There are many reasons why I love traveling through Europe. The ancient and beautiful architecture, the wide variety of cultures, and of course the people. From a logistical standpoint, Europe is ideal for travel—especially solo travel. With small countries nestled together in tight proximity, a quick jump from one country to another takes relatively little time.
In 2016, I traveled solo through six European countries in eighteen days.
- London, England
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Vienna, Austria
- Budapest, Hungary
- Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Venice, Italy
Admittedly, it was a tight schedule, so I was only able to visit specific places, and mainly kept to cities. It could be argued that I missed out on a lot, and that argument would be entirely true. But this was not meant to be a laid-back relaxing vacation, or a wilderness adventure. I had specific things that I wanted to do and see.
To book accommodations, I used booking.com mainly because it is free to cancel at any time for most listings (I wasn’t using AirBnB then, but I do now).
For my WiFi hot spot, I use KeepGo. It is a great service that works in most countries, and fits right in your pocket. Data can be easily loaded at a reasonable price. With a hot spot, I can set my phone to WiFi calling and not have to deal with expensive rates from my wireless carrier.
My trip itinerary is outlined below. It includes four flights, three Eurail trains, a rental car, and a Go Opti shuttle.
Click HERE to view a PDF of the full itinerary (includes activities that I couldn’t make it to).
- Saatchi Gallery
- Buckingham Palace
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
I had been to London before, so I debated whether I should begin my trip there, or begin in a place where I had never been (I nearly started in Amsterdam). However, I decided on London because there were a few things I wanted to do there, and direct flights are possible from Denver to London.
I still researched flights into other European cities to compare prices, though. After all, once you get into Europe, you can get anywhere else by train in fairly short order. So I always look at where I can fly into the cheapest.
When I arrived at Heathrow, I got a taxi to my hotel. The hotel, called the Prince’s Gardens, is actually student housing at Imperial College. From July through September, when school is not in session, they convert student housing into hotel accommodations. It was a small room, nothing fancy, but the price was incredibly cheap for such a great location—only a short walk to Hyde Park and the palaces.
I spent only two nights in London, and didn’t have time to rest after my flight. I had a packed schedule.
Rolling Stones Exhibit, “Exhibitionism” – Saatchi Gallery
Any time I travel, I always search for events, concerts, and festivals that might be taking place during my visit. I was lucky that the Rolling Stones exhibit happened to be at the Saatchi Gallery at the same time I would be there, so I bought my ticket months in advance.
Although the gallery allowed a large number of visitors to pass through at once, making it cramped and hot during the tour, the exhibit was fantastic. The Rolling Stones had recreated the apartments they had lived in before becoming famous, and there were lots of instruments on display—most with interesting backstories.
I was suffering from jet lag (I had just arrived that morning), but the tour was worth it.
Tour of Buckingham Palace State Rooms
I normally try to stay away from touristy places, and for that reason, I have not been to many of the main tourist attractions in London (Tower of London, etc.), but I made an exception. I’ve always been a big fan of the British Monarchy (the history, not the gossip), so I wanted to see inside Buckingham Palace. The palace is open for tours each summer while The Queen is away on holiday at her Balmoral estate. I was able to take the tour on one of the last weekends before her return.
They offer several different tours, but I opted for the tour of the state rooms only.
I walked from my hotel to the palace, and arrived just as the changing of the guard was wrapping up. I wasn’t sure what was happening at first. I figured it must be the changing of the guard, but it didn’t seem all that impressive to me—at least not impressive enough to draw such a large crowd. I leaned over to ask an elderly British woman who confirmed my suspicions. She then followed up with, “It’s quite the spectacle, don’t you think?” Hmm…Okay.
The state room tour was great. The art alone is worth the tour. At the time, the queen’s dresses were on display. I didn’t have much interest in the dresses, but the tour was designed so that you could skip ahead. If you go, be sure to use the audio guide. There is fascinating history and “secrets” throughout the palace, including a hidden door that The Queen uses to this day.
The tour ended in the “back yard” of the palace. They had erected a café where you could buy pastries or a cold lunch. There is also a gift shop.
A walk through the extensive palace gardens led to the exit.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
My visit to the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.
