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Backpacking through Europe is something of a travel right of passage. Whether you’re exploring the continent in your 20s or later in life, you’ll want to make the most of this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
I can tell you there’s nothing quite like backpacking in Europe, and we want to help you create the perfect trip. Combining my own trip experiences with additional research and up-to-date information, we have created this, your ultimate Europe backpacking itinerary.
The itinerary laid out below is designed to fill approximately six weeks of adventuring. However, you can easily adapt it to fit your needs, cutting out destinations that don’t interest you or shortening or extending your time in places you most want to see.
If you’re looking to visit the most romantic destinations in Europe while on a budget, you could totally do a backpacking trip like this. You can make a romantic getaway more affordable in this way. (However, if you’re traveling as a couple, you might want to splurge on some private rooms in those budget hostels.)
Table of Contents
My European Backpacking Story
Let me start by telling you about my European backpacking trip. I’ll be interspersing this Europe backpacking guide with my own stories, so it’s important that you know where it begins.
The day after my 25th birthday, I decided that I was going to fulfill a dream. I would backpack Europe. When my best friend Ryan agreed to come backpack Europe with me, I knew I was in for an unforgettable adventure. I was right.
We spent 45 days on a Europe backpacking route, exploring some of Europe’s most famous cities. Neither of us had been on the continent before, so we wanted to see as much as possible.
As 20-something backpackers, we were also looking to spend as little money as possible (which means I’m going to pass on some of those budgeting tips to you!) Ryan and I were able to do and see A LOT for a very reasonable amount of money.
It’s been more than seven years since I eagerly boarded that flight to London. It’s a trip that changed my life and spurred me to continue pursuing travel.
Now I’m going to lay it all out for you: my 45 day European backpacking itinerary, which cost roughly $3500. Any first-time European backpackers may benefit from our tips (as well as our mistakes).
The General Budget for Backpacking Europe
Wondering how much it costs to backpack Europe? In 2011, I spent $3500 on this trip. I can imagine that pricing remains largely equivalent in 2019, and there are always additional ways to save.
I saved my money for three months before my adventure. Working as a waitress, I took as many shifts as possible–often double shifts. I worked at a really nice resort and often served customers from 6 am on room service duty until 11 pm. My feet hurt.
In the end, this hard work really paid off, and I was some $3500 richer. A perfect amount for a quality, yet budget, backpacking trip.
First things first. A lot of my budget went to pre-trip necessities.
I needed a backpack (of course!), some travel essentials that I couldn’t live without, like an electrical adapter and a quick-drying towel, and one very important item: my passport. I’d never been outside of the USA prior to this trip, aside from a quick Canada visit when passports weren’t yet required.
Before we even left for Europe, I’d spent $100+ for the passport, $200 on supplies, and roughly $800 for my flights.
I got great deals on flights through Student Universe. Being under 27 at the time, I qualified for a “youth” rate. My outgoing flight from Boston to London was around $300 while my return flight, from Paris to Montreal, was closer to $500.
As I was living in Vermont, I planned to bookend my trip with bus rides. Megabus had just started offering services from Burlington, VT at that time, and I was chuffed to nab a $1 ticket to Boston. Best deal ever.
Getting Around Europe
My Europe trip involved planes, trains, buses, and trams. Train travel is so wonderful in Europe; it is extremely convenient and comfortable. Since our plans changed over the course of our trip, we purchased our train tickets individually as we went.
Alternately, you may want to purchase the popular Eurail train pass, which is a good way to save money in Europe. The Eurail Pass lets you take a set number of train journeys for an all-in-one price. If you have a firmly set Europe itinerary, the pass may be very advantageous to you. Learn more or get your Eurail Pass here.
The Best of Backpacking Europe Routes: Our Trip
While I will detail our precise itinerary below, in summary our trip centered around four to five days in each city. We planned to visit only one major city in each country. Our longest stint in any one place was Ireland, where we spent about 10 days. Our overall route was as follows:
London –> Edinburgh –> Dublin –> Killarney –> Galway –> Dublin –> Munich –> Prague –> Vienna –> Venice –> Paris
However, in my suggested itinerary, I’m adding two cities into the mix that I think you should not miss.
