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Backpacking Europe | Everything You need to Know

Backpacking Europe, those two words conjure up pictures of sipping wine under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, soaking in the sun on a Greek Island, or partying the night away in Berlin. 

Europe holds some of the best beaches, historical sites, and coolest cities in the entire world. On top of that Europe holds diverse cultures, amazing cuisine, wine, and beer. 

Traveling across Europe isn’t just a fantastic experience; it’s a life-changing adventure. 

Seriously, the first time I backpacked Europe my outlook on life changed, the path I was headed on changed. Europe changed everything for me, and opened my mind to the exhilarating possibilities the world held for me, and what I wanted out of life.

I fell in love with the remarkable sights, cities, and diverse cultures. I wanted to immerse myself in all of them. When I returned home I couldn’t stop thinking about Europe

Since that first fateful trip, I have spent a combined total of over two years backpacking Europe and I have visited almost every country in the EU. Heck, I even live in Europe now! 

Note About Traveling During Covid-19

We are trying to stay updated with the latest travel restrictions during this crazy time, of the coronavirus, that has hit the tourism industry hard. 

But as rules for visiting a destination change quickly, it is important to check with your government websites to see the latest travel restrictions, requirements, and travel advisories. 

They will have updated information on the latest covid 19 vaccine, whether or not you need to present a negative covid 19 test. 

Travel Plans can change quickly, I’ve had 4 flights canceled, so stay updated with the latest travel advisories before you start booking things in your destination.

Table of Contents

How this Backpacking Europe Guide Will Help You

As much fun as that first Europe trip was, I made some serious mistakes along the way. Mistakes that cost me time and money. 

This backpacking Europe guide gives a wide overview of traveling in Europe. Follow along, and I promise that by the time you reach the end you’ll be more equipped for backpacking Europe

Throughout we will cover everything from choosing the best backpacking Europe route to picking the right travel insurance. From navigating a budget airline to the perks of a rail pass

We will even go over the last COVID 19 rules and restrictions. everything you need to know before your backpacking adventure, and everything you need to limit travel mistakes. 

Backpacking Europe Itinerary

Picking your Europe itinerary is the first step in planning your backpacking trip. And there are some key questions you need to answer! Mainly which European country do you want to see the most? Why? Because this will be your cornerstone country and your other choices will be influenced by it. 

My key advice, don’t overreach. Be realistic about how places you can see. So if you have three weeks don’t try to fit in fifteen cities across five countries. There’s a good chance you’ll burn out. 

But more importantly, you’ll feel so rushed that you’ll miss the things right in front of you. For someone with three weeks backpacking Europe, my advice is to pick a cornerstone country, and plan to visit one or two counties next door. 

 Once you decided on the focus country you can start asking yourself other questions. Is the main city you want to visit Copenhagen, because of the beautiful old town? Then maybe start thinking focusing on Scandinavia this backpacking trip

Next time plan a trip that focuses on Western Europe. After all, the Czech Republic has some stunning places to visit. And some great nearby countries. 

Here are some of my favorite European Itineraries!

Backpacking Europe Route For 3 -4 Weeks

Two to three days in each city. 

Route 1 – Western / Central Europe

Paris, France 

Bruges, Belgium 

 Amsterdam, Netherlands

Berlin, Germany

Prague, Czech Republic

Route 2 – Mediterranean Sun

Start in Italy

Rome 

Siena

Florence

Venice

Fly to Greece

Athens

Paros

Naxos

Mykonos

Route 3 Barcelona to Paris

Spain

Barcelona

Madrid

Portugal

Lisbon

Porto

Back to Spain

San Sebastian

France

Bordeaux

Paris

Route 4 Eastern Europe

Prague

Krakow

Budapest

Zagreb

Split

Island hop to Dubrovnik

Route 4 – Off the beaten path Europe

Skopje

Sofia

Bucharest

Brasov

Sibiu

Timisoara

Budapest

 

 

COST OF TRAVELING EUROPE

That’s the key question, isn’t it!

What is a cost of a trip to Europe?

