A journey backpacking Europe is one of the best adventures any traveler can experience. The European continent is packed with fairy-tales villages, stunning national parks, ultra-cool cities, fascinating history, delicious food, and friendly people.
Modern Europe is a great melting pot of culture, humanity, and culinary traditions. Its cities are gorgeous and its mountains even more so. Deciding where to go and what to do can be challenging as every country in Europe has something fantastic to offer backpackers.
Planning a trip to Europe takes a lot of energy! In addition to figuring out the details of your journey, there is an important fact that should be on your mind: backpacking in Europe CAN be expensive if you’re not careful.
With a few tips and travel hacks for backpacking Europe up your sleeve, you can really enjoy the best of what Europe has to offer without ending up penniless by journeys end.
This Europe travel guide will teach you everything you need to know in order to have a unique and rewarding personal journey backpacking this amazing region. In this travel guide, I cover the best European travel routes, travel trips, what to pack for visiting Europe, safety information, trekking in Europe and my favorite backpacking destinations in Europe.
Why Go Backpacking in Europe?
Europe is any traveller’s dream and whatever you want from travel, you can find it someplace in Europe. If you’re new to backpacking, Europe is a great place to start your travels — European countries are well-connected, safe, super diverse, easy to navigate, and packed with plenty of wonders.
Now is your chance to experience life in some of the best cities in Europe! Get stoned and drink coffee in Amsterdam. Island hop in Greece. Get off the beaten path in Scotland. Live life to its fullest in Berlin. Explore the cliff-sides of Ireland…
Dammit Europe: So many awesome countries you have…
Whatever it is you enjoy doing whilst on a backpacking trip, Europe has it ALL on offer and much more. Generally, Europe has a great transportation network and moving from one country to the next is easy. The first thing you have to do is plan your trip to Europe based on what you want to get out of your adventure.
At the end of the day, the best Europe trip route lies in your hands my friends. I’m here to provide you with all the awesome ideas you need to get started!
Europe is obviously NOT as cheap as backpacking in Southeast Asia although in contrast, things generally are more organized in Europe. If you thrive on a bit of order and a bit of spontaneity, you are going to love traveling here!
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Best Itineraries for Backpacking Europe
Now let’s take a look at some of the best Europe backpacking routes I have assembled below.
Backpacking Europe Itinerary 2 weeks: Cities, Beaches, Mountains
Having a two week trip to Europe is awesome. Short, sweet, and just enough to leave you hungry for more adventure. In order to backpack Europe in two weeks, you need to have a realistic expectation of what you can actually see and experience in that time. In my opinion, visiting multiple countries in any depth is probably out of the question. An exception could be popping over to Wales from England for a week or so.
Even if you could hop between countries with efficiency, it is better to focus your energy on getting to know a few places within a country quite well. After all, it is not much fun spending all of your time sitting on buses or waiting in airports.
My advice is to pick a country that you really want to visit and explore that country with all your effort in two weeks. Picking a smaller country like Portugal, Spain, Austria, the Greek Islands or the UK are great options for those short on time.
If you really want to pack in multiple countries on your trip it is possible. Also if budget restrictions are not super tight, you could make a pretty good tour of several European capital cities in 2 weeks if you are the type of backpacker that enjoys exploring urban environments and culture. For example, you could definitely visit Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, and London in two weeks – it would just require you to be on the go all of the time and may also batter the shit out of your budget.
You’ll hear me say this several times throughout this Europe travel guide: If you can rent a campervan at least for one week, you won’t be disappointed! Seeing Europe by campervan is a great experience! If you have only 7 days in Europe, a campervan might just be the best way to spend that time.
Europe in 2 Weeks Travel Idea #1 – Northern Spain
This is a great 2 week Spain travel itinerary. Whether you fly into Madrid or Barcelona, catch a ride to San Sebastián for some days at the beach. You could easily spend a week chilling and partying in the Basque Country. Every visitor should try the Basque cuisine: the pintxos (tapas), fish, the fancy restaurants, and the cider houses. Bilbao remains one of my favorite cities I have ever visited in Europe.
Afterward, make your way to the coastal region of Asturias, stop by Santillana del Mar – a medieval town that is in great shape today. Asturias is a terrific place to visit in Spain if you like to hike, and you are after a completely different side of “traditional” Spain.
Galicia looks more like Ireland than Spain whereas, Central and Southern Spain are dry and hot. Oviedo will have the most options for accommodation in Galicia. You can make your way along Galicia’s coastline through Coruña and Costa da Morts as well. Galicia will certainly be cooler than other regions to the south!
Spend your last couple nights in Santiago de Compostela, a Galician city with fine homemade cooking and a spectacular cathedral.
This is a great travel itinerary to couple with the epic El Camino de Santiago walk, an epic month-long pilgrimage, which I covered below in our trekking section! And if you are Backpacking Spain and Portugal together, this trip will fit in nicely, as it is simple to cross into Portugal, just below Galicia.
If you are traveling in Spain for the museums, head inland to Bilbao to visit the famous Guggenheim museum. You can also take a day trip to La Rioja, Spain’s most famous wine region!
Andalusia is another great region to experience and our Senior Editor Freeborn Aiden created an epic 10 day Andalusia itinerary. Spain offers some of the best backpacking Europe trips imaginable.
Europe in 2 Weeks Travel Idea #2 – Portugal
This Portugal itinerary is great whether you have two weeks or 10 days in Europe. In addition to exploring a few cities in Portugal, visit some of the best beaches that the country has to offer. The majority of this adventure will take place in the Algarve, so be sure to pack lots of sunscreen and your swim shorts.
Start off in the hip city of Lisbon. Get your fill of culture here while walking around the Lisbon neighborhoods of Belém, and Alfama. Be sure to take a day trip out to Sintra as well, and check out the fairytale-like Romantic architecture.
After staying a few days in Lisbon, head south to the Algarve. The Algarve is full of beach towns, and each one is catered to a different type of backpacker. Party it up in Lagos or Faro, strut around the posh Albufeira, or relax like a local in Sagres or Tavira.
Driving a campervan is one of the top things to do in the Algarve! If you rent one, you’ll be able to utilize Portugal’s amazing campground network! This would be a great start to a road trip itinerary through Portugal as well.
Backpacking Europe Itinerary 3 Weeks: Trekking, Culture, and Beauty
With three weeks, you have slightly more to work with. For a good mix hit the South of France, the Alps, and the UK. This is definitely one of the more varied backpacking across Europe routes.
Explore the cities, beer halls, and the stunning Black Forest in Germany before heading to The Czech Republic.
Three Weeks in Europe Travel Idea #1 – France and UK
Start this journey in the south of France. Rolling Lavender fields, olive groves, and landscapes straight out of Vincent Van Gogh’s dreams? You must be in Provence. The south of France is a world away from Paris and the north so welcome to the land of the sun! Explore the beautiful beaches and stunning interior of France’s most relaxed region.
Next hit up The Alps. This region in France is home to some of the most breathtaking natural scenery in Europe. The Alps are adventure central in France. The town of Chamonix is the birthplace of modern mountaineering and home to Mount Blanc, Europe’s tallest mountain.
Whether you love to ski or love to trek, the French Alps are bound to be a highlight of your backpacking France adventure. Make sure to eat a healthy amount of cheese at every available opportunity
Spend a few days (or more) exploring Paris before taking a flight ferry, coach or train to England.
Explore Londons neighbourhoods and check out cool Brighton, before hitting up the Cornwall Coast and National Parks in Wales or the Highlands in Scotland if you have time! This is quite the ambitious 3 week itinerary, but I believe in you!
Backpacking Europe Itinerary 1 Month: The Ultimate Mediterranean Tour
One month for backpacking across Europe? Now we’re talking! With a month to spare, your options suddenly become larger. Now you can start thinking about covering a larger backpacking route. Your best option might be the classic European backpacking route through Spain, France, and Italy. You can truly experience some fantastic cities, epic mountains, mouth-watering food, and dreamy Mediterranean beaches.
In the end, planning a backpacking trip to Europe depends entirely on where you really want to visit. For example, you might have no desire to visit Germany or Scotland; your heart is longing for France or Spain. With a month to go backpacking through Europe, your options are endless. A month rolls by quickly so don’t be surprised if you end up coming back for another taste. This is a serious Europe backpacking itinerary which pretty much takes in everything the continent has to offer.
1 Month in Europe Travel Idea #1 – Backpacking the Mediterranean
Need more Europe backpacking route ideas? No probs!
