When planning a multi-stop trip – whether it’s one country or one continent – can be daunting, with many places to see. Do you stay on the well travelled route – or do you want to go off the beaten track? Are you travelling on a shoestring or do you want to treat yourself? Are you going to plan it all before you go or give yourself some flexibility and leave it open? Are you going to fit it all in to a few weeks or stretch it out over a few months?
The most important thing is deciding what sort of trip you want to do. There is no right answer – it’s your trip and you can do it exactly how you want. And of course it depends on a lot of different factors – how much money you have saved, who you’re going with, how much time you have…
I always think planning a trip is half the fun – but everyone is different!
So here is my recommended route around Europe to help start you off:
If you love travelling or love Europe or just have a month free and want to see as many places as possible, interrailing around Europe is the perfect trip! It was something I’d wanted to do for a few years before I actually booked my ticket. Half the fun for me was sitting down at home with a map of Europe and a pen and literally drawing out the route we wanted to do! I was lucky as my sister had gone a couple of years before me so I had a few tips and some advice to get me started.
There are a few different ticket types you can get – it depends what sort of trip you’re after – and they’re all really reasonable prices! They’re all listed here on the official website – the one I went for was ’10 days within 22 days’, which means 10 days of train travel within that time. This one gives you enough time to spend a good few days in each city but at the same time fitting in probably most of the places you want to visit, but if you want to do it at a more relaxed pace, with no limit to the amount of train journeys you can take, you can – and this is what I am recommending in this 1 month itinerary.
Once you’ve booked your ticket, they send you a really exciting little pack in the post with everything you need – maps of Europe for you to plan out your route, your journey planner where you record your journeys and lots more info! It’s completely up to you how much you want to plan before you go and how much you want to leave open to give you a bit of flexibility while you’re away. We planned pretty much all of it beforehand, just because with our ticket type and a certain amount of days and journeys, it was worth working out a good route to fit it all in!
Recommended duration: 3 days
Our first stop was Amsterdam. Remember that travel to your first country is not included in the interrail ticket so definitely choose somewhere where flights aren’t too expensive! Two or three days in the city is probably enough to see everything, and it’s really easy to get around everywhere by walking, we didn’t even need to use the local trams!
The best touristy activities there include the Anne Frank House & Museum, a really interesting but harrowing tour of the house and secret annex where for two years during the war she hid with her family until they were found in 1944. You can just buy a ticket at the museum (€9.50 when we visited) and wander round yourself at your own pace.
Also visit the white IAmsterdam letters, beautiful Dam Square, the famous Sex Museum and I’d definitely recommend getting on a free walking tour of the city. These are run in all major cities, mainly by local students looking for a bit of extra income – so they rely on tips from the group at the end of the tour, so you can literally tip as much or as little as you want! They’re really worthwhile doing as only last a few hours (usually one in the morning and one in the afternoon) but you get to see different parts of the city, some of which you probably wouldn’t know about without being with a local.
Aside from this, a short trip to Amsterdam can’t be complete without dinner in China town, followed by wandering through the iconic red light district, sampling the famous ‘space cake’, getting lost in the many tiny canal streets surrounded by bikes, and spending an afternoon in a canal-side café with a local beer and some traditional Dutch food watching the world go by – which I think is the charm of Amsterdam! All in all, it is such a unique and beautiful city and even though you’ll probably cover most of the main sights, I think it’s one of those places you can go back to again and again and still enjoy it!
Recommended duration: 3-4 days
Next stop on our itinerary was Berlin, not too far a train journey from Amsterdam. We only had two full days there and we did well to fit in as much as we did…if you’re more flexible with time, I would recommend about 3-4 days here as it is a massive city with SO much to do! One of the highlights for me was the “alternative” walking tour of Berlin we did, which led us through the urban districts, past amazing street art and the underground scene which is a massive part of the city’s edgy, arty culture.
The tour ended in an amazing reggae “beach club”, really chilled place where we sat with a beer on the edge of the river Spree and you literally forget you’re in one of the biggest cities in Europe!
For lunch, pick up a Currywurst or Bratwurst from a street vender; visit Checkpoint Charlie where East and West Berlin were divided (allow a lot of time for this as the set up is like an exhibition and there’s a lot to read and a museum to visit if you like); climb up the City TV tower for great panoramic views of the city; then wander past the Bradenburg gate, the Riechstag and the Parliament building.
Finally, one of the most unique sights you’ll visit is the Holocaust memorial, a massive maze of grey concrete blocks varying in height and size, with its museum directly underneath holding all the known names of the Jewish Holocaust victims.
