Backpacking Europe is one of the most epic adventures any traveller can experience – and for many, it’s baby’s first backpacking trip ever! The European continent is packed with fairy tale villages, stunning national parks, ultra-cool cities, fascinating history, delicious food, and friendly people.
Modern Western Europe is a great melting pot of culture, humanity, and culinary traditions. Its cities are gorgeous and its mountains even more so. But deciding where to go and what to do can be challenging; 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.
This Western Europe travel guide will let you in on all the best places to see and all the secrets to saving money in this amazing region. The best European travel routes, travel trips, what to pack for visiting Europe, safety information, trekking in Europe, and my favourite backpacking destinations in Europe.
Let’s get started!
Why Go Backpacking in Europe?
Europe is any traveller’s dream. Whatever you want from travel, you can find it someplace.
If you’re new to backpacking, Western Europe is a great place to start your travels: the 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. Walk in Ceasar’s footsteps in Rome. Get off the beaten path in Scotland.
Live life to its fullest in Berlin. Explore the cliff-sides of Ireland. Join free walking tours in every city you go to.
Dammit Europe. You’ve got so many awesome countries…
And the best part is that Europe is so popular with backpackers, you’ll never have to feel lonely. (Unless you want to – there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path destinations to be on your awesome lonesome.) This classic Western European backpacker trail is filled with new friends (and lovers?) aplenty!
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 to plan to travel Europe on a budget – based on what you want to get out of your adventure.
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 travelling here!
- Best Itineraries for Backpacking Europe
- The Best Countries To Visit in Europe
- Top 10 Things To Do in Europe
- Backpacker Accommodation in Europe
- Europe Backpacking Costs
- Best Time to Visit Europe
- Staying Safe in Europe
- How to Get into Europe
- How to Get Around Europe
- Working in Europe
- European Culture
- Some Unique Experiences in Europe
- FAQS About Backpacking in Europe
- Final Thoughts – Being a Responsible Backpacker in Europe
Best Itineraries for Backpacking Europe
So Europe is fucking huge and it packs a punch too. This means that even in a lifetime in Europe, you’re only ever gonna scratch the surface of this awesome continent.
Europe is best when you can travel it slowly. But don’t stress it because there’s plenty of ground you can cover even on a shorter trip to Western Europe.
If you only have a week or so, I recommend that you focus your Europe trip on either A) just one country or B) a few close-together cities. The travel infrastructure is luckily really good so it’s easy to take trains and buses between destinations. Plus, thanks to the European Union and its open borders, once you’re in one country, you can basically keep crossing borders as often as you’d like.
Have realistic expectations though. Travelling constantly can burn you out super fast.
Here are a few ideas for an awesome backpacking trip to Europe.
2 weeks Travel Itinerary for Europe – the Big Bois of Europe
Start your travels from Berlin. Germany’s capital is like its own little islet – nothing like the rest of the country. Explore its history and party at world-famous clubs before heading out to Hamburg – you know, to get a taste of “normal Germany”. I highly recommend staying at St. Pauli which is the coolest area in Hamburg!
From Germany, cross over to Holland’s boozy, breezy, fun capital Amsterdam. From there, it’s easy to take a train or a bus to Brussels, in Belgium. (You could also stay in Ghent which is much prettier. Do take a day trip to Bruges, too!)
The next stop is dazzling Paris, undoubtedly the capital of romance in Europe.
From Paris, take the Eurostar train to visit London. This is the last stop in your itinerary. Wherever you’re headed next, London is one of the biggest transportation hubs in Europe!
1 Month Travel Itinerary for Europe: Southern Gems
One month is the ideal backpacking trip for first-timers in Europe.
You’ll have time to explore a few cities and countries. In this itinerary, we’re diving into Southern Europe.
Start your trip in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and maybe one of the liveliest cities in Europe. Take trips to Sintra and Porto. Sintra can be done as a day trip whereas visiting Porto warrants at least a night’s stay.
Next, cross the border to Spain to explore Madrid. From the Spanish capital, finding onwards transportation to Barcelona is super easy. (Barcelona is also a long-time backpacker favourite!)
From Barcelona, cross over to France and spend a couple of days on the French Riviera. You could also do a lil’ side trip to Monaco to gawk at the rich&richer. But just a warning – this area is expensive as hell!
Next up, we head to Italy where you’ll spend the rest of your trip. First, explore the fashion capital Milan; then the floating city Venice; then the ultra-beautiful Florence.