The theater is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse associated with Shakespeare, and sits along the bank of the River Thames where the original was located. Of course, the theater has been burned and demolished several times since it was originally built in 1599, but it is as close to authentic as you can get.
I bought my ticket to A Midsummer Night’s Dream months in advance. I have been to many plays and musicals over the years, but this production was the most entertaining that I’ve ever seen. It was modern and hilarious. Being set under the clear sky of the open-air theater added the final touch.
I cannot recommend this place enough. If you are ever in London, try to get tickets to a performance. You won’t be disappointed. Just be sure to rent a seat cushion. Comfort was clearly not a priority in the sixteenth century.
Prague, Czech Republic
- Old Town Square
- Prague Castle
- Charles Bridge
- Franz Kafka Museum
Visiting Prague was the only sure thing when I started planning my trip. I wanted to visit my friend, Vojtěch, who I had met in Iceland the year before, so I planned my trip around my visit there.
I decided to fly from London to Prague. There are train options, but I would have spent too much time on the train. The flight turned out to be great for another reason as well. I became friends with the guy sitting across the aisle from me on the plane. We talked through the entire two-hour flight, and we’re still friends to this day.
I checked into an apartment I had rented that was located only a few blocks from the Old Town Square.
I arrived fairly late, so I did most of my walking tour through the city the next day. I fell in love with the place immediately. Prague is a place I will definitely return to. It’s a beautiful city with stunning architecture, and a lot of history.
One thing I found fascinating, is how laid back everyone is in Prague. After lunch, people line up for ice cream. I’ve honestly never witnessed anything like it. Everyone seems to stroll through the streets without a care in the world, ice cream in hand.
My walk through the city took me over the Charles Bridge to the Franz Kafka Museum. Kafka is my favorite author, so this was a must-see. It was a fascinating tour, and I learned a lot about his life.
I then walked through Prague Castle, which is the largest ancient castle in the world, spanning 750,000 square feet (70,000 square meters). It is an amazing place, and would be the first of several castles I would visit during this trip.
Vojtěch joined me the next day, and stayed with me for the next two nights. It was nice that when we walked through the square, he was able to tell me some of the history. We laughed when we came upon the astronomical clock that sits just off the square. There were at least a hundred people standing in front of the clock, eagerly waiting for it to chime. Neither of us understood the fascination (or how to read the clock). I felt compelled to tell him my story about the changing of the guard in London.
On the far side of the square are a series of twenty-seven white crosses painted on the paving stones. The crosses represent twenty-seven nobles who were executed in 1621 as a result of Hapsburg’s holy war. The executions took four hours to complete. Twenty-four nobles were beheaded, and three were hanged. The heads of eleven of the nobles were placed in baskets and hung on towers at each end of the Charles Bridge. The heads remained on the bridge for twenty years before being taken down and buried. There are also windows where people were thrown to their deaths. These types of executions took place during Prague’s four defenestrations. The whole things was quite brutal—talk about sending a message to your enemies!
The next day, Vojtěch invited his friend, Anča, to join us. The three of us walked around the city that night, and stumbled upon a midnight party at the top of Stalin Hill. What a blast that was!
- Vienna State Opera House
- Mozart House
Vienna is a beautiful city. It’s impeccably clean and the architecture and statues are stunning. Although it was worth visiting Vienna, I had not found many specific things I wanted to do there when I was researching my trip. But since I was going to Budapest anyway, Vienna seemed like a logical stop, so I stayed two nights.
I researched Vienna and decided on two things I would do during my stay—visit the opera and tour Mozart’s home.
I am not an opera kind-of-guy, but it seemed like I should go to the opera at least once in my life. I also thought that, if I’m going to the opera, it should be a world famous opera, performed in a world famous opera house. So I bought a ticket to see Carmen at the Weiner Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera House).
It was quite the show and the opera house itself is remarkable. If it turns out to be my only opera, at least I did it in style.
The tour of Mozart’s home was interesting, but there wasn’t anything special about the tour. Overall I liked it, and I’m glad I went. I learned quite a bit about the musical genius.
