Backpacking through Europe is a fantastic way to see a lot of beautiful and historical cities while trying to save money. But it can be daunting to plan the ultimate trip to Europe, so here is a backpacking through Europe itinerary that can help you kick off your planning.
Which cities are a must-have on your list? Where will you stay? What kinds of currency will you need? These are all great questions and are crucial to figure out before you go on your amazing adventure.
A backpacking trip through Europe can provide the most wonderful memories that will last for a lifetime. You can see the Eiffel tower shimmer at night, island hop around the Greek islands, visit the world’s top ski destinations in Switzerland, and more! There’s no limit to the experiences you can have on this magnificent continent.
Keep reading to discover our top tips for backpacking through Europe and the ultimate backpacking through Europe itinerary!
Planning a Backpacking Trip Through Europe
The key to a successful backpacking trip is to plan, plan, plan. Of course, you don’t want to over-plan. But there are a few things you need to prepare before you leave.
For example, your dates of travel and places to stay. The amount of time you set aside to experience Europe will ultimately decide where you’re able to go and how much you’ll be able to see.
Additionally, delays and cancellations are certainly possible and can derail even the most well-planned trips. Don’t let this rain on your parade, though.
Make sure you know how to contact airlines and train companies to find out how to get compensation and make a backup plan of things you can do instead. Remember, Europe is filled with endless beautiful places, so exciting things to see and do are always possible wherever you end up.
What to Consider Before Backpacking Europe
Backpacking through Europe should be a really great time. But before you go, you should consider what you want to get out of the trip and ensure that you travel safely.
The number one consideration is to purchase travel insurance. It is important to plan for the unexpected, and while backpacking, it is helpful to feel covered.
We always use World Nomads for our travel insurance. The company offers several plan options so you can decide which is the most valuable to you and your travel style.
How long to Backpack Europe
Another consideration is how long you want to backpack Europe. Are you fortunate enough to backpack for several months or only have a few weeks? The length of your trip determines a lot of the planning.
Best Time to Backpack Europe
Always consider the weather you want when planning your backpacking trip! If you want to backpack for winter sports, go in the winter. If you’re looking for some fun in the sun, summer is your best bet.
The best time to backpack is in the late spring or early fall. These are often referred to as “shoulder” seasons. Peak season is between June and August.
Early spring can be rainy and can get cold in most European countries. July and August in Europe are very hot, especially in southern Europe. With no AC and a giant backpack on your back, cooler weather is better.
The shoulder seasons are great because the weather in most places is still temperate and the crowds have dissipated. For these reasons, May and September are my two favorite months to travel within Europe.
Backpacking in winter, though, has its perks. Especially if you want to save money. There is less travel generally, which means you get better deals on hotels and train tickets.
There are also fewer tourists, so you can enjoy museums and attractions without all the lines. And, not to mention, Christmas markets offer some of the most magical experiences for those of all ages.
See Related: Best Spring Break Destinations for Families
How to Budget for Backpacking Europe
The best way to budget for a Europe backpacking trip is to consider what type of trip you want and where you want to spend your money. Are you a foodie?
Consider finding more affordable accommodations so you can splurge on some fancy meals. If staying in a hotel instead of a hostel is important to you, check out the local street food scene to save money.
Money Saving Tips
Budget travelers, listen up! These are some of our best budget-friendly tips for saving money while on a backpacking trip exploring Europe.
- Get a Eurail Pass and buy tickets early. The earlier you buy your train tickets, the less expensive they are. Do not make the mistake of trying to buy day-of on popular routes like Amsterdam to Paris. You can end up paying over 300 euros for something that should be included in your pass for under 100! Train costs can add up, so the Eurail Pass can help make things more affordable.
- Minimize transportation costs by taking public transportation. Most European cities feature robust and affordable public transportation options such as buses, metros, and local trains that can get you anywhere you need.
- Buy city passes. Popular destinations like Paris, London, and Prague offer city passes that include public transportation and several museums. The city pass is usually more affordable than purchasing individual tickets.
- Eat street food. It’s cheap, good, and authentic! Grab-and-go sandwich shops are unmatched here. You can usually get a very good Caprese sandwich for just a few euros.