Lastly, end your trip in a highlight with a stay in Rome.
3 Month Travel Itinerary for Europe: Holy Shit, It’s the Grand Tour of Europe
Having 3 months or more for backpacking through Europe is an awesome experience. You can move at your own pace and take the time to enjoy the places you love.
Still – need I remind you? – Europe is fucking huge. 3 months is a great trip but you’ll still struggle to cover everything possible. Sometimes it might even be the best option to take a cheap plane ride between destinations rather than waste a day on a bus.
Stop first in Greece. Athens is a really epic city and a great gateway to the famous Greek Islands. (Mamma Mia, anyone?)
Next up – Italy. Explore the origins of pizza in Naples. See the remnants of a super-influential ancient culture in Rome, and hike along the coast in Cinque Terre.
From Italy, visit Switzerland, AKA ‘the pit of doom’ when it comes to budgeting. However, the Swiss Alps are some of the most beautiful parts of Europe so it’s worth a splurge.
Continue on to Vienna, Austria. It may look fancy but it has a punk rock heart.
Then, we move on to Germany. Munich is your gateway to experiences in Southern Germany and it has great connections to other awesome cities in Germany: Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dresden, and eventually, Berlin.
Travel through the Netherlands and Belgium to Paris, France. From there, you can easily get to London and further explore the UK. I highly recommend making a stop in Edinburgh to get a taste of Scottish life.
From the UK, you can fly down to Barcelona and conclude your trip by adventuring around Spain and Portugal.
The Best Countries To Visit in Europe
Wherever you decide to go on your Euro backpacking trip, the magic will surely blow your mind. Each country in Europe is unique, full of surprises, and requires its own individual approach and strategy with regard to your travel budget in Europe.
Uh, just one thing: Europe, as a whole, has dozens of countries. (44 or 51, depending on what kind of geographical allowances we’re making…)
As I’m writing a blog post and not a book, this Europe travel guide is focused on Western and Southern Europe. Meaning we’re only covering 11 countries and a bit today.
But don’t despair! The Broke Backpacker is very well-travelled and, of course, I have guides on other regions in Europe.
Portugal is a grand paradise of sorts. The pace here is slower than that of other European countries (and compared to other offenders on this list, slightly cheaper, too). 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. You can also find some of the best surf in the Northern Hemisphere off Portugal’s many beaches.
Backpacking in Portugal is very easy and ultimately it’s a great place to begin your international adventure. Spot the famous blue tiles in Porto. Feel like a royal at the castles in Sintra. Eat seafood in Lisbon. Drink ice-cold beer and smile like a fool whilst taking in an epic sunset over the ocean in Algarve.
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. Definitely don’t skip Sintra; the epic village full of fairytale castles is one the top places to see in Portugal.
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. But hey – the coastline is gorgeous and stays warm all year round.
In Northern Portugal, Porto is a popular student city. It’s also bustling, busy, fun and beautiful. Some backpackers even prefer it to Lisbon!
Portugal also has two semi-autonomous island regions: the Azores and Madeira. Both are very different from the mainland and absolutely magical. Hiking in Madeira is uniquely epic!
But visiting Azores is like backpacking a mini-New Zealand too.
What to Know Before Visiting Portugal
- Don’t miss out on… Porto. Backpackers love Lisbon, but its northern neighbor is just as cool. Keep an eye out for its famous blue tiles.
- Keep an eye out for… drunken backpackers in Lagos. It’s not widely advertised but this place is a SHITSHOW at night. If you’d like to be one of them, stay in one of the party hostels in Lagos.
- 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!
Many backpackers claim Spain as their favourite country. Are they right? I think yes. 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. The Spanish have breakfast at 10, lunch at 4, and dinner at midnight.
Spain is a country that truly never sleeps. It’s in the culture to practice sleep deprivation in style. Maybe all those midday siestas help?
Spain just has a certain charm to it. Is it the small plates of delicious tapas? The cool, cold wine served with sweet orange and melon in the summer?
Is it those fine beaches? Old olive groves running through tiny villages? Or 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 travelling here. Many backpackers just roll through Barcelona and maybe go visit Madrid. Whilst those cities are not to be missed, backpacking through Spain without exploring its other regions would be a mistake.
In the north, you can hike majestic mountains in Asturias and eat awesome seafood in San Sebastian. Track down the origins of paella in Valencia.
