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Tara Burgess By
Posted 11 Oct, 2019 | No comments
Posted in: Europe, Travel Blogs

 There are few things as exciting as embarking on a backpacking trip through Europe. The rush of excitement as you step off the plane or train in a new country is an incredible feeling.

As a traveller who spent eight months backpacking around Europe, It’s a feeling I know quite well. Starting in London, I spent the better part of a year hiking through snowy Sweden, devouring pasta in Italy, making new hostel friends in Budapest, and dancing the night away in Spain.

In fact, this backpacking trip was possibly the best experience of my life — it’s something I would whole-heartedly recommend to anyone in the future.

If you’ve ever contemplated spending a few weeks or months in Europe, then this article is for you. I’ll discuss the best itineraries in Eastern and Western Europe, what to expect in terms of safety, and how you can get off the beaten path to see some of the world’s most incredible sights.

Highlights of Travel in Europe

*Note: As of 2021, citizens from the USA, Canada, Australia (and other countries) who didn’t need to apply for anything in order to go backpacking in the Schengen visa countries of Europe, must now apply for an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) visa waiver. Also, some countries that needed to apply for a Schengen Visa in the past may now only need to obtain an ETIAS waiver. Learn more about the ETIAS requirements here.

Best Time To Go Backpacking in Europe

If you’re planning on backpacking through Europe, you’ll first need to decide what time of the year to go. This will depend on several factors, including your budget and what countries you plan on visiting.

Many travellers think early fall and late spring are the best times to visit Europe. Depending on where you’re going, the weather will probably be more bearable than summer or winter.

Due to the school holiday schedule, summer is considered the peak season in Europe. The weather is warm, the sun sets later, and the streets are filled with families, tour groups, and travellers in general.

If you plan on backpacking Europe in June, July, or August, you can also expect that prices for hotels and flights will be much higher. It’s not uncommon to spend two or three times more than you would if you went during the off-season.

Speaking of the off-season, the least busy time to travel is from late fall to winter. Although some people take extra time during the Christmas holidays, Europe is generally the cheapest during these months. You might think that the cold temperatures and short days make backpacking harder, but without all the tourists, you’ll get to experience an entirely different side of Europe.

During my backpacking trip, I decided to fly to Stockholm, Sweden for several days in the middle of January. Because of the freezing temperatures and harsh snowfall, a lot of my friends thought I was crazy! However, my hostel was super cheap, and I never had to fight through crowds or wait in line for restaurants. Not to mention, I felt like I had the city all to myself.

The truth is, there’s really no wrong time to go backpacking in Europe. There are advantages and disadvantages to each season, so you’ll just need to decide which time is right for you.

backpacking europe italy

How to Get Around While Backpacking Europe

It should come as no surprise that parts of Europe are known for their fast and efficient transportation system. While some countries make it easy to get around when backpacking Europe, other places might be more difficult. When planning your itinerary, you should take the following methods of transportation into consideration.

Train

Zipping from country to country by high-speed train is a quintessential European backpacking experience. They’re fast, usually on time, and generally affordable compared to flights and car rentals. In some countries, trains also have free wifi and dining cars.

If you plan on taking multiple trains through multiple countries, it’s worth investing in a Eurail pass to save money.  

Bus

Taking a bus through Europe may be time-consuming, but it’s one of the cheapest ways of backpacking Europe. FlixBus and BlaBlaBus are two reputable companies operating in western Europe. You can find tickets for as low as €5 each way — however, most journeys cost between €20 – €40.  

Plane

If you’re short on time or going long-distances, flying might be the best option. Although you’ll need to allow time for check-in and security, it’s often much faster than driving or taking the bus. You might even score a good deal on tickets by booking with a low-cost airline such as RyanAir, EasyJet or WizzAir. 

Car

Renting a car is an excellent option if you want to explore different cities and towns at your own pace. You’ll also have the chance to visit places that are more remote or not connected by train. However, rentals tend to be more expensive. And depending on where you’re travelling, you might need an international driving license and the green light from the rental company to cross borders. 

Caravan

For the ultimate backpacking experience, consider renting a campervan to travel through Europe. Not only will you save money on hotels, but you’ll also be able to get off the beaten path to some of the continent’s most hidden destinations! 

