European Explorer – Spring 2022
|Dates||May 20th to June 16th|
|Arrive||Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)|
|Depart||Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE)|
Combined European Explorer & Experience Programs – 2022
|Dates||April 22nd to June 16th|
|Depart||Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE)|
European Explorer Short Program
What’s it all About?
The European Explorer Program resembles the classic European back-packing expedition of old mixed with a hands-on study of European history, culture and current events.
This program will broaden your worldview, cultural knowledge of Europe and foster independent travel skills through the cornerstones of Cultural Exploration, Immersive Travel and Cultivating Independence.
Each of the cities and towns featured in the European Explorer Program are magnificent in their own right, but we like to think that the journey is the real reward. Exploring Europe by train, you will be taking in some of the continent’s finest scenery as we make our way from Amsterdam to Berlin to Prague to Salzburg to the Austrian Alps to Venice and Northern Italy’s lake district.
During our travels we will survey Europe’s grandeur, history and cultural diversity. We will get behind the scenes of cities that have shaped the modern era and bring you face to face with some of Europe’s most iconic places. You will meet interesting people from all over the world as we connect with our local guides, engrossing you in local culture.
Each location on the program will have its own experiential learning outcomes with a healthy mix of guided tours, free time to explore and light outdoor adventuring. From hiking in the Austrian Alps, to swimming in the Spree in Berlin, to touring Venice and living at an 18th century Italian Villa, the Irish Gap Year team will guide you on this journey of discovery.
If you are interested in a classic adventure by rail that explores European culture, connects you with locals, builds your independence and is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime, this is the program for you.
The European Explorer Program’s late- spring start date makes it an ideal capstone experience for students who have completed previous gap time and college students alike.
- Travel the Dutch way in Amsterdam – by canal boat and bike – marvelling at the tall and slender buildings in the old town and the quaint villages that surround the city.
- Explore Berlin’s trendy cafes, shops and street art.
- Experience Prague’s world famous beer halls for a candid look at Czech culture.
- Tour of one of Europe’s best preserved medieval town centres in Salsburg.
- Hike in the impossibly beautiful and pristine Austrian Alps of Zell am See, cycle around Lake Zell and marvel at the sapphire blue waters.
- Stay right on the water, in the heart of Venice.
- Relax and enjoy the slow pace of the Italian countryside at La Machina Fissa villa in Northern Italy’s lake district.
Find Out More About our European Explorer Program
The European Explorer provides students with an authentic and unique experience of some of Europe’s culture capitals. You will discover Europe both past and present, expand your world view and develop your independence and confidence.
Here’s how we do it:
These Cornerstones are interwoven throughout our European Explorer Program. Find out more about our Cornerstones by clicking on each of the icons below, or by clicking under the dropdown menu titled “Grow” at the top of every page.
Immersive Travel: Europe by Train
Imagine making your way through the meadows of the Austrian Alps in the springtime, as the click-clacking of the train and pastoral scenery lull you into a deep sense of serenity.
While train-travel is wonderfully peaceful, it is also a great way to experience life as locals do and offers a truly immersive travel experience. Sure, it’s slow-paced and involves expanding your travel IQ, but that’s part of what makes it so rewarding.
Immersive travel is more than just train-trips on our European Explorer Program, it is the mindset of traveling like a local by bike, ferry and on foot. These journeys will see you touring narrow streets built during medieval times, riding funiculars up steep mountain sides into the Austrian Alps, easy hikes in the Dolomites in Northern Italy, cycling around Amsterdam and taking the public ferry in Venice.
Taking the time to connect with our journey and fellow travellers reminds us that often, the journey is the reward. And don’t worry if you’re a rookie traveller, you will have the full support of the Irish Gap Year team to keep you on-track.
Cultural Exploration: Creating Connection & On-Site Learning
Exploring new cultures and ways of life is an essential part of a young person’s education.
Your travels through the continent will include walking tours, visits to art galleries, museums, old-town centres and iconic places in each country we visit. We will balance the cultural visits throughout the program between ‘must-sees’ and lesser-known-gems to offer a broad perspective on all things European.
You will also get to actively participate in each countries culture, learning experientially about the customs of each of these unique destinations. Teachable moments abound as we involve ourselves in the daily life and practices of local cultures. For example:
- Cycle with local guides in Amsterdam as we learn about Dutch history and gain insight into why the Dutch are so passionate about cycling and what this says about their culture.
- Enjoy a home cooked Syrian meal in a former Refugee’s home in Berlin and discuss a Syrian perspective on modern-day Berlin and their journey to Europe.
- Hike in the Austrian Alps with local guides and learn about Alpine folklore, history and why the Austrian culture is so passionate about the outdoors.
- Help harvest your meals and prepare garden-fresh, traditional Italian cuisine at La Machina Fissa, learning about the important role that food plays in Italian culture.
- Enjoy free time to explore each city, creating your own adventures and cultural ‘aha’ moments.
Experiencing the patchwork of cultures on the European Explorer Program will help to broaden your worldview, provide you with hands-on learning opportunities and creates a sense of connection to the people who call these countries home.
