Program Summary - Spring 2021

European Arts & Culture Spring 2021 Program Details    
Dates Thurs Apr 22, 2021 to Wed May 19, 2021    
Length 28 Days    
Fee USD $8,000  Cancelled    

Program Summary - Spring 2022

European Arts & Culture Spring 2022 Program Details    
Dates Fri Apr 22, 2022 to Thurs May 19, 2022    
Length 28 Days    
Fee USD $8,000    

What’s It All About?

The European Arts and Culture Program is a structured, four week, cultural and artistic exploration of Portugal, Spain and France.

This program will develop your creative senses through expert tutoring in a variety of artistic mediums, build your independence through immersive travel and allow you to experience the culture and history of some of Europe’s iconic cities all while making new friends.

The Program is based on the cornerstones of creative discovery, immersive travel and cultural exploration and will leave you feeling inspired, confident and rejuvenated.

You’ll immerse yourself in the beauty, art and culture of Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris, spending two glorious weeks developing your artistic skills at light-hearted, creative retreats in the Serra da Lousã mountains of central Portugal and the Languedoc region of southern France.

Sintra Palace Lisbon

You will be traveling with your cohort and our experienced team of Program Leaders by train making your way through the lovely European country side as it blossoms to life in the springtime.

You’ll stay in fantastic, centrally located accommodation and enjoy daily group meals, outings and all the banter and fun that comes with the Irish perspective.

If you want to develop your artistic skills and experience the food, cities and culture of Europe while building your independence and making new friends this is the program for you.


  • Make Art! Spend a week living in La Cerderia, an artist’s village set on a nature reserve in the highest mountain range in Portugal. Learn to cook traditional Portuguese cuisine and enjoy daily workshops in sketching and pottery with local artists.
  • Build your independence as you travel in comfort, style and class across Portugal, Spain and France on the European Inter-Rail train network. 
  • Cultivate your appreciation for art, culture and architecture, touring Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris with your peers and Irish Gap Year Program leaders.
  • Paris in the springtime! 
  • See original artwork by world famous artists such as Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky, Monet, Renoir, Velázquez, Goya, Cezanne and more at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Museo Nacionale d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. 
  • Learn about the social fabric of modern Europe through the fascinating histories of the Impressionist and Surrealist movements. 
  • Spend a glorious week living in a small village in the south of France, learning to cook traditional French cuisine and painting the spectacular sights of rural France en plein air under the instruction of expert tutors. 
  • Make the classic journey through Lisbon’s historical districts on the quaint little yellow tram.
  • Go on daily walk and sketch tours with your handmade journal and our art supplies, interpreting and capturing moments throughout your travels. 
  • Enjoy workshops hosted by local chefs teaching you to cook the traditional foods of Portugal, Spain and France. The food on this program will be AMAZING!
  • The humour, support and perspective of your Irish Gap Year Program Leaders.


Apply Here

Our application process is done entirely through the website, click the 'Apply Here' link above to get started.

You'll receive automated emails from Irish Gap Year prompting each step of the process.

  1. First create and register your account with Irish Gap Year. It's an easy process that only takes 5 minutes.
  2. Your Irish Gap Year Student Portal will be activated. Next you'll complete our questionnaire and medical form (through your student portal).
  3. We'll be in touch with you via email to organize a phone call to get to know you better, answer your questions about the program and officially welcome you aboard.
  4. Your orientation materials will be available through your Irish Gap Year Student and Parent Portals.

Upon acceptance, a 10% deposit is required to secure a place on this program.

The balance of the program fee is then due 90 days prior to the start of the program.

Click Here to Create an Account


Combining Short Gap Year Programs

The European Arts & Culture Program can be combined with our European Explorer Program to make an 8 week gap program giving you an amazing experience of Europe.

Program Start Date End Date Length
European Arts & Culture Apr 22, 2022 May 19, 2022 28 Days
European Explorer May 19, 2022 Jun 15, 2022 28 Days
Combined European Experience Apr 22, 2022 Jun 15, 2022 55 Days

You can speak to us to find out more about combining our short gap year programs.

