In recent years, Europe has become a haven for backpackers from all across the globe. Its budget-friendly cities, trendy neighbourhoods, and reliability & safety are some of the reasons over 538 million people arrive in Europe each year.
There are numerous ways to travel through its 10.18 million km² of land. Budget airline Ryanair and European bus service Flixbus are two popular options. But it’s Interrailing that trumps the lot when it comes to backpackers.
Over 300,000 tourists use this popular service that connects over 30 European nations.
The downside to having so much access to many amazing cities is trying to narrow down which ones to visit. And which cities to miss out on.
The most popular route is Amsterdam – Berlin – Prague – Vienna – Budapest – Zagreb. All are amazing cities, but some can put a dent in your wallet and are affected by over-tourism.
If you’re looking for an original, budget-friendly, and less touristy route, have a look down below.
Prague (Czech Republic)
Vienna (Austria) – Day Trip
Krakow is not the most original city on this list. But it certainly isn’t affected by over-tourism like cities such as Amsterdam or Venice, and it definitely is a place to visit on a budget!
Nearly everything in and around the city is extremely cheap and affordable. If you’re on a budget, The only area you want to avoid eating is in Old Town Square. These restaurants are mainly aimed at tourists.
History buffs will be happy to know that Krakow remains almost as it was before WW2. Most Polish cities were reduced to rumble, but Krakow remained largely untouched as it became a headquarters for the German Army.
How much I spent:
Accommodation: 5 nights, double room – 60 EUR (30pp) (Premium Hostel)
Budget Restaurant: 8 meat dumplings – 3.25 EUR (Milkbar Tomasza)
Budget Bar: Shot of vodka – 1 EUR (BaniaLuka)
Public Transport: 20-minute ticket – 0.61 EUR (MPK Krakow)
Krakow, Poland – Prague, Czech by train
- Connections are available through day and direct night trains
- Reservations for the night train are compulsory (3 EUR)
- Day trains take around 7 hours, while night trains take around 12 hours
- Krakow Glowny and Praha Hlavni Nadrazi are the cities’ main stations
Prague, Czech Republic
If there’s one city on this list, you should keep an eye on your cash, it’s Prague.
Although this city can be extremely cheap, especially compared to Western European cities, it’s notorious for tourist traps and scams. These can usually be found at popular tourist destinations or Old Town Square.
If you decide to visit Prague in the warm summer months, you’re in for a treat. The city is one of the most park-friendly cities across the continent. You can spend hours exploring the larger parks, such as Petrin Hill, Letna Park and Vysehrad.
You can relax or recharge in the city centre at one of the many green areas dotted around the city.
How much I spent:
Accommodation: 4 nights, double room – 62.80 EUR (31.40pp) (Pension City Center)
Budget Restaurants: Beef goulash – 3.70 EUR (Havelská Koruna)
Budget Bar: Beer – 1.05 EUR (Stalin)
Public Transport: 20 minute ticket – 0.95 EUR (PID)
Prague, Czech Republic – Bratislava, Slovakia by train
- No reservation is required on the direct trains of CD
- There are several direct train connections available between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, also by night train.
- The distance between the two cities is 292 km and takes around 4.5 hours
- The main stations are Praha Hlavni Nadrazi and Bratislava Hlavna Stanica
Bratislava is the definition of city charm. And it was never built to be a bustling metropolis or a capital city.
Up until 1993, Prague was the capital of Czechoslovakia. When the nation split into two, it was only then that Bratislava was given the title of a capital city. Its small and compact size makes it a perfect place to explore on foot. And just because it’s the smallest city on this list doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do here.
After you admire the amazing Medieval city centre, you can climb up to Bratislava Castle, explore the castle ruins of Hrad Devin or get lost in the surrounding woodlands.
How much I spent:
Accommodation: 3 nights, capsule room – 68 EUR (34pp) (Chors Hostel)
Budget Restaurant: Pork schnitzel – 4.70 EUR (Divný Janko)
Budget Pub: Gin and Tonic – 2.50 EUR (KGB Bar)
Public Transport: 30 minute ticket – 0.90 EUR (IMHD)
Bratislava, Slovakia – Vienna, Austria by bus
- The driving distance between the two cities is just under 80km
- Many bus services are connecting the two cities, but Flixbus is reliable and seats start at just 3.99 EUR one way
- Flixbus leaves and arrives in Bratislava on Chalupkova street and arrives in Vienna at either Vienna Central Station or Vienna Erdberg
- The journey takes between 1 – 1.5 hours.
Vienna is a spectacular city to visit, but the city can get extremely busy with tourists arriving in town during the peak summer months. Unfortunately, this has contributed to a lot of over-tourism in the area. Additionally, accommodation is not cheap for those on a budget.
So why should you take a day trip here?
First of all, the city is fantastic! Its cafes are up there with some of the best in the world. Its buildings and architectures are gorgeous, and there are countless attractions to keep you busy while you’re there.
Another reason is that it would be criminal to not visit this city when you are just an hour down the road in Bratislava.
Make sure you take the bus here instead of wasting a trip on your interrail pass!
