For many, the act of donning a backpack and wandering aimlessly throughout the European continent is seen as something of a right of passage — a way of finding oneself before embarking on the mundane path of adulthood. However, backpacking Europe need not only be reserved for barely-legal teens on a gap year with an unlimited amount of time to see and do whatever might come their way. Travelling on a budget is becoming easier and more accessible for people of any age with many options available for some non-traditional backpacking Europe routes.
Most people don’t have an unlimited amount of time to set aside for travel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a backpacking Europe itinerary at all. With this in mind, here are some things to keep in mind when planning a budget trip and also some Europe backpacking itinerary ideas for any length of time!
Planning A European Backpacking Route
Before I dive headfirst into all of the possible backpacking Europe routes you could take, there are a number of things to consider before you begin planning your itinerary. Everything from your own particular travel style, your budget, and the season in which you plan to travel are all significant components that should be appraised prior to booking a flight.
One of the biggest factors that needs to be considered when planning a backpacking Europe itinerary is how you intend to travel. More often than not, people planning a trip tend to get overly excited and seem to think that it’s a good idea to pack as many places as possible into a short period of time. This can be one of the biggest mistakes you can make, as it will more likely lead to exhaustion and travel burn-out rather than a fulfilling backpacking experience.
I am definitely a massive advocate for slower-paced travel as I believe that it allows travellers to really experience a city, town, or country while reducing the possibility of overwhelming and exhaustion. This is why, generally speaking, I would recommend spending an average of three nights in each place you intend to visit. For bigger cities with many points of interest, I would recommend extending this to four or five nights (or more) and for a smaller town or city, I honestly wouldn’t recommend spending fewer than two nights.
While it may seem on the surface that destinations are close by, travel days are a huge time drain and take, at least, half of an entire day and can be tiring. This inevitably leaves less time to adequately explore your destination. A good way to counter this is by staying in one strategically located destination where you can easily access other places for day-trips.
How you plan to get around Europe is also another key consideration when planning your Europe backpacking route. Depending on which region you happen to be visiting, there are different transport options that are available to you.
For instance, if you’re planning on spending the majority of your time in the Balkans or the Baltics, you’re not going to want to rely on taking the train — trains aren’t well-developed in these regions! No, you’re going to want to take the bus instead.
In fact, if you’re looking to save money in a lot of countries throughout Europe (even if there is a well-developed train system), then the bus might be the best option for you, especially in countries with expensive train networks. Whether you’re looking to book a bus or a train, however, we recommend using Omio, which compares bus and train routes and allows you to book the best option for you. For buses, we also recommend using Flixbus. They are an affordable bus company that operates throughout Europe and have prices that are particularly friendly to backpacker budgets.
If you are in a country where it makes more sense to take the train or you just prefer it to the bus, then it is worth it to look into getting a rail pass. Depending on where you’re from, purchasing to Eurail pass or an Interrail pass could be one of the smartest financial decisions you could make while planning out your backpacking Europe route.
Another major consideration that needs to be factored into deciding your backpacking Europe route is your budget. Contrary to popular belief, the entire European continent isn’t outrageously expensive and there are certainly a number of regions that can be incredibly affordable for Western travellers. That being said, however, your money can definitely go a lot further in most Central and Eastern European countries than in Western Europe.
When trying to figure out a budget for a backpacking Europe itinerary, it is best to just come up with a general ballpark figure of how much you’re willing to spend and how long you want to travel. This can give you a greater idea of where it would be best to go and when.
The main costs that need to be considered during any number of backpacking Europe routes are the prices of accommodation, transportation, food, activities, and entertainment. It’s also crucial to buy travel insurance before you leave for your trip to ensure that you’re covered for any mishaps. We always use World Nomads and suggest you click here to get a quote for your upcoming trip.
Another good option if travelling long term or on a tight budget is SafetyWing. They offer travel medical insurance policies at one of the lowest rates on the market. Click here to get a quote from SafetyWing and also check out our SafetyWing review for more details.
To over generalise, it’s hardest to stick to a tight budget in most Western and Northern European countries. Central Europe is best for a mid-range budget and Eastern Europe and the Balkans tend to be the most affordable regions on the continent. Obviously, there are exceptions to these guidelines depending on the country or city you happen to be travelling in.
The last major thing to consider for a European backpacking route is which season is best to travel in. The European continent very much experiences all four seasons, with most countries experiencing cold, snowy winters and hot, muggy summers. Tourist seasons in Europe are broken up into three distinct categories: high season (June – August), low season (December – February), and shoulder seasons (March-May and September – November).
There are definite pros and cons to planning your backpacking Europe route through any of these seasons. If you plan to travel during the high season, you can definitely expect some of the best weather. The days are normally very warm and, due to Europe’s more northern location, also quite long. Most of the tourist facilities will be open and there are also a number of festivals and cultural events that tend to take place during the summer.
