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Backpacking Europe is high on most millennials bucket-list the last time I checked. However, backpacking Europe and luxury do not always go hand in hand. When I did my first backpacking trip in Europe, I went around a lot of countries and cities, but looking back I could definitely change some of the routes to get the biggest bang for my bucks. After having lived in Europe for over a year and seen the relative expenses, I’d say the best 4 cities to think of having on your backpacking Europe itinerary that can be done for less than $40 a day are as follows.
Backpacking Europe #1 Berlin
As a happy resident of Germany, I feel like it’s nice to start the list with the capital of Germany, one of my favourite cities in Europe that just so happens to be extremely affordable. I’ve visited Berlin thrice and each time had extremely unique experiences. My last visit was to celebrate my 25th birthday in Berlin and it was an eye opener in more ways than one.
What to do?
- Book a free tour to get to know the rich and colourful history of the city at Sandeman’s (my favourite free tour company in Europe)
- Book a counter culture tour and experience the hipster districts of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg at Alternative Tours.
- Visit the Berlin wall and be amazed at amazing street artists from all over the world
- Go to an authentic German Techno Club. Suggestions include Berghain (if you manage to ever get in) or Tresor.
- Check out the amazing and diverse food scene all over the city. Any international cuisine you crave, I bet you can find it in Berlin.
Where to Stay?
If you’re backpacking Europe, chances are you want to meet with other like-minded individuals, have cheap and safe accommodation and have friendly faces around to help you ease into a new city or a new country. I have always used and highly recommend Hostel Bookers if you need a safe, cheap and reliable mode of travel in Germany. My all time favourite hostel in Berlin is St.Christopher’s Inn which is not only at an amazing location but comes with one of the best hostel owned pubs I have ever been to. My other alternative would be to stay at a hotel via Booking.com or for a truly relaxed and authentic experience in the house of a local via Airbnb (If you haven’t signed up yet, sign up to get free $38 travel credit from me).
How to Move Around?
Contrary to what most city pass companies or tourism offices will have you believe, unless you plan to visit 5-6 museums or galleries with a high entry fee, I would advise you not to get a city pass. Europe (especially Western) is made for pedestrians. You can pretty much walk to anywhere you want with a lot of ease, and most of the attractions will be located in the city centre within a radius of 3 miles to begin with. If you’re not keen on walking too much, you can always take the U-Bahn (underground metro with a bright blue “U” sign on the street) in Berlin for hopping between as many stations as you like. Normally, the transport companies in Germany include all the travel by a bus, tram and underground (sometimes also regular short distance trains) so just check in your ticket what all you have access to. A daily pass will cost you around $7 and if you buy it on a Friday, its usually valid until the whole weekend. What else do you want mate?
PRO TIP:Get the DB Navigator App for the most updated timings/schedules of bus/train/tram/underground timings. It’s even more helpful than Google Maps, trust me. Just add in the location where you’re at and where you need to be, the app will show you the best options of how to get there.
Daily Budget: $40
*My daily budget calculations do not include to and fro transfer from one city to another. It simply includes an estimate of what it would cost to spend a day in each of the cities including accommodation, sightseeing, local transport and food.*
Backpacking Europe #2 Krakow
The first time I was backpacking Europe, I honestly knew nothing about this city. I also didn’t know why I chose to go to Poland alone even when no other student at my university did, but well, we don’t always know why we do things, do we? In my exchange semester in Europe, I felt guilty not having made enough time to see the country that was hosting me to begin with and had generously even provided me a scholarship for some of my expenses. Hence, during the end of my time in Poland, I made a short visit with some of my closest exchange friends in what turned out to be perhaps the craziest short trip of my life.
What to do?
- Visit the stunning Wawel Castle
- Head to the beautiful Wieclizska Salt Mine which usually has great guided and non-guided tours available
- Visit the truly stunning 13th century medieval town square, which might honestly be the best in Europe. The square transforms into a magical time at Christmas in particular. Hit up the Christmas Market if you can.
- Auschwitz Concentration Camp for a day trip. I skipped visiting the camp due to a shortage of time, but I’ve been to Dachau in Germany and I can imagine quite a few gory similarities. If you have not ever been to one, starting here is recommended.
Where to stay?
- Hostels at Hostel Bookers
- Hotels at Booking.com
- Home-stays at Airbnb
How to move around?
Given that Krakow is a tiny and perfectly doable city by foot, I would recommend doing exactly that. If you do venture out to the salt mines or the concentration camp, getting a cheap tram or bus day pass is suggested. Poland has one of the cheapest public transport tickets in the world, especially when you’re a student and this should not burn a hole in your pocket.