It’s a smart question. But I can’t give you an answer. Because there are so many different factors. Are you going to spend your time in a touristy big city, or head to lesser-known places with fewer tourists? Are you willing to sleep in a hostel dorm room? Or do you need a fancy hotel? 

Most countries in Western Europe and Eastern Europe are in the Schengen Zone. But have completely different costs for budget travel

We’re not all the same type of traveler. So it makes sense the cost is different. 

So while I can’t say, “you need X amount of money to cover the Europe cost“; I can give you a roundabout number.

As a budget traveler, I usually expect to spend around 1,500 – 2,000 USD a month in Europe

Though if you count every penny, you can reduce your European cost even more. 

Depending on the country and city you are visiting prices vary drastically. Countries like Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland tend to be more expensive. (I once paid 35 dollars for three small tacos in Norway).

Likewise, popular tourist cities like Paris, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, and Vienna also cost more than the smaller, lesser-known towns and villages. And some big cities like Berlin and Budapest are known for being a haven for budget travel

How much does it cost to travel to western Europe?

The western part of Europe is the most expensive area to travel to. Even budget travelers should plan on spending $60 – $100 a day while traveling through western Europe.

WHERE TO STAY WHEN TRAVELING EUROPE

Choosing where you’re going to stay will have a huge impact on your Europe cost

Hostels – Curious about staying in hostels while traveling in Europe? I am here to help. Throughout my travels, I’ve literally stayed in hundreds of hostels around Europe.

 And I have a massive soft spot for hostels. I love the atmosphere the vibrant atmosphere, cheap price, and how easy it is to make friends. Yes, sometimes they are noisy, 

 The hostel is the cheapest option for a traveller. It’s also the easiest place to make new friends from all corners of the world. 

The best place to book hostels online is Hostelworld.

Bear in mind these quick tips when booking backpacker hostels in Europe.

When looking for the cheapest hostels, keep these travel tips in mind.

1- Typically, The average hostel dorm room cost between $25 -$45 a night.

2- The bigger the Dorm room the cheaper the price. Naturally, private rooms are more expensive.

3- Camping hostels usually give you more space and are also less expensive. But are bare bones.

4- Hostel prices go up on the weekends.

5- Location is a big part of this price difference. For example, a hostel in Paris, France is almost double the price of a hostel in Nice, France.

One Europe Travel tip I recommended you follow is to book your hostels early. I have slept on the street a few times because I waited until the last minute and everything was full.

Airbnb – Airbnb has taken the accommodation world by storm. It is a fantastic option when traveling through Europe.

Hotels – Sometimes hostels get old and you need your own space. For hotels, I find great deals on Booking.com There are a lot of useful resources out there that can help you find the best hotels in Europe. So whether you’re looking for the most romantic Salzburg hotels or the quaint hotel in the old downtown, it pays to do a little research.

GETTING AROUND EUROPE

So you have your flight booked and are getting ready to plan your backpacking Europe trip! You might be wondering what the best way to get around Europe is?

I like companies like Busabout and Eurail. By purchasing these tickets, you pay a massive chunk of your travel expenses before you even leave home. You’ll only need money for subways, trams, or day trips.

Most big cities offer day passes on their public transportation. These are some of the cheapest ways to get around Europe.

Busabout- A Hop on Hop off bus service popular with backpackers.

Eurail Pass These are Train passes that go all around Europe. These passes give you the most freedom! Plus, train travel is my favorite way to get around when I backpack Europe

G Adventures – Open of the top travel tours company in the world. Check out my full Gap Adventures Review

Intrepid – Popular tour company, specializing in small group tours.

Contiki- Popular bus tour company around Europe.

Train You can buy tickets as you go. Depending on how much ground you are covering while exploring the best cities in Europe it could be more expensive or cheaper.

There are many cheap ways to save money backpacking through Europe. If you know the right companies.

Is Europe Safe to Travel?

Yes! Europe is safe to travel. The media does a good job of making people scared to travel to Europe. But I have never had a problem traveling in Europe. I’ve never been robbed or threatened. And not once have I felt in physical danger. That being said, there are areas to avoid anywhere you go, so do your homework. And here are some simple European tips to help you stay safe! 