Explore Andalucia in the south with its Islamic architecture, free tapas, and the cheapest prices in Spain. (Seriously – Granada, Seville, and Cordoba are AWESOME.) Go to a football game. Find some flamenco.
Doesn’t that sound like fun? This is Spain.
What to Know Before Visiting Spain
- Don’t miss out on… the Basque region. It’s like a completely different country, with epic landscapes and an extremely fascinating history. San Sebastian is the best place to stay.
- You know what’s overrated… bull fights. The Spanish hardly go to them – it’s cruelty set up for tourists’s entertainment. Opt for a flamenco show or tapas tour instead.
- The coolest hostel is… Hostel One Catedral – Free dinner and tours, rooftop bar, and central location!
- The best food is found in… Granada. Andalucia has some of the only totally free tapas in Spain, and Granada has the best tapas restos. Asian fusion or Moroccan tapas? You’ll find it here.
France might just be one of the most diverse countries you’ll set your foot in 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. It’s a city of romance, famous art, morbid history, and grand architecture. But don’t stop your exploration at the capital!
The Mediterranean coast, so-called French Riviera, is something straight out of your dreams. Trekking or skiing in the Alps is an unforgettable experience. Bordeaux is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited, and Marseille and Lyon are just as pretty.
Let alone all the tiny little towns that are like straight out of a postcard… There are so many places to stay in France.
Wherever you turn, you will find different kinds of wine, cheese, and even variations of the French language. If you love food, culture, and outdoor playgrounds, a stopover in France is an obvious choice for backpackers exploring Europe.
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 – Paris is expensive.
- The coolest hostel is…St Christopher’s Inn Gare du Nord – This hostel ticks all of the boxes: it’s friendly, clean, a 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 really 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 desserts. 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.
But also – what’s wrong with seeing the same stuff as everyone else? There’s a reason Rome is popular. A gorgeous reason…
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’re in Italy – you can’t go wrong here. Genoa, Bologna, Naples, and Sicily all take top honors.
If you are planning on spending time in the Alps, a hiking trip to Switzerland is an obvious choice. Switzerland is a land full of the Alps, quaint villages, and hip cities.
Heard of the Matterhorn mountain? (That’s the Toblerone 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.
Zurich may be the financial heart of Europe but it’s still surprisingly cool. Lausanne is small but gorgeous, and the capital Bern is equally so. Don’t skip Luzerne since it just might be the most beautiful city in Switzerland. But these are just a few ideas of where to stay in Switzerland – numerous hidden gems await.
You do have to pay for the pleasure in Switzerland. 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, Switzerland will certainly do anything but disappoint. It’s worth the splurge even if you are backpacking Europe on a budget.
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 Switzerland. 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 to keep costs down.
- The coolest hostel is…Backpacker’s Villa Sonnenhof Interlaken. It offers a ton of freebies!
- The best food is found in…the grocery stores. Swiss food is just ok; certainly not worth the prices at the restaurants!
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 centre of culture in Europe. Modern-day Germany is an awesome place to go backpacking and a fan favourite among many gap year kids and older travellers alike. You won’t be hard-pressed to find a great hostel in Germany.
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 fantastical 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. (Pro tip: Eastern Germany is even cheaper than Western Germany.) 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 the capital is its own thing – it doesn’t resemble the rest of Germany at all. For backpackers, there are tons more awesome spots to uncover.
Dresden, beaten to shit during WWII, has been wonderfully restored. Hamburg is one of the coolest cities in the country, at least if you’re staying in the St Pauli neighbourhood.
Bavaria in the South is known for the Black Forest area, an unintelligible dialect of German, and beautiful scenery. Finally, Regensburg may be the prettiest town in the country. But there are SO MANY others – some completely micro-sized.
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.
Visiting Amsterdam has long been a favourite backpacker haunt and is well worthy of exploration. It is THE place in Europe to (legally) rock into a coffeeshop, 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.
Most backpackers make a stop in Amsterdam and leave the rest of the country be. Don’t get stuck in the capital city – at least take a day trip from Amsterdam.
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… while staying in Amsterdam, only because of the stroopwafels! These are one of the greatest treats ever.
Let’s be honest: Belgium doesn’t 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. How amazing is it that Belgium places beer in such high and hallowed regard? Bless the Belgians who seem to have no problem smothering their fried potatoes in aioli and mussels with heavy cream. 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. Bruges gets absolutely zombified with tourists, though – prepare yourself.