Backpacking Western Europe

As one of the most iconic backpacking destinations, Western Europe has it all. It boasts the glitzy cities and larger-than-life monuments that most people envision when they think of Europe. There’s always a new city to explore and new cultures to experience, whether it’s your first, second, or one-hundredth time on the continent.

However, it may be hard to decide which places to visit during your Western Europe trip. So, I put together this list of my top countries for backpackers.

Backpacking Italy

Overflowing with history and culture, Italy is a classic stop on any Western European itinerary. Whether you’re marvelling at the ruins in Rome or wine tasting in Tuscany, Italy is guaranteed to have something that sparks your interest.

Bigger touristy cities tend to cost much more than the outskirts. Fortunately, some of Italy’s most beautiful settings are where you least expect to find them.

  • Budget: €50-€70/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €20-€40
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €60-€70
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €10
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €4
  • Cost of Transport by train: €1.50 one way

backpacking europe

Backpacking Germany

Many people travel to Germany for Oktoberfest, Carnival, or simply to spend time in the great outdoors. Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg are ideal for those who want to experience city life.

On the other hand, there are plenty of cute and charming medieval villages and castles to explore here too. Best of all, Germany’s efficient train system makes backpacking through the country a breeze!

  • Budget: €90-€100/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €30-€50
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €70-€80
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €10
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €3
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €2.50 one way

Backpacking France

Although it may be one of the most expensive countries on this list, France is still a must-see destination when backpacking through Europe. You can go shopping in Paris, take cooking classes in Provence, or relax on the coast in Nice.

Not to mention, the food is out of this world! Its central location also makes it ideal for travelling between other countries around Western Europe.

  • Budget: €100-€120/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €30-€50
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €90-€100
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €12
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €5
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €2 one way

Backpacking Spain

The laidback atmosphere of Spain makes it one of the coolest places to visit in Western Europe. Big cities like Barcelona and Madrid are filled with museums, parks, and amazing architecture.

For warmer weather, make your way down south to Seville or Malaga. Or, you can always hop to the Canary Islands and Majora for the ultimate beach getaway. Foodies and culture addicts will enjoy spending the day museum hopping and tapas sampling through Spain.

  • Budget: €70-€80/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €20-€40
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €60-€70
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €8
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €3
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €2.20 one way

Backpacking the Netherlands (Holland)

Backpackers flock to Amsterdam for the beautiful canals, world-class museums, and raging nightlife. However, there are many other picturesque cities and villages to visit in the Netherlands.

For instance, you can spend a few days in some of the Netherland’s other big cities, like The Hague and Rotterdam. Or, make your way to Giethoorn, a fairy-tale-like city with lush green foliage and dozens of picturesque canals.

  • Budget: €90-€100/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €20-€40
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €70-€80
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €10
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €3
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €3.50 one way

Backpacking Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe is often overlooked by travellers in favour of well-known countries like France, Germany, and Italy. But for the adventurous backpacker who’s looking for something a bit different, eastern Europe packs a big punch. To put it simply, countries in eastern Europe are breathtaking. Not to mention, it’s usually a lot cheaper than western Europe.

If you want to get off the beaten path and make your dollar stretch further, check out my favourite destinations in Eastern Europe.

Backpacking the Czech Republic (Czechia)

Teeming with gothic architecture and cobblestoned cities, the Czech Republic is one of the easiest countries to reach from Western Europe. It’s just a short train ride away from Germany, Poland, and Austria.

Architecture lovers must visit Prague, the country’s capital city — otherwise known as the “City of a Hundred Spires”. Other towns, such as Český Krumlov and Brno, are less touristy but equally stunning to visit.

  • Budget: €60-€70/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €20-€30
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €60-€70
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €6
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €1.50
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €1.50 one way

Backpacking Bulgaria

Located on the Black Sea, Bulgaria is an excellent destination for those who want both beach and city life. The capital of Sofia has 2,000 years worth of history, which is reflected by the city’s diverse and ornate architecture. After a few days in the city, head to culture-rich Plovdiv, or Varna, a small resort town located on the Black Sea. This holiday spot is affordable and known for its white-sand beaches and sunbathing.

  • Budget: €30-€40/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €10-€20
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €30-€40
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €3
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €2
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €.80 one way 

backpacking europe plovdiv

Backpacking Romania

From the forested region of Transylvania to the clifftop fortress of Bran Castle, Romania is dotted with otherworldly attractions. City-goers can spend time exploring Bucharest and Brașov, while outdoor lovers will revel in the majestic wonder of the Carpathian Mountains.