Start your trip off in Madrid or Barcelona, Spain. There is plenty to get into in those cities before heading out to explore the nature of the country. If you find yourself backpacking in Barcelona, there are a ton of fun fiestas to get into.
There is some excellent hiking to be had in the Spanish Pyrenees Mountains. These range from epic day-hikes to challenging multi-day adventures. After exploring some of the cities, small villages, and mountains of Spain it’s time to head to France.
The French Pyrenees are equally awesome. Backpacking in the Pyrenees is a whole trip onto itself really. I recommend taking the time to visit some of the beautiful mountain towns like Lourdes, Foix, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Arreau, and Ayet en Bethmale.
Southern France has it all. Great food, turquoise seas, solid hiking, rivers, and fun cities. Explore the Calanques National Park around Marseille before heading down the coast in the direction of Italy.
1 Month in Europe Travel Idea #2 – Italy
For a slightly different experience, check out the engine of Italy: the industrialized North. This Italy route will allow you to see Milan, Turin, Genoa, and lovely Venice. These cities are among the most economically important metropolises in both past and present Italy. This is one of the best ways to see Italy in only 10 days – two weeks!
Starting in the posh, fashionable Milan, you’ll be able to see beautiful buildings like the Grand Duomo. Make a day trip out to Lake Como while you’re at for a little Riviera-esque action.
Next stop is Turin, the “royal” epicenter of Italy. Check out one of the many palaces or, conversely, visit an industrial museum. The Alps are right there as well so feel free to go hiking, skiing, or whatever your outdoor fancy is.
Genoa is a short drive away from Turin and is a bit of a forgotten destination. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth visiting though! Spend a day or two in this port city and grub on some amazing cuisine. Wrapping things up, head east to Venice, the Jewel of the Adriatic.
Wander among the canals and bridges and feel the grandeur of one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. Alternatively, head south to mighty, eternal Rome and Florence and enjoy the historical wonders of central Italy.
If you have another two weeks to spare you can easily tack on Portugal to the start of this backpacking route. This is backpacking Europe at its most classic for sure.
Backpacking Europe Itinerary 3+ months: The Ultimate European Backpacking Route
Having three months or more to backpack thru Europe is an awesome experience. You can move at your own pace, take the time to enjoy the places you love, maybe learn a bit of a new language, make some solid friendships, and really gain the essence of what life in Europe is all about.
For a 3 month Europe backpacking route, the sky is the limit. I recommend taking the time to get off the beaten path and explore the hell out of a place you know little about. Austria, Scotland, Greece, and Northern Portugal are all candidates. Refer to the itineraries I have listed above for initial inspiration, then forge your own path and write your own fantastic backpacker destiny.
3 Months in Europe Travel Idea #1 – Greece
Backpacking Greece either as a primary or secondary travel option is a great experience. This is a fine itinerary if you don’t have a tight time schedule, and want to get off the grid. This area has amazing beaches and culture, but the ferries can be irregular. If you are planning to combine a trip to Greece with Turkey, you should definitely check out these beautiful islands.
Start your trip on Karpathos, and enjoy its walking trails, surreal scenery, whitewashed windmills, and glass-blue water for swimming and snorkeling. This island is popular with kite surfers. Next stop is Tilos, an island full of hidden coves only reachable by foot, and lush green meadows. Then you can ferry to Rhodes, which is known for its history, nightlife, and beautiful medieval town.
From Rhodes, you can boat to the island of Kos then head to Leros, a great island for chilling out, and then to Samos. This island is known for secluded waterfalls and beaches. As you continue North you can hit up Lesvos, which is known for its olive oil, ouzo (traditional Greek alcohol) and hot springs, or Kalymnos, an island where rock climbers rejoice at the limestone cliffs. Then it’s back to Athens!
The Best Countries To Visit in Europe
Wherever you decide to go on your Euro backpacking trip, you will be sure to have your mind blown by all of the magic that awaits. Each country in Europe is unique, full of surprises, and requires its own individual approach and strategy with regards to budget backpacking.
The common theme is clear: backpacking Europe is a fantastic adventure that every traveler should experience at least once in their lifetime…
Once you begin to discover a few European countries for yourself, you can be sure that you will be entranced by the jaw-dropping landscapes, fascinating history, vibrant culture, and spectacular food. Feeling the anticipation yet? Good! Let us take a look at the countries that make backpacking in Europe so darn special.
Check out our run-through of where to backpack in Europe.
Portugal is a grand paradise of sorts. The pace here is slower than that of other European countries. Some of the best surf in the Northern Hemisphere can be found off Portugal’s many beaches. The country is packed with friendly locals, charming villages, fun parties, and one of the most chill vibes you will come across anywhere on earth.
Backpacking in Portugal is very easy and ultimately it’s a great place to begin your international adventure. Lounge on the beach. Visit a secret village. Eat Seafood. Drink ice-cold beer and smile like a fool whilst taking in an epic sunset over the ocean.
Most backpackers start their trip in Lisbon as it appeals just to just about everyone. There’s good food, good weather, great parties in Bairo Alto, and lots of places to see nearby. Sintra shouldn’t be missed.
The south of Portugal, also known as the Algarve, is the more Mediterranean part of the country. It resembles more southern Spain not only in the scenery but in vibes. Expect a lot of tourists on holiday here and more than a few drunken, wandering Aussies.
Northern Portugal is more Atlantic. That means more rustic cooking, (somewhat) cloudier days, and bigger waves. This is the place to be if you want to go surfing.
Portugal is also composed of two semi-autonomous island regions as well: the Azores and Madeira. Both are just as if not more impressive than the mainland. There’s heaps to do in the Azores and the Madeira isn’t called “The Land of Eternal Spring” for nothing.
What to Know Before Visiting Portugal
- Don’t miss out on…Porto. Backpackers love Lisbon, but its northern neighbor is just as cool. It’s a bit more industrial and gritty, which is a good thing IMO.
- Keep an eye out for…drunken backpackers in Lagos. It’s not widely advertised but this place is a SHITSHOW at night. Stay here you if want to get wasted.
- The coolest hostel is…Oasis Backpackers Mansion Lisboa – Super central and right next to Adamastor, a sweet viewpoint where lots of artists chill and pass smokes.
- The best food is found in…the Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon. This is the mecca of all food markets, the cream of the crop. You can find almost everything here!
Spain is a fascinating country. One of my best friends and greatest humans I’ve ever known for that matter is from Spain. You do not have to look too far to see why this country, in addition to producing some lovely human beings, is a magical land for backpackers.
Like to sleep? You came to the wrong country. Think dinner at midnight! Spain is a country that truly never sleeps. But not in the shitty strung-out Las Vegas sense. The Spaniards practice sleep deprivation in style.
Spain just has a certain charm to it. Is it the small plates of delicious Tapas? The cool cold wine served with sweet orange melon in the summer? The old olive groves running through tiny villages? The fine beaches? The church in Barcelona that is a perpetual construction project?
My suspicion is that my love of Spain is deeply rooted in all of the little nuances one experiences on a daily basis whilst traveling here.
Many backpackers just roll through Barcelona and Madrid. Whilst those cities are not to be missed, backpacking through Spain without exploring its other regions would be a mistake.
Spain is incredibly diverse. Be sure to check out its mountains. Explore Andalucia, the Basque Country, and Catalonia. Go to a football game or a bullfight. Check out the world-class museums while backpacking in Madrid. Sound like fun? This is Spain.
What to Know Before Visiting Spain
- Don’t miss out on…the Basque. It’s like a completely different country, with epic landscapes and an extremely fascinating history. San Sebastion is the best place to stay.
- Keep an eye for…disappointing salsa performances in the cuevas of Granada – they’re kinda tourist traps. Attend a show at the main performance hall in the city instead.
- The coolest hostel is…Hostel One Catedral – Free dinner and tours, rooftop bar, and central location!
- The best food is found in…hole in the wall tapas restaurants. Literally, you’ll walk right by them unless you know they’re there. Granada features the best.
France might just be the most diverse country you encounter whilst backpacking through Europe. In addition to two coasts and two mountain ranges, France has a wide variety of cultures, landscapes, and food packed into one country. Paris is amazing and seriously one of the most exciting cities in the world.
The Mediterranean coast is something straight out of your dreams. Trekking or skiing in the Alps is an unforgettable experience.
