Are you looking for a inspirational list of hands-on travel experiences in West Europe? Then you’ve come to the right place!
Over the past years, there has been a big trend in tourism where travellers no longer want to participate in just the standard sightseeing tours and attend so-called ‘cultural shows’, but really feel the need to get involved in experiences that are characteristic to the destination that they are visiting. This is called Creative Travel.
In this article, you can find some of the best creative travel experiences in West Europe: Austria, England, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal and Wales. Keep coming back, because this list will keep growing!
- Drive a Single Seater at Silverstone in England
- Survival Skills Training in Finland
- Visit a Local in Lapland, Finland
- Nightswatch Tour in Germany
- Glassblowing in Germany
- Jenever Tasting in The Netherlands
- Game of Thrones Experience in Northern Ireland
- Game of Thrones Filming Locations Tour in Northern Ireland
- Pastel de Nata Baking Class in Portugal
- Indoor Surfing in Wales
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN WEST EUROPE
- Creative Travel Definition
- Complete Hands-on Travel in West Europe List
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN AUSTRIA
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN ENGLAND
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN FINLAND
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN GERMANY
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN THE NETHERLANDS
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN NORTHERN IRELAND
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN NORWAY
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN PORTUGAL
- HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN WALES
- Do You Travel to Discover Hands-On Experiences?
- PRACTICAL INFORMATION
- Creative Tourism Network
- Map of West Europe Creative Travel and Tours
- Creative Traveller’s Handbook
- Creative Travel Around the World
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN WEST EUROPE
Creative Travel Definition
According to the Creative Tourism Network, creative travel is considered “a new generation of tourism”, that offers visitors the opportunity to “develop their creative potential through active participation in courses and learning experiences, which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are taken”.
From volunteer travel programs and language immersion programs to cultural immersion travel experiences and real community immersion, Creative Tourism is a way of travel that really is for everyone.
Whether you travel alone, as a couple or with a family or group of friends, there are many activities around the world where that offer educational courses and workshops, creative experiences where you get to learn different art forms or even adventure activities where you interact with the local nature and people in a fun, yet authentic way.
Complete Hands-on Travel in West Europe List
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN AUSTRIA
Take a Polaroid Tour in Vienna
A unique thing to do in Vienna is to get to know the city through the wee hole of a Polaroid camera and you can do this as part of a small group tour.
TIP BY: Gemma Armit, twoscotsabroad.com (< read all about what to do in Vienna on her blog!)
“The benefits of doing a Polaroid tour in Vienna are twofold. Firstly, since you can’t take multiple shots like you can with a digital camera or mobile phone you really have to consider the shot before you snap. Using angles, reflections, light and frames you can get creative with your composition.
Don’t worry if you’re not a photographer, your guide talks you through how to use the device before you leave for the walking tour and suggests ideas for potential photos. Plus, Vienna is so photogenic you can’t go wrong!
Secondly, Polaroid photos act as lovely souvenirs. We clipped ours to pins on the wall which is a really nice reminder of a fun trip. There’s something quite romantic about a Polaroid photo. Maybe it’s nostalgia or the vintage vibe of the faded pictures? Whatever the reason, the tour makes an ideal idea for a couple or solo traveller in Vienna.”
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PS. The Travel Tester also did this tour! You can read about it here >>
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN ENGLAND
Drive a Single Seater at Silverstone
Ever dreamt of driving like Schumacher or Hamilton? It might be too late to become a professional F1 driver, but this shouldn’t stop you from trying your driving skills.
TIP BY: Darek and Gosia, darekandgosia.com (<< read all about their world travels on the blog!)
“Silverstone, a legendary track which hosted the first F1 race in 1950, is the best places to learn a new driving technique. Forget about automatic gear or a power steering system! This will be only you and the machine.