Conversely, travelling in the high season does come with its own setbacks. As it is the most popular time to visit Europe, accommodation, restaurant, and tourist attraction prices are often inflated. Popular sites and seaside cities and towns can become incredibly crowded and with that comes a high demand for everything, making it a lot less easy to be flexible.
If you do plan to travel in the high season, it’s generally pertinent that you book most things ahead and plan well in advance. We recommend booking hostels through Hostelworld or budget rooms through Booking.Com which often allows you to book without paying upfront. Another great option, particularly if travelling as a couple is to use Airbnb, which is available throughout Europe.
Travelling in the low season can be an appealing option for those who are looking to avoid tourist crowds and who don’t mind the inevitable cold weather. Travelling around the Christmas season can be especially rewarding, as most cities and towns go all out with cheerful decorations, lights, and wonderful Christmas markets.
Prices are also often a lot cheaper than in the high season and it can be a lot easier to be flexible with your travel plans. Due to low demand, however, you may find that some tourist attractions either have very limited opening hours or are closed entirely and, due to cold weather, a seaside escape isn’t really in the cards if you’re travelling in the winter.
If you were to ask my opinion, I would say to plan your backpacking Europe route in the shoulder seasons. The weather, while sometimes unpredictable, is generally milder and often pleasant and the tourist crowds are few. The inflated prices of the summer aren’t usually in place and also the accommodation demand isn’t as high, leaving more room for flexibility.
Backpacking Europe Routes: Three Weeks
If you are short on time but still want to experience the travelling mindset that comes with backpacking, then three weeks is the perfect length for a backpacking Europe itinerary. Because backpacking is synonymous with travelling on a budget, these routes will concentrate on Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Central European Highlights Itinerary
The best place to begin many Central and Eastern European backpacking routes is in Budapest, which is a fantastic and vibrant city for budget travellers. This itinerary sees you visiting some of the biggest and brightest cities in Hungary, Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic.
Budapest – plan to spend at least five days in Hungary’s capital city. This will give you enough time to see all of the great sites, experience its great nightlife and thermal bathhouses and also take a day trip.
Krakow – plan to spend at least three days in Krakow, which will allow you explore its beautiful Old Town and Kazimierz Quarter and take a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau or the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Wroclaw – this charming student city deserves to be on more backpacking Europe routes. Spend three or so nights here and take the time to explore the Old Town, enjoy the vibrant nightlife, lounge in the many parks, and hunt for the many dwarf statues scattered throughout the city.
Berlin – Germany’s achingly cool capital deserves to have at least five nights devoted to exploring it. There are so many cool things to do in Berlin, including eating delicious international cuisine, experiencing its legendary nightlife, admiring the street art in neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg, and getting cultured in some of its many museums.
Prague – while Prague’s main tourist spots are easy to explore in just one or two days, it is worth spending about four days in the beautiful Czech capital. This will allow you to get off the beaten path in the city and also take a day trip to nearby Cesky Krumlov.
Balkan Highlights Itinerary
If you’re looking to avoid the tourist crowds that are inevitable in the former itinerary and want to get a little bit off the beaten path, heading to the Balkans is a fantastic option. This is one of the most underrated corners of Europe and the Balkan countries are very much worth exploring. Consequently, Budapest is also a fantastic starting point for exploring this under-explored region.
Budapest – though Hungary is not considered a Balkan country, its capital city is a great place to start your European backpacking route. Five nights in Budapest is the perfect amount of time to really get to know this amazing city well.
Pécs – the charming Hungarian city of Pécs is still fairly undiscovered by international tourism, which gives you all the more reason to go! The city itself is wonderful to explore, but it is also surrounded by beautiful nature. Three nights here will give you a taste of a different side of Hungary.
Novi Sad – as Serbia’s second-largest city, Novi Sad is small but charming. It is worth spending at least two nights here in order to explore it’s lovely Old Town, fortress, and thriving cafe culture.
Belgrade – Serbia’s capital city may seem a bit rough-around-the-edges, but it is easily one of our favourite European cities and it is well worth taking a fair amount of time getting to know it. It is becoming infamous for its incredible nightlife, but the culture and historical significance are worth learning about as well. Spending five or so nights here would be ideal.
Sarajevo – the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina has a long and troubled history. Today, it is a wonderful city that has a definite east-meets-west feel. Three days in this city will allow you to enjoy it’s laid-back lifestyle while also giving you time to go to some museums to learn about BiH’s history.
Mostar – Mostar is probably one of the most popular cities to visit in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but many treat it solely as a day trip. While the city itself is small, it has quite a tumultuous history that is worth learning about. There are also some great day trips and tours to take from Mostar, including to the Kravice Waterfall and Blagaj Monastery. Three nights in Mostar is a great way to end this European backpacking route.
Backpacking Europe Routes: Six Weeks
If you have more time, six weeks is really the ideal trip length for a backpacking Europe itinerary. Especially if you’re travelling in the low or shoulder seasons, six weeks allows for more flexibility in your trip planning as well.