  1. Book our Hostels and Hotels Early
  2. Copy Your Documents and Store Them in a Digital Vault
  3.  Utilize Apps
  4.  Never Carry Everything in One Place
  5. Beware of Scammers, Use a Money Belt or Money Wallet
  6. Have an Emergency Cash Stash
  7.  Research Places to Avoid
  8.  Tell Your Bank Your Leaving
  9.  Arrive at New Places When It’s Daylight

What are the Latest Covid Rules for Traveling in Europe

It’d be awesome if I could give you a straight answer.

But by the time I wrote down the latest rules they would be obsolete, they are changing that fast. Luckily, cases are getting lower in the EU, and because of that many countries are starting to relax restrictions.

Always check if the country you are traveling to requires a negative test (even after being vaccinated). 

Also, if you have a layover make sure you don’t need a negative test to change planes. Seriously! I had a find that was denied boarding, because she had a two-hour layover in AMS, and the airport required a negative test for the layover.

The best website to see the current restrictions is Re-open EU.

BEST CITIES TO VISIT WHEN BACKPACKING EUROPE

ROME

Rome’s my favorite city to visit when backpacking Europe. In all fairness, Rome doesn’t have the best nightlife, and it isn’t the most budget traveler-friendly. But what Rome has in spades is a charm, history, food, and personality. Ancient ruins site amid the modern buildings, 2,000 fountains are peppered throughout the city and small square, dimly lit streets echo the sounds of busy cafes and restaurants.

I’m passionately in love with the eternal city. It’s one of the most beautiful cities to visit in the world. If you’re a history buff, Rome is your mecca. But even if you just have a passing interest in history, Rome is worth visiting; from the food to gelato, to the yellow party hostel, good memories await you in Rome. 

BARCELONA

I once met a backpacker who said “I just got robbed in Barcelona and lost everything….. and it’s still my favorite city in Europe. In one sentence; he told me everything I needed to know, and Barcelona became my next destination.

And Barcelona doesn’t disappoint. Since that trip, I’ve visited Barcelona multiple times – and I’ve never gotten robbed – and on every visit, I get more and more charmed by the cities vibe, beaches, and magical fountain, and of course, sangria. 

One of the coolest things about Barcelona – actually the whole of Spain – is that seems to flow backward. It’s not uncommon to eat dinner at midnight. Nightlife gets started around 2 – 3 a.m. And people sleep until noon. It’s a wild-time vortex that I love. 

The city has great cathedrals, a fantastic waterfront area, cool secret bars, and scenic hills. It is a budget-friendly Spanish city, especially if you do some research on the cheap things to do in Barcelona

BUDAPEST

I have never met anyone who hates Budapest. This European city is clean, cheap, and has a fantastic nightlife. (There are great party hostels in Budapest ).

Budapest is on the border between eastern and western Europe and isn’t on the Euro. This makes Budapest a backpacking Europe hotspot because the city is cheap! 

PRAGUE

Prague is a picturesque city one of the best places to visit in Europe. The old city is picturesque and filled with history. For backpackers, there’s great nightlife, including a 4 story club. Prague‘s also budget-friendly for Central Europe. The city is beautiful enough that just wandering around and getting lost is satisfying. This scenic city lands in my top 5 cities to visit in Europe

You could easily spend 3 days in Prague and not run out of things to do.

AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam… was nothing like I expected. This big city has a small-town feel, is completely clean, and has stunning canals. Amsterdam has a lot to see in do, apart from smoking the green, and the red light district. Public transport in Amsterdam is a crazy mixture of bikes, trams, buses, and trains, making it hard to cross the street, especially if you’re in an impaired state. 

From epic parties to scenic canals, getting bored in Amsterdam is impossible. 

PARIS

Ah, what can I say about the city of lights that hasn’t been said a million times? More than the art and the iconic effiel tower, I fell in love with the outdoor cafes, stunning architecture, and off-the-beaten-track sites. there are a lot of unusual things to do in Paris. Every inch of the city of lights is captivating. And it’s a place every traveler should see once in their life.

