From photographing the Northern Lights in Swedish Lapland to cruising through the Cyclades on a private boat, there are plenty of bucket list things to do in Europe.
Here, our experts round up the top 10 European experiences that are sure to leave you feeling as though you need to get to work on your bucket list.
1) Make authentic Italian pizza in Rome
Italy’s capital needs little introduction – one of the top things to do in Europe is wander through Rome’s streets. Home to the Colosseum, Renaissance masterpieces and the Vatican City, Rome is filled with history, art and culture. Along with the rest of Italy, the city is also known for having some of the best food in the world. From pasta and Parmesan to gelato and tiramisu, Italian food is simply irresistible. There’s one standout Italian dish that almost nobody dislikes though: pizza.
In Rome, there’s nothing more authentically Italian than learning how to make Pizza Romano with a native expert. You’ll be welcomed by a professional pizza maker and get to knead the dough, create the topping and pop it into the oven. The best thing about this bucket list Italian experience? You’ll be able to eat your creation once it’s finished!
2) See the Northern Lights in Swedish Lapland
In Swedish Lapland, reindeer stand proud beneath snow-heavy trees and night skies dance with iridescent shades of green and purple. This region is a magical place filled with natural wonder, folklore and a rich cultural heritage. Seeing the Northern Lights here is one of the most romantic things to do in Europe.
At Swedish Lapland’s Loggers Lodge, guests can learn how to photograph the Aurora Borealis in all their beauty. Camera sensors are more sensitive than the naked eye to these beautiful lights, and if the solar activity is low, a photograph can sometimes be the only way to see the phenomenon. You will be set up with a tripod and DSLR camera and be given tips on how to take special images that you’ll be able to carry with you forever.
Logger’s Lodge provides the ultimate romantic getaway. It’s a private luxury eco-lodge for two, with 5 kilometres of nature separating it from its nearest neighbour. Guests at the all-inclusive cabin can enjoy privately guided outdoor activities, a private spa with a sauna and an outdoor Jacuzzi. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can dine on traditional Sami meals, prepared by a private chef who uses organic and local ingredients.
An open fire in the centre of the cabin allows guests to cosy up after a day exploring the snow-capped landscapes. Chasing the Northern Lights in Swedish Lapland is one of the most idyllic things to do in Europe for couples looking for privacy, or for anyone needing to take some time away from the hustle and bustle of the urban world.
3) Cruise the Greek islands on a private boat
There are few sights more beautiful than the sun setting over picturesque white houses on the blissful Greek coast. Perhaps the most famous of the Cyclades, crescent shaped Santorini has been attracting visitors for decades. Blue domes adorn traditional whitewashed houses and streets wind down to breathtaking viewpoints. Understandably, Santorini is extremely popular amongst honeymooners, but this means it can often become overrun with tourists.
At Jacada, we’ve combined the best of both worlds with a private boat cruise around Santorini and Folegandros. Folegandros is a wonderfully untouched alternative to Santorini, offering the same picturesque views without the hustle and bustle. The most amazing beaches are not accessible by car, so you’ll have the opportunity to reach them by boat and swim in the surrounding emerald waters. After soaking up the Aegean sea, you’ll stop in Folegandros’ charming town of Chora for lunch and a crisp glass of wine.
The best of the rest
4) Loire Valley hot air balloon ride
When it comes to France, visiting Paris is one of the most sought-after things to do in Europe. The French capital offers plenty of opportunities to learn about classical French architecture, history and culture. Sometimes, though, getting out into the countryside makes for the best experiences. The Loire Valley is one of the most beautiful places in France, home to a variety of breathtaking chateaux and gardens. This romantic region captivates history enthusiasts, gourmets and wine lovers alike. It’s extremely beautiful, having been rightly afforded the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A hot air balloon ride over the Loire Valley allows visitors to view the chateaux, rolling green fields and bountiful vineyards from a unique perspective. You’ll even take part in the assembling and blowing up of the balloon before boarding the vessel for your extraordinary flight, making it a truly unforgettable experience.