Daily Budget $35
Backpacking Europe #3 Budapest
With plenty of beautiful and fuzzy memories, I have been dying to go back to Budapest again. Not only does it have some of the most stunning architecture in Eastern Europe, but it is just such a lively and fun city to be in.
What to Do
- Check out the Budapest Castle and walk around the Castle Hill.
- Go to one of the thermal baths to relax for an entire day. Even better, go to a bath party that happens about once a month. The interiors, the vibe, even the cost is super pocket friendly. Be sure to pack a swimsuit!
- Head to the old ruins pubs that have truly unique and very artistic interiors preserved sometimes for centuries. My favourite was Szimpla Kert. If you’re looking to go clubbing, hit up Instant.
- Walk across the chain bridge connecting Buda and Pest. If you’re looking for a cheap spot to party, come by the bridge, sit for early morning hours and watch the sunrise!
Where to Stay
How to move around
Budapest is a comfortably large city to walk around. If walking gets too hectic, a day pass is recommended if you plan to venture far from the city.
Daily Budget: $40
Backpacking Europe #4 Barcelona
This city is perhaps the most expensive on my entire list, however it’s a city that you should not miss. If the weather, food, language, people and culture of Spain doesn’t excite you, go to Barcelona for the architecture alone. Gaudi’s presence can be felt throughout the entire city and some of the most beautiful structures I ever saw in my life, stand today in Barcelona. At the time of my visit, Sagrada Familia was under construction, and due to autumn rains our timing wasn’t the best, but it was still a stunning city to behold. So. Much. Vibe. What to do
- Visit as many of Gaudi’s buildings as you can including his house, public spaces as well as Sagrada Familia.
- Hit up Las Ramblas and a pub or two along the way.
- Walk along the promenade and go to the city beach if you’re there in summer. General beach guidelines apply.
- Go for a free city tour to get an idea of the history and culture of Catalan.
- Watch a match if you’re a football fan, but be sure to keep tickets booked in advance.
Where to Stay
How to move around
Barcelona is a large city to walk around, so a day pass is recommended if you plan to venture far from the city.
Backpacking Europe Extra Tips
- Europe, in general is a very pedestrian friendly destination. Most tourist places lie in and around the city centre and you can walk almost everywhere easily. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes, water bottle (re-fillable), sunscreen, sunglasses and anything else you may need.
- Pick up free maps from the hostel/hotel. In case your phone dies or your internet connection does, you will have something to find your way back home.
- In tourism, location is not only key, it is everything. Stay as close to the city centre as is possible and to save a euro or two don’t decide to stay 5 miles out. The amount you spend on public transport and the time you waste is not worth the effort. Stay close to the old town and/or city centre.
- It’s advisable to pick up at least one sim card for emergencies, quick google searches and whatever else you need internet for. Most importantly, data roaming in Europe is now NOT existent. This means if you pick up your sim card in Berlin and make your way down to Barcelona, you do not have to pay anything extra on the same plan you recharged with. Isn’t that just brilliant?
- Make use of the free tours in all of the cities listed above. It is a great way to get to see the city, catch up with some tourists and tip as you wish at the end of the tour. On average, you spend way less than what you would in one day on a hop-on, hop-off bus. All free tours are offered in English, but you can also look for specific language ones although they are unlikely to be entirely free.
- Apart from your daily transport ticket, your other major expense will be food. In order to budget a city in under $40, you will not be able to afford eating any meal out. Perhaps once every few days or so. Mc Donald’s doesn’t count. Find out the nearest supermarket in each city you visit and pick up fresh fruits, bread, cheese, sandwiches, juices or whatever else floats your boat and keep enough snacks to keep you going.
Before you go Backpacking Europe (Resources)
- Make sure you get the best flights and routes in and out of Europe. Read my mini guide- Travel Tips #2 Book Cheap Flight Tickets
- When looking for accommodations, I have written a detailed guide of my favourite platforms and how to make best use of them here- Travel Tips #1 How to Book Cheap Hotels
- Do make sure to get Travel Insurance. You do not want to lose your passport and have no way of claiming all the money you lose in the process. Shit Happens. Prepare for it.
- If you need a specific country visa and want to see if you can apply online, I recommend iVisa. It is quick, convenient and a super useful tool.
- Get a Eurail pass (Non-EU Travelers) early and in advance. Eurail runs special offers from time to time and it’s always a good idea to get a hand on this early since you will most likely be traveling by train. It’s the best way to backpack Europe to begin with.
That’s all for my top 4 backpacking Europe picks. Do you have any more favourites to add?