By Jessica Fick

In June, I had the pleasure of spending two full weeks traveling around Europe.  I spent 4 days in Paris, France, 2 days in Lyon, France, 2 days in Geneva, Switzerland, and 5 days in and around Barcelona, Spain! It was a whirlwind.  Here’s what I learned. 

Paris tips:

1. Walk around and enjoy the scenery! There is so much green space and beautiful things to see.  My favorites were the Louvre, the Jardin de Tuileries and the Palais du Luxembourg! 

The Louvre


Palais du Luxembourg

2. See Paris from above (but not from the top of the Eiffel Tower).  Why go all the way up for a view that doesn’t include the Eiffel Tower? We climbed up the Arc de Triomphe for beautiful 360 degree views of Paris. 

The Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

3. If you want to go up into the towers at Notre Dame, make sure you get in the right line (and show up 45 minutes before it opens).  If you are looking at the front of the cathedral, the line is along the road on the left-hand side (or the north side) of the cathedral.  Otherwise, the line could take hours.  We got into the wrong line, and by the time we figured out our mistake, the line was too long to be worth waiting.  

Notre Dame Cathedral

4. Take the metro! It is super easy and cheap (if you buy a carnet of 10 tickets, it’s about 2 Euro/ride). Sadly I had already hurt my foot before the trip and walked a little too much.  I ended up in the hospital in Paris with a broken foot. Luckily for me – socialized medicine.  I saw a doctor, got an X-ray, a walking boot, and prescription pain medicine, all for less than my ER co-pay in the US.

5. Don’t believe the stereotypes about Parisians!  Some of the offending stereotypes are as follows:

  • Parisians are always very well dressed (they are not – most of the women were wearing jeans and Ts!).  
  • Parisian men don’t wear shorts (this is somewhat true but only because the weather is typically dismal. The one day that we were there when it was warm enough for shorts, lots of Parisian men – and women – were wearing shorts).  
  • Parisians are all very skinny (They aren’t! Parisians come in all shapes and sizes).
  • Everyone is skinny because the portion sizes are smaller (The portion sizes aren’t smaller! When you go to a French restaurant, not only are portion sizes about the same as the US, in addition to an entree, it is customary to order an appetizer or a dessert, if not both, in addition to wine).  

Lyon, France tips:

6. Try the wine in Cote Du Rhone!

Pierre Gaillard Winery near Lyon, France

We went on a wine tour with Lyon Oenotourisme. The tour guide is a winemaker, who grew up in the Cote Du Rhone area.  He took us to three of his favorite wineries, most of which were off the beaten path and owned by families he knew or places he worked when he was in his teens.  The wine was excellent – dry reds and whites! 

7. Eat!  Lyon is known for being the gastronomic capital of France.  My favorite restaurant was Le Sud, part of a restaurant group formerly run by a michelin star chef, who wanted to democratize food.

Geneva, Switzerland tips:

8. Climb up into the towers of St. Pierre Cathedral for breathtaking views of the city, lake geneva, and the Jet D’eau.  

Geneva from the St. Pierre Cathedral Tower

9. Rent Bikes to ride along the banks of Lake Geneva, with it’s crystal clear waters! It’s also an easy way to get around the city! 

Lake Geneva

10. Do all of your shopping before Sunday!  Everything, and I mean everything including your corner supermarket, is closed on Sundays.  You can still find plenty of things to do outdoors on a Sunday, but don’t expect to be buying our souvenir swiss army knives, watches, or chocolate on that day.  

Barcelona, Spain Tips:

11. Beaches in Barcelona are manmade and crowded – Don’t go there!  Instead, take a train outside if the city, since the coastline is one long beautiful beach. We went to Calafell, about a 50 minute train ride from Barcelona.  The beaches were beautiful, calm, and relaxing without a lot of people.  

The beach in Calafell in Catalonia, Spain

12. See Gaudi’s works.  My favorite were La Sagrada Familia (the beautiful church is more beautiful on the inside, although the outside is quite impressive) and Parc Guell (a beautiful park that mingles the man-made with the natural and is apparently a failed housing development, turned park, and is now a UNESCO Heritage Site).  

Sagrada Familia Cathedral
Parc Guell

General tips:

13. Stay in AirBNBs instead of hotels. The AirBNBs were lovely, always in perfect locations, and typically cheaper than the hotels in the area. We always had a lot more space and a lot more amenities, including kitchens and washer/dryer. We were able to pack light because we knew we’d be able to wash clothes along the way

14. Plan your trip in advance! I recommend reading travel blogs about the places where you want to go to pick up travel tips. By doing this, we were able to avoid lines and other headaches, have some incredible experiences, eat delicious food (you should always make reservations in advance), and have almost ⅓ of the trip covered by various different travel reward credit cards.