It’s great to tick off bucket list items that you’ve always dreamed of, but moments you never saw coming are struck differently when you travel abroad. It’s easy to get lost in everyone else’s chiseled torso of Michelangelo’s David, but it’s the secluded cafes, sunset barbecue dinners with new friends and big-hearted hostel hosts you’ll remember forever. Here’s my list of hidden gems from my Roamies Ultimate Europe: Berlin, Tuscany and the Greek Temples tour and how to find some of your own:
1: Follow Florence’s first Sunday of the month rule
In order for everyone to see the city’s greatest treasures without cost, many of the popular museums and attractions are free in Florence on the first Sunday of the month. Our timing was lucky as we had a free day to explore on the first Sunday in July. Even better, our amazing hostel, Florence PLUS, was only a ten minute walk from La Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. I expected a long wait, but we got in after only five minutes in line.
Later we went to one of my favorite places in the city, Giardino Bardini, a renaissance garden in the Oltrarno with the best view of the city and a really nice cafe at the top. The price to enter the garden is typically around 10 EUR, but thanks to the ‘first Sunday of the month’ rule, we got in for free. Under the same deal, you can also visit the nearby Boboli Gardens, but it is more popular with tourists, so it can be busier.
2: Admire the Venice skyline from the rooftops of Giudecca
You could argue that every spot in Venice has a great view, but what if you’re in the mood for a cityscape? Hop a ferry to the Hilton Molino Stucky along the Giudecca Canal and head up to their Skyline Rooftop Bar. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel and you can grab a drink for a sparkling panorama of Venice at night.
3: Settle in Kotor and a fortified grill
Kotor, Montenegro was one of my favorite stops, mainly because I had no idea how extraordinary it was and felt blown away by the old town, pristine beaches and incredible sunsets. Old Town Kotor Hostel was also one of the most enjoyable stays of my trip. On our second night, the hostel arranged a bus to an old Austro-Hungarian fortress called Fort Gorazda. There we saw an incredible view as the sun set over Kotor and tucked into a delicious barbecue dinner made by the hostel staff. It was an easy way to start a conversation with other people who lived there and it was so much fun.
4: Sit back on your spacious Corfu sun deck
On an adventure this long and packed, I welcomed each stop with chill time on the itinerary. Our group pulled up to Sunrock Corfu Hostel near the end of our tour before heading towards Meteora, Delphi and Athens. We arrived late afternoon from Albania just in time for a stunning sunset. Sunrock is wonderfully unique and can best be described as a hostel resort. It is a family run business and the food they grow on their farm is turned into delicious Greek dishes, they even make their own feta and wine. We shared some of the best meals of the trip on their huge sun deck as the sun set over Peleka beach. It was an extraordinary place to swim at night – we even saw luminescent plankton glowing in the moonlight!
5: Try the tastiest gelato outside of Florence, Italy
Naturally, you’ll find the best gelato in its birthplace of Florence, but I had a few connoisseurs on the trip determined to find the best in each destination. Thanks to their in-depth gelateria research, we narrowed it down to two in Kotor, Montenegro. The winners were Marshall’s Gelato and, my favorite, Solo Gelato – try the orange peel, white chocolate and chocolate chip!
6: Feel like family at Hostel Greco in Meteora, Greece
Dora Papa, the owner of Hostel Greco is a true gem. An extraordinary host, she had a delicious lunch waiting for us with stuffed peppers, fresh tomatoes from her garden, homemade cheese and ice cream. It really felt like home. Dora went above and beyond and spent six hours the night before we left making spanakopita (spinach pie) for us. As one of them G for good moments on our trip, part of the money she earns from feeding hungry backpackers is donated to charities she works with in Tanzania.
7: Choose an exciting Blue Lagoon tour in Split, Croatia
One of the sweetest parts of a Roamies luck is that you have full days off to do your own thing. A couple of us organized a speedboat tour in Split called the Blue Lagoon and 3 Islands Tour. We had a great day exploring Trogir’s old town before heading to two separate swimming spots with crystal clear water; Blue Lagoon and Maslinica.
8: Tour through Roman history with your taste buds
Even if you have explored this dynamic city before, it is Food tour in Rome included on this stop gives you a whole new perspective on its history. Thanks to our archaeologist and historian, Chiara, we learned so many interesting things that you would normally miss. Our first stop? A bar dating back to 1878, referred to as the ‘Switzerland of Rome’, Antico Bar Pasticceria Mariani. When you walk through its doors, you are technically no longer in the city, as it has its own laws and regulations separate from Rome. After a foiled assassination attempt, Pope Sixtus ensured that the bar remained under the name of his savior and granted the bar complete autonomy in perpetuity. The combination of great stories and tasty Italian delicacies made the time very well spent!
9: Ride the doorless elevators at Prague City Hall
It might sound a little strange, but I think our experience in Prague encapsulates what is unexpectedly lovely about a Roamies trip in general. Our Chief Experience Officer, Federica Ostoni from Italy, loves Prague and her knowledge of the more quirky parts of the city really made it for us. I loved seeing the art installation at the Prague Municipal Library, a large cylinder made of books with a surprise inside. Strategically placed mirrors make it look like the stack is ever climbing upwards through the entire building!
On the other side of the square we dropped into Prague’s Town Hall to ride the Paternoster lift. This silent servant for people does not stop or slow down and we had a lot of fun jumping on and off different floors. It’s the kind of atypical touristy thing built in Roamies experiences that you would miss if you didn’t have someone with insider knowledge of the city to point them out.
On the way
Eager to find your own hidden gems and stay at some of the best hostels ever like Claire on her Ultimate Europe: Berlin, Tuscany and Greek Temples trip? Our Roamies by Hostelworld & G Adventures tours are just the ticket. And the price (especially for younger travelers on a budget) is just right too!