The cities are also in a prime location and there are a lot of day trips from Paris. 

As an added bonus it is easy to find a cheap flight from the USA to Paris. 

ISTANBUL

Bordering Europe and Asia, Istanbul often gets looked over by people backpacking Europe. But that is a huge mistake. Istanbul is a hodgepodge of Europe and the Middle East. On one hand, there are hectic markets, world-renowned mosaics, and middle eastern cuisine. On the other hand, the atmosphere and vibe feel more like similar to the Mediterranean. 

The first time I went to Istanbul was mere happenstance – I was running out of money and needed to duck out of the Euro Zone – within a day I was in love. Since then I’ve been back 5 times. And I still can’t get enough of the city.

If you’re curious about traveling in the Middle East, Istanbul is the perfect introduction.

BERLIN

Berlin is famous among those backpacking Europe. It’s famous for its club scene, and its cheap prices – although Berlin is getting more expensive. Berlin has something for everyone. Into history, well you have the remains of the berlin wall, and enough WWII history to last a lifetime. 

Looking for nightlife, Berlin has some of the best clubs in the world but also has a handful of quirky bars. 

Also, you will find the best kebabs in the world in Berlin, and as backpackers, kebabs are your best friend. Berlin is one of the best backpacking cities in Europe.

VENICE

Venice is perhaps the most iconic city in Europe. And that title comes with a price, as Venice is the most touristy city in Europe. But while this confusing maze of alleyways and canals, that some call a city, is touristy, I still love it. Yes, Venice is crowded, hot, and overpriced, but it’s also breathtaking. 

The best thing to do in Venice is wandering around and get lost, and trust me; you will get lost. This is one main reason why it’s in the top ten European destinations.

Bruges

Bruges is a pristine example medieval city. Known not only for its stunning old city but for also amazing chocolate and french fries. There are some fun free walking tours of Bruges.

When looking to travel to the best European Cities, it would be a shame if you missed this city when backpacking through Europe

ADVENTURES WHEN BACKPACKING EUROPE

Now you are aware of the top cities when backpacking through Europe, but what about all the adventures? This list includes European adventures that will get your blood pumping, but also adventures that are a little tamer for the less crazy among us.

RUNNING WITH THE BULLS

Yea, this isn’t a tame adventure. Running with the Bulls is an incredibly intense experience. That being said, it is the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve ever had, and it is a major highlight Europe travels.

I would do it again in a heartbeat, and if you are looking to test your limits, this is the adventure for you. Just make sure you know how to run with the bulls and survive. 

Note: Save some money by staying in San Sebastian, which is just a cheap train ticket away. 

OKTOBERFEST

When I think of the 5 days I spent at Oktoberfest when I was backpacking Europe, three words come to mind: wild, crazy, and hazy. No lonely planet can prepare you from the madness that is Oktoberfest. This is the world’s largest beer festival, and it is one hell of a time.

This is a double whammy. Not only do you get to visit Munich, another one of my top European Cities, but you also get to have a beer adventure at the same time.

I mean Munich can get messy during Oktoberfest, even the best drinkers might need an Oktoberfest Guide

ROAD TRIP

One of my favorite ways to get around Europe is by driving. I did this a lot on the Mongol Rally, even without a clutch.

The roads are nice, and in some places, you don’t even have speed limits – looking at you Germany.

Driving, hitchhiking, or rideshares are all ways you can backpack through Europe. So throw away the lonely planet, load up your travel backpack, rent a car, and make your own journey. 

SAILING CROATIA

Another one of my travel highlights and an exceptional place to relax. You can spend a week sailing up and down the stunning Dalmatian coast with a group of other backpackers. You can read my full Sail Croatia Review. Croatia Sailing was one of my favorite tours in Europe.

It was full of good people, stunning destinations, and adventure. The Datamation Coast is the most beautiful coast I have seen while backpacking Europe.

Busabout which I mentioned earlier has an excellent Sailing Croatia Tour. Or check out my Busabout: Sail Croatia Review.