Cultivating Independence: Building Real-World Skills
A big part of taking gap time is learning the skills they don’t teach you in school.
Throughout the European Explorer Program you will be asked to step out of your comfort zone and grow as an individual, learning real-world skills along the way.
You will boost your travel IQ as we cover a host of skills such as navigating by public transportation in foreign countries, bargaining at outdoor markets, utilizing time management, budgeting and working within a team.
Another way that our students build their independence while on the European Explorer Program is by taking part in the decision making process. You will have a say in some of the activities, tours and planning along the way of the program such as choosing café’s for meals, local hikes and bike routes, which museums we will visit and more.
As with all of our programs, self-advocating is an important skill that can take some practice to develop. We encourage our students to come directly to the Irish Gap Year team when they need support, have feedback or just need someone to listen.
Whether you are yet to head to college or you have completed several semesters, these skills will no-doubt serve you well as a stepping stone to a more independent young-adulthood.
The Journey by Rail Interactive Map
The Grand Tour of Europe was a rite of passage for young people in the 17th century and continues to this day. Our fashion and music may have changed since those first Grand Tour travellers way back when, but the purpose of this journey through mainland Europe remains. Exploration, enlightenment and the search for knowledge of culture, history and the arts.
We’ll travel in style and comfort on the Interrail train network from Amsterdam to Berlin, Prague to Salzburg, through the Austrian Alps and then on to Venice in northern Italy.
Making our way through the continent, students will survey the grandeur of Europe’s iconic cities and discover the interlocking histories and diverse cultures.
At each stop on the inter-railing portion of the program we take a walking tour with local guides who will share their in-depth knowledge of their city with. This helps you to get your bearings, ask questions about current events and history and understand more about where you will be staying.
Berlin: Iron Curtain to Cultural Wonderland
Divided by the Berlin wall in 1961, Berlin has had a tumultuous history. The fall of the wall and the city’s reunification in 1989 heralded the start of a creative and cultural regeneration which continues today. Berlin is a hub of creativity, industry and culture. The city expertly melds its difficult history with a new modern outlook. It’s easy to understand why Berlin is one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations.
While in Berlin, you will have the opportunity to check out the city’s most iconic historical locations and explore the lesser known hotspots of Germany’s capital city.
The Berlin Wall and more specifically Checkpoint Charlie were the physical and ideological border that defined a generation of Berliners and infamous crossing point from East to West Berlin during the Cold War era.
The Brandenburg Gate was built in the 18th century when the city was part of Prussia to represent the entrance to the city. It was appropriated by Nazis during World War II and badly damaged during the Allied bombardment of the city. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the east and west governments worked together to restore it and it now stands as a symbol of peace and reunification.
The Reichstag Building is Germany’s national parliament building. It was severely damaged by fire during World War II. When Berlin became Germany’s new capital city this 19th century building was fantastically restored with an amazing modern addition which you will tour and hopefully parliament will be sitting on that day and you can have a peek at all the political heavyweights through the glass ceiling.
Off the Beaten Track:
Refugee Voices Tour is a powerful, controversial and moving tour of Berlin’s city centre as told by Syrian refugee guides. This tour speaks of Syria's own secret police, government repression, and natives fleeing for safer destinations, drawing parallels between modern day Syria and 1930s Germany. Following the tour, our Syrian friends will host us for a traditional dinner and conversation at their home.
The Swimming Pool in the Spree is a harboured barge that functions as a swimming pool with unique panoramic view of the river Spree, the Oberbaumbrücke and Berlin’s iconic TV tower. Besides bathing, the beach area around the Badeschiff has become an urban recreational area and a focal point of urban culture and entertainment for many Berliners at any time of the day.
The Urban Garden in Berlin is self-described as “a piece of nature in a concrete jungle”. You will visit the artisan cafes in these city centre organic gardens where trendy Berliners like to hangout.
The Prinzipal Bar allows you to drink in the past in this real life 1920s speakeasy. The Prinzipal Bar is typical of pre-war Germany and has become an underground icon of Berlin in recent years.
Amsterdam: Art, Progressive Culture and of course Canals
Amsterdam is known for its rich artistic heritage, progressive culture, distinctive narrow gabled houses and elaborate canal system.
Here you will explore the heart of Amsterdam with the local Dutchman, Julius, our friend, local historian and tour guide. you will discuss the very interesting and oftentimes dark history of the Netherlands as we spend a wonderful day walking the city.
In true Irish Gap Year fashion, you will be venturing a bit off the beaten track in subsequent days as we cycle the beautiful islands and villages surrounding Amsterdam. On return we will take part in a ‘fishing for plastic’ tour of the city, where we will discuss the impact of plastics in the world's oceans while also learning about Holland's progressive environmental stance.
As with all of the stops on our interrailing journey, you will also have ample free-time to get out and self-explore all that Amsterdam has to offer.
Prague: Medieval Europe at its Finest
A thousand shades of terracotta, hundreds of spires reaching for the blue sky, colourful baroque buildings leading from one medieval town square to another, the sound of church bells ringing out as they’ve done for hundreds of years. Prague is a bohemian fairy tale.