And you shouldn’t skip the nation’s capital Brussels. It’s also the capital of the European Union but in addition to stiff people in suits, there are also many cool things to see in Brussels.
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. Otherwise, Brussels’ hostels are the best place to stay on a budget.
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 frind 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 is the journey you have been waiting for.
Note to my geographically challenged friends – the UK is a country comprised of 4 countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. And the Brits WILL get mad at you if you refer to the whole area as “England”.
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 have 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 centres of culture in Europe. In England, London is an icon for obvious reasons. I also highly suggest chasing down ghosts in Canterbury, getting smart in Oxford, and basking on the beach in Brighton. And the Lake District in Northern England is incredible!
Scotland is a world of its own. The Scottish capital city of Edinburgh is full of awesome things to do. This region has landscapes so green that the hills seem to have been spray-painted 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.
Backpackers don’t go to Wales as often but for no good reason. It also offers awesome hiking opportunities, and Cardiff is a small-ish but cool, cultural city.
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). 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 only just; civilized, yet it’s 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 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 favourite 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 the Greek islands, a trip backpacking here is bound to be one hell of a good time.
But wait! Greece may be best known for its islands but there is a whole mainland of INCREDIBLE stuff to explore, too! (Also, it’s way cheaper than the tourist-crowded islands.)
Visit Athens, the capital full of ancient history and cool graffiti. 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 draw is the Acropolis.
Close to Athens, you’ll find Delphi, an adorable little town with the ruins of a once-famed oracle’s home. Meteora is known for its unique monasteries built on top of stone pillars. Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, is full of good vibes and great food.
If you’re a history and/or mythology geek, backpacking Greece is gonna get your socks spinning out of excitement.
What to Know Before Visiting Greece
- Don’t miss out on… the Ionian Islands. This part of Greek islands receives a fraction of tourists yet hosts some of the most beautiful places in the country. Zakynthos has good places 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 those 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. It’s well-known for its culinary culture. It’s far enough away from the mainland that the food is quite different as well.
Off the Beaten Path Adventures in Europe
Europe gets BUSY. Hundreds of millions of people, both from Europe and elsewhere, travel around it every year.
And you know what? 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.
(Actually – that doesn’t sound half bad…)
It’s easy to get off the beaten path by visiting anything that’s not on the top sights. In the Netherlands, go anywhere that’s not Amsterdam; in the UK, anywhere that’s not London. Simple!
But there are also a few countries that have not been included in this guide yet, and I’d like to give them a little shout-out. They are not traditionally on the backpacker trail but they are awesome, plus they’re right on your route so it’s very easy to visit them!
For starters, Vienna in Austria is easily amongst the most beautiful cities in Europe. While visiting Vienna, 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.
Checking out Luxembourg can also be nice since it’s easy to get to and fro from Netherlands or Germany. It’s expensive as fuck and the eponymous city doesn’t offer much to see but there are some awesome castles in the countryside.
Check out some of the micro-nations, too. Vatican City is super easy to include since it’s literally smack-bang in the middle of Rome – the world’s smallest country measures less than a square kilometre. Visiting Monaco is an easy day trip from the French Riviera, and San Marino from Bologna, Italy.
Andorra, on the border between Spain and France, is gorgeous in the autumn. Liechtenstein is one of the weirdest places in Europe. Full of cool stuff, most tourists visit the town Vaduz for a day but the Liechtensteinian Alps are worth a couple of days of hiking!
Other than that, explore small villages. Go on multi-day treks. Climb 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 blogs.
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Top 10 Things To Do in Europe
Well, with dozens of countries, countless cities, and more food than you could eat in a lifetime, it’s a bit hard to pinpoint the BEST things to do in Europe. But you gotta start from somewhere. So here are some of the top things to do whilst backpacking Europe on a budget.
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. The best tapas are found in Andalucia, especially in Granada.
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 3 highest mountains in the range, Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, and the Grand Combin, as well as the otherworldly Dolomites, are all exhilarating experiences and among the best hikes in the world.
4. Go to 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.
You could check out the Carnival at Venice, get wasted in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, and get tomatoe’d at La Tomatina in Valencia. Let alone some of the world’s best music festivals like Boom Festival (psytrance), Glastonbury (pop-adjacent), and Roskilde (also pop-adjacent).
5. Get Cultured in Italy
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 is enough to make even the most open-minded do a double-take. Even if you aren’t able to get into the infamous Berghain, there are tons of other clubs to rave at in Berlin.
