What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki: 10 Days of Group Travel in Europe

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Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

I was a Contiki Travel Ambassador from 2019-2020. All thoughts, opinions, and photography are my own unless otherwise specified.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Europe with 18 other people on a Barcelona to Rome Quest with Contiki. On this 10-day trip, we traversed through Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, and Vatican City. It was a whirlwind experience (to say the least!) with a jam-packed itinerary, and I wanted to share my day-by-day experience so you can get an idea of what traveling with Contiki is really like.

Before you read any further: if you’re looking for a review of Contiki that breaks down everything you need to know and helps you decide whether it’s the right group travel company for you, you should head over to my Contiki Review first. That’ll give you some important context for this day-by-day recap 🙂

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

If you’ve been following me on social media, you might have seen me announce that I was recently selected to be one of Contiki’s Travel Ambassadors, which was huge (I’m still recovering, honestly). Contiki is a group travel company that devotes itself to sharing the world with young travelers (ages 18-35), and I couldn’t be more ecstatic to be a part of the Contiki family. This trip that I took was a familiarization trip for myself and the 18 other ambassadors selected, and was pulled from a Contiki itinerary called the Barcelona to Rome Quest.

While I was on this trip as an ambassador, our itinerary was the same one you might find if you were to book this trip yourself. Keep reading for my in-depth experience of what it was like traveling with Contiki.

RELATED: Everything You Need To Know about Your First Contiki Tour

About Contiki’s Barcelona to Rome Quest Trip

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

The Barcelona to Rome Quest (previously known as Mediterranean Quest) itinerary takes you along Europe’s Mediterranean coast through 5 countries: Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, and Vatican City.

From end to end, the trip lasts 10 days and costs $1,300+. This 10-day expedition is honestly a wildly epic ride, especially if you’ve never been to Europe.

Why? Because the entire itinerary is filled with some of the most popular first-timer destinations in all of western Europe.

In 10 days, you’ll visit:

  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Nice, France
  • Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • Cinque Terre, Italy
  • Florence, Italy
  • The Amalfi Coast, Italy
  • Rome, Italy

In between these destinations, you’ll also detour through epic landmarks and small towns. Places like Lerici just outside of Italy’s Cinque Terre, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa on your way to Florence.

I’d been to most of these places before, since I studied abroad in Florence when I was in college, so it was such an incredible experience to return and get a crash-course in everything for a second time!

Read on for a day-by-day recap of where you will go and what you can expect on a fast-paced Contiki Europe tour like this. And, be sure to reach the bottom for a video recap from my fellow travelers on the trip with me!

*Disclaimer: I took this Contiki trip in 2019. The actual itinerary, inclusions, restaurants, and travel schedule is subject to change. Always check Contiki’s website for the latest day-by-day itinerary breakdown!

Contiki Barcelona to Rome Quest: What It’s Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

DAY ONE: Barcelona 

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

The Barcelona to Rome Quest tour begins in Barcelona, Spain, which is where you’ll fly in to meet the rest of the group you’ll be traveling with. Our trip manager Mikael and our dedicated coach driver Paulo met us at the airport and whisked us off through the streets of Barcelona to our hostel.

You’ll notice on Contiki coach bus tours that even though there can sometimes be a good amount of driving, the drivers and trip managers (at least in my experience) are top-notch, impeccably professional, and very fun.

Since I was on a brand ambassador trip, some of our afternoon was spent getting briefed on the Contiki brand and the expectations the company had for our output during the trip (many of us are content creators and planned to create videos, shoot photos, and/or scribble down notes – like I did – to write articles for you on this website after the trip was over. So hey, thanks for reading!). But once that was done, it was back to the itinerary!

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

We kicked off our trip with a walking tour of the city, which quickly launched us into a face-to-face encounter with La Sagrada Familia, Ciutat Vella (Old Town Barcelona), and Las Ramblas – some of the most famous places to be and see in the city. After a quick stroll through the sights, we coached up to Poble Espanyol, an open-air museum-type space where we had our first evening out in Europe: a tapas and flamenco show at the Tablao de Carmen (and one of my favorite evenings from the entire week, despite the jet-lag). 

After the flamenco show, some troopers (myself included) went out to City Hall Club to experience some of Barcelona’s nightlife scene before calling it a night and heading back to our hostel. 

What It’s Like Traveling with Contiki: Included Activities Versus Free Time Add-Ons

A quick word on Contiki’s itineraries before moving on. Contiki’s trips typically include essential activities like walking tours and visits to landmarks. But, you will also have the option of opting into Free TIme Add-Ons (FTAs) throughout your trip as well for an additional cost. You can pay for these as you go and decide depending on how you’re feeling throughout the trip.