France is very regional. Where ever you turn you will find different kinds of wine, cheese, and even variations on the French language. If you love food, culture, and outdoor playgrounds, a stopover in France is an obvious choice for backpackers exploring Europe.
One could spend 7 days here checking things out or a lifetime exploring. The choice is up to you! I have been living in France for almost a year now and I have barely scratched the surface even though I am constantly checking out new places here.
Forget about the old stereotypes about the French being rude and uptight. The French can be like soft-boiled eggs: they have a shell on the outside but with it removed they are softies at heart. France is full of lovely soft-boiled eggs, uhm I mean humans…
Since France is quite a large country in European terms, there are so many hidden gems in this country that I have lost track. From stunning medieval castles to picturesque villages and cities, backpacking in France is truly an unforgettable experience.
What to Know Before Visiting France
- Don’t miss out on…Staying a night at a mountain refuge in the Alps. Le Refuge de la Charpoua is particularly epic.
- You know what’s overrated…paying loads of money to go up the Eiffel Tower. See it from below and save some cash for the rest of Paris.
- The coolest hostel is…St Christopher’s Inn Gare du Nord – This hostel ticks all of the boxes: friendly, clean, good size, and overall a super fun vibe.
- The best food is found in…Can’t go wrong with a bit of Brie and a bottle of Bourdeaux. But that’s just the beginning as they say there is a different wine and cheese to try for every day of the year…
Italy has been a popular vacation destination for a looooonggg time. Tourists have been coming here for years to see the likes of the Colosseum, drink wine in Tuscany, tour the canals of Venice; all that touristy stuff.
Consequently few people stray far from the main backpacking route in Italy and, unsurprisingly, many say that tourism here has become a bit calcified. Some might say that Italy can offer nothing else besides the same postcard views and disgruntled baristas.
But there’s a lot more to see in Italy besides the usual attractions because, let’s be honest, everything in Italy is beautiful. Pound for pound, Italy might be one of the most beautiful countries in the world and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single ugly stone here.
The beaches of Puglia and Sardinia are among the most brilliant in Europe (they don’t compare the former to “The Maldives” for no reason). The Dolomites are truly one of a kind and few other mountains can reply compete. Rome…Rome is amazing; where else can you find masterpieces from almost every era of western civilization?
Italian food, which has received a similar treatment, should be explored with equal enthusiasm. Sicily with its miles of coastline produces some of the finest seafood in the country not to mention amazing deserts. The tagliere (deli meats) of Toscana are the best you’ll find. No matter what you eat, chances are it will be delicious. Just don’t ask for pizza every time
So give Italy a chance! Don’t let the jaded, bitter tourists tell you there’s nothing new to see or do here; you just need to get off the beaten path a bit. Visit Florence, see the Almafi Coast but set aside some time for exploring the lesser-visited regions, like Marche, Umbria, Calabria, and so on.
What to Know Before Visiting Italy
- Don’t miss out on…staying in Bologna. It evades most people’s radar even though it’s arguably the coolest city in Italy. Amazing food, beautiful architecture, and a nightlife that doesn’t quit.
- You know what’s overrated…the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Soooo many horrible selfies and awkward poses. Take a moment to actually appreciate the nearby duomo and baptistry guys.
- The coolest hostel is…Generator – Rome. Stylish and fun, like an Italian hostel ought to be.
- The best food is found…everywhere! Really you can’t go wrong here. Genoa, Bologna, Naples, and Sicily all take top honors.
If you are planning on spending time in the French or Italian Alps, a visit to Switzerland is an obvious choice. Switzerland is a land famous for its equally beautiful Alps, quaint villages, and hip cities. Heard of the Matterhorn mountain? It lives in Switzerland.
In addition to its powdery peaks, Switzerland is also home to gorgeous alpine lakes. Take in some of the ancient castle fortifications lakeside by day and sip the legendary Swiss hot chocolate by night.
In Switzerland, you do have to pay for the pleasure. For better or worse the Swiss people have this whole thriving economy thing down to a T. As a country long resistant to changing over to the Euro, the Swiss Franc is as strong as ever before. For backpackers, this translates into a scenario of high cost, high reward.
That said, if you have a week or two on your hands, Switzerland will certainly do anything but disappoint.
What to Know Before Visiting Switzerland
- Don’t miss out on…the Bernese Oberland. This region features probably the most famous and stunning hikes in the country. Check out the trails around Eiger and the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
- Keep an eye out for…the prices; the pure, unadulterated, merciless, eye-gouging, seemingly unreal prices. You’ll need to employ every trick in the book if you want to visit Switzerland on a budget.
- The coolest hostel is…Backpacker’s Villa Sonnenhof Interlaken. Offers a ton of freebies!
- The best food is found in…the grocery stores. Swiss is food just ok; certainly not worth the prices at the restaurants!
For one reason or another, Austria is not a country typically included on the usual European backpacker itinerary. It would be an absolute shame to miss though because Austria has all the makings of great time!
For starters, Vienna is easily amongst the most beautiful cities in Europe. Everywhere you look, there is some regal remnant of the Hapsburgs: a palace here, a monument there, and plenty of museums to go along with them. In between these are grandiose coffee houses that will make any Starbucks look like a janitor’s closet.
The nightlife of Vienna, though nothing compared to Berlin or Budapest, can still be fun; you just need to know where to look. Find out be checking our Vienna travel guide.
Beyond Vienna, you have airy Salzburg, winter wonderland Innsbruck, and the Austrian Alps to explore. Although less imposing than the ones you might find in Switzerland or Italy, Austria’s mountains are no less rugged and suffer less from overcrowding — a true delight for hikers.
Austria also benefits from an excellent location. It may not seem so at first, being on the fringes of Western Europe, but from here you can launch easily into Germany, Italy, and the best Eastern European countries. Budapest, Prague, and Zagreb (Croatia) are all within 3-4 hours of Vienna; Bratislava is a mere is only an hour away by train.
So consider stopping by Austria on your backpacker trip. For those who want to go off the beaten path and would like a nice break from the usual, sometimes overwhelming main attractions, this is the place to visit.
What to Know Before Visiting Austria
- Don’t miss out on…the cafe culture. Cafes are a cornerstone of any Viennese itinerary and let me tell you they do not disappoint. The coffee is stellar, the conversations are enlightened, and the hours fly by.
- Keep an eye out for…smoking indoors. It’s legal in Austria and some cozy cafes can be unbearable to sit in.
- The coolest hostel is…Wombats City Hostel Vienna – A poster child of a European hostel that excels in every way.
- The best food is found in…Vienna. There is a commendable amount of gastronomic diversity in Vienna. In fact, some of the best Israeli food I’ve outside the country was here!
After gaining a (justified) terrible reputation on the world stage in the first half of the 20th century, Germany has emerged over the last 50 years as an economic powerhouse and center of culture in Europe. Having totally reinvented itself since the days of the Nazi’s and World War Two, modern day Germany is an awesome place to go backpacking.
As a lover of cool cities and good beer, I am totally enamored with Germany. While famous for its fast cars and pretzels, there is so much more to see whilst backpacking Germany – historic towns, medieval monasteries and castles, culture-filled cities, fairy-tale forests, and majestic mountains.
To top it off, Germany has one of the strongest economies in the EU, yet traveling here is surprisingly affordable in comparison to the rest of Western Europe. Plus, backpacking Germany is a great addition to any European travel itinerary!
Most backpackers gravitate towards Berlin, and for good reason: its nightlife is unbeatable and there is a wealth of culture to keep people interested. But there are other places in Germany worth seeing. Dresden, beaten to shit during WWII, has been wonderfully restored. Hamburg is totally under-the-radar. Finally, Regensburg may be the prettiest town in the country.
What to Know Before Visiting Germany
- Don’t miss out on…visiting a beer hall. No one can drink like the Germans and by that, I mean with such control and enjoyment at the same time.
- You know what’s overrated…Munich. The city itself, whilst pretty, doesn’t offer a lot in the way of attractions. The locals can be pretty arrogant too.
- The coolest hostel is…Pfefferbett Hostel Berlin – Located in an old renovated brewery. Yes, they kept the bar, and it’s open 24 hours a day.
- The best food is found in…Berlin. The gastronomic scene is incredibly diverse, unlike many other German cities where food tends to be homogenous. Vegetarianism is alive and thriving here!