- Find free walking tours. Most cities have them; just tip the tour guide one or two euros instead of paying $40 for the same tour.
- Research free museum days. Some countries and cities offer free admission for people under 26. Otherwise, check museum websites to see if they have free days. For example, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum in Rome are free to visit on the first Sunday of each month.
- Start accumulating credit card points that can be redeemed for airline tickets or hotels. This is how my husband and I can afford to travel to so many different countries. Find a card that suits you best, or check out ViaTravelers’ Best Travel Credit Cards for our top recommendations.
- Be flexible. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but be flexible with your travel days if you can. You can find cheap flights by using Skyscanner or Scott’s Cheap Flights.
How to Get Around
There are several ways to get around Europe, but the best and most popular ways are by train and air.
Europe is known for its cheap flights that are also incredibly safe. Budget airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet have been around for a while and are great options for budget travelers. Make sure to watch for baggage fees and to pay any in advance.
If you only plan to travel with a carry-on, ensure that your bag fits the carry-on requirements of your particular airline. Additionally, some carriers only allow you a personal item, such as a purse, for free, so check which fare you booked before arriving at the airport.
Train travel is also a great way to backpack around Europe. Trains are efficient, clean, and usually cheaper than a flight.
When booked in advance, train travel is usually the most cost-efficient way to travel throughout the continent. It is also nice because you don’t have to deal with airport security, and you can enjoy the beautiful scenery on the way to your destination.
See Related: Best Apps & Websites to Book Hotels in Europe
What to Pack When Backpacking Europe
Although it depends on the time of year, packing for Europe is easier than you think. You’ll want to be comfortable since you’ll be traveling from place to place.
Also, layering is key. European countries vary in climate, so you’ll want to pack versatile items that can be easily packed away or put on if the weather turns.
First things first: You’ll need an excellent, durable backpack that won’t rip. You can’t go wrong with an Osprey backpack like this one. Osprey makes backpacks of various sizes for men and women, so choose one that offers the amount of storage that’s right for you.
Here are some other essentials that should be on your packing list:
- Packing cubes (essential for when you’re moving around a lot)
- Medications (pro tip: I also keep a copy of my prescriptions on my phone, just in case)
- Contact lenses, glasses, and sunglasses
- Packable down jacket or a packable rain jacket
- 1 pair of walking shoes (I swear by these Adidas Qt Racer Running Shoes)
- 1-3 swimsuits, depending on the time of year
- lightweight pajamas (men/women)
- DSLR camera, GoPro, etc.
- Charging cords for electronics
- European travel plug adapter
- Skincare, dental care, deodorant, and makeup
- Mini first-aid kit (bandages, pain relievers, motion sickness pills, etc.)
- Laundry bag
Remember to bring plain clothes that wash and breathe well. Logos get old, and you’ll want to be comfortable while sightseeing and moving around.
Depending on the time of year, you may want to bring a comfortable pair of sandals for warmer months or thermal underwear for colder months. Don’t fret if you forget some essentials; you can almost always find what you’re looking for in the country you’re visiting.
Best Countries for Backpackers
Europe is known for its easy train travel, and most European countries are great for backpackers.
Germany is one of the best countries in Western Europe for backpackers because of its low transportation costs and inexpensive meals. It is easy and efficient to get around, and there is a lot of history to see.
France is another great country for backpackers because of its ease of travel. Outside of Paris, it is relatively inexpensive, and the food quality is superb.
Another country I recommend for backpackers who want to travel Europe, particularly those who love warm weather, is Portugal. It’s warm, the people are friendly, and it is generally much more affordable than most of Western Europe.
Many Eastern European countries are great for backpackers looking to save money. There are usually fewer tourists, and it is less expensive. If you want to head to Eastern Europe, put Czechia on your list. Prague is a great place for backpackers because it is super affordable and absolutely stunning.
My favorite hidden gem in all of Europe is Montenegro. The weather is mild, the people are so helpful and wonderful, and the food is cheap and delicious.
You may be surprised to know that one of Europe’s top tourist destinations is actually pretty affordable and great for backpackers. The Greek islands are both stunning and very affordable when compared to the rest of Europe. Skip Santorini and Mykonos and opt for lesser-known islands like Milos and Corfu for cheaper prices on local cuisine and accommodations.
