Take a break
Don’t forget to take a break from the attractions on your gap year in Europe, and indulge in a bit of retail therapy or find somewhere to rest your head for the night.
If you don’t fancy a beach holiday, the cooler countries have plenty to keep you occupied —and once you retire for the night, the wonder doesn’t stop! If you don’t mind the cold, spend a night at the famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden which is sculpted out of natural ice and snow. The rooms are created by artists and are dazzling to behold. And when you wake up in the morning, hop on a dog sled or have a crack at ice-sculpting! Want to sleep beneath the Northern Lights? Snuggle up in a glass igloo in Lapland, in Finland, at the Arctic SnowHotel where you can kick back and let the stars above lull you to sleep. Make sure you order a drink in the frosty Ice Bar!
Part of the Rezydent shopping centre, the Krzywy Domek (crooked house) is situated in Sopot, Poland and is visited by tourists who want to see this surreal architecture in person. Built in 2004 and inspired by fairy tale illustrations, inside this mind-boggling building you’ll find a range of shops and restaurants.
The concept of frequenting spas for medicinal purposes dates back to the ancient times, and it’s still a popular pastime today with spas being found all across the continent. The Boscolo Milano spa in Italy has a unique interior design with mirrored domes dripping from the ceiling as you laze in the warm waters below.