Backpacking Europe Travel Guide 2023: A Step-By-Step Guide to Planning Your European Backpacking Trip

From classy Paris boulevards and trendy Amsterdam coffee shops to quaint towns and villages in England to sandy beaches in Greece. Europe has it all! You will have no problem finding plenty to fill your time with when backpacking around Europe, whether it’s for a few weeks or a few months. Each country is incredibly unique and has something different to offer to any budget traveller. 

This step-by-step guide to backpacking around Europe will cover everything you need to know to ensure a successful trip. From things to do and where to stay to what to pack and what to budget. 

Make sure you also check out our Asia backpacking guide.

When to Visit Europe

One of the best things about Europe is that there is no wrong time to visit. Summer is Europe’s peak season and is when its narrow cobblestone streets become super crowded and bustling with tourists. Prices also increase during this time which can make it a little on the expensive side when trying to stick to a backpacker’s budget. However, you can’t beat the thriving atmosphere and excellent weather during this period, so it is definitely still worth visiting if you can. 

The autumn (September to October) and spring (March to May) months remain fairly warm but lack the teeming crowds of tourists which makes it a much more peaceful and relaxing time to visit Europe. Most places lower their prices again during this time too, so you can make your backpacking budget stretch a lot further. 

Winter in Europe lasts from November to February and can get pretty cold, even in the more southern countries like Greece and Spain. But don’t let the chilly weather deter you from taking a winter backpacking trip through Europe. The Christmas season brings a host of traditional Christmas markets, mouth-watering food festivals and spectacular decor. Yet, you should be aware that daylight hours are shorter in Europe during the winter months so you have less time to cram in all those fun activities. 

Top 10 Things to See & Do in Europe

  1. Hit the Swiss Alps – you can go skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer. The Alps possess some of the most beautiful views in all of the world. Whether it’s Italy, France or Switzerland, you will be spoilt for choice. 
  2. Enjoy a Beer at Oktoberfest Oktoberfest is a must-visit for anyone thinking of going to Germany on their backpacking journey. If you like beer, music, dancing and dressing up then you won’t want to miss this fun-filled German festival. 
  3. Wine & Dine Along the French Riviera – soak up the Mediterranean sun, eat next to the rich and famous, and dream of sailing around the world in humungous yachts. The perfect location to get a taste of the high life. 
  4. Discover Cornwall – London is usually the first choice of destination when it comes to visiting England, but the most beautiful locations are outside of the capital. Head west to the coastal county of Cornwall for cheaper prices, friendlier faces and more natural beauty. This is the place to go to see the proper ‘traditional England’. 
  5. Explore Iceland – with breathtaking waterfalls, steaming hot springs and sweeping vistas dotted all over the country, Iceland has an otherworldly quality about it. Go whale watching in the summer and gaze at the Northern Lights in the winter. 
  6. Chill Out in Scandinavia – with a great quality of life, the friendliest people and clean cities, Scandinavia is like no other place in the world. I would recommend visiting Copenhagen, and Stockholm.
  7. Stroll the Streets of Prague Prague is not only tremendously beautiful but it is bursting with incredible history and culture. A relatively affordable destination to visit, Prague’s many on-trend bars heave with people enjoying cheap beer and delicious food. 
  8. Live It Up in Barcelona – a 24-hour city, Barcelona is New York’s main competition for the “city that never sleeps”. Spend the day tanning on the beach, exploring its narrow streets and admiring its beautiful Gaudi architecture, then prepare to take full advantage of its vibrant nightlife and party until dawn. 
  9. Hang Out in Berlin – super hip and trendy, Berlin is one of Europe’s most affordable capital cities. Its vibrant music and art scene appeal to many backpackers and the growing foodie movement means that there is a ton of tasty but cheap Middle Eastern food to try. 
  10. Check Out Amsterdam – known for hip coffee shops and its notorious red-light district, Amsterdam has so much to offer. Wander down narrow cobblestone streets, weave your way around peaceful canals and marvel at its vibrant art and music scene. 

Budgeting Your Trip to Europe

An essential part of any backpacking trip is setting a realistic budget. Just like anywhere, prices for European travel can vary hugely, depending on where you choose to go, what you choose to do and where you choose to stay. 

If you prioritise the cheaper cities, avoiding capitals, stick to budget accommodation options, try to find cheap eats and prioritise free activities, then backpacking Europe can be surprisingly inexpensive. Based on a typical backpacker, who stays in hostels and limits their luxuries, I would recommend budgeting around £50-£75 per day. However, with some of my top money-saving tips for travelling in Europe, you could massively minimise this daily budget. 