See Related: Best Places to Get Married in Europe
The Ultimate Backpacking through Europe Itinerary
Let’s get into the ultimate backpacking through Europe itinerary! For the purpose of this article, I’ll outline a five-week trip to Europe during shoulder season that I believe shows you the best and most diverse parts of Europe. There are, of course, other destinations that should be added if you have time and depending on the time of year.
Feel free to customize this itinerary based on how much time you’ll have for your own trip. You may also find that you’re drawn to a specific place or city and may want to extend your time there on a whim. That’s certainly possible and is one of the most fun and spontaneous parts about visiting a new place!
Without further ado, let’s get into this awesome trip through Europe!
London – 3 days
Start your trip off in London, where you can enjoy all the attractions of this marvelous capital city, such as Big Ben, the London Eye, and Bond Street. Flying into major hubs like London, Dublin, Amsterdam, and Lisbon often offers travelers the best deals when it comes to air travel between Europe and the United States.
In London, you must do a London city tour, and don’t forget to indulge in some afternoon tea! If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you can’t miss this Harry Potter studio tour and get your chance to walk down Diagon Alley.
I also highly recommend taking a day trip up to Scotland. The high-speed train from King’s Cross Station in London to Edinburgh takes just under 4.5 hours. Scotland is absolutely beautiful any time of year, and the people are warm and inviting.
If you’re looking for an affordable hotel in London, check out the Moxy London Stratford. It’s just a few minutes away from the Stratford tube and train stations, keeping you well-connected to the lively city.
Paris – 4 days
Paris is best enjoyed at a slower pace. It is a relatively expensive city to visit, but you can keep travel costs down by opting for an accommodation like this one with a small kitchen where you can prepare your own food to stick to your daily budget.
One of my favorite things to do in Paris is a 1-hour River Seine cruise. It really allows you to sit back and relax while taking in some of Paris’ most iconic sites, including the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral.
For an even cheaper alternative, pop in to a grocery store and buy a cheap bottle of wine, some saucisson sec (dry sausage) and your favorite cheese, and go into the park right under the Eiffel Tower. The tower lights up after sunset each night and sparkles for five minutes every hour on the hour. It’s romantic and a great way to save money in one of Europe’s most expensive cities.
At least one of these days should be reserved for a day trip outside of Paris. In the shoulder season, head out to Loire Valley to visit a medieval castle or two (hundreds can be found in the region!) or go to Bordeaux to enjoy some of the country’s best wines.
If you happen to visit in the winter, take the train to Strasbourg to experience one of Europe’s largest and most popular Christmas markets! It’ll make you want to plan a Europe trip just to experience the magic (and amazing food) of Christmas markets in every country.
See Related: Where to Stay in Paris: Best Areas & Neighborhoods
Nice – 3 days
The train from Paris to Nice is a scenic 6-hour journey through the picturesque French countryside. Once you arrive in the French Riviera, you’ll be greeted by the bright turquoise Mediterranean Sea and colorful buildings.
The Nice city center is an excellent option to stay in, as it’s easily walkable, and the local train connects the city to all of the main oceanside towns of the riviera. Nice is gorgeous, so you’ll want to spend time exploring the old town, trying some local food like socca and pan bagnat, and spending a few hours on the beach.
The train can easily connect you to some of the riviera’s most popular cities, including Villefranche-sur-Mer, Menton, Cannes, and Antibes. You could even visit a completely different country, Monaco, which is less than 20 minutes by train from Nice.
If you plan to rent a car, you can even reach the glitzy town of St. Tropez in just under two hours. The region is known for its perfume production, so creating your own signature scent at a perfume workshop should definitely be on your list of must-do things here.
Cinque Terre – 2 days
Cinque Terre is just four hours away from the French Riviera but completely transports you to a different world. These are five incredibly picturesque seaside villages on the Italian Riviera that seem to stand still in time. Two days is the absolute minimum that I would recommend staying in Cinque Terre, but you can definitely see each small town in that amount of time.
