Affordable Europe: Take Your Vacation of a Lifetime This Summer

Ride a gondola in Venice. Visit the Acropolis in Athens and soak up the sun on Santorini. Savor tapas and paella in Madrid. Stop dreaming and start packing!

by NEA Member Benefits

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Rich in history, art and architecture, southern Europe showcases diverse cultures, languages and cuisines. A visit here can take you from ancient cities to rolling vineyards and sun-splashed Mediterranean beaches.

But despite all its treasures, Europe doesn’t need to be expensive. With Trafalgar’s CostSaver guided trips, you could experience Italy, Greece or Spain during your summer vacation this year.

Savor the essence of Italy

Your 9-day Italian Dream vacation begins and ends in the ancient city of Rome, the place to which “all roads lead,” of course. Fortunately roads also lead from Rome to locations such as timeless Venice, Renaissance Florence and magical Assisi. There’s plenty for all interests—historical, artistic, romantic or gastronomical.

Along these roads you will be able to:

  • Visit St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s Pietà in Vatican City
  • Observe a traditional Venetian glass-blowing demonstration
  • Travel through scenic Umbria and Tuscany with their olive groves and vineyards
  • Stand below Juliet’s balcony in Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s classic drama Romeo and Juliet
  • See Michelangelo’s David in Florence

More than two-and-a-half millennia of history make Rome a can’t-miss destination with dozens of fantastic sights. With your Travel Director, you will view the highlights, including the Forum, the Colosseum and Vatican City, a sovereign state contained within the city of Rome. You may choose an Optional Experience to visit magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica, completed in 1615. Its interior is large enough to house the space shuttle and the Statue of Liberty.

Known for romantic canals and gondola rides, Venice is also famous for its colorful blown glass. You’ll cruise on a private boat and visit a Murano glass factory on the island of Giudecca.

The capital of Tuscany, Florence is renowned for fashion houses, such as Pucci and Ferragamo; gold jewelry; and fine leather goods—from jackets and purses to gloves. Leather bookmarks are handy gifts to tuck in your suitcase. Their incomparable leather journals are perfect to record your impressions of the trip, including viewing Michelangelo’s 14-foot-tall marble statue, David. Unveiled in 1504, David now stands in the Galleria dell’Accademia.

On your walking tour of Florence, considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, you’ll see the Baptistery, the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, dominated by a magnificent replica of David outside the Palazzo Vecchio. Spanning the Arno River, the medieval Ponte Vecchio is distinctive for its three segmented arches and the shops that line the bridge. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus stands out among the many Renaissance masterpieces in the Uffizi Gallery.

The patron saint of Italy, St. Francis of Assisi was born in the Umbrian medieval city of Assisi. Although Francis embraced poverty and founded the Franciscan Order, the 14th-century Basilica of San Francesco is filled with spectacular works of art, including frescoes by Giotto. Your visit to St. Francis’s birthplace will include beautiful churches, castles and ancient Roman buildings such as the Temple of Minerva.

Lesson-plan destinations:

  • More of ancient Rome’s art and history can be seen in the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, with its famous frescoes painted by Michelangelo.
  • The Colosseum in Rome, finished in the 1st century B.C., is the largest and most famous amphitheater in the Roman world, with seating for 50,000 in the days of the gladiators.

From mythology to modern times in Greece

Step into the past on your 11-day Greek Island Explorer vacation, which will take you from the hilltop Acropolis in Athens to the jewelry shops of Santorini, and from the archaeological remains on the small island of Delos to the rocking nightclubs of Mykonos.

On your journey through Greek history, you’ll be able to:

  • View Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus
  • Wander the narrow cobblestone streets of Santorini
  • Photograph iconic white-washed buildings with vibrant blue doors and shutters
  • Marvel at sunsets over the caldera atop a cliff on Santorini
  • Taste the vibrant nightlife on Mykonos
  • Savor Greek specialties in friendly tavernas
  • Splash in the Aegean Sea

Your vacation begins in Athens, the cradle of Western civilization. Here, more than 3,000 years of recorded history come to life at the Acropolis, where the ancient buildings include the Parthenon, built in the 5th century B.C., and dedicated to the goddess Athena. Your expert Trafalgar travel director will show you sights, including Hadrian's Arch, completed in 131 A.D., which once separated the old and new cities of Athens, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, once the largest temple in Greece with 104 Corinthian columns, of which just 15 stand today.

