Typically when we, as US citizens, travel to Europe, it’s for a short amount of time. We pick the main capitals like London or Paris and spend most of our time exploring places and things to do within the city centers. However, my travels have taught me that you do not fully understand a country or a culture until you venture down the path less traveled. I say “less traveled” loosely, as plenty of other travelers have the same mindset as I do.
With that said, these five cities are my favorite day trips from major European capitals that you should consider exploring!
1. Orvieto, Italy: Day trip from Rome
Orvieto was a city I stumbled upon as I was playing around on google maps searching for smaller cities within a 2-hour train distance from Rome. I had never once heard of it, and I’m sure many of you haven’t either.
When my mom and I traveled there in November 2021, we practically had the ancient city to ourselves. Walking down empty cobblestone streets, staring at churches that were centuries old, and seeing elderly Italians sitting at their local cafes sipping their espresso….THIS was the real Italy, not easily observed in a place like Rome.
Orvieto was a 1:30 hr train trip from Rome’s main train station- Termini, and cost around €22 per person round trip. Once you arrive, you must walk across the street and grab a €3 cable car to take you up to the historic city center situated on top of an ancient volcanic stone.
Orvieto has some of the best views of the Umbrian hills, along with a unique history and incredibly scenic streets. Its main sights can easily be done in a day and the city is far less crowded than Rome, Florence, or Venice.
My must-do’s include:
- Duomo di Orvieto (the main cathedral)
- Tour Orvieto Underground – the tour office is located in the Piazza del Duomo
- See St. Patrick’s Well
- Climb the Torre del Moro to see 360 views of the city
- Walk along the edge of the city and venture into the Medieval Quarter for the best photos
- Sample traditional Umbrian dishes in a small trattoria- our favorite spot was Trattoria del Moro Aronne
2. Salzburg, Austria: Day trip from Munich or Vienna
Many people venture to Salzburg for a few days, but I argue that you can see the main sights in a day from Munich or Vienna if you’re willing to be on the go.
It is one of the most naturally beautiful cities I’ve been to in Europe, with bright blue rivers and incredible views of the Alps surrounding the city. The food and atmosphere were that of a small town, and I never felt as if I was in a crowd. It certainly had a Bavarian feel to it and reminded me of a lot of small German towns.
We even took a mini-day trip to Berchtesgaden, Germany in the Bavarian Alps during our day trip to Salzburg. In Berchtesgaden, we went to a famous salt mine and had some free time to explore the town too.
My must-do’s for Salzburg include:
- Visit Mozartplatz
- Buy a lock, write the names of you and your partner or a friend, and attach it to the Love Lock Bridge
- Experience a traditional Bavarian meal and beer garden at Augustiner Brewery
- Explore Old Town
- Walk around the Wasserspiele Hellbrunn park and gardens
- Go to the Fortress Hohensalzburg, an 11th-century castle with incredible views of the city
- Take a Mozart or Sound of Music tour
- Take a mini-day trip to Berchtesgaden
3. Toledo, Spain: Day trip from Madrid
Toledo is my favorite Spanish city. Hands down. Once again, located on top of a hill, it has incredible views of the Spanish countryside and river surrounding the city. It is only a 30-minute train ride from Madrid Atocha, and a round-trip ticket will cost you around €25.
I visited the city in the spring of 2018, and although there were a ton of tourists, there were still times when I found myself completely alone wandering down the cobblestone streets. The city has a lot of little quirks, one being the fact that throughout the city there are secret sweets locations where you can buy cookies and other sweets made by cloister nuns. The nuns can’t have contact with the public, so you’ll either find a small door or hole in the wall, slide your money through, and out pops cookies! To this day, I don’t think I’ve found better cookies.
As Spain’s former capital, the city is rich in history and has its own traditions. The city is big in size, but it is completely walkable if you’re in good physical health. It does have hills to climb up at times, but I don’t think you’ll get the full feel of the city if you don’t walk around it.
My Must-Do’s for Toledo include:
- Taking a free walking tour to learn the city’s history
- Buying a package of the famous “nun cookies” to eat while you wander around the historic city
- Going into the Toledo Cathedral
- Visit El Alcazar, one of the best spots in the city to see a bird’s eye view. It is now a military museum that is quite interesting!
- Visit Plaza Zocodover, one of the main squares in Toledo
- Visit the Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes
- Snap some photos of the Puente de Alcantata, the first bridge you’ll see exiting the train station
- Snap photos of Puente de San Martin, another picturesque bridge in the city!
4. Galway & the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland: Day trip from Dublin
Everyone who has ventured to Dublin has asked me the same question: “Is going to the Cliffs of Moher worth it??”. My answer will always be 100% YES.
This is one of the easiest, and most common day trips from Dublin. Full-day tours with round-trip transportation typically run for €70-90 depending on the company, and it is well worth it. To start, the approximately 2-hour bus ride across the Irish countryside is a great way to see the country outside of Dublin. The Cliffs are incredibly breathtaking, especially when you catch them on a nice sunny day. On top of that, most tours will do a 2+ hour stop in Galway, where you can explore the quaint little city in Western Ireland. It is a great place to get some traditional Irish souvenirs like a Claddagh ring or a wool sweater. The city also has great food, constant live music playing in the streets, and very happy people!
However, as many of you know, Ireland is a very rainy place. With that in mind, there is a chance you could go to the cliffs and have them covered in fog, or just simply wet. Overall though, it’s worth the risk!
My Must-Do’s for this day trip include:
- Shopping in Galway’s city center
- Grabbing ice cream from Murphy’s in Galway
- Stopping to listen to the live music on the street
- Having a Guinness at a pub in Galway
- Checking out the cows grazing by the Cliffs of Moher
- Go to O’Brien’s Tower at the Cliffs of Moher
5. Assisi, Italy: Day trip from Rome or Perugia
I discovered Assisi the same way I discovered Orvieto, by browsing Google Maps and through Google searches. I had heard of St. Francis of Assisi but never stopped to think about where Assisi actually was located in Italy. It’s a great day trip if you’re staying in larger cities like Perugia or Rome. Our round-trip ticket from Rome was around €27 per person and the train ride was a little under 2 hours one way on the regional train.
Like Orvieto, it’s another ancient city perched on top of a gigantic hill. When you roll into the train station, there are two choices of transportation up the small mountain if you decide not to walk (definitely don’t walk!): a taxi stand and a bus stop. We chose the faster route, the taxi, which cost around €15 one way, but was worth every penny.
Assisi is arguably the most beautiful place in Italy that I’ve been to. It is incredibly picturesque on every single corner. The views of the rolling Umbrian hills, the quiet streets, and the beautiful buildings make you feel truly immersed in Italy in the least-touristy way possible. We traveled there in November 2021, and the city was not back to its pre-COVID tourism levels, so we truly got the city to ourselves.
My must-do’s for this incredible city include:
- Visit St. Francis Basilica, the most photographed and famous church in the city
- Visit the Piazza del Commune
- Wander down the quiet streets from one end of the town to the other
- Stop in all of the incredible shops, my favorite olive tree cheese board is from a small shop here!
- Do a wine tasting
- Visit the Cathedral of San Rufino
- Stay until sun down and watch the sun set over the Umbrian hills