6 (Short and Easy) Europe Backpacking Routes

backpacking routes europe

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I love, love, love Europe so much. Why am I obsessed enough to constantly fly over the Atlantic Ocean despite me hating flying with a burning passion? Because I LOVE Europe.

In my biased opinion, Europe is (without a doubt) the greatest playground in the world for solo travelers. Sometimes I don’t even know where to begin when it’s time to plan my next European adventure.

The paradox of choice is rough, ya’ll. Europe has so many wonderful backpacking routes available for all types of travelers.

I could easily spend hours babbling about Europe’s many countries (and the diverse regions within those countries) to all the adventurous solo travelers who want to explore this continent.

view of loch in scotland

It’s easy to immerse yourself into the diverse histories, food, and cultures which exist all across Europe – sometimes only a mere border crossing away.

Furthermore, Europe is very popular with budget travelers, especially in more affordable countries such as Poland and Portugal. 

Need more reasons why Europe is so desired by travelers? Many European countries offer an accessible and strong tourist infrastructure. Europe’s excellent public transit system makes it easy and reasonable to see many countries on a single trip.

Furthermore, if you stay within the Schengen countries, you don’t even have to worry about crossing border control for the entire duration of your adventure!

traveling to dublin ireland alone to see oscar wilde

However, with so many options out there, I wanted to put together a post describing simple and diverse Europe backpacking routes to make your travel research a little easier.

These routes are mainly designed for short hops to the continent, not month long trips, and I hope they’re helpful to any traveler who also has a busy career at home, We need to wisely use our vacation days.

Now, before I describe the Europe backpacking routes, however, I want to cover two common mistakes that make or break your trip.

backpacking solo in slovenia

Two Big Mistakes on Europe Backpacking Routes

Don’t Attempt to Cover Too Much Ground

I know you want to see everythiiiiiiiiiing on your backpacking trip in Europe. The internet only makes planning for the future harder.

Too many options, more problems.

And I totally understand your pain!

I’m always eager to squeeze in more cities and towns whenever I’m traveling Europe. Like I said, I understand. However don’t give into temptation!

Instead try to limit the number of stops on your Europe backpacking routes. Yes, trains and buses link much of the continent, but still. Did you come all this way to hang out in train stations? Didn’t think so.

Covering too much ground is a major mistake.

 

enjoying segovia on this spanish trip
Happy in Spain!

Don’t Only Focus On Big Cities

I love big cities. I’m never moving too far from New York, which is the epitome of the Big City in Capital Letters.

However, even I can admit that many of Europe’s wonders exist in its small towns and natural beauty.

For example, it’d be a shame to go to Madrid and skip over both Toledo and Segovia. And why would you ever in your wildest dreams only visit Edinburgh and ignore the Scottish Highlands? Ridiculous!

Europe’s capitals are great. No denying it. You’re also more likely to find a variety of hostels in bigger cities and as a result, meet more travel buddies.

Regardless, break outside your comfort zone and experience rural Europe. You’ll have a much deeper understanding of the place you’ve come so far to visit.

Now let’s get to the backpacking routes! Most of these routes can be done in 2 Weeks in Europe or less!

Backpacking Europe Routes — The Baltics

welcome to riga

Let’s See The Beautiful Baltics

Argh, you guys, I positively loved my experience traveling in the Baltics. Now, full disclaimer, I only visited the three capital cities: Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn.

Still, these small city hops intrigued me enough to add these fantastic northern countries to this guide. I want to book another trip to the Baltics in the near future and fall in love with the countryside, too.

backpacking to gediminas tower

Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius is Lithuania’s capital city. In my opinion, it was also the most fun and cheapest city on my Baltic adventure. 

Vilnius has several beautiful buildings such as the Palace of the Grand Dukes and Gediminas Castle Tower. You can also take an easy day trip to Trakai to see a beautiful island castle located in a National Park.

Vilnius has endless options for backpackers. And did I mention it’s affordable? Wait until you see these prices.

Vilnius Hostel Options

gorgeous design in riga

Riga, Latvia

Riga’s popular with backpackers and it’s easy to see the appeal of Latvia’s capital.

Riga’s thriving nightlife appeals to a younger energetic crowd. All hostels offer fun and affordable pub crawls, which makes it a piece of cake to meet with other travelers.

Not a fan of pub crawls? Don’t worry! Latvia’s capital still has a lot to offer travelers who aren’t interested in partying.

If you’re interested in architecture, be sure check out the many examples of Art Nouveau. This type of architecture makes up one third of the buildings in Riga! You’ll have a wonderful time taking photos. 

If you’re a foodie, then don’t skip Riga Central Market which was built in the 1920’s and is absolutely huge!