Equally the European Arts and Culture Program can act as a stand-alone gap year experience for those with less time available.

The Journey

As we navigate our way through Portugal, Spain and France by train we will settle into a rhythm in each our destinations.
We will begin with a group walking tour to get you acquainted with the lay of the land. Each subsequent day will be a balance of structured workshops, site visits and a healthy mix of free time for you to explore independently.

Lisbon: A Doce Vida in Portugal’s Capital City

Lisbon Yellow Tram

The European Arts and Culture Program begins in the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon.

Bathed in sunshine, fresh sea-air and adorned with pastel coloured building spread across her seven hills, Lisbon is truly one of Europe’s jewels.

Lisbon is also one of Europe’s most charismatic and vibrant cities, while here you will explore the unique blend of traditional heritage, striking modernism and progressive thinking that makes Lisbon so special.

You’ll get a glimpse into the life of the Portuguese while also exploring the city’s rich culture and history.

We’ll set the tone and pace of the European Arts and Culture Program while in Lisbon and enjoy a thorough, fun and light-hearted orientation to bond the group.

You’ll be staying in the Graça district, a trendy neighbourhood offering excellent food, street art and its own unique personality. Off the tourist-trail, yet central, Graça is the perfect home base for our time in Lisbon.

Lisbon Highlights

  • Work with local printmakers and bookbinders at one of Lisbon’s up-and-coming independent creative arts spaces to create your own unique travel-journal from scratch for the journey ahead.
  • Ride the iconic Yellow Street Cars up and down the steep hills of Lisbon as it rumbles and shakes its way through the labyrinth of cobble stoned alleys and ancient houses of the historical Alfama district.
  • Enjoy a day trip to the whimsical, mountain-top palaces of Sintra. A truly unique combination of Moorish and Manueline architecture where we will tour the palace and explore the majesty and beauty of the palace grounds while learning about the fascinating history of the area.
  • Take a boat trip along the Lisbon waterfront to the Belem district where we’ll tour the Belem Tower, the departure point for the great Portuguese explorers of the 16th century.
  • Explore Lisbon’s historic Almafa district now home to the city’s thriving creative community. This part of Lisbon was once outside the city walls and home to poor sailors. In modern times it hosts a thriving, artistic community and is home to come of Lisbon’s hippest shops, cafés and bars.
  • Enjoy delicious Portuguese espresso, Pasteis de Belem and the vibrant café’ culture.
  • Visit the ‘Time-Out Market’ where we’ll enjoy dinner at local food trucks and explore art expos and bars.
  • Step back in time when you enter the Pavilhao Chines Bar. A pocket full of curiosities, toys and accoutrements from both world wars, private drinking rooms and legendary cocktails.
  • Enjoy delicious group meals in the evening and free time to explore Lisbon.

Cerderia Portugal: A Creative Hub where Art and Nature Live Together

From Lisbon we will embark on a scenic journey by train, deep into the mountains of central Portugal to La Cerderia Home for Creativity.

This small, traditional village tucked away in the Serra da Lousã mountains has been lovingly restored and re-vamped as an artist’s retreat and creative haven. It is a magical place where community, nature and art come together to inspire and revitalize.

Your time at La Cerderia will be peaceful, relaxing and creative. You will settle into an unhurried and mindful pace of life enjoying workshops in sketching, ceramics and mixed-media with local artists. These workshops are designed to promote creative thinking and connect you with the Portuguese style of each of the disciplines taught. They are fun, light-hearted and suitable for both experienced artists and newbies alike!

A typical day at La Cerderia will include breakfast as a group followed by a 3-hour workshop with our art tutors (with a break half-way). We will then have a large, traditional Portuguese lunch at our villa followed by a mini siesta.  In the afternoon country strolls, swims and kayaking will provide plenty of fresh air and time in nature to make the most of this spectacular setting.