5) Visit Iceland’s waterfalls and lakes
With some of the most dramatic landscapes in Europe, it’s no surprise that Iceland has made a name for itself as a bucket list destination. In Northern Iceland, visiting the incredible Goðafoss waterfall is a must-do. Meaning waterfall of the God, dramatic Goðafoss is where the waters of the river Skjálfandafljót fall from a height of 12 metres. These cascading waters give his waterfall an ethereal feel, enhanced by the its ancient story. Legend has it that in the year 1000, after the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland, he threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall.
In the Northern Circle, the Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. Temperatures in the bathing and swimming area of this geothermal spa average 37–39 °C (98–102 °F) and the mineral-rich waters are reputed to help some people suffering from various skin ailments. The lagoon is man-made and fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi, but is still one of the most incredible sights in the country.
6) Gourmet and Gaudi tours in Barcelona
Barcelona is firmly on the map as one of Europe’s greatest cities. Sitting in the northwest heart of Catalonia, this cosmopolitan city caters to all types of traveller. From honeymooners and all-night partiers to fashionistas and foodies, there’s something for everyone. Catalonia’s capital has a rich cultural and architectural history, with Gaudi’s iconic modernist buildings situated alongside millennial flashes of glass and steel. The tangibly buzzing culture in Barcelona’s streets and squares make exploring the city’s art and gastronomy endlessly captivating.
On a gourmet walking tour of Barcelona with a gastronomic writer, you can immerse yourself in Spain’s food and wine culture. Start the tour at La Boqueria, Barcelona’s most symbolic food market. As well as walking through stalls selling local produce – from Iberian hams to swan eggs – you’ll be able to visit a shop to taste some of these local goods alongside Spanish wine. Afterwards, indulge at patisseries, cafes and speciality cheese and wine stores.
Architecture lovers will no doubt be aware of the Catalan Modernism buildings that can be found across Barcelona. Flourishing between 1888 and 1906, this movement has left Barcelona peppered with colourful, eccentric architecture. On a Gaudí-themed walking tour of the city, you’ll visit some of the architect’s most famous landmarks. From the bright mosaics of Güell Park to the infamous Sagrada Familia, Gaudí has left his iconic mark in all four corners of Barcelona. Depending on the length of your tour, you’ll also visit the other worldly Casa Batllò and Casa Milà. The latter is popularly known as La Pedrera, meaning stone quarry, and is an exhibition space constituting the last of Gaudí’s civic works.
7) Croatia and Slovenia’s natural wonders
Croatia and Slovenia may be considered slightly more off the beaten track but they are both still home to incredible scenery. Croatia has everything from the stunning Adriatic coast to fairytale castles, whilst Slovenia is home to UNESCO protected forest and beautiful Lake Bled. If you want to discover the Adriatics in luxury, Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes and Slovenia’s Lake Bled are place you have to see.
According to legend, the Plitvice Lakes were created after a long drought when the “Black Queen” took pity on the people and animals that cried for water. Whether or not you believe in folklore, these lakes have a truly ethereal feel. Often called Croatia’s natural masterpiece, the overpowering beauty of Plitvice National Park is astounding. With waterfalls spilling over impossible hills, sixteen different lakes and fascinating flora and fauna, Plitvice is the most visited place in Croatia. Unsurprisingly, the area was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. Enjoy all that these beautiful lakes have to offer in great depth on a private Jacada tour.
In Slovenia, Lake Bled is a fairytale location. With its baroque church island and looming clifftop castle, this lake is Slovenia’s most famous attraction. Set amidst the snow capped Julian Alps and less than an hour from capital Ljubljana, the reflective lake is small enough to walk around on foot. The iconic Church of the Assumption is one of the most photographed features of Lake Bled. Dating back to 1698, this traditional Church lies on an islet in the middle of the lake.
Waters are off limits to motorised vehicles, so the island is reached on pletna boat – a huge gondola type vessel – or by rowboat. Watching over the lake is the imperious Bled Castle, where visitors can learn about Bled’s history, culture and people in the castle’s museum. With a private Jacada tour around Lake Bled, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped right into a fairytale.