Most travellers actually spend more time in the outdoors here than they do in the city! Best of all, Romania is one of the cheapest places to visit in Eastern Europe.

  • Budget: €30-€40/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €10-€15
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €30-€40
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €4
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €2
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €1 one way

Backpacking Hungary

Ideal for everyone from budget backpackers to high-end travellers, Hungary is a country that draws you in. In Budapest, you have gritty hostels and street food stalls standing next to luxury resorts and gourmet restaurants. It oozes class and royalty, however, still manages to pay homage to its diverse cultural heritage.

  • Budget: €40-€50/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €15-€30
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €30-€40
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €7
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €1.50
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €1.50 one way 

Backpacking Ukraine

Over the last few years, Ukraine has become increasingly popular amongst backpackers and travellers. Ukraine is a sprawling country, and many people just have time to visit Kyiv or tour the abandoned city of Pripyat (Chernobyl).

Despite what some may think, Ukraine is a safe place to visit if you stay within certain areas. So, with an open mind, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time backpacking through Ukraine.

  • Budget: €30-€40/day
  • Average Dorm Bed Cost: €10-€20
  • Average Budget Hotel Cost: €20-€30
  • Average Budget Meal Cost: €5
  • Cost of Beer in Restaurant: €2.50
  • Cost of Transport by Train: €.50 one way

Recommended Itineraries for Backpacking Europe

There are 44 countries in Europe, which could make planning the right backpacking itinerary a bit of a challenge. Unless you have an unlimited budget and vacation time, you’ll need to be strategic about where you visit. If you need some inspiration, then take a look at some of my sample travel itineraries.

2 Weeks in Western Europe: First Time Travellers

If you’re coming over to Europe for the first time, you’ll be eager to see as much as you can in just a short amount of time. Although it’s a whirlwind tour, this 2-week itinerary takes you to Western Europe’s most iconic cities.

While two weeks is never enough time in Europe, you can still make the most of your visit by tackling the biggest highlights and attractions.

Day 1-3: London, the UK
Day 3-6: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Day 6-8: Berlin, Germany
Day 8-11: Paris, France
Day 11-14: Barcelona, Spain

2 Weeks in Eastern Europe: First Time Travellers

If you’re looking to save a few bucks on your first backpacking trip, then consider heading to Eastern Europe. Accommodation, food, and entertainment are much cheaper there than in Western Europe, meaning you can feel comfortable buying your new hostel friends an extra round of drinks.

Between the ancient towns and ornate architecture, you’ll be able to make your way through some of Eastern Europe’s most stunning destinations.

Day 1-3: Prague, the Czech Republic
Day 3-5: Krakow, Poland
Day 5-7: Bratislava, Slovakia
Day 7-10: Budapest, Hungary
Day 10-12: Bucharest, Romania
Day 12-14: Sofia, Bulgaria

1 Month in Eastern and Western Europe: Highlights

With one month in Europe, you’ll be able to get a feel for the atmosphere and culture of each country. Not only can you spend time in the big cities, but you’ll also get a chance to venture to smaller villages and towns. By escaping the tourist traps, you’ll save money and see a more authentic way of life.

Day 1-3: Paris, France
Day 3-5: Nice, France
Day 5-8: Barcelona, Spain
Day 8-10: Seville, Spain
Day 10-14: Rome, Italy
Day 14-16: Florence, Italy
Day 16-19: Munich, Germany
Day 19-21: Prague, the Czech Republic
Day 21-24: Budapest, Hungary
Day 24-26: Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Day 26-28: Bucharest, Romania
Day 28-30: Sofia, Bulgaria

backpacking europe italy

1 Month in Western Europe: Slow Paced

Sometimes, it’s better to soak in the city rather than race through it. Slow-paced travellers can still backpack through Europe and enjoy the different sites many European countries have to offer. As a benefit, you’ll also spend less time (and money) on the road.

Day 1-4: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Day 4-8: Berlin, Germany
Day 8-12: Munich, Germany
Day 12-14: Zurich, Switzerland
Day 14-17: Milan, Italy
Day 17-21: Barcelona, Spain
Day 21-25: Madrid, Spain
Day 25-28: Lisbon, Portugal
Day 28-30: Porto, Portugal

Is Backpacking Europe Safe?