- Buda Castle
- Rudas Baths
- Chain Bridge
I took the train to Budapest where I would spend three nights. I probably could have spent two nights here, but by the time I arrived in Budapest, I was a bit worn anyway. I used a full day to rest. My apartment overlooked a small square with bars and restaurants where I could sit and people watch. It was nice to relax on the first day.
On my second day, I walked through the city and over the Chain Bridge, then made the climb up to Buda Castle. Budapest is a beautiful city and I spent a full day and a half walking through parks and admiring statues.
My muscles were thoroughly aching on the last day, so I went to the one place in Budapest that I had been looking forward to the most—the Rudas Baths.
The Rudas Baths were built in 1550 during a time when the Ottomans ruled. It is in the style of a Turkish bath and has six soaking tubs and a main pool. A massive dome covers the main room, with brightly colored light beaming through holes in the dome. Saunas and steam rooms are located just off the main pool room.
There are different days you can go. Tuesday is ladies day, and all other days are men’s days. Weekends are both male and female (swimsuits required). I went on a men’s day. I prefer to be nude when I visit baths and saunas, and although the Rudas baths are not entirely nude, they’re pretty close. I was given a white cloth bib (the best way to describe it), which would be tied around my waist with the bib covering my front.
As I expected, the water at the baths was amazing. The pools around the outer edges of the room are at different temperatures, so you can choose which one is best for you. It’s unusual for me to find a hot pool that is too hot for me, but they had one I couldn’t stay in for more than a few minutes. The whole experience was great and I spent most of the day there.
- Ljubljana Castle
- Puppet Museum
- Lake Bled
- Lake Bohinj
- Salvador Dali Exhibit
My family is from Slovenia, so my visit there was special for me. On my father’s side, I am only the third generation of Bregars in the United States. My paternal great-grandparents both emigrated to the U.S. from Krka, Slovenia, a tiny village one hour outside of Ljubljana. Although my great-grandfather died before I was born, I was lucky enough to know my great-grandmother. She did not speak English very well (at least to my child ears), but she was a sweet woman. I was looking forward to visiting their village.
I spent four nights in Slovenia.
My first full day in Ljubljana was spent walking the city and visiting Ljubljana Castle. The city center district is picturesque and offers great shopping and cafes. The Ljubljanica River runs through the city center, and boats offer tours along the river. I spent most of my free time sitting and eating in the city center. Little birds will join you for lunch if you sit long enough. Seriously.
The castle sits on a hill overlooking the city. It’s immaculate, and easily the cleanest and most well-groomed castle I had visited so far. For a reasonable fee, you are granted entrance and an audio guide. The history behind the castle is interesting, and there is a puppet museum on-site, which is really cool.
Growing on the castle grounds is a grapevine which was grafted from the oldest vine in the world (said to be more than 500 years old). The graft was gifted to Ljubljana by the city of Maribor, and grows next to the outside dungeons.
Climbing the castle tower will give you a view of the entire city.
I had rented a car for my stay in Slovenia, so the next day I drove to Lake Bled. I live high in the Rocky Mountains, and there are sixteen beautiful lakes in my neighborhood, but Lake Bled was even more stunning.
The lake is surrounded by the Julian Alps, and has emerald-green water. There is a church that sits on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. Its tall steeple pokes out over pine trees. On a cliff overlooking the lake, there is a 16th century castle. The view is amazing.
I walked along the path around the lake, and came upon a Salvador Dali exhibit. To my surprise, the place was empty. I paid a very small fee to enter, and found that I was the only one there (at least for a while). The collection of Dali paintings and sketches was extensive and I spent about an hour going through it. I’m still not sure why there weren’t more people.
After I left Lake Bled, I drove to Lake Bohinj. This is where the locals go. It’s another beautiful lake, but with far fewer people. I drove around the lake and walked a bit on the shore before it started to rain. Regardless of my short time there, the drive to and from the lake was very scenic—any drive through Slovenia is a good drive.
On my final day in Slovenia, I finally visited the village of Krka where my great-grandparents had lived.
When I first drove into the village, I parked at the local church so I could plan my next move. The church sat on a hill overlooking the village, and was surrounded by a cemetery. Since I was in no rush, I decided to walk through the cemetery and see if I had relatives there. I wasn’t disappointed. There were lots of Bregars buried in the little cemetery and I’m sure I am related to all of them in one way or another.