To give you an idea of what it’s like really traveling with Contiki when it comes to activity inclusions, exclusions, I’ll be recapping each day’s activities at the end of each section. FTAs that you have to pay an additional cost for will be labeled (FTA). Activities I did on my own that weren’t a part of Contiki’s itinerary will be labeled (personal time).

Day One Highlights:

  • Airport transfers (included)
  • Barcelona walking tour (included)
  • Tapas and flamenco show (FTA) – $
  • Night out in Barcelona (personal time)
  • Accommodation: hostel

Okay, on to day two!

DAY TWO: Barcelona to Nice 

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

On day two, we said goodbye to Spain and hit the road in our trusty coach for the long drive up to Nice. Because European driving laws for coaches are strictly enforced, you will make rest stops every couple of hours when you’re driving from place to place. Usually, these stops are pretty fun because rest stops in Europe are a cultural and culinary experience in their own right. That was definitely the case on our first stop somewhere near the border of Spain and France, where I scarfed down my first of many croque monseiurs (a ham & cheese sandwich topped with bechamel sauce) and ravenously eyed every single hunk of French cheese and crusty baguettes lining the aisles of the shop. 

The coach buses you ride on Contiki tours are equipped with WiFi and a restroom on board. The WiFi package they offer caps your free usage at 100 MB per 24-hour period, which isn’t very much at all. And at times, it can be spotty at best. So instead, I spent most of my bus time catching up on sleep, editing photos, talking with the group, and admiring the sights we drove past. From Barcelona to Nice, this drive is exceptionally beautiful, because you go from mountainous northern Spain, to wide-open farmland, to the rugged coastline of the Côte d’Azur. All of it is absolutely breathtaking. 

We made it to Nice around 6 pm, checked into our hostel, and immediately went out for dinner as a group. After dinner, we all visited Wayne’s Bar, a mainstay of Contiki trips through Nice, where you get to dance on tables to the tune of live cover bands. 

After sufficient table dancing, I broke away from the group to visit an underground salsa bar because when in…. France?

Hey, the French really know their latin ballroom dancing, to my surprise! 

Day Two Highlights:

  • Transportation from Spain to France – scenic coach ride along the Côte d’Azur (included)
  • Group dinner (included)
  • Night out in Nice (personal time)
  • Accommodation: hostel

DAY THREE: Nice & Monaco

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

Nice is one of the few stops on this particular trip where you get to stay for 2 nights. Our full day in Nice started out with an incredible bike ride through the city with Nice Cycle Tours. While I am usually apprehensive about the idea of me on a bike near cars and pedestrians, this ended up being one of the most fun FTAs on the entire trip, and I know many of the other travelers on this trip agreed. 

After a brisk bike ride up and down the windy, effortlessly beautiful streets of Nice, we had the rest of the afternoon free. I spent mine eating the best ravioli of my life (at a little restaurant called Cose Cosi), trying my first aperol spritz (which I am now officially addicted to), and walking to the beach. 

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

In the late afternoon, we took the coach down the Cote D’Azur to visit another country for dinner – Monaco!

I’d been to Monaco once in college to see the Royal Palace and the Monte-Carlo Casino. So, while I was a bit sad to not have more free time to wander around the streets of this tiny country, it’s still pretty cool to now say I’ve been to Monaco not once, but twice!

On your first visit to Monaco, you have to go inside the Monte-Carlo Casino, even if just to look around. It’s a beautiful building and really the epitome of French Riviera luxury. I will not be revealing how much money I lost within 15 minutes of being here, though.

Day Three Highlights:

  • E-Bike Cycling Tour in Nice (FTA)
  • Wandering around the city (personal time)
  • Evening trip to Monaco for dinner with casino visit (included)
  • Accommodation: hostel

DAY FOUR: Nice to Cinque Terre 

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

After probably my 9th breakfast croissant despite only spending 2 days in France (what is moderation, anyway?), we hit the road on day four for Italy.

Italy is such a special country to me, having called it home for a semester in college. I could not believe I was here again and had to practically pinch myself because the very first stop we made in Italy was to La Spezia. La Spezia is the gateway to Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its dramatic coastlines and delicately arranged, colorful fisherman’s villages. There are 5 villages total, with nothing but a rail car and a coastal hiking path connecting one town to the next.