London –> Edinburgh –> Dublin –> Killarney –> Galway –> Dublin –> Munich –> Innsbruck —> Prague –> Vienna –> Venice –> Rome —> Paris
I’ll never forget my flight to London. I was awake for the ENTIRE TRIP. Wide-eyed and eager, I did not sleep a wink on my overnight flight to London. Free drinks? Three meals? I had amazing service on my British Airways flight, and this got me even more hyped up to go overseas. The feeling of that first big travel experience can never be replaced.
Ryan had flown from NYC, so we met in Heathrow Airport. The trip was beginning! That first day is a blur of Big Ben, pubs, the tube, and a massive headache that came on later in the day (due to lack of sleep and jet lag).
Time: Three days
Where to Stay: We crashed in the Astor Victoria Hostel (on the cheaper side, though no hostels in London were less than $20 per night). It was comfy and perfectly adequate for our needs. Pick the perfect place with this list of best hostels in London.
- Want to be close to all the major attractions? Here’s a great detailed list on where to stay in London.
What to Do: We visited the British Museum and British Library (both free!), strolled through parks, walked through the upscale Mayfair neighborhood, took many photos of famous sites, and saw Platform 9 3/4!
What and Where to Eat: We saved money by eating the free breakfast offered by our hostel and buying takeaway sandwiches and fruit from the supermarket Sainsbury’s for lunch. We splurged on some dinners at the Blackfriar and on drinks at Ye Old Mitre (one of London’s oldest pubs).
*Notes on London: There’s way more to do in London that we never even touched. But with only a few days and being totally thrilled to simply be there, we were pretty content just exploring. In what would become a pattern on our trip, we had one nice meal out in the city and saved money the remainder of the time by eating in our hostel or on the go. We always allocated funds for drinks, however!
Read Next: The Most Romantic Things to Do in London
We hopped on a Megabus to Edinburgh for $29 per person. The ride took a much longer time than a train ride would have, but it was also far more affordable.
We arrived in Edinburgh on the evening of October 6. Edinburgh was an absolute dream and remains one of my favorite places in the world to this day. I ended up returning the next year to do a Master’s degree abroad.
I might be biased about Scotland because I met my husband there, but even aside from that, it is a magical, historical place that will wrap you up and make you never want to leave.
Time: Six days
Where to Stay: On a budget? Consider the Belford Hostel (relatively cheap and located in an old converted church). During other visits to Edinburgh, AirBnb has been a great option.
What to Do: Stroll through Edinburgh’s Old Town; hike up to Arthur’s Seat (on top of a hill overlooking the city); take a free walking tour (nearly all of the free walking tours we took were through Sandemans, and we enjoyed them all very much); visit the National Museum of Scotland (free); take a fun (tips only) bus tour to St. Andrew’s and a whiskey distillery with The Hairy Coo; go on a backpackers pub crawl.
What and Where to Eat: Haggis, of course! Also try Scotland’s favorite soda, Irn Bru. For dining out in Edinburgh, I suggest dinner at Maggie Dicksons (delicious but not cheap), a meal at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, dinner at Whiski Bar & Restaurant, drinks at the Fiddler’s Arms.
The pub crawl we joined took us to several bars and pubs of varying repute, most memorably one known as Frankenstein.
*Notes on Edinburgh: I’d recommend all the tours and places mentioned above as none were a bad experience. Generally, however, to save money, avoid restaurants or pubs along the Royal Mile or in the Grassmarket area. I also wish we’d visited Edinburgh Castle, but at more than £20 per person, it was too pricey for us budget backpackers.
Visitors to nearby Stirling Castle report that it is much more interesting inside. (Stirling is only 50 minutes from Edinburgh by train, and entry to its castle is around half the price of Edinburgh’s.)