After I left the cemetery, I made my way to the supermarket to inquire about my relatives. My family had owned a flour mill which sat on the bank of the Krka River and I needed directions. Little did I know, I had passed right by the mill. The woman working at the supermarket didn’t speak English, but a very nice gentleman who sat outside the store was happy to help. His name was Brudi.
I was a little embarrassed to find out that we were standing right next to the mill. It was no longer owned by my family, but my new friend, Brudi, knew the guy who owned the mill and agreed to show me around. It was amazing to see my family history in such a personal way.
Just after arriving back in Ljubljana, I received a message from a distant cousin, Jan, who offered to show me the house where my great-grandfather had been born. He told me that his father and grandfather had been born in the same house. Unfortunately, I had to turn down his offer since I was leaving the next morning, but I plan to return to Slovenia and will definitely return to Krka. I will also visit some of the many caves around the country.
- Mark’s Square
- Rialto Bridge
I decided to add Venice to my trip, in large part, due to its proximity to Slovenia. However, there are no good train options from Ljubljana to Venice, so my train ride would take me back up through Austria and then down to Italy. It would be about six hours by train. Luckily, I had stopped in a comic book store in Ljubljana (of course my inner-nerd always travels with me), and the woman who worked there told me about a shuttle service called Go Opti.
This ended up saving me a ton of travel time. Go Opti shuttles people from airports and from one city to another, and their prices are reasonable. I was able to travel by shared shuttle to Venice for about 35 Euros. I will definitely be using them again.
The shuttle dropped me at Piazzale Roma, right at the edge of the city, and then the madness began.
Venice is a beautiful city, but it is full to the brim with people, and it seemed all of those people wanted to pose for photographs in front of a statue, or some bridge or other. Navigating through the small alleyways of the city was unbelievably difficult. Add to that, GPS was worthless when walking through Venice. The streets (alleyways) are too narrow and close together for GPS to pinpoint a good location.
I wandered around Venice for hours with my luggage, looking for my hotel. I was thoroughly lost. I eventually found the hotel down a dark alley. The alley was practically hidden, with a width of only about three feet. I’m still not sure how I found the place. It turned out to be a very old building (they gave me a skeleton key for my door), but it was a large room, and clean, so I had no complaints.
After I was settled in, I headed out into the wild once again. Without the burden of my luggage, I was able to navigate through the narrow streets easier, but there was still an uncomfortable number of people, so I opted to take a water taxi up the Grand Canal. I found this to be a much better way to see Venice during the day. You can’t see much while you are walking through the streets anyway since you’re surrounded by walls.
I found my favorite time in Venice to be late at night. I’ve always enjoyed walking through a city after most people have gone to bed. Late at night is when you can really get the feel of the city. You can see things that you will miss in the daytime when there are thousands of people to contend with. Venice is amazing at night when the passageways are free of people, and St. Mark’s Square has only a small number of like-minded tourists. I highly recommend seeing Venice in this way. It’s amazing.
On my last full day in Venice I went to the beach. Although it was late September, it was still quite warm. I took a water taxi to the island of Lido, and made my way to the beach. There was hardly anyone around at this end of the beach and I noticed that the few people who were there, were nude. Most were couples, but there were also a few single people. I’m a bit of a naturist, so I stripped down and made myself comfortable. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if it was actually a nude beach, but it was by the time I left.
Overall, I’m glad I added Venice to my trip, but I personally would not return there while traveling solo. I think this is a city much better suited for couples or small groups. But that’s just my opinion.
In the End
Almost everything about this trip turned out perfectly, and there are few things I would change. I might have stayed longer in Prague and Slovenia, and I might have stayed one less day in Budapest, but overall I think I planned it pretty well.
I made a few new friends and experienced a few more cultures. I went back to the motherland and walked on the same paths as my ancestors. I crossed a few things off my bucket list and added a few more.
Note: This trip was taken in September, 2016 and this post was written in 2018, mostly by memory and reference to travel documents/itinerary. If I’ve made errors regarding locations or names, please let me know and I’ll make corrections.
** The full itinerary does not necessarily reflect how my trip unfolded. I made adjustments on the road.