To save money, stay in La Spezia instead of the actual Cinque Terre villages. La Spezia is the closest major town to Cinque Terre and is just five minutes by train to Riomaggiore. You’ll want to be looking at vacation rentals like this in the area to get the most value for accommodations around here.
One thing you must do in Cinque Terre (besides visiting each town) is to eat at Nessun Dorma in Manarola. The views are tremendous, and the food is even better. Wait times for a seat at the iconic eatery can get up to two hours, so skip the line by booking a pesto-making course at the restaurant, which includes lunch.
To travel between villages, simply take the train – it only takes a few minutes and costs a few Euros, and they run constantly. The adventurous travelers can hike trails along the sea cliffs from village to village.
See Related: Best Places To Stay In Cinque Terre
Rome – 3 days
The next stop on your Mediterranean journey is Rome, an all-important cultural and historic city that everyone should see. There are frequent trains headed here from La Spezia, taking a few hours.
The entire historic center of Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you’ll immediately see why this is a top destination for so many when visiting Europe. The Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and many other ancient treasures will have even the most well-traveled visitor in awe. Don’t forget to cross the border into Vatican City, especially on a Sunday or Holy Day – which is quite a sight to see in person.
Spending a few days in Rome can also allow you to take a day trip to Florence, one of Italy’s other amazing cities, less than 90 minutes away by high-speed train. It’s home to the massive Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the picturesque Ponte Vecchio bridge, along with a ton of beautiful art and architecture.
Rome isn’t a cheap city, and to save money, you’ll need to stay away from the city center. Luckily, Rome has a great network of regional trains, metros, and buses that make getting around convenient. I usually stay at the Sheraton Parco de’ Medici, which is well outside of the city but offers great amenities, such as a pool and free breakfast for an unbeatable price.
Munich – 2 days
Once you’ve had enough pizza and pasta (which is unlikely to happen), it’s time to cross the Alps and get away from the Mediterranean for a while. As hard as that may be, you won’t be disappointed with a stop in Germany – the land of medieval castles, World War II history, and great beer and sausage.
Don’t be discouraged by the distance from Rome to Munich. There are many daily flights, and if you want to use your rail pass, the journey only requires one connection in Bologna or Verona.
If you’ve chosen the fall travel season, you could be lined up for a stay in Munich during its famed Oktoberfest. This beer, food, and German culture festival puts Munich on the itinerary for many Europe backpacking trips and is a ton of drunken fun.
Major attractions in Munich include the beautiful Marienplatz Square, English Garden, and BMW Museum. To save on travel costs around the city, buy a hop-on hop-off tour bus ticket for both transportation and tourist information.
See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in Munich, Germany
Prague – 1 day
Munich is a very central place to reach many other European countries after your stay, and I wouldn’t miss a chance to stop in Prague, even if it’s just for a day. From my experience, this is enough time to see this beautiful city’s attractions. Plus, it’s a less expensive place for those of us on a tight budget.
There are numerous trains and buses headed to Prague from both Munich and many other German cities. Once there, I’d head to Prague Castle, one of the top things to see in the city that dates back to the 9th century. It’s fascinating to see the cobblestone alleyways, ancient basilicas, and amazing architecture.
Then, head over to the Vyšehrad, the other fortified castle of the city, for more historic charm. The Old Town Square has a fascinating Astronomical Clock, and the pedestrian streets around it are full of quirky shops and museums.
As mentioned, Prague is one of the more popular cities for saving on your daily budget. You can find great deals at high-end hotels, like the Don Giovanni Hotel Prague – or, at least, splurge for a private room at a local hostel.
Vienna – 1 day
Vienna is easily accessible from Prague by bus, train, or car. This gorgeous city is known for its magnificent architecture and captivating history that is sure to have you glad you made the stop here. It’s also known for some of its famous residents, including Mozart, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud.
If you only have time to visit one place in Vienna, I highly suggest that you make it the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Not only does it house an impressive amount of paintings and sculptures, but the museum itself should also be considered a work of art. It is the largest museum in the country and was commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1891.
The easiest way to see any city in a limited amount of time is by buying a ticket for the hop-on hop-off bus. The double-decker bus will take you to all of Vienna’s biggest attractions, including Vienna’s opera house, museums, and the Danube River. You can get on and off as much as you want and explore at your leisure.