Dinner will be the social focus of the evening as is the tradition in Portugal, providing time for the group to unwind, laugh and bond with our hosts. Evenings at La Cerderia will be for free-time and resting up in the tranquillity and quietness of the mountains.

You will leave Cerderia feeling rejuvenated, inspired and appreciative of your time spent in nature immersed in art.

Highlights of Cerderia Home for Creativity

  • Spend a relaxing and holistic week in residency at one of Portugal’s most unique creative retreats, La Cerderia where traditional meets contemporary and art meets nature in a spectacular natural atop Portugal’s highest mountain range.
  • Explore your creativity while participating in daily art workshops in sketching, ceramics and mixed media with local artists.
  • Enjoy the mouth-watering delights of traditional Portuguese cuisine prepared fresh for your group.
  • Keep active with daily walks in the peaceful countryside, swims in the beautiful rivers and kayaking on the lakes of the Serra da Lousã mountains.
  • Get to know the local Portuguese artists and the incredible story of La Cerderia Home for Creativity.

Madrid: Classical European Fine Art and Contemporary Urban Culture

After a gloriously rejuvenating week at La Cerderia we will make our way by train to Madrid, Spain’s famously jubilant capital city, renowned for a legacy of fine art, graceful boulevards, fanciful parks, world-famous galleries, museums and vibrant culture.

Our time in Madrid will educate you on both traditional and contemporary aspects of Spanish culture and art, striking a fine balance between ‘must-sees’ and ‘never-knew-existed’ locations.

You will learn about the fascinating history of the surrealist movement, offering surprising insights into the connection between Madrid, Paris and Barcelona as well as the cultural fabric of Europe.

We will tour two of Spain’s finest art museums, The Prado and the Queen Sofia National Museum of Art showcasing masterpieces of El Greco, Rubens, Goya, Velázquez, Dali, Picasso and Miro. Our expert guides will educate us on the unique styles and backstories of some of Spain’s most celebrated artists.

We will also explore Madrid’s contemporary creative culture, touring the city’s urban art with local graffiti artists in the most avant-garde barrio of Malasana. Malasana’s street art tells the story of life in Madrid and the current issues facing the city, offering a unique contextualization of modern-day Madrid.

In summary, your time in Madrid will be full of art galleries, tapas, cafes, music, vintage-shops, old-town squares, technicoloured street-art and an excess of life in all areas of the city for you to soak up and enjoy!

Madrid Highlights

  • Enjoy private guided tours of the world-renowned Prado Museum and the Queen Sofia National Museum of Art, each housing a comprehensive collection of masterpieces from all over Europe spanning over 900 hundred years.
  • Be inspired by Surrealism, its thought-provoking purpose and its commentary on 20th century Europe.
  • Enjoy ‘walk and sketch’ outings in Madrid’s plazas, squares and parks with your Irish Gap Year Program leaders. We’ll bring our favourite art supplies to capture the essence of Madrid in watercolour and pencil.
  • Tour Madrid’s ever-evolving, politically charged, street-art with local artists in the Malasana barrio as we learn about the current events and issues facing the city through its infamous graffiti murals.
  • Catch some Flamenco dancing at Las Tablas, a tiny bar where both locals and visitors go to enjoy the traditional dancing of Madrid.
  • Explore Madrid’s contemporary creative culture in Malasansa, Madrid’s eclectic and hip neighbourhood full of street art, cultural-arts centres, funky cafés, lively bars, bakeries and delicious food trucks.
  • Long, Spanish-style group meals in the evenings.
  • Attend the Mercado de la Cebada, a 138 year old, local outdoor market with fresh food, clothing, art and just about anything else you can imagine!
  • Experience the best tapas in Madrid and get acquainted with Spanish style dining.

Barcelona: Architecture and Vibrant Street-Life

Miro Sculpture BarcelonaA short train ride from Madrid will take us east to Barcelona, the sun-soaked capital city of the Catalunya region that enchants visitors with its bold and iconic architecture, world-class cuisine, modern art, renowned museums, vibrancy and warm, golden sand beaches. 

