As someone who travelled almost constantly by myself for 10 years before getting married, I know traveling as a couple can be hard to adjust to. You don’t want to give up something you were dying to do but you also want to enjoy the trip with your partner. But when you find the perfect activity, you end up with trips you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of the best travel activities for couples that will leave both of you with fond memories of your trip together based on my own personal experiences (and a few educated guesses along the way).
Full disclosure, I can be pretty intense when travelling. I tend to have lots of energy and want to get out and see it all. That’s why spa time is a no-brainer for me and my wife. It’s a deliberate moment to just stop and relax.
I know what you’re thinking “but spa hotels are expensive, I can’t afford a massage!” Well, the good news is that many hotels and spa centers will give you access to their basic spa facilities like sauna and steam rooms for fairly cheap. Personally, my favorite way to enjoy them is to spend 10-15 minutes in the sauna before laying down to read a book for another 10-15 minutes before getting back in. On that note, I always buy a novel about the place I’m visiting, so that makes the perfect spa time reading.
So if you like a bit more adventure and your partner likes to relax, be sure to schedule some spa time.
2. Cooking Classes
There’s a few ways to approach this one. If one person in your relationship tends to do most of the cooking, the other person can try taking a class and surprising their partner by making something delicious. Otherwise, cooking classes can be a lot of fun to do together, even if neither of you intend to cook the dish again at home.
In these cases, just the experience of learning about local culture and cuisine all while going through a mini-adventure together is worth the price of admission. Alternatively, you can use a site like eatwith to have a meal in the home of a local person. If neither of you wants to get their hands dirty, this is another easy way to learn more about local cuisine, history, and just meet someone in their home.
3. Hiking or Biking
I’m an avid hiker while my wife is definitely not. But we’ve still had some of our favorite travel experiences hiking. How did we manage? First, we choose reasonable hikes that weren’t too intense (like hiking the southern coast of the island of Gozo, which is mostly flat and not too difficult). In other words, don’t assume great hikes have to be intense. If you’re travelling somewhere with beautiful countryside, you can even swap your boots for bikes and turn a hike into a pleasant bike ride instead.
Another way to make hiking or biking work as a couple’s activity is to pair it with some spa time. This can give you both time to relax and recover as well as balance out the physical intensity of the day.
The challenge here is often a mismatch between what one person finds interesting and what the other does. But remember, museums aren’t all stuffy and stiff. Places like the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, the Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade, or the Sex Machines Museum of Prague offer plenty of unconventianal fare.
The point is, museums can be about more than just learning, they can be a fun thing to experience together as a couple. Whether that’s about laughing at oddities or getting emotional over the stories being told, these are great ways to bond as a couple. So before you dismiss the idea, check out what museums exist in your travel destination.
5. Wine Tours
Even if you’re not going to Tuscany or Provence, there are more places with excellent wine tourism than you might think. Often, it’s the off the beaten path wineries that offer the best experiences (my mother proclaimed that our tour and tasting in Melnik, Bulgaria was better than anything she’d experience in Sonoma, California).
Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and many more offer fantastic wine tours that can allow you to get outside the city and see (and taste) a slice of rural life. Often, these tours will also allow you to experience local grape varieties that likely aren’t available back home. Plus, you can buy a bottle to save for a special occasion when you’d like to remember one of your favorite trips together.
6. Amusement Parks
If you don’t have an amusement park where you live (I sadly count myself among you) then this can be a fun way to mix things up on your vacation. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of a roller coaster or the simple joy of winning a prize at one of the stands. Even if you grew up spoiled on great American theme parks like I did, there are tons of great parks around Europe worth exploring.
Maybe your partner isn’t into thrill rides though. That’s no problem, there are plenty of options that won’t have them grabbing your arm so hard it cuts off circulation. If you’re travelling in the summer, water parks are another great idea (though there are also plenty of indoor ones that work in the winter as well).
7. Local Theater, Opera, or Ballet
Opera and ballet in particular have the reputation of being snobby pastimes for the wealthy, but for much of Central Europe they’re incredibly affordable. Cities like Budapest have tremendous performances that can cost you less than dinner out.
You may be worried about the language barrier. This is something you need to check, some performances will have subtitles in English. Still, for most ballet and opera, the language is somewhat besides the point. You and your partner can even have fun trying to decipher the meaning behind the performance over a drink afterwards.
8. Learn a Local Craft or Art
Experiences are one of the fastest growing areas of the travel industry for a reason, more than finding the perfect train or hotel, they’re what really define a trip. Sites like Airbnb, Viator, and TripAdvisor are full of experiences hosted by locals for you to try. For couples, why not try learning some local craft together? This could be Islamic calligraphy in Istanbul, sculpture in Florence, or make your own Porto tile in Portugal.
All of these experiences let you try something challenging and new together. At the end, you’ve got something you made to take home. Or, you could always take the time to make gifts for each other. Either way, this is a chance to combine learning about a local culture, learning a fun skill, and experiencing the joy of creating something yourself from scratch.
9. Go to a Music Festival
If you’ve never been to one of Europe’s seminal music festivals, you don’t know what you’re missing. Whether you’re in your 20s and want to dance for hours at Novi Sad, Serbia’s infamous EXIT or would enjoy something more like the Arena di Verona Summer Opera Season in Verona, Italy Europe is full of every kind of music festival imaginable.
Just be aware of accomodation options ahead of time for the bigger festivals because they can draw huge crowds which makes finding a place to sleep tricky (unless tents are your thing). Still, if you and your partner share a love of music, you could hardly do better than a world-class music festival.
This suggestion may sound odd, but stick with me here. Some of my favorite moments travelling with my partner have been essentially sitting in a cafe and chatting about people as they walk by. Every city has its central promenade where you can see every manner of person going about their day and sometimes it’s fun to just sit and watch it all play out.
Another benefit is that this activity only costs whatever a cup of coffee is where you are. While it may not be as traditionally “memorable” as the other activities, sometimes the best moments with someone you love are the small ones. An hour or two just enjoying the atmosphere of a city together can be just perfect after a hectic day enjoying all of the other activities on this list.
You’ve Got Ideas, Now Get There!
If you’re like me, you’re now brimming with ideas for your next trip. The trick is getting somewhere affordable. Fortunately intercity buses are incredibly affordable and more comfortable than you might think. So before you dismiss your next trip because you can’t get an affordable flight in time, consider your other options.