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Study Abroad Spring Break Adventures in Italy and Portugal

April 18, 2024
by Ella Madrak

Study Abroad Spring Break in Italy and Portugal 

Through the past months studying abroad in Paris, I’ve visited amazing places, like Barcelona and Brussels, but over this past spring break, I had my fair share of planes, trains, and automobiles while traveling around Europe. If there’s one thing I recommend the most about studying abroad, it’s finding time to travel to neighboring countries. For example, from what I experienced in France, most countries are just a two-hour flight away and it’s very easy to find hostels and hotels that can enhance your experience and allow you to see somewhere new!  


For a week, I visited and stayed with one of my friends who’s studying abroad in Florence, Italy. For a few days, I experienced Italian culture and saw different neighboring cities around Florence, such as Pisa, Viareggio, and Siena. One thing that I didn't realize about France versus Italy, is how in Italy the train fares are significantly less expensive and most of our train tickets were under 30 euros round trip. This made it very easy to travel around to different cities and we even saw the coast on a quick 20-minute train ride from Pisa.  

Italian Observations

From the pasta to the cannoli, it was truly incredible to experience the Tuscany region and take in all the sights while exploring the city! In Italy, it was interesting to observe the differences in the culture and structure of the city. For example, Paris and Florence share the commonality of small streets with narrow sidewalks and have many historical buildings and monuments. It was also interesting to observe the different kinds of restaurants in Florence and how the “boulangerie” in Paris translates to a “trattoria” or “ristorante” in Florence.  

A large building with Florence Cathedral

In this picture, you can see the Duomo in Florence; I learned that the colors of the marble are from three different cities: white (Carrara), green (Prato), and pink (Siena). 

Additionally, one of my favorite similarities was in the pastries and desserts; for example, there are so many spots to get gelato and other pastries around the city. Just like with the Paris croissant and the certain things to look out for when getting a fresh croissant, in Florence when getting gelato, it’s important to look for a place that uses metal tins because it’ll probably be fresher and more authentic. Overall, you can't really go wrong with food abroad in Florence and there’s so many options around the city. Some of the restaurants my friends and I tried were Rooster Café for brunch and Il Pizzaiuolo for pizza, both were amazing, and I highly recommend trying them.  

Italian Explorations

It’s also very easy to get to other cities from Florence and one of our day trips was to Pisa where we saw the Leaning Tower and walked around the town. Since the Leaning Tower is the main attraction in the city, I recommend taking the train to the coast to go to the beach, depending on the weather.

A tall leaning tower with a flag on top with Leaning Tower of Pisa in the background

In Pisa, we of course had to see the Leaning Tower in person. This was definitely one of the coolest things I saw while on break!  

We went to Viareggio, and it was beautiful even during the rain and around a 20-minute train ride from Pisa.

A street with trees and buildings

In Viareggio we walked through part of the village by the beach and noticed orange trees lining the street!  

We also went to Siena and walked around the main clock tower area in the center and grabbed some fresh pasta for dinner.

A building with a clock tower

Here you can see the Torre del Mangia in Siena, definitely hard to miss in the city center!  

Something I learned abroad was that the Tuscany region includes Florence, Pisa, Siena, and San Gimignano. Each city was unique and I’m looking forward to exploring other cities in Italy like Rome and Venice.  


For the latter part of my spring break, I headed back to Paris, re-packed and then got on a flight to Porto, Portugal, which was obviously different from my previous Italian trip. Upon arrival, it was exciting to see all the different buildings around our hostel and explore the area. One of our main activities was doing a bus tour around the city, which although touristy, allowed us to stay out of the rain and see different areas of Porto.  

Of course, we got some amazing food and had an impressive pasta dish one night, fresh tacos the next, and of course lots of pastel de nata, a Portuguese pastry. We also went into Livraria Lello which is a beautiful library that inspired some of the scenery in the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling. Although the weather was rainy for part of the trip, towards the end it was perfectly sunny and warm which made for a beautiful time exploring Porto and seeing all the local sights around, like the bridge and local restaurants and shops along the Douro River.  

A city next to a body of water

In Porto, one of the main attractions is the Dom Luís I bridge which is free for pedestrians and gives a great view of the city and river below!  

Overall, my spring break travels across Europe were eye-opening and I enjoyed experiencing different cultures, cuisines, and sights. It’s also interesting to notice how Paris feels more and more like home and how while traveling I found myself missing certain aspects of Paris. Just like with any other city, it’s exciting to experience other parts of the world and will lead to a memorable study abroad experience, both in your city and others!  

Ella Madrak is the Content Creator - Blogger in Paris, France, and is currently studying at University of Massachusetts.
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