Our visit to the capital city of the Czech Republic will be a dive into the past. You will visit the old town square, tour the Prague Castle and enjoy the show that’s been going on since 1402 at the medieval astronomical clock.
We will also speak with locals about Prague’s recent history and the Prague Spring movement and the velvet revolution in 1989 as the former Soviet Union collapsed.
Of course, no time in Prague is complete without a visit to a beer hall for a tasty dish of Vep'o knedlo zelo (roasted pork)
Salzburg: Baroque Architecture and Austrian Culture at its Finest
Salzburg is a magnificent city of antiquity and grandeur nestled on the Salzach River in the Austrian Alps. Its cobble stoned streets, lined with medieval and baroque buildings and surrounded by snow-capped alpine peaks makes this city impossibly picturesque, as if it’s sprung straight from a fairy tale.
The city centre (A UNESCO World Heritage Site) is one of the best-preserved old town centres in all of Europe and feels very much like a fairy-tale setting.
You will tour the enchanting city and the surrounding countryside, exploring the striking 1,000-year-old Salzburg Fortress and learning about its significance in Austrian history, touring the Old Town Centre, cruising the Salzach River by power-boat, admiring the ornate intricacy of St. Peter’s Abbey and visiting one of Austria’s best outdoor markets.
Zell am See: Adventure in the Heart of the Austrian Alps
Zell am See is a small Austrian town located on Lake Zell, in the heart of the Austrian Alps. Surrounded on all sides by towering, forested and snow-capped mountains, Zell am See is a place of great natural beauty and a mecca for outdoor adventure.
The town offers excellent alpine hiking, water-sports on the lake and rural Austrian culture. There are many excellent cafés, traditional beer halls and shops in the area.
We will be staying in a traditional, mountainside, Austrian chalet close to the town centre and the start of mountain trails. We’ll cycle around the lake, stopping in the nearby villages to explore castles and learning about the local history, we will tour the infamous ‘Eagles Nest’ located nearby, learn about Austria’s role in WWII and enjoy easy hikes in the mountains and gorges that surround Zell am See.
La Machina Fissa: A unique perspective on Northern Italy and The Dolomites
La Machina Fissa is unlike anywhere you’ve been before. This 18th century, converted agricultural pumphouse is nestled among national parks in the plains of northern Italy and is just a short drive from the Dolomite mountains and Lake Garda. This is the perfect place to relax, immerse yourself in Italian culture and cuisine, and reflect on your incredible journey through Europe so far.
We will be staying with one of our favourite hosts on the entire program, Clark Lawrence, a witty and talented artist and personal friend of Irish Gap Year. Clark has hosted art retreats at La Machina Fissa for the past ten years and opens his doors exclusively to our group. Here we will enjoy wonderful traditional Italian breakfasts, lunches and dinners each day.
While in this part of Italy you will explore the Lake Garda region on bikes, take a few easy day hikes in the Dolomites, tour the nearby historical city of Mantua with Clarke, getting the local history and insights, and enjoy garden projects at Clarke’s place such as harvesting the autumn crops and tending to the garden.
This is truly an amazing place, run by an amazing person in one of Europe’s most spectacular regions.
Venice: The Floating City
Built on over 100 small islands, Venice is home to more beautiful canals, Gothic Palaces, Basilicas and impressive architecture than just about any other European City.
We will be staying at the Generator Hostel right on the water’s edge in the city centre of Venice. This smartly converted 18th century public library comes with amazing views of the city and plenty of other like-minded travellers to socialize with.
While in Venice we will be discussing the issue of climate change and the impending threat to Venice as sea-levels rise. You will have the opportunity to compare the Venetian approach to the issue as compared to other European cities you’ve visited on the program.
Our time in Venice will also include walking tours giving you an overview of Venetian history, a day-trip to the nearby island city of Burano to take in its amazing sights and culinary delights. You will be able to have lots of delicious meals, plenty of free time for you to get lost in the amazing labyrinth that is Venice and take a trip to Venetians’ favourite outdoor market for lovely fresh foods. You will also take part in our very own ‘Venice Challenge’.
A Day in the Life on our European Explorer Program
There’s plenty of variety in the day-to-day of our European Explorer Program, depending on whether we are traveling or in residence. Here is an example of what a travel day looks like:
9am: Group breakfast and briefing with Program Leaders on the days travel itinerary.
10am: Arrive to Amsterdam’s iconic Central Station and board the 10.30am train to Berlin.
10.30am – 4.30pm: Enjoy the leisurely journey by train through the Netherlands and Western Germany, taking in the scenery and having lunch on the train before arriving to Berlin’s Central Station.
4.30pm – 5pm: Make our way to our accommodation and check-in.
5pm – 7pm: Briefing on the local area and exploring with Program Leaders (with a locally guided walking tour the following morning)
7pm – 8.30pm: Group dinner
8.30pm – 11pm: Free time in an established area of the city.
11pm: Curfew / Back to accommodation.