8 Typical European Activities You Must Try on Vacation
These days it’s easy to see Europe as a single destination. This is especially true given just how simple it is to hop across the continent by rail. Chances are, you won’t even encounter a grumpy border guard to indicate you’re in a different country. But spend time in any European country and you’ll see that each is fiercely independent and packed full of unique traditions, many of which date back a long time. These aren’t bucket list items – these are everyday typical European activities that you can enjoy on your travels.
Sweat it out in a sauna – Finland
Finns take their saunas very seriously. So seriously that there are an estimated three million located throughout the country. This means that there’s at least one per household. Ask any local about the concept of sweating it out in a small wooden room, and you’ll be regaled with hours of sauna-related tales. They’re an integral and traditional part of Finnish life, but are also an enjoyable activity for first-time visitors to the country.
Good to know: Most Finns prefer to spend time in their own saunas, but there are public saunas located throughout the country. Rauhalahti is one of the largest and most popular.
Go for a cycle– Netherlands
The Netherlands’ flat topography has made cycling the ideal way to get around. There’s simply no cleaner, faster, and more enjoyable way to spend a morning in the Netherlands. So serious is the bike riding in these parts that cyclists tend to have right of way over pedestrians and cars. Don’t let this intimidate you, though. Watch the flow of traffic (car, bicycle and pedestrian), be respectful, and focus more on the cycling than the scenery!
Good to know: You can rent bicycles at dozens of stores throughout most major cities – don’t be afraid to haggle on prices. Get a good lock, and make sure you remember where you left your bike. If in doubt, take a photo with GPS enabled on your smartphone so you can make your way back.
Be a flâneur – France
The French noun flâneur means a man who saunters around observing society. It’s an age-old tradition that you can still observe – and practice – in most French cities. There’s a fine art to the flâneur that locals and intellectuals will debate furiously. There are even books on the subject. But as an outsider, simply by walking and observing your surrounds, without any particular objective or purpose, you can consider yourself a participant.
Good to know: There are few better places to practice the art of the flâneur than Paris. Wander off the main streets and get lost on the quieter back roads of the capital.
Go skinny dipping – Sweden
If you’ve been to Sweden in the winter, you’ll think this activity to be a total myth. But head to the Scandinavian country in mid-summer, and you may just be tempted to participate in an early morning dip. It’s particularly popular in the capital Stockholm, where a post-nightclub skinny dip is perfectly acceptable.
Good to know: The small jetties of Norr Mälarstrand on Kungsholmen are perfect for a safe and private skinny dip.
Lose yourself in Flamenco – Spain
Flamenco may have moved from traditional activity to “must-see” attraction, but it’s still an integral aspect of Andalusian culture. It’s a fun and engaging activity to sit back and watch, particularly with a glass or two of local wine. But if you’re truly committed to immersing yourself in the culture of the famous dance, some venues do away with the theatre and allow you to participate.
Good to know: If you want to get involved, look for venues that encourage audience participation – they’re usually bigger spaces that focus on the dancing, rather than food, tables and bars.
Take a trip to the opera – Austria
The Vienna State Opera is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. In spite of its global fame and popularity amongst tourists, locals still make regular trips for shows. You’ll find opera houses throughout the country, and many cities hold annual festivals. Whether you’re into the musical style or not, a trip to a lavish opera house is always worth a visit – if only for the architecture, grandeur and unbeatable people-watching potential.
Good to know: You can often get cheap opera tickets either long in advance, or a few hours before the performance. If you’re happy to stand, you can almost always scoop a good last-minute deal.
Jump into a thermal bath – Hungary
Mention to young Hungarians that you’re off to the baths and they’ll like struggle to conceal their amusement. But you can walk away comfortable in the knowledge that they’re the ones missing out. These hot waters bubbling up beneath the capital were an integral part of Hungarian culture for many years, and they still offer the ultimate relaxation after a day of sightseeing.
Good to know: Some thermal baths are more traditional than others. For a true cultural experience, head to Széchenyi Bath. The architecture is stunning, and it’s not uncommon to find a few chess-playing octogenerians soaking in the water.
Enjoy a leisurely afternoon tea – London
The tradition of afternoon tea in the United Kingdom dates back to the early 1800s. It may have started in the bedroom of the Dutchess of Bedford, but today it’s practiced in kitchens, lounges and dining rooms throughout the country. These days dozens of restaurants and hotels are also in on the concept. In the capital London, you can easily pick up a fancy traditional tea to tide you over until dinner.
Good to know: Though far from an affordable daily treat, an afternoon tea at the Ritz is possibly the most traditional – and lavish – in the country.
Most European countries have their own traditional activities. Whether you find yourself in a small village or large city, there’s no better way to appreciate local customs and traditions than by seeking these out on your next Eurail journey.
Want to know more about European life? Check out these posts:
- 7 National Holidays in Europe To Experience
- 5 Crazy Christmas Traditions For You To Enjoy In Europe
- 17 National Liquors You Can Try In Europe