We’ve all dreamed of that Eurotrip, meandering through the lovely continent with backpacks strapped on and arms hooked with our buddies, ready for every little experience. To emulate the adventurous spirit of Laurie Lee on the journey so evocatively described in his book As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, and head for Europe.
Of course, Lee’s journey presented far more hazardous situations than today’s travellers face. Yet the voyage of discovery promises to be equally interesting for the backpacker today as it was then. Let me assure you that it will be an experience that lives long in your memory.
Great variety is what mainland Europe has to offer the traveler. The impressive landscapes, architecture, language and culture is unparallelled. Completely up to your whims and fancies, this backpacking journey through Europe could take you to so many fascinating places, from the fairytale castles of Bavaria, to a walk around the notorious Red Light District of Amsterdam. Quite a contrast! You can also enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and quaint architecture of Bruges in Belgium or take the opportunity to feel serene in Berlin’s Grünewald Forest. No shortage of variety here! Well worth the backpacking dollars.
So come with us as we chart out a 10-day backpacking journey in Europe, starting in Munich, passing through Berlin and Amsterdam to the beautiful Bruges.
10 Days Backpacking through Europe
First Stop: Munich, Germany
Munich is situated on the banks of the River Isar that carries water down from the Alps. It is undoubtedly a city of contradictions, where the classy and traditional meets fun and modern.
Things to do in Munich
Wealthy residents tend to hang out in the bohemian Schwabing district with its swanky restaurants, designer boutiques and delightful cafés peeking out onto the streets. Locals and students on the other hand, relax, sunbathe and drink beer to the east of Schwabing in the English Garden. If you’re lucky enough to find a couchsurfing host in Schwabing you’re likely to find your accommodations pretty comfy indeed.
Munich is home to a multitude of beer halls and gardens (biergartens). The highlight though, is the epic Oktoberfest. It’s the world’s largest funfair (for adults), held for a lively 16-day long stretch in late September. More than 6 million people flock to the festival every year.
A fair amount of your backpacking budget could be swallowed here — pun intended. Beer flows freely and the thigh-slapping table-dancers clad in lederhosen have considerable capacity for it. Be warned: If you go, do your best to curb your enthusiasm or you’ll end up emptying both your pockets and your stomach.
Capital of Cycling
To work off that beer belly, hop on two wheels and have a wander. As the self-proclaimed capital of cycling, Munich has numerous cycleways. Hire a bike and join the 170km long RadlRing München wherever you fancy. Stop every now and then to hop off the bike and explore the various communities that encircle the city.
To the north, between Dachau and Garching, the path crosses a gravel plain where unusual heathers and coarse grasses grow. To the south, it glides past the large forests and rocky terrain of Altmoränenlandschaft. Between Donnersbergerbrucke and Laim, Hirschgarten (Deer Garden) is well worth a visit. Or venture into the rose gardens and the oriental gardens of Westpark in the southwest of the city.
Where to Stay in Munich
During Oktoberfest, the Hostival arrives in Munich. This is a strange nomadic campsite, dubbed the Hangover Hospital, which travels around the world following festival action.
It’s a ‘happening place’, with live bands and DJs as well as guest accommodations. For an alternative budget option you could stay at the Euro Youth Hostel in its historic building just 10-minutes from Oktoberfest. A more luxurious accommodation experience is to be found at Wombat’s Hostel. This is located centrally and has the advantage of being close to the main railway station.
|Euro Youth Hostel||Wombat’s Munich|
|senefelderstr 5||City Hostel Munich|
|80336 MUNICH||Senefelderstraße 1|
Onto Berlin, Germany
Getting to Berlin
As you say goodbye to Munich after a couple days you can head to Berlin – some 380 miles away. Flights from Munich to Berlin are fast and surprisingly cheap, while traveling by train or car takes about 6 hours and is expensive.
The alternative is to take a Berlin Binien bus that has the advantage of providing a great view of the countryside. This takes approximately 9 hours but the buses are modern, clean and comfortable, with toilets, sleeper seats and air conditioning. The route passes through Nuremberg and Leipzig. The Nuremberg city is pretty enough to remind us of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, while Leipzig, nicknamed the ‘Boomtown of Eastern Germany’, is the contemporary economic center of Germany.
Berlin is the capital of Germany and the largest city in the country. In Berlin, you will find many historic monuments, museums, and renowned universities. Sports fans will also love venue for all the large sporting events held here.
The city is prosperous and it shows, but it is also much loved by backpackers due to its lively bars and restaurants, great nightlife and hidden attractions.
What to see in Berlin
When you have seen the Brandenburg Gate on Pariser Platz, dodge the crowds on Museum Island and head for the Boros Collection in Mitte where a converted bunker houses a private collection of contemporary art. A former air-raid shelter and later a prisoner-of-war camp, the story of the very building is as fascinating as its contents.
One of the largest Jewish Museums in Europe is in Berlin. It houses special exhibitions as well as memorials to the Holocaust. It has an unusual design and the city’s historical heritage lends an eclectic mix of architectural styles.
Wandering the streets admiring buildings is one thing, but going underground is quite something else. Take a walking tour under Berlin and your guide from Berliner Unterwelten will take you through a labyrinth of bunkers, caverns and tunnels. Hear about the history of successful and unsuccessful escape attempts from the East to the West — many people opted to go under rather than over the Berlin Wall.
You can pop up into a subway station or visit one of the superb food markets along the way.
Don’t queue up to see the view from the Fernsehturm TV Tower. Ride the elevator to the top of the Park Inn by Radisson to the Panorama Terrace Bar. There is a small cover charge but drinks are cheap and it’s a perfect way to relax.
