Europe is a combination of timeless architecture, unrivaled natural beauty, and phenomenal culinary experiences. From fairytale castles in Germany and a seemingly endless amount of gelaterias in Italy, to Gaudí architecture in Barcelona and cannabis-friendly coffeeshops in Amsterdam, you will easily fall in love with this incredibly diverse continent.
This past June, my friend and I backpacked throughout Western Europe in three and a half weeks. This travel guide will detail our budget, accommodations, transportation, and complete itinerary.
Don't forget to check out this blog post for a comprehensive packing list.
Currency: The euro is the commonly accepted currency in Europe, but these nine countries use their own form of currency: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Language: English is a widely spoken language in many European countries, especially in tourist locations. However, learning common phrases such as "thank you" or "hello" in the local language never goes unappreciated and can spark new friendships abroad.
Weather: The best time to backpack Europe is between May and September. The mild weather during this time period allows backpackers to pack lightly. However, keep in mind that June to August are peak travel times as many American students are on summer vacation- meaning hordes of tourists at popular attractions.
There is a common misconception that Europe is solely a luxury travel destination. Don't be fooled- you can easily tour Europe on a budget. The abundance of budget accommodations and affordable transportation options make budget-traveling throughout Europe completely feasible. Here is an estimate of how much I spent during our three-and-a-half week trip:
• Airfare: $290 - Los Angeles to Madrid
$380 - Amsterdam to Los Angeles
• Accommodation: $500
• Transportation within Europe: $420
• Attractions: $120
• Food, snacks, alcohol: $450
• Souvenirs: $60
Where to stay:
As mentioned previously, there is no shortage of budget-friendly accommodations in Europe- hostels and Airbnbs are abundant in many major cities. Here is a list of our accommodation in each city, all of which were either within walking distance of main attractions or located nearby public transportation going into the city:
• Madrid: Click here for a link to our Airbnb.
• Barcelona: Click here for a link to our Airbnb.
• Florence: Click here for a link to our Airbnb.
• Venice: Click here for a link to our hostel.
• Munich: Click here for a link to our Airbnb.
• Prague: Click here for a link to our Airbnb.
• Berlin: Click here for a link to our hostel.
• Amsterdam: Click here for a link to our hostel.
Getting from one city to the next can be tricky, especially if you're planning on traveling to lesser known destinations. (Trust me, I know- TripAdvisor discussion forums became the foundation for my travel research.) To simplify the research process for you, I've listed all of our train, bus, and plane routes below. Note that our flights were booked through Skiplagged, trains were booked through Trenitalia, and busses were booked through FlixBus.
• Madrid to Barcelona: Fly from Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) to Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN). A direct, 1-hour flight can cost as low as $35.
• Barcelona to Rome: Fly from BCN to Rome–Fiumicino International Airport (FCO). A direct, 2-hour flight can cost as low as $15. Crazy, right?
• Rome to Florence: Take a train from Roma Termini to Firenze Santa Maria Novella. The train ride lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes.
• Florence to Venice: Take a train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Venezia Mestre. The train ride lasts 1 hour and 50 minutes.
• Venice to Bled: Take a FlixBus from Venezia Mestre to Ljubljana. This bus ride will take 4 hours, so plan accordingly. After getting dropped off at the Ljubljana bus station, purchase a local bus ticket there which will take you to Lake Bled. The ride from Ljubljana to Bled will last approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
• Bled to Munich: Take a FlixBus from Bled to Munich Central Station. The 5-hour bus ride is an adventure in itself as you pass through picturesque alpine scenery in Austria.
• Munich to Prague: Take a 5-hour FlixBus from Munich Central Station to Prague ÚAN Florenc.
• Prague to Berlin: Take a 5-hour FlixBus from Prague ÚAN Florenc to Berlin Central Bus Station.
• Berlin to Amsterdam: Fly from Berlin Schönefeld Airport (SFX) to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS). A direct, 2-hour flight can cost as low as $40.
Our 3 ½-Week Itinerary:
Day 1 - Madrid:
• Airbnb in Madrid: After a long flight, drop your belongings off at your accommodation and relax!
Day 2 - Madrid:
• Mercado de San Miguel: Mercado San Miguel is a modern, indoor market that offers a wide selection of tapas and wines.
• Lunch at Bar La Campana: Bar La Campana serves inexpensive calamari sandwiches.