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
Train travel is the best way to get around Europe with some of the best train journeys in the world. It’s a classic; characters in The Murder on the Orient Express and Dracula have traversed the same rails.
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 it’s worth the extra Euro – and way more comfortable.
9. Get High in Amsterdam
Would this really be The Broke Backpacker if I didn’t encourage you to sample some grade-A Dutch weed? The Dutch are very progressive when it comes to mind-altering substances so if you’re looking for a place to do some drugs safely and legally, Amsterdam might be to your tastes!
Just be respectful about it – residents of Amsterdam are not big fans of the hordes of drug tourists wandering the streets of the city.
10. Join an Organized Tour in Europe
If you’re a backpacking newbie or have been travelling Europe alone for a while, but want to switch it up and want to be part of an awesome group of travellers, you can join an organized tour. Joining a tour is a great way to see the majority of the country quickly and without the effort that goes into planning a backpacking trip.
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.
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Backpacker Accommodation in Europe
Hostels are the most affordable accommodation option for backpackers on any travel budget in Europe. Well, aside from dreamy mountain huts, your awesome tent, and a stranger’s couch. Lucky for you, Europe is THE place for living da hostel life in all its glory.
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… The list of the best hostels in Europe could go on for miles.
Backpacker hostels in Europe come in all shapes and sizes. This continent might hide some of the best hostels in the world – but arguably also the worst… That’s why I recommend using a booking site like Hostelworld so that you can read other travellers reviews and see that you don’t end up anywhere shitty!
Well, back to the good stuff. Backpacker hostels in Europe are generally very safe, clean, and fun. Pub crawls and get-togethers are a staple in almost any hostel.
But not all of them are dedicated to parties. You’ll also find loads of boutique hostels for flashbackers, quiet rooms for families, and even some female-only hostels for nervous solo female travellers.
But if you’re wanting to plan a trip to Europe on a budget… well, you’ll have to make do with sharing the bigger dorms. Even hostels can sometimes be a bit pricey in Europe, especially in France or Switzerland. Still, they’re way cheaper than Airbnbs or hotels.
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. Western Europe on a shoestring budget is, by nature, pretty difficult.
Impossible, though? Not at all!
Every country you visit in Europe requires a different travel budget and some of them vary greatly. Things like food, transportation costs, and accommodation vary dramatically depending on the country and the season.
Note, though, that if you’re travelling Europe in the peak season (summer), it’s very much an early-bird-gets-the-worm kinda case: cheap bus tickets are available well in advance, the cheapest hostels book out early. It’s not always fun to plan everything to death but planning might just be your best friend for saving money in Europe.
Staying in hostels EVERY evening, booking train travel 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.
One budget-saving tip for first-time backpackers is to sort out your travel banking. Currency conversions and ATM fees stack up – they can rob you of tens to hundreds of dollars!
My best recommendation is to get a travel card like Wise (formerly Transferwise). With this, you can easily combat extra charges and have a nifty way of keeping and sending your dollaridoos.
A Daily Budget For Europe
I have broken down the average daily travel costs in Europe 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|
Tips For Visiting Europe on a Budget
Okay, so now that you got an idea of the average costs for backpacking in Europe… What if I told you that you could save even MORE? Here are some of the best money saving tips for travelling Europe on a shoestring, tested and tried over years of budget backpacking.
- Camp: With plenty of awesome beaches, forests, stunning countryside, and far-flung mountains, camping whilst backpacking Europe on a budget is a great option. Grabbing a solid backpacking tent is never a bad idea! Just be aware that wild camping is illegal in most of Western Europe. So if you want to do it, you gotta be a little sneaky about it.
- 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, cooking grocery store food is your best option to save. With a stove in tow, you can do this even in hostels that don’t have a kitchen.
- Hitchhike: Hitchhiking is a 100% free and adventurous way to get around. In Europe, it’s pretty safe and easy although some countries are tougher than others.
- 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.
- Dive some dumpsters: Dumpster diving helps if you’re a little broke for a store-bought meal, too. There’s an art to it but you can soon get the hang of it.
- Pack a travel water bottle: Save money (and the planet) every day: stop buying bottled water! Having a water bottle is handy and an absolute must whilst backpacking Europe, especially since you can refill everywhere. Get yourself one and stay hydrated!
Why Should You Travel to Europe with a Water Bottle?
Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… So do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful!
You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realise the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller.
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Best Time to Visit Europe
So precisely when is the best time to visit Europe on a budget?!
