This summer, my girlfriend Ellie and I Interrailed across Europe. We travelled for 31 days and visited 10 cities in 9 countries along the way. When I set out on planning the trip for us, I couldn’t find a comprehensive post that gave me all the answers I was looking for. How much would I spend? Which trains should we take in order to maximize our time? What should I pack? Where should we sleep? Heck, what should we do in each city that delved deeper into the local culture than just seeing the landmarks? The questions were endless, and the answers were scarce.
I’d like to change that.
I’m writing this post in an effort to provide you with concise answers for this entire, potentially life-changing adventure. I will go over every single detail: from how much I spent, to which trains I took, what I packed, where we stayed, what we saw, where we ate, what you should do in each city, and so on — you get the idea. Everything. If you’re planning on Interrailing soon, I want this information to answer as many of your questions as possible. If you’ve never even thought of Interrailing, I want this information to make you want to go Interrailing. I’m writing this because I believe that the best investment you could possibly make with your money and your time is travel. Money can’t buy you happiness, but seeing the world with someone you love (or even by yourself) is a feeling like no other. I’ve split this post into sections to make it easier to navigate.
Deciding the Route
Getting Out There
People: Eleanor Dunn and Michael Maurer
Dates: June 3, 2015 — July 4, 2015
Interrail Pass: Global Pass, 1 month continuous
Trains taken: 19
Route: London, Paris, Barcelona, Antibes, Milan, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen. We then flew back to London.
Expenses: $3,500 (I will come back to this at the end)
We planned the majority of our trip. By saying this I mean that we reserved our trains in advance and booked our accommodation before leaving. We didn’t plan what we’d do in each city, but we knew when we’d arrive and when we’d depart.
However, we thought that we’d get the most genuine experience (and best value for money) by having an outline of where we’d go and stay, and letting our instincts and desires dictate what’d we’d do in each city. I’m happy we did it that way, as it ended up saving us a lot of unnecessary stress.
That said, planning was one of the most important things to us. I love planning, so Ellie put me in charge of this trip. I started getting a feel for everything in January, and booked all of the accommodation in March. I ordered our train reservations the first week of May. Narrowing down the cities was the hardest part. After you’ve decided on that — everything will follow organically. Planning this trip took me a lot of time, so the earlier you get started, the more likely everything will turn out like you want it to.
There are two different types of passes that you can buy for your European rail adventure, the Interrail Pass and the Eurail Pass. They are both owned by the same company, European Railways. For either pass, you can buy a One Country Pass or a Global Pass. The One Country Pass only lets you travel within one country, while the Global Pass lets you trail-blaze almost over entire Europe.
The main difference between these two passes is that the Eurail passes are for sale only to non-European residents, while Interrail passes are only sold to European residents. To see what countries qualify for the Interrail pass, click here. The Interrail pass also has certain exclusions, in that you cannot travel within your country of residence. I purchased my Interrail pass with my Swiss passport, so this meant that I could not travel to or through Switzerland. The Eurail, on the other hand, does not have this restriction. It is, however, slightly more expensive than the Interrail pass. The other main difference between the two passes is that, unlike the Interrail Global Pass, the Eurail Global Pass is not valid in the UK and Macedonia. If you plan on purchasing an Eurail pass and want to visit London this won’t be much of an issue, since there are direct Eurostar trains from Brussels and Paris. Of course, you’d have to purchase these tickets in addition to your Eurail pass. If you time it right, you can pay as little as $55 (€49 or £36) each way. Another important thing to remember here is the duration of the pass. We purchased a month-long Global Pass — but how long is a month? A 1-month Global Pass is valid for the amount of days of the month in which you start your journey. September has 30 days, so if you start your journey on September 15, your pass will be valid for 30 days. The day you start your journey on counts as one of the days.
There are a lot of ways of making your way through Europe. While regional trains are slow and don’t accept reservations, most fast trains require that you reserve your seat in advance. What type of trains you take depends on what type of experience you’re looking for. Ellie and I opted to take the fastest route everywhere we could. Even so, we ended up taking regional trains on our journeys from Paris to Barcelona and Barcelona to Antibes. It’s important to note that some trains will require reservations, while others will not require a reservation, but will still allow you book one. Other trains, mostly regional ones, will not allow you to reserve at all.