8) Discover Scotland’s whisky trail
Scotland’s culture is so distinct from the rest of Britain, making it a fascinating place to visit. It is also extremely varied, as it is home to historic castles, vibrant cities and spectacular scenery. There’s one defining feature that remains constant throughout Scotland, though: whisky. If you’re partial to a dram or two of the finest distilled golden liquid, then Scotland’s whisky trail is for you. From Edinburgh to Fort William, you’ll be able to follow the whisky trail from field and distillery to bottle and glass.
In Edinburgh, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society provides a comprehensive introduction to Scotland’s most famous tipple. Over 132 different distilleries are represented at the Society. You’ll have a guide on hand to help you navigate your way through the array of whiskies on offer. In the Scottish Lowlands, Pitlochry’s traditional distilleries retain their artisanal production methods and it’s interesting to visit them and see how they are introducing the drink to a new generation of connoisseurs.
Some of Scotland’s freshest whiskey is produced in the region of Speyside, near the Loch Ness. Here, Barley is distilled in fresh highland water, and the region in which it is grown gives the final product a distinct taste. The whiskies produced in this area have either a light and grassy taste or rich and sweet palette. With the largest concentration of distilleries in Scotland located here, it should be on every whisky lover’s agenda.
On the Isle of Skye, visit the oldest working distillery on the shores of Loch Harport. At the Talisker, see the five copper pot stills and traditional worm tubs that make this whisky so unique. Then, have a look at the casks in the warehouse where the Angel’s Share is lost to evaporation during maturation. Finish off your tour of this iconic distillery with a taste of the award-winning, alluring, sweet, full-bodied single malt.
9) Luxury rail journeys through Switzerland
Often overlooked, Switzerland is a natural jewel at the heart of Europe. From a scenic point of view, Switzerland is a remarkable place to visit. From the spectacular Rhine Falls to the arresting Klein-Matterhorn, this country is full of picturesque corners waiting to be explored. The most awe-inspiring way to witness Switzerland’s rolling hills is aboard its spectacular trans-alpine railway network.
Begin in German-speaking Gstaad, a small picturesque village known for its luxury hotels and high-end restaurants. Active types can hike over 300 km of trails, whilst more laid-back travellers can opt for one of the cable cars. Highlights here include a traditional Swiss cheesemaking workshop with a local farmer, a tour of Glacier 3000 – where the only suspension bridge to connect two mountain peaks lies – and a glacier hike across iconic Jungfraujoch.
The GoldenPass train to Montreux affords scenic views over expansive valleys. From Montreux, you can cross through the Pennine Alps to the fairytale village of Zermatt. Here, the famed Gornergrat train ascends from 1604 m (5262 feet) to 3089 m (10135 ft) for one of the most breathtaking panoramas in Switzerland. If you don’t suffer from vertigo, this is one of the most incredible train journeys in the world. Round up your epic railway journey with jaw dropping rides on the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. The former takes you through hundreds of bridges, dozens of tunnels and through epic mountain scenery, while the latter journeys through a striking UNESCO World Heritage Site.
10) Wine tasting in Portugal’s Douro Valley
Portugal’s Douro Valley is the first wine region in the world to be formally demarcated, having been distinguished in 1756. Now the valley is a UNESCO World Heritage protected landscape, which is famed for its dramatic valleys covered in bright green rows of grape vines sitting beside a stretch of calm waters. The area is most famous for its port wine, varieties of which are only considered to be the genuine article if they originate from this region. The Duoro Valley’s historic towns and rustic villages also add to the appeal of this area.
Winery touring and tasting is the main activity on offer here, with a wonderful array of traditional and boutique growers to discover. The Quinta da Pacheca is a particularly special winery that has been bottling under its own name since 1738. Before enjoying a tasting here, take a full tour of the scenic family-owned winery and enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch with your guide. Once you’re ready to move on from wine, relax with a cocktail on the spectacular Six Senses’ terrace, recently named as one of the top hotels in the world.