• El Retiro Park: Get lost in El Retiro Park. This massive park contains lakes, gardens, sculptures, and even a glass palace- you can easily spend hours exploring this spot. Free entrance.
• Dinner at Taberna el Sur: After a long day, enjoy some sangrias and traditional seafood paella at this cozy restaurant.
• Dessert at Chocolatería San Ginés: Don't leave Madrid without trying chocolate con churros at this famous dessert joint.
Day 3 - Barcelona:
• Lunch at Mercat La Boqueria: While it's a tourist magnet, Mercat de la Boqueria is a fun market to visit and offers a wide variety of food options.
• Gothic Quarter: Enjoy a free walking tour through the narrow, winding streets of the Gothic Quarter.
• Dinner at La Fábrica: Grab some affordable empanadas at this sidewalk shop.
Day 4 - Barcelona:
• Sagrada Família: Get an introduction to Gaudí architecture at this insanely intricate cathedral. Purchase tickets online or at the door.
• Casa Batlló: Casa Batlló is another architectural masterpiece that showcases Gaudí's work. Purchase tickets online or at the door.
• Can Paixano: Can Paixano attracts locals and tourists alike. Enjoy cava and tapas at this bustling restaurant.
• Quimet & Quimet: Quimet & Quimet serves the best tapas in town. Try the salmon, yogurt, and truffled honey montadito- you won't regret it!
• Restaurante Arume: Try the blackberry mojito and duck paella at this romantic restaurant. Make a reservation in advance.
Day 5 - Rome:
• Colosseum: Visiting the Colosseum during your stay in Rome is a no-brainer- its sheer size and ancient history is awe-inspiring. Check out the Roman Forum after you've finished exploring the Colosseum. Purchase tickets online or at the door.
• Dessert at La Gelateria Frigidarium: Grab some gelato at this famous gelateria.
Day 6 - Rome:
• Ponte Sant'Angelo: Ponte Sant'Angelo is a pedestrian bridge that offers postcard-worthy views of Rome along the Tiber river.
• Dinner at Tonnarello: Try authentic Italian pasta at the famous Tonnarello.
• Dessert at Two Sizes: Two Sizes serves a large selection of creamy tiramisu- try the pistachio flavor!
Day 7 - Rome:
• Trevi Fountain: This iconic fountain gets ridiculously packed during the daytime, so come early if you want to capture better photos. Nevertheless, it is still beautiful and undoubtedly worth visiting. Free entrance.
• Dinner at Zizzi Pizza: End the day by trying some local pizza!
Day 8 - Florence:
• Lunch at Panini Toscani: Panini Toscani serves amazing paninis at a low price. They even provide a generous amount of meat and cheese samples before you decide what to order.
• Piazza della Signoria: This vibrant plaza is filled with several sculptures and Renaissance architecture. While it's filled with crowds of tourists, Piazza della Signoria is still worth a visit. Free entrance.
• Piazzale Michelangelo: Discover some of Florence's best views at Piazzale Michelangelo. After a strenuous walk uphill, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the city. Free entrance.
• Dinner at Gustavino Piazza Signoria: Try the tagliatelle with porcini mushroom sauce and pappardelle with wild boar ragu sauce here.
Day 9 - Florence:
• Lunch at All' Antico Vinaio: All' Antico Vinaio is another spot that offers tasty, affordable paninis.
• Dinner at Trattoria Zà Zà: If you are a fan of truffle-flavored food, Trattoria Zà Zà offers amazing truffle dishes- their truffled carbonara spaghetti is to die for!
Day 10 - Venice:
• Piazza San Marco: Expect high foot traffic at this famous piazza as it's the center of many popular attractions. While you're here, check out Basilica di San Marco. Free entrance.
• Bridge of Sighs: This infamous bridge is named for the prisoners who crossed it to meet their executioners. It is definitely worth a quick stop! Free entrance.
• Lunch at Dal Moro's Fresh Pasta to Go: Dal Moro's is essentially a fast food pasta joint that serves inexpensive pasta takeout. (Am I the only one that thinks we need this in California?)
• Dessert at Suso Gelatoteca: Grab some gelato at this popular gelateria. Mango pomelo was my absolute favorite!
Day 11 - Venice:
• Lunch at Osteria Al Squero: Enjoy a glass of wine and traditional cicchetti at this hip restaurant.