Backpacking The Netherlands
Coffee. Canals. Cannabis. Windmills. Those are some of the things that come to mind when thinking about The Netherlands. Amsterdam has long been a favorite backpacker haunt and is well worthy of exploration. Nowhere else in Europe can you (legally) rock into a cafe, order a joint, and sit down to smoke it.
If you like riding bicycles long-distance, The Netherlands is a perfect country in which to feed that urge. The Netherlands is almost entirely flat. If you have had long challenging days trekking or biking in the Alps, the flatness here will be a welcomed change.
You will find that Dutch people often speak perfect English which is impressive as Dutch sounds nor looks anything like English. Because the country is relatively small, you can travel around here with ease whilst taking in a majority of it.
One of the best things to do whilst backpacking in The Netherlands? Get baked and go wander around the Vincent Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. Bring snacks.
What to Know Before Visiting The Netherlands
- Don’t miss out on…partaking in some magic mushrooms while visiting Amsterdam. Seriously, those Van Gogh paintings are mental when you’re frying.
- You know what’s overrated…staying in the HEART of Amsterdam – it’s overly expensive and crowded. One could stay outside the city, save a bundle, and then take the train in. I suggest finding a hostel in Utrecht instead.
- The coolest hostel is…Rebel Rebel Hostel Groningen. A “sweet” hostel built from old containers in an old sugar factory lot. No more puns, swear.
- The best food is found in…Amsterdam, only because of the stroopwafels! These are one of the greatest treats ever.
Let’s be honest: Belgium does offer much in way of stand-out attractions. There is no Colosseum, no Montmartre, no legalized drugs, or raging Berghains. Just a lot of charming houses, calories, and dreary weather.
And for these reasons, I LOVE Belgium. I love the fact that Belgium places beer in such high and hallowed regard. I love the fact that Belgians seem to have no problem smothering their fried potatoes in aioli and mussels with heavy cream. Finally, I love that you can go backpacking in Belgium with zero expectations and still be impressed.
It’s almost as if Belgium is a guilty pleasure of sorts. The whole country is just one big bar where you can eat and drink to your heart’s content and no one gives a shit.
If you’re traveling between France and the Netherlands, it is absolutely worth stopping over in Belgium for a little while. Antwerp would be the best place to base yourself although Ghent and Bruges are worth seeing. If you wanted a really enjoyable experience, consider sleeping at a brewery for a few days! Most have guesthouses attached. In particular, Het Anker is great.
Admittedly, you’ll probably get tired of Belgium quicker than other European countries not to mention put your arteries at serious risk. Get your fill and then move along.
What to Know Before Visiting Belgium
- Don’t miss out on…staying in Ghent, the prettiest medieval town in Belgium. It’s mostly known for its canal houses and local mustard. Gruut, a precursor to today’s beer, is also made in Ghent.
- Keep an eye out…when you’re in Brussels. Whilst certainly “edgier” than most European cities, Brussels can be a little too rough at times.
- The coolest hostel is…Hostel Uppelink Ghent. Though the building may be a bit old, the location is unbeatable. It’s literally next to the city’s famous Sint-Michielsbrug bridge.
- The best food is found in…the “brown bars,” where they serve the friend potatoes and mussels in excess.
Backpacking the UK
The UK is just one of those places that I have fallen in love with over the years. If you are in the mood for a wonderful campervan and trekking adventure, backpacking in the UK and Scotland is the journey you have been waiting for.
England and Wales have large sections of coast that are far off the beaten path and offer up excellent hiking/camping possibilities. The Highlands in Scotland has some of the last true wilderness areas in Western Europe. The Scottish Islands look like something out of a fairytale book.
Along with stunning natural landscapes, the UK is home to major centers of culture in Europe. London is a destination unto itself for obvious reasons. The Scottish capital city of Edinburgh too is full of awesome things to do.
Bottom line: this region has landscapes so green that the hills seem to have been spray-painted green in every sense of the word. It has remote islands dotted with whiskey distilleries, lochs, and cascades. One could easily spend all their time backpacking in Scotland and could totally forget about “the south.”
The hiking trails and huts in the Highlands offer up an endless supply of hiking opportunities in a breathtaking environment. Throw in the vast cultural richness of the big cities and small villages and you have yourself one great place to go traveling.
What to Know Before Visiting the UK
- Don’t miss out on…going off the beaten path in the Scottish Highlands. If you really want a unique experience, try island hopping in the Hebrides.
- You know what’s overrated…Buckingham Palace. Just skip it.
- The coolest hostel is…The Baskerville Arms – Great off the beaten path hostel. Close to the quaint village of Hay-on-Wye, Wales.
- The best food is found in…The Indian food in the North (Manchester and Yorkshire) is top-notch. For that matter, the vegan scene nationwide is thriving and varied.
The lush, green, enchanted and enchanting island of Ireland perches serenely at the furthest boundary of Europe. Beyond it, there is nothing but the Atlantic until it reaches the New World.
Somehow, Ireland’s location and geography are encapsulated in its culture; it is European but just about, it is civilized, yet wild and rugged, it rains a lot but remains perpetually pleasant and inviting.
Sometimes crudely dismissed as the UK’s little cousin, backpacking Ireland offers visitors the chance to explore the most plucky nation in the world and get a glimpse of a simpler world that has sadly vanished forever elsewhere. That is not to patronize though, Dublin is every bit the cosmopolitan (and expensive) EU capital, and the once-troubled Belfast wears its gritty history with pride. But head out to the Burren, or the lanes of Cork and you will find warm taverns ringing with the sound of the fiddle and a way of life where time still takes its own time.
The headline draw in Ireland is the capital Dublin where you can visit Kilmainham Gaol and pull a pint at the Guinness brewery. But not to be missed are the Cliffs of Moher, the ancient streets of Galway, and the colored houses of Cork in the capital of “authentic Ireland”.
For the edgier side of the Emerald Isle, cross the (porous & invisible) border to the North and check out the murals of Belfast. From here you can easily visit Game of Thrones locations or check out the geologically wondrous Giants Causeway.
What to Know Before Visiting Ireland
- Don’t miss out on…Watching an Irish sport (hurling or Gaelic football) game in a pub.
- You know what’s overrated…kissing the Blarney Stone. You’ll wait sometimes hours in line just to share spit with other people over a hole in the wall. Yes, it’s as unnecessary as it sounds.
- The coolest hostel is…Sky Backpackers Dublin – besides the fact that this used to be a recording studio that hosted the likes of U2 and Van Morrison, this is also a stellar hostel in its own right.
- The best food is found…at the Galway Seafood Festival. If you happen to be staying in Galway in September and October, don’t miss out on this.
Getting to know Greece and some of its islands is one of the most rewarding backpacking trips to be had in Europe. Those blue and white houses and perfect Mediterranean landscapes you have seen on postcards live up to their hype in real life.
Greece is a charming, laid-back country. Backpacking the Greek Islands has been one of my favorite travel experiences. This is due not just to the beautiful views, but to the food, beaches, wonderful people, and plethora of history.
Island hop the Cyclades. Pop over to Crete. Experience life with no cars on Hydra. Whatever you get up to in Greece, a trip backpacking here is bound to be one of hell of a good time.
Also, don’t forget to visit Athens. I know the city gets a bad rap but it’s actually pretty cool. For one thing, the nightlife here is fantastic: rebellious, wild, and absolute fun. Another is the Acropolis. Seriously, spend a few days here before heading to the islands.
What to Know Before Visiting Greece
- Don’t miss out on…the Ionian Islands. This part of Greece receives a fraction of tourists yet hosts some of the most beautiful places in the country. Zakynthos is a good place to stay.
- You know what’s overrated…Santorini. It’s overcrowded, expensive, and on the verge of being spoiled.
- The coolest hostel is… Far Out Camping (Ios) – for these trying to save a buck, this is as cheap as it comes. Fair warning though: this is one of the most INFAMOUS party hostels in Greece.
- The best food is found in…Crete is well-known for its culinary culture. It’s far enough away from the mainland that the food is quite different as well.
Scandinavia isn’t all blond-haired babes (or dudes), ultra-efficient cities, and practical solutions to socio-economic problems. If backpackers make it this far north whilst backpacking Europe, you are sure to be met by a region with heaps to do.
The mystical fjords of Norway offer up some of the most dramatic and surreal landscapes of anywhere on planet earth. The farther north you go, the more dramatic they become. Oh yeah, then there are the Northern Lights!
Norway also is home to some of the most picturesque villages in Scandinavia. Bergen is a staple of the Norwegian backpacker route but try to visit Reine if you can as well. Regardless, everywhere you visit looks like it belongs on a bloody postcard.