Western Europe is a total madhouse in the summer; millions upon millions of tourists descend on the continent. Cruise ships fill the harbours, tour buses clog the road, and 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 Europe on a budget. 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 and 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. Southern Europe – Algarve in Portugal, Andalucia in Spain, and Greek islands – is still pretty warm in the wintertime.
If you love winter sports, a winter visit is an obvious choice to explore the French, Swiss, or Italian Alps. Just note that pricing in ski destinations goes heads-up in the winter. The snow season is hugely more expensive than the summer.
Also, note on common European holidays: Europeans get around on their own continent a LOT during peak school holidays. This doesn’t necessarily mean higher prices but it DOES mean impenetrable crowds. Times to avoid outside of the peak summer season are usually mid-September, mid-February, Easter, and New years/Christmas.
What to Pack for Europe
On every adventure, there are 6 things that are an excellent addition to your backpacking packing list. They will greatly enhance your Europe backpacking trip too.
Travel Security 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!
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.
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.
Staying Safe in Europe
So how safe is Europe? Very, very safe, actually.
There’s very little violent crime in Europe, traffic is mostly organised, and there are few natural disasters… The possibility of something bad happening to you on your journey backpacking Europe is slim, to say the least.
Your biggest concern is probably pickpockets and thieves. They particularly target crowded markets and train stations. Always be alert when moving about in big cities especially if you have all of your gear with you.
And those operating in big European cities are true pros – it’s not always enough to just keep your wallet in a purse instead of a back pocket. (May I suggest getting a money belt?) Keep a keen eye out especially in Paris, Barcelona, and Rome.
The most popular European tourist sites are also teeming with scammers. With a little research on the most common tourist scams in Europe, it’s not hard to avoid them at all.
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.
A few years back, Europe faced a string of terrorist attacks. Nothing new has arisen in the past few years so travellers shouldn’t feel worried about terrorism… And besides, unfortunately, we now know that these kinds of attacks are not only happening in Europe.
These events were rare but they did receive a lot of attention and negative press. That led to a lot of pro-nationalist anti-Muslim rhetoric across Europe even though plenty of other groups were also committing acts of violence.
And as diverse as a lot of cities in Europe are, Europeans, in general, are pretty damn white, and everyday racism is still well and alive. This doesn’t necessarily make Europe unsafe, it just means that it’s not impossible that ethnically diverse travellers might hear some snide commentary.
However, there are some happy news for other possibly-vulnerable backpackers: solo female travellers and LGBTQ+ travellers can thrive in Europe since Western Europe is generally safe for them.
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. You 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 tour the party cities in Europe, you need to choose your parties well.
There are a couple of parties that shouldn’t be missed:
- Staying at one of the legendary party hostels.
- Going to a nightclub in Berlin. (Berghain is overrated – there are multiple that stay open 24/7!)
- 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
Europe is a safe place to travel but that doesn’t mean you’re completely invulnerable. Sometimes you fall down the stairs in a club in Athens… or get your brand new iPhone nicked on the Paris metro…
Travelling without insurance would be risky – so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure. The best kind covers both your material stuff as well as your physical self. Medical treatment in Europe is reasonably affordable but you still don’t want to risk getting stuck with a huge hospital bill!
It’s good to get lost sometimes, but it’s also good not to get too lost. There are people that want you home in one piece.
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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 find cheap flights even if that city isn’t in your targeted country. You can easily fly between capitals in Europe on the cheap, or take a super-cheap bus.
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 cheap flights.
Pro tip: From experience, try these routes for the cheapest prices:
- flying from North America: fly to Dublin or London
- flying from South America: fly to Madrid or Lisbon
- flying from Asia: fly to Athens, Oslo, or Istanbul
Entry Requirements For Europe
If you want to backpack 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 are not part of the Schengen agreements and separate visas are required for visiting. Thanks to almost-borderlessness of the EU though, travelling between EU/Schengen countries is usually super easy.
Out of the countries covered in this guide, countries that are not part of the EU are the UK, Ireland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.
Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore can usually obtain visas for most European countries on arrival. It can be significantly harder for everybody else. Overstaying visas 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.
Travelling to Europe During COVID Times
Europe has been hit by the pandemic, the same as everywhere else. So far, summers in Europe have fared pretty well with lower case numbers and looser restrictions, and during the winters, the countries have closed up somewhat again.