Contiki provides you with a day pass to hop on and off the rail so that you can spend the day on your own terms, visiting as many or as few of the five towns as you like. That said, we really only had a couple of hours of free time here, so you’ll likely only visit two or three towns, tops.

During our free time, I went swimming and watched other braver souls in the group cliff jump into the ocean. After that, a couple of us hiked up to Nessun Dorma for dinner and an epic view of the sunset before catching the rail down to meet the coach. If you’re ever in Cinque Terre and make your way up to Nessun Dorma, you have to try pesto and focaccia bread, both of which are staples in this region of Italy. 

We spent the night in Lerici, a small Italian village 45 minutes south of Cinque Terre that boasts an incredibly picturesque harbor dotted with boats. I actually couldn’t believe my eyes when we got to our hotel… so much so that I forgot to take any photos besides the one you see above these paragraphs on the right! It was like stepping into a postcard or a movie scene.

Day Four Highlights:

  • Transportation from France to Italy (included)
  • Day trip to Cinque Terre with train tickets (included)
  • Lunch and swimming in the towns of Cinque Terre (personal time)
  • Accommodation: hotel

DAY FIVE: Cinque Terre to Florence via Pisa 

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

We woke up early to hit the road for Florence, making a quick pit-stop in Pisa.

Now, Pisa was the only place on this entire itinerary I hadn’t been before, so I was pretty excited to finally see the infamous leaning tower. In reality, the Piazza dei Miracoli where the Leaning Tower of Pisa is located is so crowded, but seeing the tower in person is actually pretty epic. It’s well worth weaving through fellow travelers to take it all in.

Afterwards, our trip manager orchestrated a photo contest where we all voted on whose Pisa photo was the most creative/hilarious, which was a fun way to pass the time on the coach from Pisa to Florence! 

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

In just under 2 hours, we made it to Florence, which was the stop I was most excited about returning to.

There is an included leather demonstration and walking tour where you’ll see some of Florence’s most prominent landmarks, including Ponte Vecchio, Medici Palace, the Duomo, the Basilica Santa Croce, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the Piazza della Signora. If you’ve never been to Florence before, the walking tour, which is led by a local guide, is well worth it. However, since I lived in Florence before, I opted to skip out and do some wandering on my own. I also personally didn’t enjoy the leather demonstration (it was the only activity on the trip I wish I’d also skipped). I found it touristy and a bit pushy. However, it didn’t last long, and I felt comfortable expressing this feedback to our trip manager afterwards.

At night, we were taken by coach to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers an incredible view of Florence from above. From there, we visited the Certosa Monastery (an operational monastery with actual monks in residency, which was such a unique experience and one I never thought I’d get to do) and had a really special dinner at La Certosa, which included several courses of incredible food, singing, and dancing.

We made friends with other travelers despite not speaking the same language, and we all danced the macarena together at the end of the night! I highly recommend opting in for this Tuscan evening FTA because it was honestly one of the best add-on meals and experiences on the entire trip. 

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

After dinner, we carried on to Red Garter, which, if you’ve ever been to Florence before, is a nightlife mainstay for study abroad students. It’s part bar, part club, part karaoke bar, and it’s frequented every single night of the week by locals and travelers alike.

And yes, you can bet we got on stage and sang. But this will be one of those “what happens in Florence, stays in Florence” memories.

Day Five Highlights:

  • Morning visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (included)
  • Florence walking tour (included)
  • Leather-making demonstration (included)
  • Certosa Monastery visit and dinner (FTA)
  • Night out in Florence (personal time)
  • Accommodation: hostel

DAY SIX: Florence to Sorrento via Pompeii

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

I was so sad to leave Florence because it was all starting to feel so familiar, almost as if I had never left. I still remembered how to walk to my favorite cafe in college, Antica Sosta, and I was thrilled to lead some of my fellow Contiki friends to the Ponte Vecchio for gelato and an iconic Florentine view. But, on this fast-paced itinerary, the show must go on!

We boarded the bus to head down to the southern region of Italy, specifically, to Pompeii.

To get us in the mood, I requested that our fearless trip manager blast Bastille’s song, Pompeii, in our coach on the way to the site, and we all sang along at the top of our lungs as was beginning to become customary for us on our long bus rides.

Pompeii, though unfortunately littered with some touristy kitsch and odd restaurants these days, is an incredibly remarkable place to witness in person. The ancient ruins of this Roman city, buried for centuries under ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, are so well preserved it’s almost eerie, like stepping back in time and feeling as if it could have been you there in that time and place all those years ago. We had a local guide take us around and show us all of the city’s most famous excavation sites, which by the way, is highly recommended. Otherwise you’d probably get lost! 