Finland, Denmark, and Sweden are home to their fair share of absolutely stunning nature in addition to some of the cleanest and most efficient cities in the world. Copenhagen is leading the way as a new age metropolis while Stockholm remains one of the most classically beautiful cities in the region.
Of course, we cannot forget backpacking in Iceland, which has grown into a full-blown cultural phenomenon. Once a sleepy little country that hosted mostly just fishing villages and American airbase, Iceland has exploded (no pun intended) onto the backpacker scene. With alien landscapes, welcoming natives, and some quirky customs, Iceland is arguably the most popular location in Scandinavia at the moment.
Traveling in Scandinavia can be notoriously expensive. If you plan to spend more than a couple of weeks here, make sure you invest in some quality camping gear. Having your own gear allows you to really take advantage of all of the beautiful wild places in the region without blowing your budget.
Backpacking the Balkans
The Balkan Peninsula stretches from the Grecian shores of the Mediterranean winding all the way to Turkey at Europe’s furthest precipice. What we commonly refer to as the Balkan countries though, is the former Yugoslavia (Montenegro, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, and North Macedonia) plus Albania, Bulgaria & Romania.
Although the Balkans could technically be traversed by bus in a few days, the sheer diversity of cultures and history is astounding and will keep you busy for weeks. Backpacking the Balkans is one of the most unique travel experience you’ll ever have in Europe.
Culturally the Balkans are where the west begins to merge into the east as well as where the Russo-sphere of influence disintegrates into the western one. In a single day, you can sample greek mosaics, roman temples, ottoman fortresses, and communist tram’ tracks.
All of the Balkan nations have now embraced consumerism and vie for EU membership, but they were part of the Eastern bloq until 1989. It all makes for one of the most beguiling travel experiences imaginable. However, this rich and complex melding of cultures does have a darker side and you cannot fail to miss the anguished scars left by brutal dictatorships and tribal wars that still dot the landscapes and cities across the region.
Whatever you are seeking from your next trip, you can find it in the Balkans. Croatia has first-rate beaches, Romania steep forested mountains, and Serbia quietly conceals one of the most relentless rave cultures I have experienced. Best of all, a solid bus network, minimal borders, and affordable prices make the Balkan’s one of the best backpacker adventures on earth.
Backpacking Eastern Europe
As you head east through Europe, you are entering a whole other world of backpacking potential. In recent years, Eastern Europe has become the go-to destination for travelers wanting to escape the standard Europe backpacking route found in the western part of the continent.
You’ll notice as soon as you leave the Euro currency countries behind, things are suddenly much more affordable.
Backpacking Eastern Europe is one hell of a good time for any aspiring adventurer. Beer is often the same price (or less) as bottled water. You can score a dorm bed and breakfast for $10, and a long distance bus ride for less than that.
Most countries of Eastern Europe were part of or allied with the former Soviet Union, and the relics of those times are still visible across the region. There are many awesome backpacking delights to be had in this part of Europe. If you are looking to get off the beaten path, spend less money, and experience a totally different part of the continent, backpacking Eastern Europe is where it’s at.
In fact, there are so many awesome Eastern European countries to see I find it difficult to mention them all here. I can’t get enough of how beautiful The Carpathian Mountains are!
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and former Yugoslavia are all prime backpacking destinations and good places to start with. I strongly encourage all travelers to experience the magic of Eastern Europe!
Off the Beaten Path Adventures in Europe
You now know the numbers of how many foreigners visit Europe each year: it’s in the hundreds of millions all said. Fact is 80%+ of those people do one of two things. Either they just visit a few cities or they go on cookie-cutter tours where they are shuffled around from one famous attraction to another plowing through a sea of baguettes, gelato, and, tapas along the way.
Few people really get out an explore multiple destinations in Europe under their own steam. Fewer still experience Europe off of the beaten path. Even with minimal, you can carve out your own track to seeing a more authentic Europe – for example, visit anywhere in England that isn’t London or pick any Baltic state. Simple.
That is not to say that as soon as you hit the Alps you’ll be on your own. Far from it, again depending on where you go. More importantly, you will escape the tourist hordes, mingle with more locals, find your own solitude, and overall a path to a more rewarding backpacking experience.
Explore small villages. Go on multi-day treks. Go backpacking in the mountains that aren’t the Alps (though they are stunning). Couchsurf with locals. Spend a few extra days getting to know a popular city. Do things that aren’t on the “must see sights” in travel magazines.
If you follow these suggestions and remain open to other off the beaten path adventures as they present themselves, you will be sure to make memories that last a lifetime.
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Top Things To Do in Europe
1. Go island hopping in Greece
Greece is composed of over 227 islands which means there are over 227 places to go on an adventure. Live out your mythical fantasies on the islands of Ithaca or Crete, escape the hecticness of life on Sikinos, or join the hordes of partiers on Ios and Mykonos. Your choice.
2. Eat all the tapas in Spain
In Spain, tapas are not just a plate of food; they’re a way of life. They require time, attention, company, and most of all love to truly appreciate. When visiting Spain, it is absolutely mandatory to sit down to a tapas meal with friends and to converse over them, preferably for an entire night.
3. Hike in the Alps
Of all the great mountain chains in the world, the Alps are probably the most accessible. Over the years, it has been tamed and crisscrossed with so many trails that just about anyone can visit here. Tours around the three highest mountains in the range, Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, and the Grand Combin, as well as the otherworldly Dolomites, are all exhilarating experiences.
4. Attend a festival
Europe loves to celebrate every little occasion they can, be it the death of a saint, a harvest, or even just a long weekend. Between the cultural holidays – of which there are MANY – the seasonal festivals, and the more modern musical festivals, you’ll have many opportunities to just let loose. And let loose is what you should do.
5. Visit the museums cities of Rome, Florence, and Rome
The most historically significant and consequently most popular cities to visit in Italy are Rome, Venice, and Florence. These “museum cities” deemed culturally significant by the government are preserved as best as possible. They are like interactive history lessons that you can walk amongst or even get lost in for days at a time.
6. Party in Berlin
The parties in Berlin are on a different level. The stories from the clubs are the stuff of legends, the level of freedom and debauchery enough to make even the most open-minded do a double-take. Even if you aren’t able to get into infamous Berghain, there are still plenty more where that came from.
7. Get off the beaten path in Scotland
Scotland is a hard place, filled with hard people and hard ways. Due to its ruggedness and relative inhospitality, it hosts some of the last true wildernesses in Europe. That being said, it is not such a difficult place that you can’t visit. There are numerous hiking trails to follow as well as some very epic road trips here. Get away from the comfort of the south and go to Scotland.
8. Go on an epic train journey
The best way to get around Europe is by train. The network here is very developed and you can get just about everywhere by rail. The experience itself is usually very comfortable and a bit romantic as well. Granted, it’s more expensive than the bus but sometimes worth the extra Euro.
Backpacker Accommodation in Europe
Aside from dreamy mountain huts, your awesome tent, and a stranger’s couch, sometimes one needs to take a deep breath and book a hostel in Europe. Hostels are the most affordable budget travel accommodation option for backpackers in Europe.
When you just need a place to lay your head or a spot to meet fellow ramblers like yourself, hostels are clearly where it’s at…
In fact, we at the Broke Backpacker love European hostels so much we have created a whole series of guides breaking down the best hostels to be found in cities across Europe. They make it very easy to pick the right hostel for yourself in any given city!
Europe Backpacking Costs
Now onto the sore subject of travel costs to Europe. Backpacking through Europe is without a doubt the most expensive destination we cover here at the Broke Backpacker. However, just because it isn’t cheap this doesn’t mean that you should be discouraged from backpacking here.
Every country you visit in Europe requires a different budget and s0me of them vary greatly. Things like food, transportation costs, and accommodation vary dramatically depending on the country and the season.
You’ll notice in the table below that transportation costs can be all over the place. Even within one country transportation costs are not universal. Buses and trains have great divides in price. I’ve presented an average as I have found it to be.
Staying in hostels EVERY evening, booking trains last minute, going to the bar night after night, eating out for every meal: this shit adds up before you can say gesundheit. In order to properly prepare yourself for the expenses that lie in wait, you need an honest and realistic idea of what travel costs are in Europe.