Another note: While in Scotland, we ate and drink far too much for our modest wallets. This is easy to do in the early part of overseas trips, and it’s something to watch out for. We had to reign in our food and drink budget for the rest of our trip.
Read Next: Romantic Things to Do in Edinburgh
Next up is Ireland. On my trip, we had initially planned to take a ferry to Ireland from the UK, we but found that flights were cheaper. We purchased Ryanair tickets on a whim and got a good deal on an easy flight from Edinburgh to Dublin.
We couldn’t wait to see Ireland; we planned to spend 10 days there exploring a few areas of the country. We visited Dublin, Killarney, and Galway.
Time: Four days
Where to Stay: There are plenty of hostels to choose from in Dublin. Abbey Court Hostel and Generator are two popular, well-rated Dublin Hostels. For those on a higher budget, the Westin Hotel is absolutely lovely. Click here to search for affordable accommodations in Dublin.
What to Do: You can’t miss the Guinness Storehouse–you’ll get a fun factory tour with a free pint of heaven’s nectar (AKA Guinness) in a tower bar with a 360-degree view. Also recommended: taking a free walking tour, visiting Trinity College (be sure to check out The Book of Kells and the phenomenal old library), exploring the National Museum of Ireland, enjoying pints and live music in the Temple Bar district, strolling through the parks, and much more. Dublin is a great spot to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city.
Where and What to Eat: Guinness! Fish and chips! There are so many good pubs to choose from, you can’t go wrong. We enjoyed a meal at the historic Brazen Head, one of the oldest pubs in Ireland. But if you’re on a backpacking budget like us, your go-to meal is likely to be dinner in the hostel!
After spending so much time in the cities, we wanted to explore the Irish countryside, so we traveled to the quaint town of Killarney.
Bus travel is the way to go in Ireland. Affordable and reliable, buses are how we traveled from Dublin to Killarney to Galway and back. Some of the buses even had free Wi-Fi.
Time: Three days
Where to Stay: Killarney Railway Hostel (a wonderful hostel, highly recommended!) Click here to search for the best hostels and guest houses in Killarney. For ideas for accommodations all over the country, check out this big list of Irish hostels by our friend Janet of Journalist on the Run.
What and Where to Eat: Have drinks at Murphy’s Bar. Dinners in the hostel always go well (lots of pasta and storebought wine!).
*Notes on Killarney: The people in this town are very friendly. Killarney was a sleepy little town, and we found it to be a lovely place to rest and relax. It also poured rain most of our time there–typical for Ireland! I’d recommend the town perhaps less for backpackers and more for couples seeking a romantic Irish countryside getaway.
The next step is Galway, my absolute favorite part of our Ireland trip and one of my favorite destinations on the whole European backpacking itinerary.
Galway is a small city, my favorite kind, and to me it felt the most quintessentially Irish of any place we went. I loved the combination of culture, art, and history.
We enjoyed so much live music and many fun nights out in Galway, with the song “Galway Girl” playing in some pub or bar just about every single night. I felt like Galway was sort of a secret city, a hidden gem. Turns out Ireland is full of amazing secrets everywhere you go.
Time: Six days
Stayed: Woodquay Hostel (This hostel was odd. It was a crazy mix of ages and residents who seemed to be long-term boarders. It had an unusual “lodging house” feel, but it met our needs. We had the top floor dorm all to ourselves, which was great.) Click here to search for affordable hostels in Galway.
What to do: Catch live music or attend a silent disco at a cool music venue call Roisin Dubh, explore churches, walk along the coast and the Salthill Promenade, take a self-guided walking tour (or a free guided tour), check out the beautiful and famous Claddagh rings, listen to talented buskers, go dancing, and take a bus tour to the famous Cliffs of Moher.
*Notes on Galway: Simply put, I had the best time here. From the Cliffs of Moher to seeing small towns, from Dunguaire Castle to our nights out in Galway, it was awesome. I can’t wait to take Nathan here someday soon!