After Pompeii, we finished off the day by driving down the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento, arriving just before sunset to explore the central part of the town and grab some dinner before checking into our hotel. Sorrento and all of the coastal towns in the area are as insane as any Google search or social media post makes them seem. Bustling streets and shops dance dangerously near the edge of dramatic cliffs that drop straight down to the ocean below. It’s picturesque, it’s glamorous, and I still couldn’t believe my eyes even though I’d been to Sorrento once before. Just as shockingly beautiful as ever. 

Day Six Highlights:

  • Day trip to Pompeii with guided walking tour (included)
  • Dinner in Sorrento (personal time)
  • Accommodation: hostel

DAY SEVEN: Sorrento & Capri

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

A trip to the Amalfi Coast simply cannot exist without a visit to the island of Capri.

We took a day trip to Capri and hopped on an included private cruise around the island, which was one of the highlights of my entire time in Europe with Contiki. We swam in royal blue water, sunbathed on our boat, and naturally had countless photoshoots throughout the morning against the incredible backdrop of the island.

It was one of those situations where you find yourself wondering how this could possibly all be real. At this point, I started to get the sense that moments like this happen often on Contiki trips like this, where I had literally no other responsibility but to show up on time for the coach bus and have fun. 

Back on land, we finished the night off with a pizza making demonstration which we, of course, inhaled in literally 2 bites per slice. The pizza in this region of Italy, which you might know as Neapolitan pizza (from Naples), is some of the best you’ll ever try if you enjoy tasting things in their purest form. 

Day Seven Highlights:

  • Capri island cruise (FTA)
  • Group dinner (included)

DAY EIGHT: Sorrento to Rome

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

The next day, my roommate Lana and I decided it would be a great idea to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to go to the beach and watch the sunrise before departing with the group. What sounded like a good idea ended up manifesting as two girls sprinting for their lives up and down the broody, dim 5 a.m. streets of Sorrento in search of the one road that led down the cliffs to the beach (it’s trickier than it seems).

On our way back up the cliff to the hotel, we were running late for the coach and mad-dashing like crazy women. We must’ve been quite the sight. During our frantic run, one of us got saved by an Italian man on a vespa and dropped off ever so conveniently next to our bus.

It wasn’t me 🙁

The road to Rome was one that I definitely couldn’t catch any sleep on, despite the 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. The drive in and out of the Amalfi Coast is mesmerizing, and you’ll feel guilty closing your eyes.

Once Amalfi was out of sight, I was wired, catching up on work using the coach’s WiFi and starting to feel the creeping sensation that our trip was almost coming to a close. We all joked at the beginning of the trip that we were doing so much that each day felt like its own lifetime. But right now, sitting in this bus surrounded by strangers who began to feel like such close friends, the realization that that there in fact was an end in sight hit me… hard. 

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

Fortunately, Rome has a way of making you forget life’s hardships. When we arrived, we were whisked straight into Vatican City for a tour of the smallest country in the world.

After the tour, we all checked into a super hip hostel, napped, and got ready for our dinner experience, a pasta cooking class! Together, we made ravioli, linguine, and rigatoni, and had a beautiful family meal with delicious wine and bruschetta.

The evening afterwards was a pretty emotional one, with (more) singing at the top of our lungs in the streets of Rome, lots of hugging, and a night out with every single person on the trip, including our coach driver who by this point was undoubtedly our hero and MVP. 

Day Eight Highlights:

  • Day trip to Vatican City (included)
  • Pasta cooking class (FTA)
  • Night out in Rome (personal time)
  • Accommodation: hostel


Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

I had a feeling that my last day of this trip would be sad, but I had no idea just how disoriented I’d feel after spending nine days in so many incredible places sharing such beautiful memories with strangers-turned-friends. But I knew I had to keep it together! We started off the day with a tour of the Colosseum, followed by a walking tour through some of Rome’s most iconic sights. 

In the evening, we were surprised with dinner in a rooftop apartment – a local’s home – overlooking the Pantheon. And no, I can’t make this stuff up. 

The dinner experience was co-hosted by Contiki and EatWith, an international company that strives to bring locals and travelers together through shared meals. We were hosted by a local Italian family who welcomed us into their apartment, prepared lasagna and other tasty dishes with us, and spent the entire time chatting with us about Rome, their lives, and their food.

