Rick Steves Says One Of Europe's Best Day Trips Starts In Spain And Leaves The Continent

One of the most amazing things about traveling through Europe is the opportunity to experience so many cultural highlights in a short amount of time. The small sizes of countries makes it easy to hop between various cities and towns throughout most of Europe. Furthermore, the close proximity, free movement policies, and convenient systems of public transportation make international travel between nations a breeze. If you're staying near the border, it's super simple to hop over to a neighboring country for an exciting day trip. Many travelers choose to split their time between several countries during a European vacation in order to experience a variety of cultures, cuisines, languages, and architectural styles.

While border hopping between European countries may be common, travelers who really want to experience the most in the shortest amount of time should consider heading to Spain's southern coast. From there, you can plan a day trip not only to another country — but to another continent entirely. According to Rick Steves, a travel expert, tour guide, best-selling author, and television host, traveling from the beautiful Spanish destination of Tarifa to the city of Tangier in Morocco, North Africa, is one of the best day trips to enjoy during a European vacation.

Experience beautiful beaches and European history in Tarifa

In order to embark on this fascinating intercontinental adventure, you'll first have to travel to southern Spain. Tarifa, Spain, is an adventurous destination at the bottom of the Iberian Peninsula, at the very southernmost tip of the European continent. It's famous for wind sports and surfing due to the powerful winds that come in from the east, and is sometimes called the Wind Capital of Europe. Tarifa is perched along the coast, right at the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, and dates back to at least the first century B.C. 

Tarifa is somewhat of a hidden gem compared to popular Spanish destinations like Seville and Barcelona, which makes it all the more special. Dine on mouthwatering tapas, relax on the beautiful, soft sandy beaches of Playa Punta Paloma, or wander around the cobblestone streets of the historic old town and its gorgeous walled city. History buffs will enjoy visiting the ruins of the Castle of Guzmán el Bueno as well as the Iglesia de San Mateo, which has a Christian tombstone dating back to 674 A.D. embedded in its walls. If you're a fan of nightlife, you'll find plenty of trendy bars catering to the surf crowd after the sun sets. Speaking of sunsets, you're sure to catch some beautiful colors in Tarifa. And the temperatures in Tarifa remain warm and comfortable year round, even hovering in the 60s during the winter.

Immerse yourself in authentic North African culture in Tangier

From Tarifa, you'll be perfectly perched to explore all of Southern Spain, and if you're feeling adventurous, it's only a short passage across the sea to the vibrant city of Tangier, located in the beautiful North African country of Morocco. Tangier is one of the best hidden-gem destinations in the Mediterranean. According to Rick Steves, Tangier offers, "a legitimate taste of North Africa and an authentic slice of Islam."

From Tarifa, all you have to do is board a ferry and enjoy soaking up the sun for less than an hour before you arrive in Tangier. The ferry operates year round, and offers several departures each day. During peak tourist season, there are as many as nine passages each day. Ferry tickets generally cost under $50 round trip.

To make things simple, you could opt for a guided tour where you'll experience a touristy taste of Tangier, but Steves recommends exploring alone or hiring a local guide for a one-on-one experience. "Things are cheap and relatively safe," Steves writes in his blog. "Since more than 90% of visitors choose the comfort of a tour, independent adventurers rarely see another tourist and avoid all the tourist kitsch."

Regardless of how you choose to explore, Tangier is a beautiful and bustling city where you can wander the twisting streets, shop the colorful markets, and sip on Moroccan mint tea before returning back to Europe at the end of the day.