Learning how to drive at Silverstone track is a must experience for all loving speed and any kind of motor sport. If you are a F1 fanatic or a DMT lover, then this will be a perfect day for you. Once you try it once you will think about booking another session. Believe me, you will love it. You might even sing “I’m in love with my car” ;) So, are you ready to learn how to drive a single seater? Don’t forget to let us know your lap time!”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN FINLAND
Train your Survival Skills
With a direct train from Helsinki, you can get to the city of Seinäjoki in the Southern Ostrobothnia region of Finland in just under 3 hours. Dress up and consider going for an active wilderness skills workshop to warm you up!
TIP BY: me! (read all about things to see and do in Seinajöki in Finland >>)
“At ‘Komiat Hetket’ (a company specializing in various experiences in the Finnish wilderness mainly in Ostrobothnia area in the western part of Finland), you can experience a wide range of activities. From Nordic walking, ice fishing and snowshoeing to learning how to built an igloo and learning wilderness skills… this is the place to do it!
The kicksled was a lot of fun: you move it uphill by standing on one runner, kicking backwards and working your muscles. At top of the ski-slope, you leap down. Scary, but a lot of fun!
Our guide Vesa Mäyry also turned out to be a real Finnish Bear Grylls! He runs the so-called ‘Survival Games program’, where you will learn some serious survival skills in the outdoors. During the program you get to learn about things like crossing streams of water, finding food in the wild, making a campfire in every circumstance, natural water purification methods, cooking without utensils on an open fire, packing for an outdoor trip and hygiene in the wild (from making your own toothbrush to even making shampoo from birch leaves).
How fantastic is it to get to learn about the climate in a country by experiencing it first hand like this? Would love to come back here to do a full survival course with Vesa!”
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Visit a Local in Lapland
Getting invited into the home of a local resident is one of the most intimate and authentic cultural experiences a traveler can have.
TIP BY: Eileen P. Gunn, familiesgotravel.com (<< read all about Visiting Lapland in fall with kids on her blog)
“My favorite experience on a visit to Lapland was the afternoon I spent in the workshop and home of Irene and Ari Kangasniemi at Hornwork Handicrafts, outside of Rovaniemi.
Irene is a reindeer herder and former teacher and my group’s experience began with telling us about her family, her reindeer herd and the couple’s locavore lifestyle, which stopped short of her divulging her favorite spot for lingonberries.
We saw some of the many items she and Ari make from reindeer antler, bone and skin, which include drums, chandeliers, knife handles and sheathes and wallets. We made our own reindeer jewelry —Ari helped me to string together dangling antler earrings.
Then we crossed the yard to their house, where Irene had homemade blueberry juice and cinnamon buns waiting. We learned about the wood-burning oven they use for both heating and baking, and saw the many handicrafts they’ve made for their own enjoyment.
We lingered as long as we could, reluctant to leave the warmth of their home and Irene’s good humor. When we finally had to go, we had full bellies, jewelry we’d made and a unique cultural experience to take with us!”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN GERMANY
Take a Tour with a Nightswatch
The Black Forest in Germany is full of local traditions and a walk with a traditional Nachtwacht (Nights Watch) is something you definitely don’t want to miss!
TIP BY: me! (read all about the German traditions in the Black Forest area >>)
“Meet Ralf Ketterer, the local nightwatchman of Wolfach. Fully dressed in traditional costume and carrying a candle and a massive bull’s horn, he takes me around town, stopping at all the corners to sing a traditional song and tell me about the history of the town and the people that lived and worked here long before our time.
If you would like to go on his tour, just meet him 20.45 in front of Town Hall. You don’t need to sign up. I can recommend it!
Ralf speaks English fairly well, but if you understand German enough like I did, I’m sure you’ll get much more detail out of his stories.”
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Have a Go at Glassblowing
The Baden-Württemberg region in the South of Germany is famous for her natural resources and raw materials used in the glass industry. Glassblowing was -and still is- very important here, so during my visit to the town of Wolfach I couldn’t miss checking out one of the oldest glass works: the Dorotheenhütte.