Take a walking tour of Riga to truly appreciate the Art Nouveau, Old Riga, and the Central Market District.

Riga Hostel Options

estonia has many russian cathedrals

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the most expensive Baltic capital and probably the most crowded stop on this backpacking tour, but don’t miss it! Tallinn is so popular, because it’s a medieval wonderland. I was half-expected knights in armor to jump out at me and bring me flowers, haha.

Without a doubt, Tallinn’s Old Town is adorable with plenty of great views and attractions. My personal favorite is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built in typical Russian Revival style and a wonder to behold.

As a final note, all the Baltic capitals are linked by the Lux Express. These coaches are reasonably priced yet still provide a high level of comfortable. They’re also much faster than the trains.

Tallinn Hostel Options

Bonus: Add in Helsinki, Finland

You can quickly make it to Helsinki from Tallinn. I think Helsinki is worth a visit due to the many gorgeous churches and the day trip you can take to Suomenlinna.

However, if you’re not interested in spending the night in Helsinki due to its higher price, the short ferry ride still makes Finland’s capital a feasible day trip to take from Estonia.

And don’t miss Helsinki’s splendid churches. Sitting on the steps at Helsinki Cathedral is one of my greatest travel memories.

Helsinki Hostels

Backpacking Europe Routes — Scotland & Ireland

gorgeous scenery backpacking skye

Scotland and Ireland: Mystical, Friendly, Unforgettable

Scotland is one of my favorite places in the entire world. My experience changed my life. So I’m sure you’re unsurprised that I’ve included it in this post, haha.

Why Scotland? Scotland is very safe and friendly. And the nature will make your heart soar. 

Not to mention, in the summer, this stunning country hosts a variety of festivals that are enjoyable for all backpackers.

Additionally, Ireland rivals Scotland in natural beauty. The Emerald Isle is appropriately named.

For a two week trip, you can easily link Ireland and Scotland on the same backpacking route. Visit both countries if your time permits it.

backpacking in scotland in edinburgh

Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland’s cultural capital has a special place in my heart. And it’s the perfect place to start this next Europe backpacking route.

Although it’s a city, Edinburgh has a really cool hike up Arthur’s Seat that nature lovers will enjoy. Don’t forget to check out the castles, such as Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, either.

For Edinburgh Castle, it’s a good idea to buy your tickets in advance since it’s the most popular tourist attraction in all of Scotland.

Edinburgh is a literary gem filled with museums on writing, as well as pubs that famous authors, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, frequented on a regular basis.

Hostels in Edinburgh

mountains on the isle of skye

Tour the Highlands, Scotland

Scotland’s known for its amazing lush natural beauty in the Highlands.

If possible, explore beyond Loch Ness and Isle of Skye, which are popular with tourists (but don’t skip them entirely because they’re great). The Highlands have many hidden gems scattered throughout the countryside.

It’s important to note that it’s a challenge to travel through the Scottish Highlands without renting a private car. Haggis Adventures offers wonderful guided tours for independent backpackers. I highly recommend them!

For the Highlands, having a quality Scotland guidebook is beneficial. You don’t want to miss any attractions while driving throughout the green mountainous countryside.

Best Hostels in the Highlands

belfast has many murals

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Next we go to Northern Ireland to learn some history. There are two ferry routes that link Northern Ireland and Scotland so it’s pretty easy for backpackers to make a trip between these two countries.

Belfast is Northern Ireland’s biggest city and worth your time and energy.

What can you do and see in Belfast? Plenty. 

Learn all about The Troubles by taking one of the black cab tours.

Then pay a visit to the Titanic Museum to hear more about the tragedy behind the “unsinkable” ship which struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage to New York City.

Finally hit up St. George’s Market, which was established in the late 1800s, and buy food and cool clothing.

Hostels in Belfast

Dublin, Ireland

Next take a ride down to Ireland’s capital city: Dublin.

As you already know, Dublin has a lot of famous attractions worth a visit.

My favorites are Trinity College and the Book of Kells (which I’m sure shocks no one), Kilmainham Gaol Museum, the Guinness Factory tour (book tickets in advance so you don’t waste time lingering in line), and Chester Beatty Library. Solo travelers will also appreciate the abundance of pubs and live Irish music.

Trust me, you’ll never feel “alone” in Dublin.

Hostels in Dublin

welcome to the cliffs of moher

Galway / Cliffs of Moher Region, Ireland

Like Scotland, you don’t want to come to Ireland and skip all the natural beauty in this remarkable country. Take the bus or train out to Galway in Western Ireland. Galway is a vibrant university city with a welcoming atmosphere.

Don’t forget your guidebook for planning an Irish road trip!

From Galway, you can take tours to see the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and other natural wonders in this rugged area of the country.