Although the majority of our trains required reservations, we ended up making reservations for all the trains for which reservations were possible.
I highly recommend this. You have to pay extra for reservations, but knowing that you have a seat reserved is worth the peace of mind. No matter how crowded the train is, you’ll still have a seat.
Interrail and Eurail offer a reservation service. You simply provide them with your route and details, and they’ll book the reservations for you. Their system allows them to make reservations on 95% of the trains that run in Europe. Most likely, 100% of the ones you plan on taking will be covered. Interrail does charge you a service fee of €8 per train that they reserve for you, regardless of how many travelers you are reserving it for. This means that if you’re reserving a single train journey for 8 people, the service fee will still be €8. In our case, we split the cost and ended up paying €4 each per train that we reserved. This fee includes free worldwide shipping, and the peace of mind that all your train reservations will arrive in one single shipment. Of course, you can also book the reservations by yourself by contacting each railway company individually. I don’t recommend this — not only is it more complicated, but many times you have to pick up the reservations at the train station. Besides the €8 booking fee, most of our reservations ended up coming to €3.60 per person. We took a night train from Milan to Vienna which jointly cost us €138 for a 2-person sleeper cabin. We reserved everything on May 4, 2015 and received the reservations in the mail about a week later. We only ran into one issue while reserving our trains, which was that the reservations for the fast trains from Paris to Barcelona could only be done at the train station. We didn’t want to risk not finding a seat on the day of, so instead we opted for a slower, 10 hour route which took us from Paris to Perpignan, Perpignan to Port Bou, and Port Bou to Barcelona. We also ran into a rather small issue during our night-train that took us from Milan to Vienna. Somehow the times we had on our reservations for that day were an hour behind, so we missed our connection to Budapest. We went to the service desk and they were kind enough to reserve a seat for us on the next train to Budapest. You can read more about reservations on the Interrail site here.
Deciding the Route
The train network across Europe is big, very big. You can see here for yourself. We started deciding on which cities we wanted to visit around January/February. 30 days sounds like a lot, but with so many places to visit, we had to make some decisions. I really wanted to go to Istanbul, which couldn’t be any farther from London, where we started our journey. My original idea was to go through: Barcelona, Nice, Milan, Lugano, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Istanbul, and finish off in Greece the day our pass expired. I quickly scrapped this idea once I realized that the train journey from Budapest to Istanbul would take more than 40 hours. You can see a map of this first idea here. Ellie brought me to my senses and we decided on a route that was more achievable, affordable, and which would actually leave us with something to do except sitting in trains all day. So, we opted for this instead. We spent three nights in each city. We decided to travel in the mornings to avoid overly crowded trains. The latest fast train we took, which left Amsterdam at 11am, was absolutely packed with other Interrailers. This was during our Amsterdam — Copenhagen journey, so we got off at Osnabrück to change trains. However, the train continued to Berlin, which is why I’m assuming it was so packed. I’m also going to assume that most people opted for those trains because it meant being able to rest up a bit from the previous night’s bender before embarking on the next leg of the journey. Although that train had optional reservations, there wasn’t a single free space. Thankfully we had reservations, and I know that you will too. Being prepared is almost always the best policy.
Below you can see how we organized our travel. To be as specific as possible, I included each individual train in case you’d like to copy our route. All times are displayed in 24hr format to avoid confusion. I recommend at least 30 minutes when changing trains to account for delays that might happen.
June 3 — London to Paris (via Eurostar)
London St. Pancras to Paris Nord, 9:17–12:57
June 6 — Paris to Barcelona
Paris Gare de Lyon to Perpignan, 7:15–12:02
Perpignan to Port Bou, 12:45–13:38
Port Bou to Barcelona City, 14:33–17:09
June 9— Barcelona to Antibes
Barcelona City to Cerbere, 11:16–13:57
Cerbere to Montpellier Saint-Roch, 14:37–17:09
Montpellier Saint-Roch to Marseille St. Charles, 18:06–19:42
Marseille St. Charles to Antibes, 20:30–22:46
June 12— Antibes to Milan
Antibes to Ventimiglia, 9:18–10:33
Ventimiglia to Milano Centrale, 10:52–14:50
June 15 to June 16— Milan to Budapest
Milano Centrale to Wien Meidling, 21:05–8:33
Wien Meidling to Budapest Keleti, 9:03–11:36
Note: The night-train actually arrived to Vienna at 9:33, making us miss our connection. As I mentioned above, the service desk at the station helped us out and they were very nice. This discrepancy must’ve been a mistake somewhere along the way. Interrail’s online scheduling platform stated the arrival time at 8:33, but once we boarded the night-train the staff told us that we’d arrive at 9:33. I also should’ve checked our physical reservation, since that displayed the correct time of 9:33. If you’re going to Budapest — both Keleti and Kelenföld are central stations. Keleti is on the Pest side (east of the river), and Kelenföld is on the Buda side (west of the river).