When I told people I was backpacking through Europe, their first thought was “Is Europe Safe?” After all, I was a solo female traveller staying in hostels, taking trains, and walking alone for eight months. Their concerns were wholly justified.

However, it’s hard to answer point-blank if Europe is safe or not. Safety will depend on a variety of factors, including where and how you travel. While every place around the world has its own set of dangers, there are a few ways to be safe while backpacking Europe.

Take Care of Your Valuables

No matter if you’re in a big city or small village, it’s always important to keep an eye on your personal belongings. Pickpockets and thieves can be anywhere.

Don’t carry around large amounts of cash, and try not to wear anything you don’t want to lose, like expensive sunglasses or fine jewellery. If you’re staying in a hotel, keep your passport and valuables locked in the hotel safe. And if you’re in a hostel, invest in a padlock to keep your bags secure throughout the night.

Make Reliable Friends

Take it from me, backpacking alone is a fantastic experience. You get the chance to meet new people in hostels or even friendly locals in the cafe. In my opinion, it’s crucial to make trustworthy friends during the trip. Not only will you have someone to hang out with, but they’ll be there to help you in case anything goes awry.

Tell Family and Friends Your Itinerary

Before you leave for your trip, give your family and friends your detailed itinerary. Write down the address of your hostels, details of your train trip, and any other information that can be used to reach you. Don’t forget also to tell them if your plans change!

Get Travel Insurance

One of the most important things you can take on your trip is international travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against a variety of travel-related incidents and can save you thousands of dollars in bills and expenses.

Good travel insurance should provide coverage for emergency medical treatments, emergency evacuation, and trip cancellation and interruption. It might also include protection for lost and stolen luggage, as well as missed or delayed flights.

Know Where the Nearest Embassy or Consulate Is

If something were to go wrong on your trip, it’s crucial that you can turn to your home country embassy for help. Most countries in Europe have one embassy and multiple consulate offices for your home country. From lost passports to medical emergencies, the embassy should be able to assist you in dire times of need.

renting a car in europe

Backpacking Europe Off the Beaten Path

If it’s your first time in Europe, you’ll probably want to visit the big cities and popular landmarks. Who can blame you – the Eiffel Tower at night is spectacular! However, some of the best memories will be made if you get off the beaten path.

Sure, touristy cities are popular for a reason. On the other hand, you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with other tourists rather than immersing yourself with locals. If you’re looking for an authentic experience in your country, I recommend looking outside the guide books and discovering a few hidden gems on your own.

Become Friends with Locals

Locals have the best tips about what to see and do in their home country. They know where all the best restaurants are, where you can score good deals on clothes and souvenirs, and most importantly, where you should be spending your time during your trip.

Facebook, MeetUp, and Couchsurfing are three excellent sites for meeting other travellers and locals. Or if you’re feeling friendly, you can always ask your waitress, bartender, or hotel staff to point you in the right direction.

Rent a Car or Scooter

If you only rely on trains and buses, you’re limited to where you can go in the country. Most public transport systems take you where the touristy sites are in the city centre or to the residential suburbs. By renting a car or scooter, you’ll be able to venture wherever your heart desires.

Additionally, you can go at your own pace. Since you’re not tethered to a tight train schedule, you can explore the entire area at your leisure.

Do Your Research – But Not Too Much!

Instead of reading a guide book for the best places to visit, I recommend scouring the internet for advice. You’ll find hundreds of sites and travel blogs (with pictures) about different places other people have stumbled upon. And chances are, the locations will be way less touristy than what your guide book recommends.

Although it’s good to do your homework, try not to stick to a strict itinerary. Feel free to be open-minded and take a few risks! Some of the best experiences are the ones that happen when you least expect them.

The Best Off the Beaten Path Destinations in Europe

By now, you should have an idea of where you’d like to visit while backpacking in Europe. But for more inspiration, take a look at my favourite secret and tucked away destinations throughout the continent.