THE ALPS

One of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world, the Alps border France, Italy, and Switzerland.

They are worth visiting for the view alone when traveling across Europe.

Of course, there are many adventures to be had here as well, and they range from ultra mild to extreme.

SAILING THE GREEK ISLANDS

Relax on the beach, rent a quad bike and explore, or jump on a sailboat.

The Greek islands are beautiful and have something for everyone. Don’t miss them when backpacking through Europe.

Europe Travel Tip – My favorite Islands are Santorini, Ios, and Crete. I have a lot of travel guides that can help you plan the perfect trip to Greece.

LA TOMATINA

One of the top adventure festivals in Europe, La Tomatina, might be the most significant food fight in the world.

The whole city turns into a mess as thousands of people spend the day throwing tomatoes at one another.

MUSIC FESTIVAL

Sadly, I have never been to a music festival in Europe, but I hear nothing but great things about them.

CLIMB MT. OLYMPUS

This two-day climb is easy enough that you only have to be moderately in good shape to make the ascent.

The landscape is beautiful, and you can’t help but imagine Greek mythological gods gazing down on you as you slowly trod up to the heights of Olympus.

Pro Tip – There is a hostel halfway up the mountain, so you don’t need a tent or camping gear.

RAFT PUB CRAWL

A lot of travelers go on pub crawls, but not a lot of them do it by rafting down a river and stopping at bars along the way.

This can be done in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic and is an adventure that shouldn’t be missed.

SNOWBOARDING AND SKIING

If skiing and snowboarding are your things, then countries like Austria have some great places to shred the slopes.

However, if rushing down a mountain with pieces of wood and plastic strapped to your feet doesn’t sound like fun don’t worry there are some breath-taking resorts when you spend winter in Austria that offer much more than just skiing.

Common Questions About Traveling Europe

Is Europe safe?

I get many emails from people expressing a need to backpacking across Europe, but they’re afraid or nervous. It can be intimidating being so far from home.

My first Europe travel tip is just to do it! Don’t worry you will be fine. I have never once felt threatened, scared, or nervous.

When to visit Europe?

It varies on what time of year you are visiting. Winter, you need heavy gear which costs a bit more.

How long do you need when to travel Europe?

It depends on your itinerary. Personally, I suggest backpacking Europe as long as you can. What makes Europe unique is the vast amount of different cultures and countries crammed into such a small space. I would say minimum you need a couple of weeks, and a maximum of three months because of the Schengen visa laws. ( Read How to Plan Your Europe Itinerary )

Which Cities Should I go to?

Above we talk about some of the best cities in Europe. However, if I had to narrow it down to my top five favorites it would be 

  • Rome
  • Paris
  • Lisbon
  • Budapest 
  • Barcelona
  • Bonus: The Copenhagen old town is also one of my favorites. 

Do I Really Need Travel Insurance?

That is your decision. However, it is always smart to protect yourself that is what travel insurance does. Travel insurance has saved me a lot of money when backpacking Europe and covers me on adventures like running with the bulls or skydiving. ( Read Is It Worth It to Buy Travel Insurance )

What Companies Can I Trust?

Good question! With so many companies pulling you left and right trying to get you to book a walking tour, day trip, and sightseeing bus it is hard to know who to trust. I list some of my all-time favorite companies in my Europe resources.

What is the best transport method for backpacking Europe?

That depends on the person. Some will want to use a budget airline like Ryan Air. Others will want to travel by train or bus – or even hitchhike. 

My personal favorite way to travel Europe is by train. Eurail passes can be a great resource for getting around Europe. As long as you do some research and make sure that the pass makes sense, rather than buying tickets on the go. 

Another cool way to get around Europe is Busabout, which is a backpacker bus company that does loops around Europe

Why should you travel to Europe with a water bottle?

The water in Europe is completely safe to drink. I recommend traveling Europe with a water bottle to save money and limit your environmental impact. 

A Backpackers Tale Italy

About This SIte

Hi! I’m Stephen Schreck! A travel addict, wordsmith, and shutterbug.

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