Europe Money-Saving Tips 

  • Eat in – it may be difficult to resist the temptation of Europe’s delicious treats, but you can easily find plenty of little shops selling tasty pre-made sandwiches or ingredients to make your own. For lunch, you can effortlessly put together a super yummy picnic and watch the world go by while you tuck in. Most European hostels have facilities for you to cook your own food too, so you can make your very own European feast for next to nothing. 
  • Couchsurf – although hostels are a cheap accommodation option, when you’re staying in lots throughout your trip, the expense can quickly add up. Instead, you should consider Couchsurfing, a service that lets you connect with locals who will let you stay with them for free. 
  • Take the bus – if you’re hopping from country to country then utilising budget bus companies, like Flixbus, could save you some money. Although it isn’t particularly glamorous, these companies can take you across continents for cheap, with tickets starting at just £4. 
  • Get a Rail Pass – perhaps the best tip I can give you to save money when backpacking Europe is to purchase a Rail Pass, especially if you are going to be travelling long distances, through many countries. 
  • Make the most of free city tours – in almost every major European city, you will find a free walking tour. These tours provide the ideal budget-friendly way of getting your bearings as soon as you arrive, seeing the city’s attractions and taking in its history. 
  • Get a city tourist card – local tourism offices offer a tourist card that covers all of the city’s attractions, tours and restaurants. With this card, you can get free entry and significant discounts on attractions and tours, free local transportation and discounts at some restaurants and shopping centres. If you are planning on doing a lot of sightseeing, then this card could save you a small fortune. 

Where to Stay in Europe

Hostels are your best bet for cheap but decent accommodation when backpacking around Europe. If you’re looking for a good hostel in Europe then take a look at the list below: 

How to Stay Safe in Europe

Europe is one of the safest continents for backpacking and solo travelling but, wherever you go, there are always risks that you should be aware of. Petty crime in Europe’s large cities can be fairly common so it is important to be savvy and guard your belongings in crowded places. 

Before you set off on your European backpacking trip it is always a good idea to make copies of all your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Another good precaution to take is sending your full backpacking itinerary to your loved ones so that they know where you are when. 

Last, but certainly not least, ensure that you purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance offers comprehensive protection, shielding you from almost anything that could potentially go wrong on your travels – whether you fall ill, experience theft or your flight gets cancelled.

What to Pack 

Packing for travel is no small feat, especially for backpacking. Many make the common mistake of packing far too much gear to comfortably carry on their back for long periods of time. It is important to pack as light as possible, only bringing the true essentials, when planning your backpacking trip. 

  • Lightweight, Waterproof Jacket – depending on where and when you plan on travelling to Europe, you need to make sure you have suitable clothing for the weather. It is important to pack a jacket that will keep the rain off your back and the chill at bay, without weighing you down.
  • Comfy Shoes – being fairly bulky, it is best to try and pack just one pair of shoes for backpacking. So, you want to get it right and make sure the footwear you pick is super sturdy and cushioned. You’re going to be on your feet a lot so it is important to pick something comfortable, but if you plan on going out on a night, you will want them to look good too. I would recommend investing in a quality pair of trainers that you can wear day and night. 
  • Packing Cubes – these handy little zip-up pockets make living out of a backpack much easier. You can use them to separate your clothes into convenient compartments, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. You can easily have access to all of your clothes without having to rummage through your bag. 
  • Day Backpack – as well as your main backpack, you should think about bringing a smaller bag to carry your essentials during the day. Whether it’s for storing your camera, your jacket, your wallet or ID, make sure your day bag is secure. You should also try to opt for a backpack that will easily fit into your main luggage when travelling. 
  • Travel Towel – a quick-drying travel towel is a must-have! Normal towels take hours to dry, which is no good for when you’re on the move. They’re also fab for when staying in hostels as they fold up to be super compact. 
  • Padlock – ensure you keep your belongings safe while staying in hostels with a padlock. 
  • Earplugs & Eyemask – sleeping on any form of public transport can be tricky with all the noise and distractions. To make sure you get a good kip on your travels, you should consider packing earplugs and an eyemask. 
  • Universal Adapter Plugs – Continental Europe uses the same plug, except for the UK, so it is best to take a universal travel adapter that will fit anywhere. 
  • Portable Phone Charger – whether you’re using your phone for taking pictures, Google Maps or checking the social media feeds, make sure you don’t lose power with a portable phone charger. 

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