Hostels in Galway

Backpacking Europe Routes — Central Europe

2 week backpacking europe itinerary should include vienna

The Land of Onion Domes & Fairytales

Central Europe is such a beautiful area for backpacking.

Need examples? Check out these many places to add on your Central Europe travel itinerary that the amount of options feel overwhelming.

Some of my favorite capitals exist in this region, and it was hard to only pick a select few for this Europe backpacking route.

All four of these cities are easily linked via an extensive train system. Remember to take day trips to neighboring small towns or even switch up this backpacking route to spend the night in them. The choices are yours!

Don't miss Berlin when you're backpacking through Europe!

Berlin, Germany

Ahhh, it’s impossible to talk about Central Europe without mentioning Germany’s capital city: Berlin.

Spend as little as two days in Berlin to get a feel for Germany’s incredible capital city. Berlin’s great for an eclectic neighborhood stay in places such as Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain.

I personally loved Berlin’s many museums and historical walks. Seriously, don’t skip the walks even if you normally dislike group tours. Berlin’s complicated recent history is so important to learn. 

Finally take a day trip from Berlin to Potsdam to learn even more history and to see a more “laid back” Germany. The choices are yours.

Hostels in Berlin

solo travel in prague

Prague, Czech Republic

Lovely Prague is another brilliant capital to add to your Central Europe backpacking route. Is it crowded? Yes, yes it is, especially in the summer months. However, when you explore Prague in the early and misty hours of the morning, you feel as if you’ve been transported to another time.

All of Prague’s stunning medieval buildings promise great pictures, and a walk across St. Charles Bridge is a “must do” for any and all visitors.

You can even weave in a trip to charming Cesky Krumlov – though I recommend spending the night in this adorable Czech village.

Hostels in Prague

enjoy some thermal bathes when planning your europe backpacking routes

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. I’ve visited Budapest in summer and winter, and both seasons have their own special charms. 

Like Berlin, you can explore Budapest in two days, but, of course, you ought to stay longer if you’re available to swing the extra time. What should you do in Budapest?

Soak in the thermal bathes, learn some dark recent history at the House of Terror Museum, explore scenic Buda on Castle Hill, and take a sunset river cruise on the Danube River complete with wine and dinner.

The options are endless in Hungary’s capital city.

Hostels in Budapest

Vienna is one of the safest cities to include on your Europe backpacking route

Vienna, Austria

The most expensive of these cities is Vienna, but don’t skip over it if your budget allows you to spend the money here. Vienna’s cafes and palaces are legendary in quality, and you’ll slowly feel like a royal yourself.

Additionally, Vienna is a very safe city so you can walk around day or night without too many worries on your mind.

Of course, like I said earlier in this post, you don’t want to limit your entire stay to big cities. Excluding small towns is a rookie mistake in Europe.  Austria has several gorgeous smaller cities and towns, such as Salzburg and Melk, that you can visit for an afternoon.

Hostels in Vienna

Backpacking Europe Routes — Spain & Portugal

yummy tapas in madrid

Soaking Sun in Portugal and Spain

Portugal and Spain create the Iberian Peninsula, as well as a great backpacking route through Europe. If you want sun, come here.

However, I personally wouldn’t recommend taking this path through Europe in the summer. Spain’s temperatures soar in July and August. I went to Spain and Portugal in April, and I thought the weather was absolutely perfect.

But hey! Whatever floats your boat.

Let’s start in the north.

the second city of portugal

Porto, Portugal

Fly into Porto and savor delicious Port wine while gazing at the Douro River.

I loved strolling Porto’s waterfront, ogling at all the beautiful blue tiles on residential buildings and inside the train stations, and trying new foods in Bolhão Market.

For book lovers, don’t miss Livraria Lello, which I think is one of the most stunning bookstores in the entire world. Just be mindful of real customers.

Hostels in Porto

solo travel to portugal is pretty and pink

Lisbon, Portugal

Next take the train to Portugal’s capital. It is about a two hour journey from the top to the bottom of the country. Not bad, huh?

Lisbon is one of my favorite cities for solo travel due to the sheer number of award winning hostels in the area. It’s nearly impossible NOT to meet new people here.

You’ll especially want to get lost in the delightful Alfama neighborhood as well as stuff yourself with pastries in Belem.

Spend 2 days in Lisbon, and you’ll discover plenty of history and charm. 

Best Hostels in Lisbon

the royal palace madrid

Head to Andalusia or Madrid or Both!

It’s easy enough to link Lisbon with the southern, Andalusia, region of Spain, or you can opt to take a budget flight to Spain’s capital city Madrid.

Both options have plenty of small towns, museums, and delicious food for backpackers. In particular, Seville and Granada are among Andalusia’s most stunning cities. 