TIP BY: me! (read all about my experience at the glass factory in Wolfach >>)
“At the Dorotheenhütte, you can walk through 2000 years of glass making history. From the museum to the actual factory and even a shop filled with mouth-blown glass Christmas ornaments, this is the place to be if you want to understand just how the process of glass blowing, carving and cutting works.
And the best thing? You can even have a go yourself by helping to blow a unique vase.”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN THE NETHERLANDS
Taste Jenever in The Hague
If you’re visiting The Netherlands for the first time, be sure to stop off at a jenever distillery to learn a bit about this distinctive liquor that is quite popular in Belgium and The Netherlands.
TIP BY: Karen Turner, wanderlustingk.com (<< read all about this experience on her blog!)
“Jenever is a liquor made with juniper berries, like gin, however it is often flavoured with spices, which gives it a distinctive taste quite different from gin. In Amsterdam as well as other cities, you can visit some of the old “proeflokaals” (tasting rooms) to try the liquors.
One such tasting room is the van Kleef Museum in The Hague. This museum/distillery is the last remaining jenever distillery in The Hague and it was the favorite of Vincent Van Gogh while he lived in The Hague. Here you can taste jenever and other traditional Dutch drinks made accordingly the original recipes and view original implements used in jenever production.
Any one who comes here must be of age (18) to drink hard liquors in the Netherlands. Even if you aren’t a big drinker, you can try a few samples for a few euros. I recommend reserving ahead for larger groups although smaller groups can stop by without a reservation. I personally prefer Kruìde Baggâh, which is a traditional liquor made in The Hague with an interesting story behind it!”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Learn Archery Like a Game of Thrones Character
Ever since the hit TV-series Game of Thrones was filmed in Northern Ireland, there have openen a whole bunch of tourist attractions related to the show, such as movie locations and secret doors. But Castle Ward is the place to be for a full interactive GOTR experience!
TIP BY: me! (read all about my Game of Thrones tour in Northern Ireland >>)
“Whether you’re a Game of Thrones fan or not, Northern Ireland is definitely a destination to consider putting on your bucket list, but real thronies will love spending a day at Castle Ward, an 18th-century National Trust property that was the filming location for ‘Winterfell’ in the series.
Here, you can practice your archery skills, pet some direwolves (that were really in the series) and explore the surrounding area with a guide dressed as someone from Winterfell.
The castle is located just 40 minutes from Belfast and 2 hours from Dublin. The archery range is in the exact place Jon Snow stood back in Season One and with matching costumes, you feel like you were almost there.
Apart from archery, you can also throw axes, do a bicycle tour, explore the 20 key Game of Thrones tour filming locations or even ‘check in’ to one of the glamping pods deep in the woods. Just be aware that ‘Night is Dark & Full of Terrors’. But you already knew that, right?”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN NORWAY
Go on a Language Holiday
Language is a big part of travelling. You can easily transform your experiences with locals by using simple ice-breakers like knowing how to say hello, please, and thank you. A wonderful way to take this to the next level is to go on a language holiday!
TIP BY: Michele Frolla, theintrepidguide.com (<< read all about the language study abroad program on her blog!)
“A language holiday is where you join a language school in the destination you’re visiting and learn the language with other like-minded people. Classes usually take place in the morning then you have the whole afternoon free to go off and explore, but more importantly, put into practice what you’ve learned.
I’ve been on two language holidays, both of which enriched my travels AND took my language skills up a notch. Plus, you never know where it may lead you. After my Italian study holiday, I ended up moving to Rome!
More recently, I went to Oslo over the summer to continue my Norwegian studies which really helped boost my speaking skills and gave me a chance to see more of Oslo. Language classes tend to follow a typical school year. However, additional classes usually run over the summer to cater for travelling students.
To find a course, you can research locals schools and book directly or do what I did and ask your local language school to put you in contact with one of their affiliate schools. That way you know they reputable.”