Our time in Barcelona is designed to give you a cultural and artistic overview of one of Europe’s best loved cities with plenty of free time to explore the city, fun sight-seeing and delicious food thrown into the mix for good measure.

We will survey the city’s unique architecture and discuss the distinct style known as Catalan Modernism with local architectural historians. In particular we will be focusing on the iconic works of Antoni Gaudi with guided site visits to Park Güell, Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Familia.

You will learn the culinary art of paella making from one of Barcelona’s most renowned and beloved Paella chefs, spending an evening preparing the mouth-watering national dish before digging in!

There will also be free-time to explore the young, hip and vibrant Gracia district, where we’ll be staying. Here you are safe to head out as a group and mix with the many young travellers and backpackers who visit this part of Barcelona from all over the world.

Barcelona Highlights

  • Ride the funicular to the top of Mont Juic and explore the magnificent palace and panoramic views of Barcelona below. We’ll bring our art supplies and do some sketching while we’re at it!
  • Learn about Catalan modernist architecture on an architectural tour of Barcelona, including the Gaudi masterpieces Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Familia.
  • Stay in the Gracia district and Carrer de Verdi where you’ll be free to explore this bohemian hideaway full of old-city traditions, frequented by backpackers and Barcelonans alike.
  • Learn to make Spain’s iconic dish, Paella, from Barcelona’s top paella chef in her home then spend a lovely evening enjoying your homemade dinner!
  • Explore the Gothic Quarter, a charming maze of cobble stone alleys and ancient buildings leading down to the blue waters of the Mediterranean where we’ll enjoy swimming and a day at the beach.
  • Explore one of the world’s best outdoor markets, Marcado del Boqueria where you can sample culinary delights, check out artisan crafts and do some excellent people-watching!

La Joie de Vivre: Painting in the South of France

We aim to give our gappers the full French experience of ‘La joie de vivre’ while painting in the South of France with our fantastic hosts Simon and Monica. Consider the joys of making art in the open air, freshly prepared meals with friends, fine wine and the French countryside in the Spring.

Our days will be a delightful mixture of site-specific, watercolour workshops in the open air with Simon (an accomplished artist) and cooking lessons in French cuisine back in our home with Monica. We’ll set off for different areas of the village and countryside each day and relax into our painting under Simon’s guidance.

We’ll be staying in the tranquil, wine grower’s village of Pouzolles, in the Languedoc region of France which extends from the Pyrenees Mountains bordering Spain and stretching to the Mediterranean Sea.

The area’s rolling hilltops are adorned with Roman aqueducts and medieval Cathar castles. The surrounding countryside is lush with vineyards, medieval town squares ring out with church bells and old-world charm abounds. The deep blue skies, colourful facades and sparkling waters of Mediterranean lagoons make for an incredibly rich and inspiring setting to brush up on your painting skills.

While in Pouzolles we’ll be staying in a traditional French home right in the centre of the village. You’ll awake each day to the sound of church bells and the smell of freshly baked baguettes drifting through the sweet morning air.

In addition to creating beautiful art and savoury meals we’ll be exploring the surrounding area, touring a vineyard to learn the basics of French wine making and spending a day kayaking on the nearby La Thongue River.

Painting in the South France Highlights

  • Brush up on your watercolour skills in the open air, under the glorious Mediterranean sun with daily workshops provided by our hosts and art tutors on site at Roman aqueducts, French vineyards, and Medieval town squares.
  • Live in your own traditional home (complete with its own swimming pool) in the quaint French village of Pouzolles located in the exceptionally beautiful Languedoc region of the south of France.
  • Learn to cook traditional French cuisine with our hosts and enjoy delicious, fresh evening meals together in the open-air courtyard.
  • Learn about French wine and enjoy a day touring the vineyards of one of France’s most abundant wine producing region.
  • Take in the spectacular nature and weather of the south of France while kayaking on La Thongue River.