Central European Greats Itinerary
If you’re keen to explore more of Central Europe, this is a fantastic backpacking route to follow. It sees you exploring both the capitals and smaller towns and cities of Hungary, Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic.
Budapest – the best starting point for any Central Europe trip, if you have six weeks for your backpacking Europe itinerary, I would recommend spending one of them in Budapest. Seven days in the Hungarian capital will give you a solid amount of time to really get to know and appreciate this fantastic city.
Krakow – Krakow is a good place to begin exploring Poland. Three to four days here is probably enough to see the sites and take a day trip or two.
Wroclaw – spend three or four nights in this charming student city
Warsaw – it is worth spending at least three nights exploring the Polish capital
Poznan – another beautiful Polish city, Poznan’s Old Town is worth spending one full day exploring and it is also a great idea to head to nearby Wielkopolska National Park. Three nights is ideal.
Berlin – the German capital is another great city to spend at least a week in. This way, you can see the main sites while also getting a bit off the beaten tourist path.
Dresden – a lesser-visited East German city, there are two unique sides to Dresden. Spend three or so nights here to get to know it.
Prague – the main sites of the Czech capital can easily be seen in two or three days, but spend four or five days here so you can explore other quarters, such as Zizkov. Despite its popularity, there are definitely ways to get off the beaten path in Prague.
Cesky Krumlov – while this city can be visited as a day trip from Prague, it can be worth spending one or two nights here to see with when the hoards of day tourists go home for the day.
Olomouc – we are sure that this Moravian city is going to become a tourist hotspot in the years to come, so it’s worth spending three or so days exploring this laid-back city before it’s discovered by the masses.
Obviously, there are a number of other places you could put on a Central European backpacking route, but this is a good outline to follow.
Balkan Greats Itinerary
Like I said earlier, the Balkans are a fantastic place to get off the beaten path in Europe. Travellers could easily spend months and months exploring these fascinating countries (we have!), but six weeks is a fantastic length of time to really get an in-depth feel of this wonderful region.
Budapest – seven days in the Hungarian capital is a great way to kick off this backpacking Europe route
Pécs – three nights is a great amount of time to explore this Hungarian city
Novi Sad – two or three nights is ideal to get to know the second-largest city in Serbia
Belgrade – spend five to seven days getting to know this truly underrated European capital
Sarajevo – three or so days is a good amount of time to explore the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mostar – spend two to three days in this city in the south of BiH
Kotor – two or three days is perfect to explore this beautiful Montenegrin city
Albania – Albania is a really fascinating country to explore, you could spend a couple of days in its capital of Tirana and then a couple more visiting the UNESCO listed sites in Berat and Gjirokaster. Albania also has miles of pristine Adriatic coastline — Sarande is a great city to enjoy the beach.
Ohrid – a charming Macedonian city on the banks of Lake Ohrid. Two or three days is perfect to see all of the sites.
Skopje – Macedonia’s bizarre capital can be seen and explored in three or so days
Sofia – the capital of Bulgaria is often overlooked by tourists, but it is worth spending at least four days exploring this ancient metropolis
If you have more time, I would recommend travelling to Kosovo, however, there are some things you need to keep in mind when it comes to entering Kosovo legally. Heading into Northern Greece can be very much worth it as well, especially to see the stunning monasteries at Meteora.
Eastern Europe Itinerary
If you want to stay off the beaten path but would prefer to head north rather than south, consider adding the Baltic States onto your six-week backpacking Europe route. This itinerary sees you starting in Berlin and travelling north through Poland up to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Berlin – spend five to seven days in the effortlessly cool German capital
Wroclaw – three days is the perfect amount of time to spend is this cool Polish city
Krakow – three days in Krakow gives you enough time to experience the best of the second-largest Polish city
Warsaw – spend two or three days exploring the Polish capital
Vilnius – the severely underrated capital of Lithuania deserves at least four days to explore. Consider taking a day trip to nearby Trakai with its charming lake and castle.
Kaunas – the second-largest city in Lithuania can be explored in two days
Palanga – enjoy the beautiful Baltic coastline from this popular Lithuanian coastal town. It is also possible to head to the Curonian Spit from nearby Klaipeda.
Liepaja – Latvia’s third-largest city boasts an interesting history, wonderful art nouveau architecture, a former Soviet prison that you can actually spend the night in, and beautiful beach. Spend at least three nights enjoying this Baltic gem.
Riga – try to spend at least four full days in Latvia’s vibrant capital city
Tartu – Estonia’s second-largest city has a large student population and many cool things to see and do. Two or three days here should allow you to experience the highlights.
Tallinn – Estonia’s beautiful medieval capital is a popular cruise ship port. The city itself is quite small, however, and can easily be explored in two or three days.
There are so many backpacking Europe routes you could take, but these five will see you getting a little off the beaten path. They will also allow you to get better value for money than other backpacking routes through some Western European countries.
Are you planning on backpacking through Europe? What does your itinerary look like? Let us know in the comments!