With the backdrop of the Pantheon and the sun setting over the city, if I was emotional in the morning, I was 10 times more grateful (and emotionally wrecked) in this exact moment. It was another one of those indescribable moments, and one I’m so humbled I got to share with others.

While I selfishly could have skipped my flight the next morning and stayed in this moment forever (I was tempted!), this meal was a perfect way to end a perfect, insanely eventful, life-changing trip.

Day Nine Highlights:

  • Colosseum visit (included)
  • Rome walking tour (included)
  • Homemade Italian dinner experience (FTA)


On the very last day of this Contiki trip, we gathered our belongings and each made our way to the airport for our respective flights after breakfast. Just like that, the whirlwind trip that was my very first Contiki came to an end.

Day Ten Highlights:

  • Airport transfers (included)

Things to Consider When Traveling with Contiki

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
  • You’ll see a LOT in a short amount of time. Contiki trips are particularly great if you want to maximize your time off and see as much as possible
  • You will spend a lot of time on the coach. Pack accordingly! Books, downloaded movies, playlists, headphones, and even a travel pillow will be very welcome on a Contiki tour.
  • There will be lots of walking. Honestly, leave the heels at home and opt for your most comfortable shoes instead.
  • You’ll want to pack light. Bring what you need in a carry on only if you can help it. Check-in luggage can be a tight squeeze in shared hostel rooms, and they are a pain in the butt to lug across cobblestoned streets and up endless flights of stairs, which will happen a lot in Europe.
  • You will be staying in a mix of hostels and hotels, and sharing rooms with others on the trip. If you’re a light sleeper like me, definitely pack earplugs and an eye mask.
  • Not all meals are included. Get familiar with your itinerary and budget accordingly for the free time you’ll have to go experience local food on your own.
  • You don’t need to do everything. These kinds of trips can be overwhelming! You don’t need to opt into every activity (even the included ones) if you need some downtime to recharge. And, while Contiki is known for being very high-energy with a lot of eager travelers looking to party every night, you don’t have to do that either if it isn’t your style. Listen to your body and enjoy at your own pace!
  • You will want to budget for additional experiences. In case there are any FTAs or additional experiences you want to do on trip, make sure you have the cash or enough money on your card to pay for them. Contiki’s FTAs can be paid for while you’re on trip.
  • Tipping is kindly requested, but not required. Bring enough money to tip your trip manager, your driver, and your local guides at your own discretion. Though tipping is not required, your guides do a hell of a lot of work round-the-clock during your trip to make it exceptional – a little gesture of gratitude can go a long way! My rule of thumb is between $2 and $10 per day each for your trip manager and driver, depending on the length, price, and complexity of your trip.

Is Traveling with Contiki Right for Me?

Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki
Rachel Off Duty: What It Was Honestly Like Traveling with Contiki

The answer to this question is different for everyone, and it really depends on what your outlook will be towards group travel in general. For a deeper dive into everything you need to know about Contiki, you’ll want to read my in-depth Contiki review next.

It’s worth mentioning again that Contiki’s audience ranges in age from 18 – 35. This is both a selling point and a word of caution. On the plus side, if you fall within this age range you will get to meet fellow like-minded travel enthusiasts and make some really close friends from all over the world while exploring a new country (or countries) together. The people seriously made this trip for me!

On the other hand, Contiki’s itineraries are fairly fast-paced and there is a fair amount of going out in the evenings. It’s optional and you don’t need to participate if that’s not your thing, but it’s definitely something you should be aware of.  

All that said, I think that taking a group trip is an essential experience for everyone to have at least once, whether you’re traveling with friends, solo, or going abroad for the first time. If you do travel often, what I personally loved the most about this trip was the fact that I did not have to plan or figure out the logistics for absolutely anything. Everything from your accommodations, to your transportation, to your day-to-day schedule is figured out for you so the only requirement you have is to simply enjoy.

This Contiki trip was truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life and it was the first of many epic group travels since.

WATCH: Barcelona to Rome Quest Contiki Trip Recap

YouTube video

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Rachel Off Duty: Contiki Mediterranean Quest Review: 10 Jam-Packed Days in Europe
Rachel Off Duty: Contiki Mediterranean Quest Review: 10 Jam-Packed Days in Europe

Hey there! I’m Rachel, a travel writer and a full-time advertising / marketing expert. In 2019, I traveled more than 25 times while working 9 to 5, and since then I’ve committed myself to living a more adventurous life, even if it means bringing my laptop along for the ride.

Are you hungry to travel more, but overwhelmed with how to juggle work and play? You’ve come to the right place!

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