It’s impossible to say how Covid-era travel will be like in a month or three or six. Always check with specific countries what their current restrictions are. Europe has seen all the possible restrictions therefore nothing’s out of the question: PCR tests, weekly antigen testing, quarantine, and lockdowns are all possible.
Note that (most of) Western Europe takes vaccinations pretty seriously and most of the citizens are vaccinated. Some countries, like Italy, have started requiring Covid-19 passports to enter restaurants and other public spaces. Most countries in Europe are likely to start requiring boosters to be considered fully vaccinated this year. This means that your vaccination certificate should be maximum 9 months old.
(Note that the COVID-19 passport is not only your vaccination status: it can also be a certificate of having had Covid recently or having tested negative for Covid.)
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How to Get Around Europe
There are many great ways to get around Europe – and it’s super easy! Western Europe has excellent transportation networks and usually booking tickets online is hassle-free.
The cost of travelling around Europe CAN lighten your wallet though, especially if you travel a lot. To be able to travel Europe cheaply, you have to know the tricks to do it.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the best ways to travel Europe.
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 re-book when you’re ready. You can score long-distance buses for as little as 10 Euros if you’re really on it.
Many Western European countries might also have their own national budget bus lines.
Train travel is an awesome way to backpack Europe. Easy, fast, and comfortable! Many backpackers specifically build their backpacking Europe itineraries around travelling on a train – this is called interrailing.
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 travelling Europe by rail.
Renting a car is surprisingly affordable in Europe and will give you unrestricted freedom to go and do what you want. And finding a car rental is no trouble at all.
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.
Driving in Europe is also pretty easy with lots of well-maintained highways and clear signage ahead!
You don’t feel like driving yourself? BlaBlaCar is a great website for connecting drivers with people interested in carpooling. You do have to pay for the ride. However, it’s usually cheaper than a train, faster than a bus, and more fun than travelling alone!
Travelling 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.
Those long, long highways of Europe are just begging for someone to get on them on two wheels… Europe is an excellent destination for long-distance motorbikers and bicyclists.
For motorbiking, France and Germany are particularly popular. For bikepackers, the Netherlands is pleasantly flat to cycle around.
Europe is one of the best 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. While hitchhiking in Europe is safe generally, it is important to be on your guard and use good judgement when accepting rides.
From personal experience, hitching rides in Western Europe can be tricky. Finding rides along major highways – that Western Europe is full of – can be hard as there aren’t good places for cars to stop (looking at you, Germany and Northern Greece).
In other places, like Spain, I struggled to find rides because lots of people (falsely) seemed to think that hitchhiking was illegal. Plus, Western Europeans’s got places to be and might not be receptive to picking up a stranger.
The best hitching luck I had was in Switzerland, Austria, and France. I highly recommend trying it everywhere though!
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Onwards Travel from Europe
Europe is home to many major global travel 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.
Plus, you’ll find lots of train options going to Istanbul from all over Europe.
Keep in mind as well that countries in North Africa are sometimes just an hour or two flight away. Backpacking Morocco and Tunisia are great options after travelling Europe on a budget. There are also daily boats from Southern Spain to Morocco for about $40 USD – not too pricey at all!
Working in Europe
Want to spend more time in Europe? No problemo!
While the cost of living in most Western European countries is quite high and work visas can be tricky to navigate, there are lots of options available for industrious backpackers. (Though you DO need a work visa pretty much everywhere.)
The UK and Ireland are especially popular for native English speakers; there are tons of Aussies living in London.
EU nationals don’t usually need visas to work in other EU countries so things are easier for them.
And you didn’t hear this from me… but there might be a chance for backpackers to do a bit of work under the table as well. Get chatting with locals, stay open, and keep your ears perked. There are lots of backpackers earning a bit of extra cash from helping out in bars, farms, and festivals, especially in the summer travel season.
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The Digital Nomad Scene in Europe
Despite certain weather challenges, Europe is HUGE for digital nomads. Sure, most countries in Western Europe are real expensive to live in. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t attract digital nomads.
London, Berlin and Amsterdam all have massive digital nomad communities. However, these nomads may not stay in the city all year. They are also usually more high-earning nomads.
Those just starting to learn how to be a nomad prefer to head to eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary are all top destinations for broke nomads.
Portugal is hands down the best country for digital nomads in Europe. It’s one of the more affordable countries (although getting more and more expensive), extremely nomad-friendly both in terms of community and locals’s attitudes towards nomads, and super fun. The weather also isn’t half bad! In the Algarve, you can get +30 Celsius temperatures even in the winter.