Paris in the Springtime

Paris is a global centre for art, culture, cuisine and fashion. The iconic ‘city of light’ has been an essential destination for travellers and artists since the Age of the Enlightenment and is the perfect place to wrap up our European Arts and Culture Program.

Our time in Paris will give you an authentic experience of the city’s eternally artistic soul. We will spend our time sipping in the café culture, art, history and living ‘la belle vie’.

We’ll be staying in one of the hippest parts of the city, the Montmarte district. For over a century the omnipresence of art has given this district a unique, bohemian feel. In Montmarte we’ll explore the narrow winding streets, cafés, cabarets and hidden places where Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and Braque once frequented for inspiration.

You will learn about the fascinating history of the French Impressionist Movement on-site at the world-famous Musee d’Orsay. We’ll day-trip to the Palace of Versailles where the wealth and power of 17th century France is on display and just for fun, we’ll participate in a make-up workshop teaching you the cartoonish make-up style of the 18th century aristocracy (think Marie Antoinette and co.).

Paris being the final stop on our European Arts and Culture Program will also be a place of reflection back on your amazing journey through Europe. Your program leaders and new friends (for life!) will be there to reminisce, laugh and share memories.

Paris Highlights

  • Stay in Montmarte, a timeless district steeped in bohemian history and art where cafes cabarets and secret gardens evoke the carefree life of the famous artists who once lived there.
  • Experience the magic of the Impressionist Movement at the Musée d'Orsay and learn the interesting and inspiring tale of how Renoir, Monet and Cezanne went from the dregs of the Parisian art world to the city’s most elite artists by turning their backs on critics.
  • Day trip to the Palace of Versailles, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and staging post for many significant world events. Marvel at the striking riches and lavishness as we tour the palace.
  • Experience the blossoming of life and beauty of Paris in the springtime!
  • Enjoy Parisian café culture and drink a café au lait en terrace.
  • Work with local make-up artists learning the macabre make-up style of Paris’s 18th century aristocracy. Prepare to laugh hard when you see your friends festooned as the lords and ladies of yesteryear!

More About Our European Arts and Culture Program

Our European Arts and Culture Program is based on the cornerstones of Creative Discovery, Immersive Travel and Cultural Exploration.

Through these values we aim to provide an utterly unique experience of Europe and a journey of personal growth and cultural education.

The Cornerstones

Creative Discovery

To us creative discovery means an open and light-hearted approach to art with the goal of having fun and getting imaginative. It means creating a congenial and supportive atmosphere where you feel free to play with your art and unleash your creative spirit.

We promote this approach to art in several ways. Through a range of workshops hosted by local artists in the cities that we visit, through our two week-long creative retreats, through daily journaling and through site visits to places of inspiration throughout the program.

Creative Retreats in Portugal and the South of France

In the mountains of Portugal, on a nature reserve and in a small village in the south of France you will spend two balanced and holistic weeks enjoying daily tuition in a range of disciplines from expert local artists.

You will develop your skills in painting, cooking, ceramics and sketching in low-stress and fun workshops. Fresh, traditional cuisine will be served daily and we will balance out our creative endeavours with strolls in the country-side, swimming, kayaking, lake and beach days all mixed in for good measure.

Your time at the creative retreats in Portugal and France is the perfect tonic and a rejuvenating rest from time spent traveling in the bigger cities and a chance to switch off from the outside world.


At the start of the program you’ll be creating your own travel journal in Lisbon with a local bookbinder. Your journal will serve as a depository of inspiration and become a unique keepsake from your time in Europe.

You’ll be using your journal on a regular basis for our ‘walk and sketch’ days when we’ll set out with a small selection of our favourite art supplies (supplied by Irish Gap Year) to creatively record your travels in your own style.

Inspiring places

You’ll be visiting some of Europe’s most renowned art galleries, architectural wonders and cultural centres during your time on this program.

Your time immersed in these iconic and moving places will inspire your own creativity, love of art and zest for life!

Workshops with local artists

You’ll be working with local artists in a range of fun workshops designed to give you a distinct and insightful perspective on each of the locations that we visit.