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN PORTUGAL
Experience a Pastel de Nata Baking Class
Pastel de Nata is the quintessential Portuguese dessert that must be devoured while in Portugal.
TIP BY: Jyoti, storyateverycorner.com (<< read all about fun things to do in Lisbon on the blog!)
“From the moment we landed in Lisbon, we saw pastel de nata all around us, in bakeries, cafes, and restaurants. Most Portuguese have the delicious dessert for breakfasts, and also lunch, snack and dinner. Really any time is pastel de nata time!
We visited Pasties de Belém which is famous for its classic pastel de nata, known to be true to the original recipe.
While in Portugal, I definitely wanted to try my hand at making some vegan pastel de nata. We found an amazing cooking school and spent a wonderful morning baking the scrumptious dessert from scratch. We met in the beautiful culinary school in Lisbon where the instructor had all the ingredients ready for us.
We prepared the filling and the dough. Once they were ready we poured the filling into the mini cups lined with the dough and baked it in the fancy commercial over. While the pretty pastel de nata baked, we set up the table for a lovely tea party. Our beautiful creations with tea and great company is forever a memory to cherish. You can find a detailed description of the experience and recipe at our blog.”
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HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN WALES
Go Indoor Surfing in Cardiff
Indoor Surfing? Yes, some clever people have managed to recreate the current of a wave through an ingenious system called Flowrider. With specially designed boards, you can hit the waves with a technique that is a bit of a mix with surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding. And you can do this in Cardiff, Wales!
TIP BY: me! (read all about our experience at Cardiff international water >>)
“The instructor will show and tell you everything you need to know, before it’s your turn to try it yourself. It’s quite exciting the first time as the water really flows quite hard and you have to practice your balance a bit before you get the hang of it.
After a couple of tries on the body board, both from the side of the bottom of the Flowrider as from the top (well scary), we moved on to the surfing. Surprisingly enough, I could actually stand up on it!
Besides indoor surfing, you can also choose other adventurous activities in Cardiff International White Water. How about kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding or white water rafting? There is also an air trail where you can cross the high ropes steel and timber terrain towering above the white water course in a harness. Or you can go gorge walking in the nearby Neath Valley.“
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Do You Travel to Discover Hands-On Experiences?
Let us know in the comments below what your favourite activity in this list is – and if you have any great additions to share with us. We are always adding to this page, so keep your suggestions coming! Look below for more information about creative travel and where else in the world you can have great hands-on experiences:
Creative Tourism Network
If you are looking for more creative tourism examples, then make sure to head over to the website of the Creative Tourism Network, as they are a fantastic source of information and inspiration for your upcoming travels.
The Creative Tourism Network is the international organization for the Creative Tourism development worldwide. They offer consulting and training to tourism professionals and also host the Creative Tourism Awards to reward projects, companies and destinations that foster the new generation of tourism with the active participation of tourists in creative activities.
Map of West Europe Creative Travel and Tours
Creative Traveller’s Handbook
My travel blogger friend Elena wrote a wonderful book about creative travel that I can highly recommend reading. In this inspiring handbook, she answers not only the question who creative travel is for, but she gives practical tips on how to be creative on your own travels and how to plan your next creative trip down to all the details.
Read my full review of the Creative Traveller’s Handbook >>
Creative Travel Around the World
Read our other articles:
- Creative Travel: Is This The Best Way To See The World?
- 14 Hands-on Travel Experiences In Africa You Need To Know About
- 6 Hands-on Travel Experiences in East Europe You Need to Know About
- 7 Hands-on Travel Experiences In South America You Need To Know About
- 14 Hands-on Travel Experiences In South Asia You Need To Know About
- 14 Hands-on Travel Experiences in South East Asia You Need to Know About
- 10 Hands-on Travel Experiences In Japan You Need To Know About
- 3 Hands-on Travel Experiences in Central and East Asia You Need to Know About
- 8 Hands-on Travel Experiences in Oceania You Need to Know About
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