A Daily Budget For Europe
I have broken down the average daily travel costs you can expect in order to help you get to grips with your own Europe backpacking budget.
|Country||Dorm Bed||Local Meal||Bus/Train Ride (3 hours or less)||Average Daily Cost|
Money in Europe
There are 25 separate currencies used in Europe and we will not list them all. Whilst the Euro was introduced in 1999, so far only 12 of Europe’s 50 states have signed up for it. ATM’s and Money Changers are easy to find across Europe and card payments are now accepted pretty much everywhere.
Tips For Visiting Europe on a Budget
- Camp: With plenty of awesome beaches, forest, stunning countryside, and far-flung mountains, camping whilst backpacking Europe is a great and even essential option if you want to save money. Camping always takes you to beautiful places and gets you off of the beaten path. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best tents to take backpacking.
- If you’re feeling really adventurous and want to save some cash, consider picking up a backpacking hammock.
- Cook your own food: Travel with a portable backpacking stove and cook your own food to save some serious cash whilst backpacking across Europe. If you are on a tight budget, you MUST have a backpacking stove. Having the ability to cook whilst camping or on the road gives you independence and freedom. Few things are better in life than sipping a hot cup of coffee as you are watching the sun spill its shade over a beautiful mountain.
- Couchsurf: The Portuguese, Greeks, Spanish. Germans — they are all awesome folks. Get to know some! Check out Couchsurfing to make some real friendships and see a country from the perspective of locals. When using Couchsurfing, be sure to send personalized messages to your potential host. A generic copy and paste message are much more likely to get turned down. Make yourself stand out.
- To learn how to travel the world on $10 a day, check out the backpacker’s bible.
- Pack a travel water bottle: save money (and the planet) every day! Stop buying bottled water! Seriously guys, I know I may be repeating myself, but having a water bottle is so handy and an absolute must if you plan on doing any trekking whilst backpacking Europe. Get yourself one and stay hydrated!
Why Should You Travel to Europe with a Water Bottle?
Whilst there’s a lot that we can do when it comes to traveling responsibly, reducing your plastic consumption is one of the easiest and most impactful things you can do. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, don’t take plastic shopping bags, and forget straws. All of this just ends up in landfill or in the ocean.
If you’d like some more tips on how to save the world, be sure to watch the video below.
Best Time to Visit Europe
So precisely when is the best time to visit Europe?! Europe is a total madhouse in the summer. Millions upon millions of tourists descend on the continent. Cruise ships fill the harbors. Tour buses clog the road. Flight prices increase.
Whilst the middle of the summer can be a very beautiful time to visit, the summertime is the most crowded season and it is also the hottest. Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece can be so hot in July and August that all you want to do is switch places with that white wine bottle sitting in the bucket of ice.
Europe is also very prone to seasonal pricing. Prices rise with the temperatures in the summer.
Point being, come in the summer if you must, but I don’t recommend it. The spring and the fall seasons are the best time to visit. The temperatures are mild, and a majority of the people who were here on summer holiday have now sulked back to their offices and suburban hells.
Springtime in Paris and other European cities is as romantic as it sounds. Flowers are blooming & the birds are out. You can go in a t-shirt during the day without having the sun cook you alive.
You will find the lowest prices in most regions in the winter. If you love snow sports, a winter visit is an obvious choice to explore the French, Swiss, or Italian Alps.
The mountains of Eastern Europe have their fair share of ski slopes as well. The skiing in Eastern Europe comes at a fraction of the cost of skiing in the Alps.
Festivals in Europe
Europe is home to some pretty awesome festivals happening throughout the year. There is a festival out there to suit every individual backpacking Europe. Try to catch a few as you travel around Europe!
- Carnaval, Portugal (February/March) – The celebration of the last carnal moments before abstaining for Lent. Not as big as the Brazilian version, but still good.
- Fiesta de San Isidro, Spain (May): This fiesta takes place in Madrid in May. There are parades, concerts, and parties. Locals dress up in traditional costumes and celebrate with bullfights all month. Say what you will about bullfighting: it is a big part of Spanish heritage for better or worse.
- Calvi On The Rocks, France (June): Calvi On The Rocks is an electronic music festival set on the islands stunning coastline and plays host to some of the top artists of house, techno and alternative music over six days. This festival takes place on the beautiful island of Corsica!
- Pride (usually June): Everyone’s familiar with the international LGBTQ+ festival. Most of the world’s big cities have a Pride weekend but European Pride festivals are renowned for their extravagance. If you’re travelling in summer, you might stumble on one anyway.
- Boom Festival, Portugal (July): Europe’s (and the worlds) biggest and best Psytrance festival. People from all over the world converge on a lake in Portugal for several days or peace, love, drugs, dancing, K-holing, and yoga among other things.
- Electrobeach, France (August): The biggest electronic festival in France will hit the south coast resort of Barcarès this summer. Global stars of house, EDM, and trance will play to over 100,000 festival-goers on the beaches of the Mediterranean. If you love electro music, this festival will blow your mind.
- Gelato Festival, Italy (September): Festival that celebrates all things gelato. Enough said.
- Musica dei Popoli, Italy (October/November): A large festival that showcases alternative and folk Italian music. Held in Florence.
What to Pack for Europe
On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without. They will greatly enhance your europe backpacking trip too.
Active Roots Money Belt
This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off.
GRAYL Geopress Filtered Bottle
Having a filtered water bottle means you can drink from just about any source. The GRAYL Geopress is hands-down the most effective one we’ve ever used as well!
Active Roots Microfiber Towel
Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must.
Active Roots Camping Hammock
Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks), and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere.
Hanging Toiletry Bag
I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super-efficient way to organize your bathroom stuff. Well worth having as it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Staying Safe in Europe
So how safe is Europe? Recent years have brought on a string of terrorist attacks in Europe. While these events are rare, they do receive a lot of attention and negative press. Justifiably so to a degree, though I would argue that Europe is still just as safe as it ever was to go traveling.
Yes attacks happen. I do feel like the media in Europe and the US really portrays Muslims living here in a negative light. There are plenty of other groups committing acts of violence, though attacks carried out by Muslim folks receive the most coverage.
This has led to a string of pro-nationalist anti-Muslim rhetoric across Europe, unfairly blaming the Muslim populations for a wide swath of internal problems.
The possibilities of something bad happening to you on your journey backpacking Europe is slim to say the least.
Always be alert when moving about in big cities especially if you have all of your gear with you. Pickpockets and thieves target crowded markets and train stations. Don’t flash wads of bills and then leave your wallet sticking half-way out of your back pocket.
It is never a good idea to be out shit-faced drunk, alone, and loaded with cash especially not at 3 am. Be smart, make good choices and it shouldn’t be too difficult to guard yourself and your belongings. Either way, we would advise considering taking out European travel insurance.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll in Europe
Europe likes to party, a lot.
And not just one kind of partying, but all kinds of debauchery. There are your squats in Paris, beach clubs in Ibiza, warehouse raves in Berlin, music festivals in the Netherlands, all of that, and then some. Can’t beat chilling on some church steps at 3 am sipping negronis with friends either.
When it comes to partying, each culture has its own way of doing things. The Italians like the slow burn, starting with a spritz at aperitivo, then a nice dinner with wine, a cocktail at a local bar, before finally moving on to shots at the bar. The Spanish are similar except they start all of this at 9 pm and go until 4 am. The Dutch appear to be hydrating all the time but don’t be so sure; they’re big fans of the molly water.
You get the gist though. If you’re going to party in Europe, you need to choose your parties well.
There are a couple of parties that shouldn’t be missed:
- Staying at one of these legendary hostels.
- Going to a nightclub in Berlin (good luck with Berghain).
- Drinking in the piazzas of Rome.
- Dipping into a baggy in Amsterdam.
- A night in the Delirium Brewery in Brussels.
Also, be aware that not all European cultures take kindly to drunkenness. The Mediterranean cultures tend to frown upon people who can’t handle their shit. The further north you go, the less people care about your state of mind.
Travel Insurance for Europe
Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.
I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. To find out why I use World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
A message from Will, the OG Broke Backpacker
“Once upon a time, I almost lost my leg in a sweltering jungle…
I battled a seriously nasty infection that snaked up past my knee and by the time I made it to a local hospital they wanted to amputate. I was delirious, unable to walk, and in a lot of pain but I managed to call my insurance provider – they moved me to a much better private hospital where the doctors were able to save my leg.
I wracked up $15,000 in hospital bills, but these were completely covered by my travel insurance. Luckily, I still have my leg today, and whilst it is permanently damaged, I’m grateful every day it’s still attached!