Make sure to learn a bit of Spanish prior to your trip. English is not as widely spoken as other European countries, and a few Spanish words make a big, big difference! The locals will appreciate your efforts.

Backpacking Europe Routes — Slovenia and Croatia

swans in lake bled backpacking

Let Mountains and Beaches Blow Your Mind

Slovenia and Croatia have some of the most gorgeous nature wonders in all of Europe. Bold claim, I know, but true. Nature lovers, come here. You’ll experience both quality beaches and mountains on a single backpacking route.

beautiful churches in bled backpack

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Ahhhhh, Lake Bled! Seriously, you guys. I could talk for hours about how much I freakin’ adore Lake Bled.

The summer months, in particular, are wonderful for this stunningly gorgeous region of Slovenia.

Hikes, white water rafting, and paragliding are all available to you.

Even if you’re not a pro hiker, Lake Bled has plenty to do and see for backpackers of all fitness levels. Whatever you decide to do make sure to devour plenty of Bled Cake. It’s delicious!

Hostels in Lake Bled

gorgeous capital slovenia waterfront

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia’s capital city is small and accessible and enjoyable and soooo pretty!

Walk across the Dragon Bridge, and scale up to Ljubljana Castle, a former medieval fortress which provides some of the greatest views in town.

By visiting Ljubljana, you’ll have plenty of transportation options to connect to other places in Slovenia itself and beyond.

Hostels in Ljubljana

discover croatia's capital europe backpacking routes

Zagreb, Croatia

Croatia’s capital is often overlooked in favor of the southern cities and islands.

Personally, I think Zagreb is still worth your time as a backpacker. For example, one of my favorite museums, The Museum of Broken Relationships, is located in Zagreb and provides fascinating insights into breakups of romantic relationships as well as friendships and family connections.

Zagreb has a rich history, like all other European capitals, and deserves a walking tour.

Hostels in Zagreb

put pltivice on your backpacking trail

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Enjoy the crystal blue lakes and waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park. Here, plenty of camping options exist nearby for backpackers.

Personally, I think Plitvice deserves an entire day of your time to be truly appreciated. Relax. Explore slowly. And, of course, respect Croatia’s natural wonders by not swimming or littering.

palace tower in split

Split, Croatia

Finally we’ve reached Split!

This city’s most famous sight is Diocletian’s Palace n ancient palace built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian at beginning of the fourth century AD. Much of Split’s Old Town exists inside the palace walls. Cool, huh?

For backpackers who have more time on their hands, continue past Split to go to Croatia’s stunning islands and famous city of Dubrovnik, or take a ferry to some of Croatia’s picture perfect islands and relax.

Hostels in Split

Backpacking Europe Routes — Belgium and Paris

Chocolates and Wine in Belgium and Paris

Finally let’s head back to northern Europe and check out Belgium and France.

I visited both these countries in autumn, when crowds and prices are low, but both places are great summer destinations too. Just be prepared for an increase in cost if you visit in July or August.

Don't forget to go to Grand Place if you stop in Brussels on your backpacking route through Europe

Brussels, Belgium

Begin in Brussels and explore Grand Place or Grote Markt, which is the central square of Belgium’s capital city. Grand Place’s City Hall or Hôtel de Ville is the most iconic building here. Don’t forget to explore the Comic Book Route or sample some delicious Belgian chocolate!

Bruges is a town you can easily add into a backpacking route in Europe.
See the windmills in gorgeous Bruges!

Bruges, Belgium

However, although Brussels is a cool place to visit, I think Belgium’s true gems are the smaller towns.

My favorite town in Belgium is Bruges, although I’m sure that has something to do with Colin Farrell and Brendan Glesson’s 2008 dark comedy film. Go climb the Belfry, take a brewery tour, see windmills, contemplate life at the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and much more!

Visit nearby Ghent if you have the time.

paris packing list fall

Paris, France

Ahhhh, Paris! I don’t know what I can say about France’s capital that has already been said fifty million times by the masses.

Needless to say, you’ll always find something cool to do in Paris. And don’t worry much about the “rude Parisian” stereotype.

Be sure to learn a few phrases of French ahead of time. This knowledge will considerably help you.

Just be careful with your budget. Paris is similar to New York City in the sense that it’s easy to blow through all your cash and not even realize your mistake until your wallet is empty. Not speaking from experience, of course.

Spend at least three days in Paris to get a true taste of France’s capital.

Hostels in Paris
So many backpacking routes in Europe, so little time!
I hope you enjoyed reading about the backpacking routes in Europe.

What are some of your favorite Europe backpacking routes? Where are your favorite destinations in Europe? Share in the comments! 

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