In a horrible 5 am downpour, we waited at a Dublin bus stop for the bus that would take us to the airport. Freezing and exhausted, we were not in our highest spirits. Upon arrival at the airport, we headed through security.
I opened my bag to find my hair gel had exploded inside. ‘Twas a rough start.
But off we were to the “real Europe”–or at least, that’s what it felt like to us at the time. We were heading to Munich for a few days of German food and fun.
Time: Four days
Where to Stay: Smart Stay Munich City. It’s the cleanest hostel I’ve been to. Click here to search for affordable accommodation in Munich.
What to Do: Go on a free walking tour, take a humbling day trip to the site of the Dachau concentration camp, shop at local markets, and visit the great pubs with fellow travelers.
What and Where to Eat: Have the best schnitzel ever at Steinheil 16, grab drinks and pretzels at the famed Hofbrauhaus, and sample the delicious street food.
*Notes on Munich: Steinheil 16, the restaurant recommended above, was AMAZING. Huge portions of delicious schnitzel at amazing prices. At the time of our visit, the place is definitely not touristy. I highly suggest you go there!
I visited Munich a few years later with my family, and we took a walking tour that focused on Hitler and the Third Reich. It was a fascinating tour that gave us incredible insight into the (often dark) history of the city of Munich. I can’t recommend it enough. For only €15 (or €12 for students), this three hours is 100% worth it. Check out New Munich Tours for more info.
Prague, Czech Republic
In Prague, we hit hard times. We had overspent a bit in the previous countries, and money was running low. But we still made the most of this wonderful Eastern European gem.
Time: Five days
Where to Stay: the Clown & Bard Hostel. This place is very cheap but a liiiittle sketchy. Not gonna lie, I don’t know if I’d stay there now that I’m no longer on a European backpacking budget! Click here to search for affordable accommodation in Prague.
What to Do: Take a free walking tour, wander through little markets, visit the Lennon Wall, explore the many gorgeous churches, climb the hill to Prague castle, admire the architecture, and sample absinthe at Absinthe Time.
What to Eat: Fried cheese and sausages from street food carts, and lots and lots of plain pasta. Also, absinthe!
*Notes on Prague: For the best photos, hit up Charles Bridge in the early morning, before the majority of tourists are up. Also, the Prague McDonald’s served up the best McDonald’s cheeseburger of my life.
Vienna was next. We arrived via a Prague-to-Vienna bus, which took a longer time than the train but was far cheaper. Vienna is beautiful: a pastel candy-colored city that is clean and pleasant.
It was a nice place for walking around, shopping, and enjoying cafes. I highly recommend visiting Vienna in winter. It’s cozy and romantic–perfect for the holidays.
Time: Six days
What to Do: Explore St. Stephen’s Cathedral, stroll around Zentralfriedhof (Vienna’s central cemetery), visit famous graves like those of Beethoven and Schubert., visit the Palace Schonbrunn, stop by the amusement park in the Prater, and spend Saturday morning at the Naschmarkt.
What and Where to Eat: Tea and omelettes at the gorgeous Cafe Sperl, dinner at small local restaurants and, if you are visiting in winter, drink gluhwein (hot mulled wine).
*Notes on Vienna: Vienna doesn’t seem to be the best place for budget backpacking. With more money, we could have enjoyed a lot more of what it had to offer. However, there are ways to get cheap tickets to the Vienna Opera!
Since visiting Vienna, I’ve been to Salzburg and Innsbruck and ultimately preferred those cities more. If you visit one place in Austria, I’d suggest picking one of those two for your European backpacking itinerary.
See Next: The Most Romantic Things to Do in Vienna
We took a night train from Vienna to Venice, which was a brilliant idea: sleeping on the train took care of accommodation and transport in one fell swoop. Since we were on a budget, we didn’t pay for sleeping cabins but just for seats.
However, we were super lucky and had the compartment all to ourselves, so we stretched out to catch a few hours’ rest.