The blocks are “designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason”, but the memorial has also been said to resemble a cemetery. After so much sightseeing, enjoy a lazy morning wandering through the city centre shopping district, but make sure you leave the afternoon free to wander along the famous Berlin Wall in the sun and admire the incredible street art now covering it the whole way along.
Recommended duration: 2-3 days
Next, head east to Prague which is the smallest but most beautiful city ever! We had three days there and we’d done everything and been everywhere in the first afternoon! But I would recommend two or three days as a nice amount of time, with no rushing and some chilling time in the park as well!
Again, like Berlin, definitely get yourself on a free city walking tour, where you’ll spend the afternoon seeing the beautiful Old Town Square with its famous astronomical clock; the Jewish quarter; the church; and wander along the amazing Charles Bridge where local painters and artists sit with their displays set up along the entire bridge.
The next day, head to the river and hire a pedalo for a lazy afternoon of amazing views again and more photo opportunities, before taking a stroll around one of the many parks full of beautiful gardens, ponds and fountains!
In the evenings, a useful and amazing fact to know is that in Prague beer is actually cheaper than water! But as our tour guide taught us, you have to learn how to order a beer in Czech so that they charge you this price like they do the locals…
On your last day, head up (a LOT of steps) to the city’s viewing platform where you’ll find the castle and cathedral and have a carafe of wine in one of the vineyard restaurant/bars on the way down looking out at the amazing view of this incredible city.
7h-10h (Overnight recommended)
Recommended duration: 2 days (1 in city, 1 in Auschwitz)
Next city on my recommended route is Krakow, where we only had one day, arriving at 7am after a horrendous overnight train journey (definitely book a bed/sleeper cabin if you’ve got an overnight train – it’s worth paying that bit extra!). You’ll probably end up spending most of your time in Krakow in the main square, which is beautiful and the hub of all the action, lined with restaurants with a large fountain in the middle, a massive indoor market, and horses and carriages trotting past every minute.
If you’re used to avoiding the main tourist-trap restaurants on the main square or street, you’ll be pleasantly surprised in Krakow because you can have a beer or a glass of wine in one of the main square restaurants for less than 2 euros equivalent, which is amazing compared to most other European cities! Try the local delicacy “peirogi”, a type of filled dumpling a bit like tortellini. Other than that, take a short walk through the city side streets to the Jewish quarter where you’ll come out at a lovely river.
The main reason we went there, however, was to visit Auschwitz. It’s definitely worth booking a tour online before you get there – a lot of them actually pick you up from your hotel/hostel and take you to the camp which is around a 2 hour drive.
The tour – which takes you around the outside of the camp as well as into the gas chambers, rooms full of the victims’ belongings, and even one full of hair, the ‘living quarters’ and the camp prison – was both fascinating and creepy, especially walking round in the sunshine. The Auschwitz tour is something you will probably do only once in your life so make sure you make it part of your trip.
9h (Overnight recommended)
Recommended duration: 4 days
Another one of my favourite cities in the whole of Europe, full of beautiful architecture, lots of history and situated on the famous Danube river! I’d allow around three days in Budapest to see it all, as it is quite big. The entire city is actually split up into two parts, Buda on the west bank of the river and Pest on the east (which were originally two completely separate cities until they became united in 1873).
Buda is the older part of the city, with the castle, lots of hills and viewing platforms (the highest point in the city is here) with the most amazing panoramic views of the city, whilst Pest is the modern side of the river, with all the tourist attractions, shops and social life. This is something I learnt on one of my beloved free city walking tours!! So definitely do one of these here as well.
Walk across Chain Bridge, visit Heroes Square, the Royal Palace and changing of the guards, take a stroll through the big indoor food market and on the way back stop off at a street-side restaurant for some traditional Hungarian food (beef goulash soup and fried sausage).
Budapest is also known as the ‘City of Baths’…after a day or two in the city, catch the bus out to one of the famous Budapest thermal baths. The main and biggest one, which we went to, was the Szechenyi Baths & Pool – an amazing, relaxing day of indoor jacuzzis, saunas, and plunge pools from freezing cold to boiling temperatures, as well as a couple of outdoor pools, one of which is thermal – the oddest experience when it’s hot outside, but a really great day out!
5h45-6h45 to Zagreb
6h more to Split
Zagreb | Split | Hvar
Recommended duration: 4 days
To break up our trip and have a break from the constant sightseeing (travelling is hard and tiring work!), we spent the next few days just enjoying the sun in Croatia. After one night stop-over in Zagreb on the way, we spent a couple of nights in Split, a really lovely little coastal town in the south.