  • Cavtat, Croatia: This portside village is just a stone’s throw away from the heart of Dubrovnik, Croatia’s most famous walled city. Along the water, you’ll find outdoor cafes, boutique shops, and sun-soaked beaches.
  • Reims, France: If you’re looking to add a bit of luxury to your backpacking trip, head to French champagne country. Reims is surrounded by dozens of champagne caves and tasting rooms where you can sample this bubbly favourite.
  • Orvieto, Italy: Nestled on the cliffside of a volcano, Orvieto is a classy, charming village in the middle of Umbria. Come for the breathtaking views or sample some of the most delicious handmade pasta from a family-run restaurant.
  • Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, Germany: Ripped right from the pages of a fairy-tale, Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber is a picturesque medieval town. This walled city can be visited just for a day trip. However, I recommend staying a few days around Christmas for the famous Christmas market!

Cluj-Napoca, Romania: In the heart of Transylvania sits Cluj-Napoca, a colourful, vibrant city known for its lively student population. After checking out their cobblestoned old town, take a seat in an outdoor cafe and enjoy a nice, cheap cup of coffee.

Travelling in Europe: Highlights From Two Months On The Road

Backpacking Europe: The Best Hikes

Of course, the big cities in Europe are wonderful on their own. However, it’s the natural beauty of the outdoors that bring these countries to life. For a breath of fresh air, consider embarking on an outdoor adventure with one of these amazing back-country hikes in Europe.

You’ll find trails and hikes anywhere there are mountains, but here are some of the most popular journies in Europe.

Camino de Santiago, Spain

Attracting spiritual and recreational hikers alike, the Camino de Santiago has 300 years of tradition. This most popular route takes roughly a month and leads you from the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Be prepared to meet tons of other like-minded individuals who are also on a self-discovery journey. Click here to learn more.

Eastern Dolomites, Italy

Many people flock to the Dolomites in the winter for picture-perfect skiing and snowboarding conditions. However, Eastern Dolomites is also a great place for hiking in the spring or summer.

Consider making the trek from Dobbiaco to Belluno on this 10-day hiking tour of Italy. The highest point of the trip is almost 3,000-meters above sea level, where you’ll get to enjoy marvellous views of neighbouring Tofana and Lagazuoi.

Slovenian Mountain Trail, Slovenia

Crossing over five different mountains, the Slovenian Mountain Trail is one of the best Eastern European backpacking trails. In just 28 days, you’ll get to explore Slovenia’s finest – Pohorje Hills, Kamnik and Savinja Alps, the Karavanke Alps, and the Julian Alps. It’s not a trip for the faint of heart, but it’s a must-do for any nature lover!

Eagle’s Walk, Austria

With over 33 different trails, Austria’s Eagle’s Walk is perfect for both day trips and long-distance hikes. Beginners will enjoy the flat, leisurely pace along Lake Zireiner See, while experts can take the entire 24-day challenge to see as much of South Tirol as they can.

There are dozens of huts and hotels along the way, where you can eat and spend the night. Since they can book out in advance, I recommend reserving a bed ahead of time.

Samaria Gorge, Greece

If you find yourself in Crete, then consider taking the journey across the stunning Samaria Gorge. This 16 kilometer hike is ideal for intermediate or experienced travellers, as the trek to the top can be steep and rocky. However, the dramatic views from the 100-metre peak make it worth it.

Bohemian Switzerland, the Czech Republic

Despite its name, Bohemian Switzerland actually runs from Germany into the Czech Republic! Located only a few hours from Prague, this short, leisurely hike boasts some of the coolest karst formations in the entire country. The highlight of the hike is Pravčická Gate, a unique rock bridge that was used in the Chronicles of Narnia film.

Ready to Go Backpacking Europe?

Now that you have an idea of what backpacking Europe is like, it’s time to start planning your ideal holiday. Spend a few weeks train-hopping through Germany, sunbathing in the south of Spain, or driving down the coast from Romania to Bulgaria. No matter if you choose Eastern Europe, Western Europe, or both, your options for travel are unlimited.

Even if you have just one week, you can still enjoy many cities and attractions on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. But with more time, you’ll really get to immerse yourself in your surroundings.

And remember, it’s always important to travel with an open mind. As a backpacker, you’ll inevitably experience new cultures and have the opportunity to meet people from around the world. As long as you’re open to new experiences, I’m sure you’re going to have an unforgettable backpacking trip.

 

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Tara Burgess

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Tara is a full-time traveler and part-time street food addict. When she’s not blogging her adventures at My Life in Wanderland, you can find her sipping a glass of wine or slurping a bowl of hot noodles.

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