I was wholly unprepared for how beautiful I found Venice. I had no expectations about the city (it was primarily Ryan’s desire to come here), but stepping out in front of the grand canal literally took my breath away.
That might be the only time that has ever happened to me.
Venice was such a great time. I remember it very fondly. We ate and drank delicious (but cheap) food while sitting and admiring the canals, buildings, and atmosphere.
A gondola ride was out of the question (very pricey) but probably better for a romantic getaway anyway.
Time: 5 days
Where to stay: We stayed at a budget hotel in Mestre, the city on the mainland that leads to Venice. This is cheaper than staying on the island. Click here to search for affordable accommodation in Venice.
What to do: Wander and get wonderfully lost on the main island, take vaporetti (water taxis) out to all the other islands (Burano, Murano, Torcello, etc.), eat pizza, drink wine, take a gondola ride if you want to check this romantic splurge off of your couples bucket list.
What and where to eat: Pizza, wine, bread. Repeat.
*Notes on Venice: Staying in Mestre saved us money, but it was a pain to get to Venice every day. You have to take a train out to the island. The price is affordable but it is a hassle. I think if I went again, I’d factor in the cost to stay on the island itself.
I highly recommend paying for a full day vaporetti ticket. Seeing all the other small islands around Venice was amazing, and the chance to get out on the water is hard to pass up.
Avoid the pigeons.
Read Next: Romantic Things to Do in Venice, Italy
Paris, the City of Lights
Last but not least was Paris. Ah, Paris. A city that needs no introduction, beloved by many simply in photos and films (Need some inspiration for Paris?)
We intended to end our European backpacking trip on a high note! We spent 5 nights in this city, and did as much as possible.
Our dreams of a fancy French meal were dashed when we realized we hadn’t budgeted well enough for it, but we bought fruits, cheeses, and baguettes from local market, and felt like kings and queens anyway. We were in Paris!
Time: 6 days
Where to Stay: Do not stay at the Friends Hostel (check out the 94 terrible TripAdvisor ratings. I’d have to agree. See note below) Instead of the Friends Hostel, click here to check out tons of other places to stay in Paris.
What to do: Take a free walking tour, attend mass (or simply visit) at Notre Dame, explore the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Arc du Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, take the train out to Versailles (France has awesome palaces & castles), go on a self-guided walking tour of Montmartre complete with visit to the Sacre Coeur and an outdoor picnic of cheese, fruit, and wine.
What and where to eat: Crepes, coffee, tea, wine, cheese, bread, and dine at any of the endless Parisian cafes.
*Notes on Paris: Paris was, as might be expected, the most expensive stop on our European backpacking itinerary. The cheapest hostel we could find was The Friends Hostel. It was 25 Euros per night, and it is one I would absolutely NOT RECOMMEND.
From intermittent Internet AND electricity, to freezing cold water, no lights in the pitch black shower room, non-functioning electrical outlets, and hostel dorms that had one communal KEY, this place was rough. Not to mention the rat I saw in the courtyard right next to the dirty kitchen. Yep.
Now that AirBnb exists, I’d highly recommend considering that for budget Paris accommodation.
I haven’t broken everything down individually by price because I simply don’t remember it all. I do know that Ryan and I stayed within our $50 USD per day budget except for a few days, so the entirety of the trip stayed around the $3500 budget.
The hostels we chose were always based on low price, free WiFi, and if possible, free breakfast. Though I’d like to say we chose for safety and high ratings, this was not always true. So bear in mind, these are for the most part very budget hostels.
Have you backpacked through Europe? What was your itinerary? I’d love to know your thoughts! If you have any advice for would-be-backpackers, please share below!
Amy Hartle is the author of Do You Love Me? How To Stop Seeking Reassurance in Relationships, a book on reassurance seeking and relationship anxiety. Both her book and this blog are born of personal experience; Amy shares expert relationship advice from the lessons learned during her own 10+ years with her husband, as well as couples travel tips and romantic getaway recommendations, all gleaned while traveling the world together.