June 19 — Budapest to Vienna
Budapest Kelenföld to Wien Hauptbahnhof (HBF), 9:24–11:45
June 22 — Vienna to Prague
Wien HBF to Prague Hlavni Nadrazi, 9:07–13:25
June 25—Prague to Berlin
Prague Hlavni Nadrazi to Berlin HBF, 8:30–13:15
June 28—Berlin to Amsterdam
Berlin HBF to Amsterdam Centraal, 8:36–15:00
July 1—Amsterdam to Copenhagen
Amsterdam Centraal to Osnabrück, 11:01–14:06
Osnabrück to Hamburg, 14:25–16:13
Hamburg to Copenhagen, 17:28–22:13
July 4 — We flew back to London
There are a lot of ways of making your 1-month pass last longer than a month. For example, if you plan on doing the same route I did and you’re flying in from the USA, you could get away with not “starting” your Interrail pass until June 6th, which is when you’d take the train from Paris to Barcelona. You are able to do this because the Eurostar train that you take from London to Paris is not covered with the Interrail Pass. If you arrive to London 3 days before your train to Paris, you’ve already added a whole week of Interrail-free travel to your trip. This way, you can visit Stockholm and/or Oslo after Copenhagen — if you’re doing the same route, that is.
The accommodation that most young travellers opt for when Interrailing throughout Europe are hostels. As a couple, we wanted to be able to wind down at the end of the day. We also didn’t want to share a room with a handful of intrepid travellers — it must be a fun experience, but it isn’t what we were looking for with this trip. We decided to book everything through Airbnb. I couldn’t speak any more highly of this service. If you’ve never heard of Airbnb, it’s “a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone or tablet.” I’m not going to go in too much detail about the service itself, but you can have a look at their most recent ad below. It will give you an idea of their values and how they operate.
Booking all of our accommodation through Airbnb allowed us to fully personalize our stays to our liking, giving us the opportunity to be more immersive within the cities that we visited. We booked nine cities through Airbnb — in five we had an entire apartment and in the other four we stayed with a host. We had a family friend in Antibes, so we didn’t have to book any accommodation there. On average, we paid $76.90 (€67.84 or £49.84) a night, which comes down to $38.45 (€33.92 or £24.92) per person. That might even be cheaper than a double room in a hostel in some cities. And it is definitely cheaper than a hotel in any of the cities we visited.
When we arrived in a new city we’d go straight to the Airbnb. We’d drop off our backpacks and start exploring. We never had to worry about locking our belongings into a locker, or not knowing who we’d be sharing a room with upon our arrival. Every single person we interacted with through Airbnb was extremely friendly; we didn’t encounter a single issue. Every host wants you to have a truly immersive experience, and they are always more than happy to serve as a guide for the city and the local culture. I remember having a couple of beers with our host Jakob in Copenhagen — the three of us began a really good conversation on life in Denmark.
All of the locations were either centric or very well connected to the city’s publication transportation network.
This is where it gets exciting. What are you going to take for this entire month on the road? The folks over at Tortuga Backpacks did an excellent job with their book Packing Light: The Normal Person’s Guide to Carry0-On-Only Travel on what you should pack for your month-long Interrail adventure across Europe. They also make an excellent backpack, which I will explain below. In summary, when packing, lay out everything you want to take — then halve the clothes and double the money. Ha!
I’m going to be as specific as I can with the things I took. I took as little as I could, but enough to only have to wash clothes three times throughout the entire trip. Looking back, I could’ve left a shirt and a pair of shorts and still have been able to manage. If you don’t need it, don’t take it. But what if I need this? Or what if I can’t find this anywhere else? You’re going to Europe, and there is a 99% chance likelihood that you will find whatever is you need if the need arises. You want to be prepared, but you don’t want to over-prepare either.