It has become slightly touristy the last few years, but it’s still authentic and the pebble beaches are still filled with the locals. The sea is amazing, really shallow for such a long way out so great for paddling. But there’s not many sandy beaches in Croatia – it is mainly pebble beaches or a concrete sea-front promenade with sunbeds lined up along the edge, which doesn’t sound very appealing but that’s just how it is in Croatia!
Without a doubt save one of your days there for Hvar, a small island just an hour’s ferry ride away – it is so beautiful! You can literally just walk along the coast for miles with the most amazing views. Again though, no sandy beaches, just lots of tiny pebble coves. We left to get the ferry back early evening but I’d recommend booking into a hotel on the island for a night or two as the nightlife was just starting up and it’s meant to be amazing.
Recommended duration: 2 days (1 in city, 1 in Lake Bled)
Ljubljana in Slovenia was next on our route – a place which a lot of people have never heard of, but which I’d definitely include in your itinerary! We actually stayed in a converted prison…A couple of people had recommended it to me before I went and I was a bit unsure, but it was actually a really decent hostel and an experience you probably won’t ever have again!
Ljubljana itself is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to. Again, we got ourselves on a walking tour of the city on our first morning there to get our bearings and see the main sights. As we learnt from our tour guide, Ljubljana was actually based on an architect trying to recreate Venice, so there are pretty venetian style bridges and buildings everywhere in the city.
Take one day out of your time there to visit Lake Bled, about an hour away on the local bus. It is amazing – spend the day sunbathing and swimming in the lake which is surrounded by green mountains. It has become slightly touristy so you’re not stuck for restaurants and café’s alongside the lake, but it still remains stunning.
Recommended duration: 3 days
Vienna was a lot more city-like and bigger than I had expected, but absolutely beautiful and there is so much to do there (we had three days). One thing which was top of our list was to go to the famous Viennese opera at the beautiful Opera house, but typically the summer we were there the opera house was closed and being renovated! But if you can, definitely try to get tickets to one of these.
Visit the Royal Palace and its gardens where we spent two full days – it is absolutely massive! Get an audio tour guide and make your way through the palace at your own pace, before wandering around the many gardens and mazes outside. A few tickets also give you access to the zoo, which is surprisingly the oldest in the world and definitely worth a visit!
Back in Vienna city centre itself, spend your time people watching from the many cafes, bars and restaurants along the main parade and getting lost in the city’s side streets and paths which always seem to come out at a square or a fountain! We spent a really lovely few days here.
Recommended duration: 1-2 days
I’ll admit – the main reason we included Zurich in our itinerary was because it was perfectly situated on our route and a great stop off before our next and last city! But it was surprisingly gorgeous – really glad we went and would definitely recommend it. A tiny city, very business-like and expensive, but beautiful and people are really friendly.
Take a walk along the beautiful lake which runs through the city.
In 2012, the year before we were there, Zurich was officially the ‘most expensive city in the world’ – and we had read and heard ridiculous stories before we went so we were prepared! And it didn’t disappoint – food and drink in restaurants is extortionate (we bought lunch from the supermarket instead), coffee shops charge no less than about 6 or francs (about 5 or 6 euros) for the smallest cup of coffee, the tram ticket prices were ridiculous, and in one restaurant we got charged 5 francs for a jug of tap water! It’s a good job we were only there for one day and night!…We did treat ourselves in the evening, however, to a typical Swiss Raclette meal which was amazing but we didn’t want to eat anymore cheese for a long, long time!
Recommended duration: 2 days
Again, like your first destination, you’ll have to fly back from your last destination, so don’t make it too far from home. We chose Milan, but with the train distances and timetables, arriving early evening and leaving the next morning, we ended up only having literally a few hours there.
Top things to do here are visit the famous beautiful Duomo which is in the main square of the city, have a proper Italian gelato, stroll up to the castle, and sit down at one of the restaurants in the centre for a delicious carby Italian meal of pasta and wine! If you have more time here, definitely book tickets to see the Opera house as this is something I wanted to do but just didn’t have enough time.
Total duration: 26-29 days
Interrailing through 12 major cities and 10 countries was one of the most rewarding and independent travel experiences I’ve had – planning and financing the entire route and itinerary, as well as navigating through those strange cities once you’re there with nothing more than a map. It’s something I’d recommend to ANYONE to do at some point in your life!