Europe has an allure few other places in the world can claim. With the past and the present blended together brilliantly in magical cities of old bustling with modern commerce, ideas, and movements, it has the power to capture just about anyone's imagination and wanderlust. For history buffs, fashionistas, artists, political idealists, and food lovers, Europe is sure to offer much more than you're capable of exploring in a two week vacation. So, if spending an extended amount of time exploring this small, yet incredibly diverse continent sounds appealing to you, then a gap year in Europe is just the thing for you!
There are no set rules as to how you should execute your gap year in Europe!
Whether you decide to spend your gap year constantly traveling or in just one country, Europe is a great gap year destination for the variety of opportunities that exist and ease of travel. Numerous programs will help you organize a gap year in Europe, such as Gap Year365 or Topdeck, but it's equally easy to navigate independently and create your own gap year itinerary. Either way, there are no set rules as to how you should execute your gap year in Europe, so get creative!
Now that you’re all hyped up to take a gap year, and lured in by the cheap and easy budget airlines and trains, it's time to take a small step back. It's a small continent, but there's almost too much to see. You'll want to start your planning by picking a destination (or two, or three...) in Europe to start your gap year. So, whether you've already got a few in mind or not, we'll help you out by giving you our top gap year destinations for taking a gap year in Europe!
Ah, Ireland. Éire. The Emerald Isle. The land of 50 Shades of Green... get it?! Corny jokes aside, Ireland packs in gap year opportunities for a wide array of interests. Whether you’re interested in buzzing city life, a slower paced country life with some sheep, or a bit of both, Ireland will provide that. Enjoy a year volunteering on a farm on the West Coast or interning in Dublin. If you’re interested in organizing your gap year independently, Ireland also has an amazing Working Holiday program. Citizens of participating nations can very easily apply for this one-year working visa. A year in Ireland is bound to be great craic, so maybe we should start calling it your gap year destination?
Suggested Gap Year Programs in Ireland:
With its varied landscape and diverse cities, Spain is the perfect spot for anyone hoping to experience a little bit of everything: beaches, sunshine, Mediterranean waters, arid deserts, bustling cities or small towns. Like Europe as a whole, Spain packs in a lot of diversity for its size. From the beautiful, artful city of Barcelona to the urban capitol in Madrid, and all the cultural variations in between, you’ll feel like you’re in a completely different country as you roam from one Spanish city to another. If you’re hoping to utilize your gap year as a chance to practice a language, Spain will offer the perfect opportunity to brush up on your Spanish skills -- though you will want to take regional dialects into consideration when choosing a Spanish language program in Spain. Compared to many other countries in Western Europe, Spain is also generally more affordable. Oh, and did we mention the food and nightlife yet?
Suggested Gap Year Programs in Spain:
3. Czech Republic
The Czech Republic has slowly emerged as a travel hot spot and developed considerably over the past few decades, but this Eastern European country has maintained its old world feel and fairytale-esque charm, tucked away into each cobblestoned street. The Czech Republic didn't just make it on our list for its charm though. For those looking to teach ESL during their gap year (especially Americans for whom working visas are difficult to obtain), the Czech Republic has a growing demand for teachers and work visa regulations that are friendlier to non-EU citizens than western European countries. Another bonus? The Czech Republic is considerably cheaper than many other countries in Europe..
Suggested Gap Year Programs in the Czech Republic:
Italy needs little introduction. We’ve all heard of its beautiful Tuscan landscapes, the gorgeous Amalfi Coast, its rich history, and ancient wonders waiting around every corner. So why not take a gap year here and learn about Italy on a more in-depth level. Get past the surface and really get to know Italy by taking a cooking or language classes in Rome, study fashion in Milan, harvest grapes in the countryside, or live and work with an Italian family as their au pair? The opportunities to travel, learn, and eat are abundant in Italy, making it a great gap year destination.
Suggested Gap Year Programs in Italy:
Keeping with the Mediterranean theme, Greece too has long lived on our radar for European gap year destinations. Especially for all my history nerds out there, Greece is filled with history and mythology and you'll quickly discover it's hard to wander the streets of Athens without stumbling on an ancient site or monument. Not so keen on spending your gap year trekking from historical site to the next? Well, don't write Greece off just yet -- you could learn how to sail around the Greek Isles, join in on an archelogical dig, teach English, become an au pair, or volunteer for environmental conservation.
Greece is similar to Spain in terms of affordability, being cheaper than many other European countries. Also, we should probably take a minute to discuss the food. For any foodies out there, Greece should be on your list of most delicious countries. Really, you can survive off of cheap gyros and spanakopita, trust me!
Suggested Gap Year Programs in Greece:
For those looking for a more off the beaten path gap year destination, consider Hungary. Though growing in popularity, it remains less visited than Czech Republic and one of Eastern Europes hidden gems. Gap year takers will find numerous opportunities to travel on a shoestring, learn about Hungary's incredible history, intern, or teach while exploring Hungary. Budapest especially is worth considering if you want to work during your gap year.
Hungary also comes with a low price tag, being one of the most affordable destinations on this list for those travelers ballin’ on a budget! Take advantage of the opportunity to visit a country that boasts fewer tourists, and make sure to make friends with the locals!
If you’re interested in finding work while on your gap year, Germany has numerous opportunities -- both of the usual teach English / hostel work variety, and more prestigious or specialized internships. Germany has one of the largest economies in the world, making it a good place to search for a job.
For those who prefer to just travel, Deutschland also boasts beautiful landscapes, thriving cities, and rich history. If you are interested in a modern city and great nightlife, check out Berlin. For those who would love to explore the countryside and visit some real-life castles and gorgeous vistas, head south to Bavaria. And of course, Germany is an excellent spot for anyone of legal age who is interested in beer. Be sure to hang out in Munich and enjoy some time in the city’s many biergartens!
Suggested Gap Year Programs in Germany:
One of the greatest parts about traveling is getting to learn about a new culture from the locals. There are few places where the natives are more passionate about their country and culture than in Scotland. The Scots are incredibly proud of their heritage and history, and would love to tell you about it over a pint!
Spend your gap year exploring Edinburgh and Glasgow, and venturing into the Highlands to explore the amazing lochs and castles hidden among the mountains. If you have an interest in music or dancing, take classes in Highland Dance or learn to play everyone’s favorite instrument: the bagpipes! For any Harry Potter fans out there (which I’m hoping is all of you) you can visit the birthplace of Harry itself, The Elephant House, in Edinburgh. The Scots are a crazy bunch (in the best kind of way) and will be sure to show you a good time. Be sure to try the haggis too, err, just don’t ask what’s in it...
Suggested Gap Year Programs in Scotland:
The Choice is Up to You!
However you decide to spend your gap year, the possibilities are endless! A gap year in Europe provides ample opportunities to travel, try new foods, learn new languages and forge friendships. Whether you decide to take our advice or not, we hope we've at least inspired you to really buckle down and start planning your European gap year. After all, nothing says independence or hey, look at that cool guy and/or gal than traveling solo for a year. So what are you waiting for? Book that ticket, and have a blast on your gap year in Europe!
Exploring your gap year options? Don't miss USA Gap Year Fairs every winter! These free, public events are held in 40+ cities across the country to provide a broad exposure to gap year options and connect prospective gap year students, parents, gap year organizations, educators, experts, and alumni. Register for a fair near you at usagyf.eventbrite.com.