While going down this list you’re going to notice that I took a DSLR and a laptop. I’m a photographer, so I took the laptop to be able to process my photos on the go. I am going to be specific about my photography equipment and how I took it, so that if other photographers read this they can see what worked best for me.
1 Black T-Shirt
1 Airism T-Shirt
1 Long-Sleeve T-Shirt
1 Sports Raincoat
1 Long-Sleeve Button-up Shirt
1 Tank Top
1 Bathing Suit
1 Jean Shorts
1 Exercise Shorts
1 Exercise Long Pants
5 Pairs of socks
15-inch Macbook Pro
Nikon 24–70mm f/2.8
Nikon 50mm f/1.8
Manfrotto Advanced Holster Medium — This held my D750 + 24–70 lens.
Personal Care & Medicine
Wet Ones disinfectant wipes
Multivitamins in a zip-loc
Vitamin C in a zip-loc
No Place To Hide — Glenn Greenwald
The Da Vinci Code — Dan Brown
Marmot Kompressor Daypack
LED Flashlight (Wasn’t necessary)
Tide Instant Stain Remover (Wasn’t necessary)
Adjustable Clothes Line (Great for the time we didn’t have a dryer)
Platypus Collapsible Water Bottle (you can also get this one)
Steripod Toothbrush Germ Killer
St. Anthony Postal
I carried all my personal belongings in a money belt, which I kept under my shirt at all times. After arriving at an Airbnb, I’d whip out my daypack and transfer over my camera and water bottle before heading out. When we were travelling, the daypack would be stowed away in the bigger backpack. On the days we’d travel I’d also have a tote bag to be able to quickly access my essentials.
You’re probably asking yourself at this point — inside which modest-sized backpack was I possibly able to store all those clothes, a 15-inch laptop, and a relative large camera with 2 lenses?
There are an endless amount of options out there when it comes to large backpacks than can be used for a month’s worth of travelling. You have the typical “backpacking” backpacks — those ugly, impractical, cylindrically uncomfortable abysses of lost items and hard to reach sweaters that undoubtedly exceed the carry-on size limit of any airline. Before I even booked our first Airbnb, I knew that there had to be something more practical out there. We weren’t going on an adventure into the Alps. What we were doing, essentially, was travelling from one city to another. After some research I found Tortuga, a small company from San Francisco that took it upon themselves to develop the “perfect travel backpack” for city travel. To me, they succeeded. The Tortuga is rugged, easy to carry, easy to pack, and it stored everything I mentioned above. You can find out more about the backpack on their website. You can also read Ellie’s review of the backpack below. She’s the real writer in this relationship — I’m sure you’ll be able to tell.
As a disclaimer, we did receive the two backpacks in exchange of providing a truthful, unbiased review of them at the end of our trip. If we would have hated the backpack, or it would have broken throughout our trip, that would have been truthfully reflected in the review. If you are looking for more reviews, you will find hundreds on their product page.
As I mentioned above, my total expenses for this entire trip came out to be around $3,500. These $3,500 covered the Interrail pass, the Eurostar from London to Paris, the flight from Copenhagen to London, the train reservations (which included a sleeper-train), all of our accommodation through Airbnb (split in half), food expenses and personal expenses. I could’ve done this trip for about a $1,000 less, but I wanted to be able to enjoy myself on the road. That said, we stayed as close to the center of each city as we could, and cooked only once for the duration of our entire trip. We didn’t splurge, but we enjoyed ourselves modestly. We did all major attractions in every city, kayaked in Copenhagen, booked a bike tour in Prague, and ate at one of Budapest’s nicest restaurants. I’m being as specific as I can so you get a clear idea of how far I was able to go with $3,500, which I think is a very approachable number for this type of trip. Of course, the prices for the accommodation and the Interrail reservations only reflect my half. Here’s the rundown:
Accommodation: $1,031.33 (€909.86 or £668.48)
Eurostar from London to Paris: $70 (€61.76 or £45.37)
Reservations for Interrail trains: $180 (€158.80 or £116.67)
Flight from Copenhagen to London: $80 (€70.58 or £51.85)
Interrail 1-Month Global Pass: $478.16 (€421.84 or £309.93)
Personal Spending: $1,700 (€1499.78 or £1101.89)
Total: $3,539.49 (€3122.63 or £2294.20)
Disclaimer: I converted all of these currencies on Sept 13, 2015, so they might not be 100% accurate by the time you read this article. In addition, the Interrail Global Pass prices are also constantly fluctuating.