Moral of the story: consider getting travel insurance before you head out into the wilds, people!“
How to Get into Europe
Of course, there is no one answer to this question. Where do you want to go backpacking?! Once you dial in where you plan to go it is only natural to start your backpacking Europe trip in the country first on your list. Easy!
Whilst looking for plane tickets to your chosen backpacking destination, I advise that you look at multiple cities and book the cheapest flight even if that city isn’t in your targeted country. You can easily fly between capitals in Europe on the cheap.
For example, if you want to begin your Europe adventure in Spain but the tickets to Paris are going for $200 less, odds are you can score a budget flight to Madrid or Barcelona from Paris for less than you would have paid flying directly to Spain. That said, do note that budget airlines usually charge extra for baggage and this can often double the price of your flight.
Barcelona ain’t a bad place to begin you Europe backpacking adventure.
Entry Requirements For Europe
If you want to backpack in Europe then you may need a Visa. Entry and Visa requirements vary between different European countries although many of them do follow broadly similar criteria.
For travel in EU countries, a Schengen Visa is required (unless you are from another EU country in which case all you need is your passport/ID). Note that some EU countries (most notably the UK) are not part of the Schengen agreements and separate visa’s are required for visiting.
Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand & Singapore can usually obtain visa’s for most European countries on arrival. It can be significantly harder for everybody else. Overstaying visa’s is not recommended.
It is very wise to work out which countries you wish to visit and check their individual entry requirements before you set off. Regarding overland travel, note that even if you are only passing through a country en route to another, entry requirements will still apply.
Traveling to Europe During COVID Times
Europe was the first region following China to get hit hard by COVID-19. Italy was ground-zero at first but soon every major European nation was a part of the pandemic.
Following a relatively easy summer with looser travel restrictions and open borders, most of the European Union is being struck by the anticipated second wave. As of November 2020, most of the major of European powers are in the dregs, Italy, France, Spain, and the UK being the most critical.
Most travel restrictions that were put in place at the end of the previous spring still stand. Travel within the Schengen is permitted. Certain nationalities deemed safe can also enter. Note that Americans are still not allowed to travel to the European Union.
Need to travel around Europe on the cheap? Use Bookaway to find the best deals on bus, plane, train, and ferry tickets. It’s easy to use and saves you time and money. Once you’ve arrived, why not use what you’ve saved to treat yourself to a cold beer and a bite to eat?
Book your transport on Bookaway now to guarantee your seat and for the right price.
How to Get Around Europe
Okay there are many great ways to get around Europe! If you plan on hitting up multiple countries in Europe, the Eurorail Pass is a great option. You can buy a rail pass for one country or for all of Europe.
Buying train tickets individually adds up fast, so in the end buying a pass it totally worth it – check out our in-depth post on traveling Europe by rail.
Long-distance buses are probably the cheapest option, though they tend to be the most time consuming as well. A 9-hour journey with a company like Flixbus is likely to cost you between 25-50 Euros depending on when you book.
I like Flixbus because if plans change, you can cancel for a small fee and rebook when you’re ready. You can score long-distance buses for as little as 10 Euros if you’re really on it.
Whilst you are backpacking the cities in Europe, use the metro and local buses to get across town. Got a couple of days in a capital city? Buy your metro tickets in bulk and save a few bucks.
BlaBlaCar is a great website for connecting drivers with people interested in carpooling. If you are wanting to catch a ride to the next city or to a neighboring country, keep an eye out and you might be able to connect with someone on the site. This is not a free ride. Expect to help pay for some of the gasoline and expect to get there faster than the bus.
Campervan Hire in Europe
Renting a car is surprisingly affordable in Europe and will give you unrestricted freedom to go and do what you want. You can sort your car rental here in just a few minutes. Booking in advance is the best way to ensure you score the lowest price and your choice of vehicle. Often, you can find the best car rental prices when you pick up the rental from the airport. You can easily rent a car from any major city in Europe.
Make sure you also purchase a RentalCover.com policy to cover your vehicle against any common damages such as tires, windscreens, theft, and more at a fraction of the price you would pay at the rental desk.
Traveling Europe by campervan is classic, most awesome option. You have unparalleled freedom and access to places you would not otherwise have. You also eliminate the need to pay for accommodation every night.
Renting a campervan is easy to do all across Europe. If you can swing hiring a campervan you will certainly not regret it.
Hitchhiking in Europe
To be honest, maybe with the exception of New Zealand, Europe is one of the easiest places in the world to hitchhike, even long distances. I recommend studying a map before sticking your thumb out there. Try to get an idea of which roads you need to take to get to your destination. Europe is full of tiny, winding backroads that splinter off in all directions.
It goes without saying that you should not try hitchhiking in major cities. When possible hitchhike close to a major highway thus eliminating the element of dealing with confusing backroads.
While hitchhiking in Europe is safe generally, it is important to be on your guard and use good judgment when accepting rides.
Onwards Travel from Europe
Europe is home to many major global traveling hubs and international airports. This means you can get anywhere in the world, often with a direct flight depending on where you’re going. If you are on a grand European or world tour, heading to Eastern Europe and making your way into Turkey and beyond is a straightforward affair.
In fact you can fly from London or Paris to Istanbul for as little as 20 Euros with some forethought.
Keep in mind as well that countries in North Africa are sometimes just an hour or two flight away. Places like Morocco and Tunisia are great backpacking destinations to head to after backpacking Europe.
Since I am an American living in Europe, from time to time I need to fly home. I have noticed that airfare to and from the USA has gotten much cheaper in the last year or two. There are some sweet deals out there! Late in 2017 I flew to Los Angeles from Paris direct for $230 one way. Not too bad! As always, book in advance and save heaps.
Working and Staying Connected in Europe
The core countries of the European Union – France, UK, Italy, Germany – are not exactly digital nomad havens. The cost of living is just too high and the visa policies are just too difficult to navigate for most traveling remote workers.
That being said, digital nomadism is becoming more common and even Europe can resist the new trend. Portugal is probably the most viable option for digital nomads right now since there is a “Passive Income” visa available and the cost of living is low. Germany also offers a freelancer visa, which may or may not be catered to the hordes of techies flocking to Berlin.
Really though, if you’re a digital nomad, you’re better off heading east. Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Estonia are the current trailblazers and are setting themselves up to be the next big nomadic hotspots.
Internet is pretty much a non-issue in Europe. Most of the major cities have high-speed fiberoptic cables lain and the more remote villages have decent coverage. Whilst hiking the Dolomites, I even got 4G using my local SIM card. I could’ve worked in a local rifugio for a few days!
Keen to live the digital nomad dream while traveling the world? Who the hell isn’t?
Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income on the road. Depending on your qualifications, you can work remotely from your laptop and make a positive impact on the world! It’s a win-win!
Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.
Volunteer in Europe
Volunteering abroad is an amazing way to experience a culture whilst helping your host community. There are plenty of different volunteer projects in Europe including teaching, construction, agriculture and pretty much anything.
The list of volunteering opportunities in Europe is pretty much endless, with some countries needing more support than others. Countries like France, the UK, and Germany mostly provide opportunities to help out in hospitality, whereas poorer nations like Greece and Macedonia are great places to aid in social work and community development. Short-term volunteers usually won’t need a permit, but anyone from outside the EU will need a Schengen Visa to volunteer in Europe for over 90 days.
Want to find some awesome volunteering opportunities in Europe? Then signup for Worldpackers, a platform that connects local hosts with volunteer travelers. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll also get a special discount of $10. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $39.
Programs run through reputable work exchange programs, like Worldpackers, are generally very well-managed and highly reputable. However, whenever you are volunteering do stay vigilant especially when working with animals or children.
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
What to Eat in Europe
The food in Europe is so varied that my mind reels just trying to think about it. Where do I even begin?
First off, people are extremely proud of their culture’s cooking. Italians sing praise about the quality of ingredients and the simplicity of their style. The French boast about their prowess in the kitchen and complex techniques. The Spanish of course love to talk about their tapas culture.
Secondly, though European culinary traditions have very long histories, most change completely in the last few centuries. The introduction of new ingredients from the new world was nothing short of revolutionary. The Italians received the all-important tomatoes, the English imported curry, and the Germans got the Turkish kebab.
Most European culinary traditions have very multicultural pasts. North African traders and immigrants have had a profound effect on the Mediterranean diets and cultures as distant as China have purportedly influenced the creation of pasta.