Hotels in Vienna can get expensive, so I recommend staying in a vacation rental like VRBO to save on travel costs. This modern apartment is affordable and keeps you close to all the city’s attractions. One of our top money-saving tips for any long trip is to look for accommodations that provide a washer and dryer just as this one does.
It’ll save money and time, so you don’t have to go out searching for a laundromat. You can do your laundry while you’re out and about without worrying about leaving your belongings somewhere that isn’t secure.
See Related: Vienna vs Prague: What’s the Difference?
Budapest – 2 days
Budapest is just 2.5 hours away from Vienna and is an absolute gem of an old city. You’ll be surrounded by breathtaking architecture, rich culture, and delicious food. The city is easily walkable but also features an easy-to-use metro system.
The welcoming city is known as the spa capital of the world, so you absolutely must visit one of Budapest’s thermal baths. The biggest and most popular spa is the Széchenyi Spa, located right in the city center. It is the largest spa in Europe and is comprised of 3 grand outdoor pools and 15 indoor pools. This tour package includes your admission ticket to the spa, as well as the Pálinka Museum and tasting experience.
While in Budapest, you must try some of Hungary’s traditional dishes. My favorite is Hungarian goulash. It’s a hearty stew made of beef, potatoes, and vegetables, and the spices used make it so warm and comforting.
The DORMERO Hotel Budapest offers modern and clean rooms at an unbeatable price. It’s located just steps away from St. Stephen’s Basilica, one of Budapest’s most stunning architectural wonders.
Zadar – 3 days
Heading back down to the coast, you’ll want to spend a few days in Zadar. We took a train from Budapest to Zagreb (Croatia’s capital city) and then a bus down to Zadar. This quaint coastal town is the perfect spot to base yourself while visiting two of Croatia’s most beautiful national parks.
Plitvice Lakes National Park and Krka National Park should both be at the top of your list of things to see while exploring Croatia. However, if you only have time for one, I recommend Plitvice. Both are absolutely stunning, but Plitvice Lakes National Park is bigger and there is more to see. You’ll definitely need a full day for each park. There are several walking trails within both parks that are suitable for all ages.
Zadar itself is pretty small – you can see it in just a few hours, but you’ll definitely want to stroll through the old town and down to the famous sea organ for sunset. You won’t find big hotels in Zadar, so I recommend opting for a cute VRBO like this one. This apartment also includes parking, which is awesome because the best option to go from Zadar all the way to Dubrovnik is to reserve a car rental.
See Related: Best Girls Trip Destinations Around the World
Split – 1 day
Split is an awesome place to stop on your drive between Zadar and Dubrovnik. The charming old town is small but gorgeous, and you can find a lot of amazing food and fun bars throughout its cobblestone streets.
The best way to get to know this town is by joining a walking tour. Your local guide will teach you about Split’s rich history spanning the last 1,700 years, and you’ll also get to spot the town’s main landmarks, including Diocletian’s Palace and the Golden Gate.
Split is super-affordable in terms of food and accommodations, so you can’t go wrong. Even a dinner for two plus drinks with a view of the sea won’t cost you more than 300 Croatian Kuna ($40 USD). Stay outside of the old town (this apartment is a hidden gem!) for parking and a quieter experience.
If you are opting to rent a car during this leg of the trip, I highly recommend taking a detour on your way to Dubrovnik into Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar is a small but beautiful village in a country that doesn’t see too many visitors.
Dubrovnik – 2 days
After a short ride through Bosnia and Herzegovina (you’ll need to pass through a part of this country no matter how you travel), you’ll be in the tiny exclave of Croatia that contains what many travelers would call its crown jewel – Dubrovnik. Despite this itinerary having taken you through a number of old towns, you haven’t been to one quite like this.
If you feel like you’ve been transported to a scene from Game of Thrones, that’s because this is where much of it was filmed. Its ancient outer walls and inner streets and squares have barely changed in the past centuries. It’s easy to get lost in its narrow pedestrian paths and numerous staircases, and it’s also quite pleasant in a way.
