Incredibly Fun Europe Backpacking Routes
Europe is probably the greatest playground in the world for solo travelers, and sometimes I don’t even know where to begin when it’s time to plan my adventures.
There are so many wonderful backpacking routes in Europe available for all types of travelers.
I’m not even kidding, you guys. I could spend hours (easily) babbling about the many regions and countries available to all adventurous solo travelers who want to explore this continent. It’s easy to immerse yourself into the diverse historys, food, and cultures which exist all across Europe – sometimes only a mere border crossing away.
Europe is very popular with budget travelers and it’s easy to see why. Honestly, sometimes I feel guilty revisiting Europe again and again when so many amazing countries exist in other parts of the planet.
Why so popular? Many European countries are accessible with strong tourist infrastructure, and the excellent public transit system makes it easy for travelers 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!
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.
Now, before I describe the Europe backpacking routes, however, I want to cover two common mistakes that make or break your trip.
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 harder.
Too many options, more problems.
And I totally understand your pain! I’m always tempted 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.
Avoid Only Focusing On Big Cities
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. 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!
Backpacking Europe Routes — Number #1
Exploring The Baltics
I loved my experience traveling 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 see more of this fantastic northern region in Europe. I want to book another trip to the Baltics in the near future.
1. Vilnius, Lithuania
Vilnius is Lithuania’s capital city. In my opinion, it was also the most fun 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?
2. Riga, Latvia
Riga’s popular with backpackers and it’s easy to see why. Riga’s thriving nightlife appeals to a younger energetic crowd, but 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! If you’re a foodie, then don’t skip Riga Central Market which was built in the 1920’s and is absolutely huge!
3. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn is the most expensive Baltic capital, but don’t miss it! 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.
All the Baltic capitals are linked by the Lux Express. These coaches are reasonably priceed yet still provide a high level of comfortable. They’re also much faster than the trains.
4. 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.
Backpacking Europe Routes — Number #2
Scotland and Ireland Adventures
Scotland is one of my favorite places in the entire world. So I’m sure you’re unsurprised that I’ve included it in this post, haha. Scotland is very safe and friendly. In the summer, it hosts a variety of festivals that are enjoyable for all backpackers.
You can easily link Ireland and Scotland on the same backpacking route. Visit both countries if your time permits it.
1. Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland’s cultural capital has a special place in my heart. 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.
2. 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!
3. 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. Learn all about The Troubles by taking one of the black cab tours. Hit up 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. Hit up St. George’s Market, which was established in the late 1800s, and buy food and cool clothing. Belfast has plenty to do and see.
4. 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, 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.
5. 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. From Galway, you can take tours to see the Cliffs of Moher and other natural wonders in this rugged area of the country.
Backpacking Europe Routes — Number #3
Central Europe Love
Central Europe is such a beautiful area for backpacking. Not to mention, there are so 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. 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!
1. Berlin, Germany
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. 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.
2. Prague, Czech Republic
Lovely Prague is another brilliant capital to add to your Central Europe backpacking route. The 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.
3. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. 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. 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.
4. 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.
Saving Money? Check out Europe on a Shoestring
Backpacking Europe Routes — Number #4
Soak Up Sun in Portugal and Spain
Portugal and Spain create the Iberian Peninsula as well as a great backpacking route through Europe. 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.
1. 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.
2. Lisbon, Portugal
Next take the train to Portugal’s capital. 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.
3. Head to Andalusia or Madrid or Both Locations in Spain!
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. 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 — Number #5
Nature Wonders in Slovenia and Croatia
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.
1. Lake Bled, Slovenia
Ahhhhh, Lake Bled! Seriously, you guys. I could talk for hours about how much I freakin’ adore Lake Bled. 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!
2. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Slovenia’s capital city is small and accessible and enjoyable. 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.
3. 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.
4. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Enjoy the crystal blue lakes and waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park. 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.
5. 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.
Backpacking Europe Routes — Number #6
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.
1. 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!
2. 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.
3. 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. 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.
What are some of your favorite Europe backpacking routes? Where are your favorite destinations in Europe? Share in the comments!
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