Before boarding the bus again (the Berlin Binien service runs to Amsterdam) make time to visit the 3,000 hectare Grünewald Forest for a healthy dose of fresh air and to enjoy the lakes and ponds, and the nature preserves. Bird-watchers, bring your binoculars along as there are some unusual species to observe out here.
Where to Stay in Berlin
The award-winning Circus Hostel in Berlin has dorm beds as well as penthouse suites plus 24/7 reception facilities. Or choose a cheaper option and stay at the huge Generator Hostel on Storkower Strasse.
|Generator Hostel Berlin Prenzlauer Berg||The Circus Hostel|
|Storkower Straße 160||Weinbergsweg 1a|
|10407 Berlin, Germany||10119 Berlin|
Off To Amsterdam
Getting to Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Onwards to Amsterdam! You can take an overnight bus from Berlin to save time if you plan to spend 2 days in this fascinating city.
This is a lovely, laid back place with an open-minded and supremely tolerant population. Walking alongside the canals is a great way to relax, while taking a tour on a canal boat will give you a different perspective – most everyone takes a canal tour at least once.
Biking is also huge in The Netherlands. Renting a cycle is also a great way to get off the tourist track and explore Amsterdam’s secret corners.
What to See in Amsterdam
When the Medieval Bell Tolls
Check out the hidden garden courtyard behind a wooden door in the busy square at The Spui. One of the city’s most beautiful, tranquil spots, it’s surrounded by quirky little gabled buildings. At its heart is a tiny chapel called Begjinhof. Amsterdam has only two medieval facades remaining and No. 34 in the courtyard is one of them.
Sandy in Amsterdam
Travel on to the outskirts of Amsterdam to discover the district’s beaches.
Strand Zuid near the Beatrixpark is man-made and decidedly upscale with hammocks, loungers and a volleyball court available. Strand West is a hit with young people and students and is ultra relaxed with views over the water, music and dancing. Strand IJburg is the hippie hangout. Young families love its beach restaurant, music, swimming and watersports.
Dirty Dancing under Red Lights
Besides walking along the canal banks there’s always an opportunity for an evening stroll along De Wallen. Not much is kept secret here in the so called Red Light District, sometimes also called Rosse Buurt or Walletjes. The network of alleys and streets contains several hundred small apartments, most having only one room, that are rented by sex workers. Typically they position themselves behind a glass door or window under red lights to offer their services.
After all the biking, walking and sightseeing there’s always street food to try – bitterballen (stuffed croquettes), herring and pork buns are among the Dutch favorites.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
For a more luxurious experience try Cocomama, close to Rembrandt Square and the Heineken Museum.
It is a beautiful building sporting high ceilings and chandeliers…and a former brothel. A cheaper option is the Hostel Annemarie in Downtown Amsterdam. This is a good place from which to visit the Rijksmuseum, the flower market and the Rembrandtplein.
|Hostel Annemarie||Boutique Hostel Cocomama|
|Jan willem brouwerstraat 14||Westeinde 18|
|1071 LJ Amsterdam||1017 ZP Amsterdam|
Final Stop Bruges
Getting to Bruges, Belgium
Getting from Amsterdam to Bruges is straightforward. The two cities are approximately 250km apart and by train the trip takes about three hours. Travel by coach is the other main option. It is cheaper but the journey will take about 5 hours.
Bruges is a medieval city located in West Flanders, Belgium. The city’s waterways have earned Bruges the nickname ‘the Venice of the North.’ The historic architecture of the center caused Bruges to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to See in Bruges
Take a sedate walking tour of the medieval city, or walk in the direction of the city walls to enjoy the quaint art shops in the area – few tourists go there. If you like to cycle then you can rent a bike, or better still share a tandem with a pal, to enjoy the great outdoors, especially alongside the city’s waterways.
French Fries and Chocolate
If you’re hungry for some less highbrow culture there are a couple of museums you should visit. The Friet Museum exhibits the history of the humble French fry and is believed to be the first and only museum in the world dedicated to potato fries.
Follow this up with a trip to the Chocolate Museum, which lets you explore the story of the transformation of cocoa into chocolate. There are demonstrations, workshops and tastings. I think the best plan is to skip your meals and have a chocolate overload for lunch.
In the medieval Burg Square you can take your pick of the attractions – the Bishop’s Palace, the Town Hall, the Old Civil Registry and the Holy Blood Basilica. To experience something really different, wander down to the atmospheric fish market on a Sunday evening and watch the guys there dance the tango – no kidding, they really do!
Where to Stay in Bruges
Among the cheaper hostels in Bruges, St. Christopher’s Inn At The Bauhaus Hostel is great value and has cute sleeping pods complete with curtains for extra privacy, reading lights and power points. For a classier experience Lybeer Travellers’ Hostel has brand new renovated rooms, both private and dorms, and free Wi-Fi.
|St. Christopher’s Inn At The Bauhaus Hostel||Hostel Lybeer Bruges|
|133-137 Langestraat||Korte Vuldersstraat 31|
|8000 Brugge, Belgium||8000 Brugge, Belgium|
Each one of these European cities has so many famous monuments, art galleries, popular cultural attractions, shopping opportunities and tourist activities just too numerous to list.
Tourist attractions aside, backpacking is as much about the journey itself. Just standing still and watching what is going on around you in a city that is unfamiliar can be very rewarding — and in Europe it is an especially wonderful thing to do, between cafes and cycles.
Make the most of your opportunities to meet new people and listen to their cool stories and exchange tips for places to visit. Enjoy the local colour to be found in the bars and cafés and you will have made your backpacking across Europe a truly worthwhile and memorable experience.
Don’t hesitate – pack that rucksack and let your adventure begin!