From print and journal making with a Portuguese bookbinder in Lisbon, to the art of 18th century make-up in Paris, to learning the art of cooking an authentic paella, these workshops will allow you meet interesting people and create unique take-aways from your time in Europe.

Cultural Exploration

We believe that experiencing other cultures and ways of life is an essential part of a young person’s education. The result of your time exploring the cultures of Portugal, Spain and France will be a broadened worldview, a first-hand experience of Europe and a sense of connection to others.

Your travels through the continent will include walking tours, visits to art galleries, museums, old-town centres and iconic places in each country we visit. We will balance the cultural visits throughout the program between ‘must-sees’ and lesser-known-gems. From touring Moorish Castles high atop the hills of Lisbon, to exploring the fabulously funky Mercado de la Cebada for art, food and vintage threads in Madrid, to touring modernist architecture in Barcelona there is plenty of variety in the daily itinerary to keep things interesting!

Of course, we can’t talk about European culture without talking about food. The pleasure of preparing a meal with fresh ingredients and enjoying a long evening of conversation, wine and delicious food is a tremendously pleasant experience. You’ll enjoy the best of food throughout this program whether it is a group meal at one of our favourite restaurants, street-food or a cooking workshop with one of our local hosts to teach you to make some of the best loved traditional cuisines of Portugal, Spain and France.

Immersive Travel

Immersive travel means taking the time to connect on a deeper level with your journey, your fellow travellers and to look within. It means traveling the way locals do. On the European Arts and Culture Program it means traveling by train.

Travel by rail is inherently introspective and rhythmic. It lends itself to the artistic mind and inspires. Watching the beautiful European countryside blossom to life in the spring through the window of a train will fill your soul with zest and wanderlust.

These journeys by rail will come to be some of your fondest memories. They will provide time for conversation with fellow travellers, sketching and journaling, napping, daydreaming and soaking up every bit of inspiration on your trip.

You will be passing through some of Europe’s most spectacular landscapes like the Pyrenees Mountains on the Spanish – French border, the coast and mountains of Portugal and the fruitful lands of the south of France.

Train travel in Europe is also an excellent way to build your independence and confidence. With the support of your program leaders and your cohort you will learn how to navigate the railways of Europe and immerge a more confident traveller.

Who is this Program for?

The European Arts and Culture Program is for students who wish to develop their creative side, make art and experience the culture and history of Europe with a group of like-minded students.

An interest in the art of slow travel is essential. Students will navigate their way through Portugal, Spain and France by train with their cohort and the Irish Gap Year Program Leaders allowing great opportunity to build independence, confidence and life-skills.

You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy and benefit from the European Arts and Culture Program. We ask that you come with an open mind and enthusiasm to get creative!

What’s Included on the European Arts and Culture Program

  • Accommodation - Students will share (male and female separate) rooms in top-rated, centrally located hostels in Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. At our creative retreats in Portugal and France students will stay in beautiful guesthouses with a roommate. Our accommodation includes shared kitchen, private bathrooms and common areas.
  • All linen and towels are provided. We strive to provide the very best accommodations that are clean, safe, full of character and centrally located.
  • All breakfasts and most dinners. In total, Irish Gap Year provides 28 breakfasts and 20 dinners. Lunches are included during residency in the art retreat in Portugal, but not during rest of the program.
  • 24/7 support from Irish Gap Year’s experienced team of Program Leaders.
  • Parents and guardians are given a dedicated telephone number to call if they need to speak to their child urgently. Students are also provided with this number and staff are always located close-by during free time.
  • All transport within Europe.
  • All entry fees for parks, UNESCO sites, museums and activities.
  • All staff conducting activities are fully qualified and trained to undertake the activity.
  • Fully insured and certified activity providers.
  • Fully insured and certified transport providers.
  • Program leaders are experienced mentors and have occupational first aid.
  • All art supplies.

What's Not Included?

  • International flights to Lisbon and from Paris.
  • Individual travel insurance.
  • General spending money (See FAQ’s for recommended daily allowance).