• Ponte dell'Accademia: Ponte dell'Accademia is a wooden bridge that overlooks the Grand Canal. Free entrance.
• Libreria Acqua Alta: If you're a book lover, this quirky shop is perfect for you. Libreria Acqua Alta is highly reminiscent of The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Free entrance.
• Dinner at We Love Italy, Fresh Pasta To Go: We Love Italy, Fresh Pasta To Go is another fast food pasta joint.
Day 12 - Bled:
• Lunch at Oštarija Babji Zob: If you're looking for traditional Slovenian food, Oštarija Babji Zob is the perfect restaurant to check out. It's located within walking distance to Lake Bled.
• Lake Bled: Picture a small island church sitting in the middle of a turquoise lake, surrounded by mountain scenery and a hilltop castle. Yup, this exists. Free entrance.
Day 13 - Munich:
• Marienplatz: Check out the famous Glockenspiel clock at Munich's central square.
• Hofbräuhaus: This infamous, historically significant beer hall is always brimming with tourists and a handful of locals. Enjoy a giant pretzel and stein of beer whilst listening to traditional Bavarian music.
Day 14 - Munich:
• Munich Residence: Walk through a labyrinth of rooms adorned with intricate detailing at this former royal palace. Purchase tickets at the door.
• Englischer Garten: Englischer Garten is even bigger than its American counterpart- New York's Central Park. This large expanse of greenery contains a manmade river, lakes, streams, picnic areas, monuments, and even a beer garden. Free entrance.
• Dinner at Steinheil 16: Try traditional schnitzels at this local eatery.
Day 15 - Neuschwanstein Castle:
• Neuschwanstein Castle: Schloss Neuschwanstein is a fairytale castle perched atop a hill, surrounded by alpine scenery and a charming Bavarian town. Reserve your time slot online in advance and purchase your tickets at the door.
Christine from The Wallet Diet provides exact details on the route from Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle. Click here for the link.
Day 16 - Prague:
• Lunch at U Parlamentu: Try bread dumplings and potato dumplings at this traditional Czech restaurant.
• Old Town Square: Old Town Square is filled with pastel buildings, cobblestone streets, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Go up the Astronomical Clock for incredible views of the city. Purchase tickets for the clocktower online or at the door.
• Dessert at Good Food & Bakery: You cannot leave Prague without trying trdelník- cinnamon sugar chimney cakes stuffed with dessert filling.
Day 17 - Prague:
• Breakfast at Marthy’s Kitchen: Start the day off with breakfast at Marthy's Kitchen. Their sweet crêpe with caramelized biscuits, whipped cream, and roasted hazelnuts is so good.
• Dinner at Naše Maso: Naše Maso serves amazingly delicious dry-aged beef burgers.
Day 18 - Berlin:
• Lunch at Curry 61: Try some traditional currywurst and fries at Curry 61.
• Berlin Cathedral Church: Even under construction, this church is still an impressive piece of architecture. You can climb to the top of the dome for views of the city. Purchase tickets at the door.
Day 19 - Berlin:
• Markthalle Neun: Begin your day with brunch at this local market. Markthalle Neun serves a large variety of international cuisines, so you'll be sure to find something you enjoy!
• Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: This thought-provoking, haunting memorial was created to pay tribute to those who perished during the Holocaust. Take some time to reflect here, and if time permits, I recommend checking out the Topography of Terror as well. Free entrance.
• Dinner at Mustafas Gemüse Kebap: Mustafas Gemüse Kebap is absolutely worth the long wait- their kebabs are to die for!
• Breakfast at Bar Botanique: Enjoy a filling breakfast at this local, tropical café.
• Albert Cuypmarkt: Visit this outdoor market to try the Original Stroopwafel.
• Heineken Experience: The Heineken Experience is a fun, interactive brewery tour that guides you through Heineken's history and brewing process. Purchase tickets online or at the door.
• Walk, walk, WALK: Avoid taking taxis unless it’s absolutely necessary. Walking gives you the best opportunity to experience the city in a way in which driving prevents. By walking from one destination to the next, you are bound to discover some hidden spots.
• Purchase tickets in advance: Ridiculously long queues are unfortunately a norm at most popular European attractions. Save yourself time by purchasing tickets online in advance.
• Bring your student ID to save costs on attractions: Whether you're a high school student or graduate student, bring your student ID- several attractions throughout Europe provide discounts for international students.