All can say is that a trip through Europe will be like a tour of heaven for your stomach. There are so many different kinds of food to try and a staggering amount of diversity. My best advice: try the usual suspects but be sure to experiment a bit.
The Best Food and Dishes in Europe
Here are some of the best foods you have to try while backpacking in Europe:
- Pasta (Italy) – A VERY general term, pasta can mean a lot of things. Be sure to have more than just spaghetti.
- Coq Au Vin (France) – A simple, yet delicious stew made from chicken, wine, mushrooms, and garlic.
- Meat pies (UK) – A staple of just about every pub and inn in the UK. Simple and satisfying.
- Pastel de Nata (Portugal) – A small, custard-filled egg tart that originates in Lisbon.
- Paella (Spain) – Rice prepared in a special pan and often prepared with seafood.
- Moules Frites (Belgium) – Mussels prepared in different kinds of sauces and served with fried potatoes.
- Souvlaki (Greece) – What most people imagine to be “gyros” when gyros is just a general term for shaved meat.
- Schnitzel (Germany) – Meat flattened, breaded, and fried.
- Sachertorte (Austria) – A delicacy of Vienna and perhaps one of the best cakes in Europe.
- Stroopwafel (Netherlands) – The best sweet treat ever.
The idea of European culture is extremely fluid. Each culture is different from the next and each blends into the other, so much so that sometimes it can be challenging to discern the subtle differences.
The first and absolutely most important thing that you need to know about culture in Europe is that people are not “just European.” In fact, using “European” as a blanket term for everyone who lives on the continent might land you in some trouble.
According to Britannica, there are over 160 distinct cultures in Europe, though if we’re being honest this number could be higher. Within each of these cultures are sub-sections and divisions with their own national, religious, and historical identities.
Take for example, Iberian Culture, which the former Britannica article considers Spain and Portugal a part of. Within that one culture, there are at least five different sub-cultures – probably more in reality – and three of these actually want to start their own nations: the Basque, Galicia, and Catalonia, all of which are a part of Spain.
TL;DR – you do no want to make the mistake of falsely associating one culture with another. Accidently call a Sicilian Italian and you’ll probably get an eye-roll; refer to a Bavarian as German and you’ll probably get a cold shoulder; call an Irishman English by mistake and be prepared for hell to break loose.
When it comes to understanding culture in Europe, it just takes an open mind. You can’t be expected to know ALL of the different groups in Europe but if you ask questions and take a moment to consider where you are and what people are doing, you should be able to keep up.
Books to Read While Backpacking Europe
- For Whom the Bell Tolls: Ernest Hemingway covered the Spanish Civil War as a journalist and turned his account into a fiction story. It has been ten years since I first read this book, and still to this day it is in my top five favorites without a doubt.
- Homage to Catalonia: Another classic from the Spanish Civil War period. In 1936 Orwell went to Spain to report on the Civil War and instead joined the fight against the Fascists. This famous account describes the war and Orwell’s experiences.
- If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler: Italo Calvino was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. This novel is a collection of his most regarded short stories.
- A Moveable Feast: Fancy having a look into what life was like for expats living in Paris in the 1920s? If you yearn for the Golden age of the Lost Generation like I do, this Ernest Hemingway classic is a must read. OK, so I’m showing my Hemingway bias here, but hey it is a great read too!
- Satori in Paris: Satori in Paris is a rollicking autobiographical account of Jack Kerouac’s search for his heritage in France and lands the author in his familiar milieu of seedy bars and all-night conversations. This book is one of ol’ Kerouac’s last novels.
- Greece: A Traveler’s Literary Companion: This is a compilation of 24 stories and essays based on the ancient Greek myths and modern tales.
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Must Try Experiences in Europe
Hiking in Europe
Europe is a land blessed with incredible hiking opportunities. Each country has a wide range of day hikes and multi-day treks on offer. Trekking is a great way to get to know any country by experiencing its wild side.
In addition to well-maintained trail systems, many regions in Europe are home to mountain huts. For a fee one can enjoy these super comfortable and unique fixtures of the European mountains.
A night or two in a mountain hut, overlooking a great snowcapped valley is a priceless experience. Here are a few of the best hikes in Europe to get you psyched for an outdoor adventure of your own.
- Mt. Etna Trek, Sicily, Italy: Climbing an active Volcano in Sicily is at much fun as it sounds.
- Walkers Haute Route, France-Switzerland (Chamonix to Zermatt): A famous high route from Chamonix to Zermatt. The trek features absolutely classic alpine scenery, snowy peaks, glaciers, high meadows and deep valleys, and close-up views of such icons as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
- Landmannalaugar Trek, Iceland: The “hot springs hike”. Enjoy mind-boggling beauty by day, and soak in the thermal hot pools by night.
- Tour Du Mont Blanc, France: The unforgettable circuit around the Mont Blanc massif. Outstanding views up to Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest at 4,810m, and out across the dramatic peaks, glaciers, and deep green valleys of the high Alps. If you have the time, this might just be the most scenic (and most trafficked) hike in Western Europe.
- El Camino de Santiago, France – Spain: Perhaps the most popular famous long-distance trek in the world, El Camino is an important trek in the hearts of religious pilgrims and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Hike a section of it to feel out the vibe, or take on the whole bloody thing. All 500 miles of it.
- The Kings Trail (Kungsleden), Sweeden: At 270 miles long, this epic trek is bound to take you at least a couple of weeks if not longer. It passes through, near the southern end, the Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Europe. There is no better way in my opinion to get to know Sweeden.
Surfing in Europe
Many backpackers are unaware that there is some killer surf to be found all across Europe. Portugal is certainly famous for having massive waves the associated surf competitions.
That said, if you are keen on surfing at some point as you travel thru Europe, you do have some options. Below I have provided a short list of surfing hotspots in Europe.
- Biarritz, France: One of the oldest known surf meccas of Europe. The surfing here is great for beginners as well as seasoned rippers.
- Newgale Wales: Surfing on this beautiful stretch of coast facing out towards the Irish Sea, the waves here are powerful and the views are epic.
- Belhaven Bay, Scotland: This surf spot is only an hours drive from the capital! Make sure you have a good wetsuit. Not the warmest water in the world, but the waves are good at times.
- San Sebastian, Spain: When not eating and drinking, it is easy to hit the beach and catch a few waves before resuming the former.
- Lagos, Portugal: Probably the unofficial capital of surfing in Portugal. There are many surf schools across Lagos that will help you tune up your surfing game in no time.
Joining an Organized Tour in Europe
For most countries, Europe included, solo travel is the name of the game. That said, if you are short on time, energy, or just want to be part of an awesome group of travelers you can opt to join an organized tour. Joining a tour is a great way to see a majority of the country quickly and without the effort that goes into planning a backpacking trip. However—not all tour operators are created equal—that is for sure.
G Adventures is a solid down-to-earth tour company catering to backpackers just like you, and their prices and itineraries reflect the interests of the backpacker crowd. You can score some pretty sweet deals on epic trips in Europe for a fraction of the price of what other tour operators charge.
Check out some of their awesome itineraries for Europe here…
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Final Thoughts – Being a Responsible Backpacker in Europe
Congratulations! You made it to the end of my Europe travel guide! I hope the information I have provided will help you navigate the exciting European journey you have decided to embark on. Backpacking in Europe will be one of the most fun experiences of your life, I have no doubts about that.
Europe can be one hell of a place to let loose and have a good time. Between the party-hearty music festivals, discotheques, rave scenes, pub crawls, and other venues of hedonistic tendency, there is ample opportunity for backpackers to get down. Have fun on your Europe backpacking journey! Just remember to take it easy, pace yourself, and not do anything stupid that affects those around you in a negative way.
When visiting historic sights or religious monuments be respectful. Certainly do not climb on old ruins or touch priceless paintings. Europe is full of historical treasures. Don’t be that dickhead that contributes to their demise and destruction.
When you can, make an effort to learn at least a few words of the local language of the country you are backpacking in. It’s a challenge as every country has a different language, but a little effort goes a long way. The world need-not revolve around us native English speakers!
Do your best to support local artisans, organic farmers, and craftspeople while traveling around Europe. Keep your dollars local, especially in small villages or towns. Never take it for granted that you are healthy and financially able to go traveling. Show the world around you some gratitude and help to make a positive impact on it. Most of all have the time of your life and spread the love!
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