Bratislava, Slovakia – Budapest, Hungary by train
- There are fast and frequent connections between Bratislava and Budapest
- The distance between the two cities is 162 km and the journey is around 2.5 hours
- Seat reservations are required for direct services
- Direct trains go from Bratislava Hlavna Stanica to Budapest-Nyugati
Budapest has quickly become one of the trendiest cities in Europe within the travel community. It’s commonly known as the Backpacking capital of Europe, and I can see why.
It has everything a backpacker can dream of. Boutique hostels are scattered throughout the vibrant streets. Budget food and drinks can be found at any location. Alongside colourful street art, rustic neighbourhoods and trendy coffee houses.
But we all know the best things in life are free. Several of Budapest’s best and most exciting attractions don’t cost a penny! Some are the Budapest Castle District, Margaret Island and the Central Market Hall.
How much I spent:
Accommodation: 4 nights, double room – 67.70 (33.85pp) (Synagogue Guest House)
Budget Restaurant: Cheese and sour cream langos – 2.10 EUR (Retro Langos)
Budget Pub: Pint of beer – 1.15 EUR (4es6os)
Public Transport: Single ticket – 0.98 EUR (BKK)
Budapest, Hungary – Belgrade, Serbia by train
- The travel distance between the two cities is 320km
- Around 3 direct trains travel daily between the two cities, the earliest at 8 AM and the latest at 10:15 PM
- Direct trains do not require a reservation
- The journey lasts approximately 9.5 hours
Now it’s time to really get off the beaten track.
Although Belgrade is Serbia’s largest and capital city, it receives only 2.5 million visitors. This may sound like a lot. But when compared with other European cities, it’s just a drop in the ocean.
For example, London receives 30 million visitors each year! Because of the lack of tourists, Belgrade has been able to keep its culture, traditions and character alive.
Unlike most major cities, Belgrade does not have entire streets or neighbourhoods designed specifically for tourists. There are almost no tourist traps here, meaning you don’t need to constantly search for cheap bars or restaurants.
How much I spent:
Accommodation: 4 nights, twin room – 56 EUR (28pp) (Wood Suites)
Budget Restaurant: Regular Pizza – 2.40 EUR (Picerija Kli Kli)
Budget Pub: Glass of beer – 1.25 EUR (Pivnica Corner Pub)
Public Transport: 90-minute ticket: 0.75 EUR (City public transport)
Belgrade, Serbia – Sofia, Bulgaria by train
- The journey time from Belgrade to Sofia by direct day train is 11:30 hours
- The departure time in Belgrade (Topcider) is 09:15. The arrival time in Sofia is 20:45.
- In the off-season (October to May) you have to change trains in Nis and Dimitrovgrad. Sometimes an overnight train is offered as well.
- The distance between the two cities is around 328km
It might take some time for you to appreciate how fascinating the city of Sofia is. But when you do, you will fall in love with its youthful, modern and rustic vibes.
The town is known for its vast array of architectural designs. Sofia’s landmarks reflect more than 2,000 years of history, including Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet occupations.
When you finish snapping up photos of the outstanding walls and buildings, you can take a hike up to the top of Vitosha and view all the city’s beauty at once. Along the way, you may come across some locals who are some of the friendliest on this list.
How much I spent:
Accommodation: 4 nights, double room – 50 EUR (25pp) (Smart Hostel Sofia)
Budget Restaurant: Soup and sandwich – 3.5 EUR (Supa Star)
Budget Pub: Cocktail – 3.5 EUR (The Muse Bar)
Public Transport: Single journey, 0.80 EUR
Sofia, Bulgaria – Bucharest, Romania by train
- The direct journey time is about 9 hours and 40 minutes
- The departure time in Sofia is 07:20. And the arrival time in Bucharest is 17:00
- In the off-season (October to May) you have to change trains in Ruse (Bulgaria)
- Seat reservations are required for indirect trains between the two cities
Ever dream of ending an adventure in Paris? If so, you’re in for a surprise. Bucharest is dubbed The Paris of the East or Mini Paris. And a glance at any photo of Bucharest and you will see why.
For starters, it has its own arc de Triomphe, called Arcul de Triumf, an almost exact match of the famous landmark in the French capital. But most notably, its streets and elegant architecture appear replicas of those in Paris.
What makes this city even better than its doppelganger, is rock bottom prices! A meal in a restaurant in the city centre of Paris would require open wallet surgery, while in Bucharest, it could set you back just 4 EUR!
How much I spent:
Accommodation: 3 nights, large apartment – 48 EUR (24pp) (Budget Inn Amzei)
Budget Restaurant: Burger meal – 3.65 EUR (Burger Van Bistro)
Budget Pub: Bottle of Tuborg – 1.60 EUR (The PUB Bucharest)
Public Transport: 2 journey ticket – 1 EUR (STBSA)
Explore This Off the Beaten Trail
By visiting a route like this, you may miss out on some major European cities such as London, Paris, Rome or Madrid. But anyone who has travelled a lot will know how overpriced and touristy these cities can be.
Not only does this mean missing out on authentic cuisines or traditional experiences, but it damages the city for the people who live there.
Saving money is another huge incentive for exploring a route like this. It feels great to enjoy meals for less than half the price of popular tourist cities.
You also get to experience and learn more about the country you’re travelling through. The cheaper ticket prices and entry fees mean more fun and experiences.
To top it off, the remaining money you save can be put towards another adventure like this or just a quick weekend getaway.