While in Athens, use your free time to sample Greek specialties along with a glass of retsina at a sidewalk cafe in the Plaka, hunt for bargains at the flea market in Monastiraki or seek out the shade and lush greenery of the National Gardens near Syntagma Square.

A ferry ride away is lively and popular Mykonos. A jet-setter magnet, this windswept little island sports iconic windmills overlooking the harbor, excellent beaches and exciting nightlife. Explore the town’s narrow, winding streets, then refresh with a dip in the Aegean Sea.

If you’ve ever gazed longingly at photographs of the Greek Islands, you were probably looking at images of Santorini. While most islands in the Cyclades feature white-washed buildings with splashes of color, the blue-domed structures perched on the cliffs of Santorini are some of the most picturesque. The island—actually a group of islands—is crescent-shaped, curved around a giant caldera formed by a still-active volcano.

The island’s picturesque capital is Firá, perched high atop the cliff. Here, you’ll find many wonderful places to shop for souvenirs as well as gold and silver jewelry (look for pieces with the classic Greek key design). Time your visit to Firá—or to Oia, at the northern end of the island—so you finish your day at one of the many restaurants known for their stunning views. That way you can watch the sun set over the caldera while you sip a glass of Santorini wine and perhaps dine on the local fava bean soup.

Lesson-plan destinations:

  • From Mykonos, consider taking an optional day trip to the little island of Delos (overnight stays are forbidden), the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis in Greek mythology. The remains of ancient residences on this World Heritage site reveal intricate mosaic floors and a remarkably advanced sewer system.
  • Your Trafalgar travel director will provide unique insights into Greece’s history. For even more, consider visiting the Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009, and the National Archaeological Museum in your free time.

Seduced by Spain

Spain is a country of distinctive regions, and you’ll visit four of them on your 10-day Spanish Experience vacation. As you travel from the capital city of Madrid in Castilla through the regions of Andalucia and Valencia to Barcelona in Catalonia, you may feel you’ve experienced four countries in one.

Plus, you can:

  • Admire the work of Spanish Masters at The Prado during your free time in Madrid
  • Tour Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família
  • View the 14th-century castle and seaport at Peñíscola, once home to the “Spanish Pope”
  • Watch steelworkers in the medieval city of Toledo, famous for sword making since 400 B.C.
  • Consider touring the Alhambra in Granada during your free time
  • See the Gothic-style Towers of Serrano and Cuarte in Valencia
  • Taste tapas at sidewalk cafes and enjoy Catalan cuisine in Barcelona while exploring on your own

Your adventure begins in Spain’s largest city, Madrid, where your Trafalgar travel director will show you sites, including the lively main square of Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and the Cibeles Fountain. You’ll have free time to pursue your own interests, such as visiting Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art, Museo Reina Sofía, which holds collections by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, including his Guernica.

Next, you’ll travel through Seville, where you’ll see the Seville Cathedral, the burial site of Christopher Columbus. Farther east, Granada is home to the Alhambra, which dates back to the 9th century and is Spain’s most significant example of Islamic architecture.

You’ll spend a night in the busy port town of Valencia, the country’s third-largest city, known for its oranges and as the birthplace of Spain’s beloved paella.

Your final stop is cosmopolitan Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, where many residents speak the regional language of Catalan rather than the Spanish you may have heard earlier on your trip. Montjuïc offers a spectacular view of the city and was the site of the 1992 Olympic Games. Here too are the National Palace, Magic Fountain, Mies van der Rohe Pavilion and Joan Miro Foundation. Wander the crowded 2-mile avenue that is Las Ramblas, duck into the bustling La Boqueria food market or snag a sidewalk table for tapas and sangria during your time at leisure.

Lesson-plan destination:

  • Architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) may be best known for La Sagrada Família, the cathedral he began in 1914 and is still under construction today, but his work can be seen all over Barcelona. If you’d like to advance your knowledge of Gaudi, during your free time consider visiting Casa Milà “La Pedrera,” Casa Batlló and the whimsical Park Güell.

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