This is a place where a guided walking tour is very valuable in order to truly appreciate the rich history of the place. That tour also includes a trip up the famous cable car to the top of Mount Srđ for a bird’s eye view of the city that will have you in awe.
You can find plenty of vacation rentals within the city walls if you want to stay right in the center of everything, but I love the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera just down the road in a more quiet area. It’s a resort with a beautiful pool and beach, and there’s a frequent passenger boat service that takes you directly to the old town.
See Related: Top Most Beautiful Cities in the World to Visit
Budva – 2 days
Most people who visit Europe don’t put Montenegro on their itinerary – and that’s part of what makes it so great there! I like to refer to this tiny Balkan country to the south of Croatia as the Croatia that tourists haven’t discovered yet.
There are frequent and affordable buses between Dubrovnik (as well as other points in Croatia) to Budva, Montenegro’s premier seaside resort town. If you choose to fly in, there’s an airport with a ton of seasonal connections in Kotor. You’ll see pretty quickly what is so great about this place: incredible beaches, charming old towns, wonderfully friendly locals, and prices that will make it hard to leave.
You’ll want to spend a morning enjoying the ancient seaside village of Budva and exploring its network of narrow pedestrian streets. Reserve your afternoon for relaxing on a beach chair that won’t cost you more than a few euros, and then party the night away at one of the beach bars.
Spend another day first exploring Kotor, another ancient village on Montenegro’s massive natural bay. There’s a popular hike up a huge staircase to the old church on the mountain if you’re up for some climbing. Then, consider a day cruise around Kotor Bay to see the beauty of this country from a boat, stopping at the best swimming spots.
Tirana – 1 day
The next stop on your trip down the Adriatic coast is the capital of Albania, another country that tourists haven’t yet discovered in mass numbers. While we’re only recommending a day here, as it’s a convenient route to get from Montenegro to Greece, this is a beautiful place with a unique history that could certainly be made a more significant stop.
Buses run between Budva and Podgorica in Montenegro to Tirana rather frequently for those who aren’t driving. This city has unique Ottoman and Soviet architecture and a mostly-Islamic religion, making it a bit different than its former-Yugoslavic neighbors.
It’s an interesting stop for a day on your way down the coast, and the main attractions include the massive Skanderbeg Square and the Et’hem Bej Mosque. Albania is another very affordable country, and you’ll find upscale hotels like the Hilton Garden Inn Tirana at a great value.
After a night in Tirana, our itinerary has you driving or catching a bus to the southern village of Sarandë (also spelled Saranda). That’s where frequent passenger and car ferries connect the country with the Greek island of Corfu.
Corfu – 2 days
Upon getting off the boat after a short sail west, you’ll need to set your watch an hour later – you’re in Greece! The island of Corfu is one well-known by European travelers but often overlooked by Americans and Canadians who head straight for Santorini and Mykonos.
Those who make it here are rewarded with some of the best scenery Greece has to offer. Towering sea cliffs, remote beaches only accessible by boat, and a Venetian-style old town are some of the most famous attractions of Corfu. Don’t forget about the amazing Greek food, either.
No matter how much time you have, spend a day in the seaside village of Palaiokastritsa. It has one of the best sandy beaches on the island. Plus, there are numerous rental stands for small boats that don’t require a license, which you can take to the Paradise Beaches – where you may be the only people.
Evenings in Corfu town are lively, full of good food, and plenty of ice cream. If you have more days, I love the beaches of Kassiopi and Sidari. And if you have the budget (or the Marriott points), the Domes Miramare, A Luxury Collection Resort is potentially one of the greatest resorts in the world for poolside relaxation.
See Related: Where to Stay in Corfu: Best Areas & Places
Congratulations! You’ve made it from the stunning city of London in Northern Europe all the way down to the sunny Greek islands of Southern Europe. From here, the rest is up to you as you continue to visit Europe. You can extend your trip and island hop through Greece or end your trip here. The Athens International Airport often has great deals on flights back to America or elsewhere.
You could also continue your trip throughout Europe by flying to Spain or Portugal before heading home or extend your backpacking trip into Asia via Turkey. The possibilities are endless! Experiencing all of these wonderful cultures is truly what makes the ups and downs of travel so worth it.