If Lisbon and Porto are not your speed, definitely check out Madeira. The Portuguese island is rapidly becoming one of the top destinations in the world for digital nomads.
Other cool places for nomads are Greece (especially Athens) and the Canary Islands in Spain. Both are affordable on Western European standards.
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!
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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. Will you run pub crawls at a hostel in Spain? Help herd sheep in the French Alps? Give hand to a music festival in the UK? The sky’s the limit.
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.
There are many ways to find volunteer opportunities but the best way is to start online. Check out some of the best work exchange websites to get started. The team at The Broke Backpacker LOVES Worldpackers. They’re not only committed to providing awesome, responsible volunteering opportunities, they are also actively building a real community.
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
A heap of the European cultural identity is built on its history. Italy and Greece are home to some of the most brilliant ancient cultures; France is considered the origin of enlightenment; Portugal has a strong (although complicated) history in seafaring and exploration.
It’s no coincidence that Europe has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other continent. When it comes to art, heritage, sports, and music, Europe is considered by many to be the heart and origin of Western culture.
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 is pretty ridiculous since it doesn’t really begin to describe anything.
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.
What this means is that many people are very proud of their cultural identities and can be mildly offended if you try to paint everyone in the same colour. For example, the Scots are very proudly Scottish, and you definitely shouldn’t try to call them English.
At best, culture in Europe shows in celebration. At worst, rising tensions related to immigration have given wind to some ultra-right nationalist ideals. (Yikes.)
Europe is also, overall, very modern. Expecting “traditional” stereotypes is a bit silly. People mostly don’t dress in national costumes; at Oktoberfest, the people wearing the fake lederhosen and dirndl are tourists. Not everyone knows flamenco in Spain – in fact, it’s a dance that originated from the Romani community especially in Southern Spain.
Football fans are crazy everywhere though, that much is true.
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 changed 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 I 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.
Must-Try 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.
- Pies (UK) – A staple of just about every pub and inn in the UK. Simple and satisfying.
- Haggis (Scotland) – A slightly spicy mixture of internal organs cooked in a lamb’s stomach is actually really delicious.
- 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.
Some Unique Experiences in Europe
Europe’s super-varied landscape and wealth of cultures mean that there are heaps of cool new experiences to have. Go beyond your regular pub crawls and walking tours and check out some unique experiences you can only have in Europe.
Things go wrong on the road ALL THE TIME. Be prepared for what life throws at you.
Buy an AMK Travel Medical Kit before you head out on your next adventure – don’t be daft!Buy on REI
Hiking in Europe
Europe is a land blessed of incredible hiking opportunities with trails both for expert trekkers and beginner hikers. 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 have a network of mountain huts. For a fee, you can enjoy these super comfortable and unique fixtures of the European mountains.
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 as 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.
- 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 long-distance trek in the world, El Camino is an important trek in the hearts of religious pilgrims and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The Camino is actually multiple trails leading to Santiago de Compostela and eventually Finisterre, “the end of the world”.
- Mount Olympus, Greece: The fabled mountain where the ancient Greek Gods were supposed to have lived is very climbable in just one day.
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 and the associated surf competitions.
That said, if you are keen on surfing at some point as you’re backpacking through Europe, you do have some options. Below I have provided a shortlist 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 Edinburgh! 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.
Visit a Museum
Europe is the world’s best continent to tour museums, both art and history adjacent. (That might have something to do with plundering other countries’ national treasures and refusing to return them… But uh, let’s not focus on that.)
Europe’s best museum city is London. Most of London’s museums are free to visit, and they have some of the best collections of art and historical relics from everywhere in the world. (Again, for certain reasons…) My favourite museums in London are The National Gallery, The Natural History Museum, The British Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum.
Paris is strong in the museum game too. Definitely visit the Louvre and its most iconic resident Mona Lisa. Don’t grumble about it being small, it’s still awesome. For more morbid explorers, the Paris Catacombs offer a cool glimpse into the city’s history.
More honourable mentions to go Reina Sofia in Madrid, Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and Dachau concentration camp in Germany (it counts).
Bring your ID – some places, like the Louvre, have free admission to students and people under 25.
FAQS About Backpacking in Europe
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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 – but like my mum would say, not too much fun! Partying every day is one of the most common backpacker traps that travellers fall into.
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 travelling 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 travelling. 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!
Updated February 2022 by Elina Mattila from @wayfarover.
Bye for now, but not forever!
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