As I mentioned above, you could cut your personal spending and the cost of the accommodation in half if you wanted to. You could also forego the train reservations, and opt for regional trains instead. That would bring the cost down to about $2,000 (I subtracted $500 from accommodation, the $180 from the reservations, and $850 from personal spending). Of course, you might be roughing it a bit like that. I predict I’m going to get comments saying this, so I’ll go ahead and nip it in the bud — yes, I am aware that these prices do not include neither the cost of getting to your starting point nor the $200 or so that you would spend on the backpack. This is an outline of what it cost me, and your costs will not be identical. It’s all relative. If you’re looking for cheap flights to Europe, Norwegian Airlines will be your best friend. $163 to fly from San Juan, Puerto Rico to London, England in November. Yes, you read that right.
In an effort to be as thorough as possible I want to go ahead and speak about each city we visited and what I thought of it. If you’ve already decided to visit one of these cities, I hope that reading this makes you even more excited. If you aren’t planning on visiting one of these cities, I hope that it encourages you to do so. Before travelling, I researched each city online and drew inspiration from The New York Time’s 36 Hours 125 Weekends in Europe book and Anthony Bourdain’s various European adventures on his CNN show, Parts Unknown. Each restaurant and activity that I recommend is fairly priced, accessible, and highly enjoyable. I have reviewed almost all of them on my Tripadvisor page.
London — I could go on for hours about London. Although I didn’t visit this city as part of our Interrail, I did spend some time living there with Ellie and her parents during my study abroad visit to England. It’s hard to pinpoint an overall feeling about London, it’s too big to do so. From Covent Garden’s urban sprawl to Richmond Park’s freely-roaming deer, every part of it gives you a distinct feeling, and that’s what makes it so interesting. To me it felt like New York, but more polite, historical, and sophisticated. If you find yourself in Richmond, go drink a cappuccino at The Richmond Hill Bakery. There’s nothing like it.
Paris — As you’d expect it to be, Paris is a very romantic city. The Eiffel Tower is mesmerizing, and you cannot miss the hourly light show that happens at night. Everyone was very friendly to us, and the classic jambon beurre baguettes (ham and butter) were delicious. If you are going to climb the Eiffel Tower I highly recommend taking the stairs, as they’re both cheaper and the line is always smaller in comparison to taking the elevator. We went to the Louvre and enjoyed seeing the Mona Lisa — I don’t think anyone goes to Paris without going to this museum. If you do go see it, take a moment to actually take in that you are seeing the Mona Lisa, probably the world’s most famous and spoken about piece of art. The area around Sacre Coeur is beautiful — its cobblestone street and gracious views of the city make for a lovely evening stroll. If you’re up there, you must go eat at Babalou. Paris is a hotspot for overly gullible tourists, so be on all your senses when you’re near the high-traffic tourist spots. We hadn’t been in Paris for 5 minutes, and we already saw a woman get scammed while she was purchasing a ticket for the Metro.
Barcelona — Let me tell you, I absolutely loved Barcelona. I don’t know whether it was because of my Puerto Rican background, or the fact that we stayed in the middle of Las Ramblas, but being in Barcelona just made me feel like home. The people were friendly, the beer was cheap, and the tapas were endless. It felt like the ideal cross between city and quaint living for me. We happened to arrive there the night that FC Barcelona won the Champion’s League, and saw the entire team parading down one of the main streets the day after. Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia left us both speechless. The outside is beautiful, but the inside makes you feel like you are in a concrete forest. Elsa & Fred was excellent for breakfast and brunch, Alsur Cafe had a pleasant lunch menu, and the tapas at El Guindilla Born filled us to the brink at dinner-time. Although Valencia is the undisputed home of the paella, you will find that Barcelona can make one that is almost as good. The beach is also a must-do, and if you’re looking for nature, Tibidabo Mountain is your best bet.
Antibes — Antibes is a cozy place along the French Riviera. It’s expensive, but offers some beautiful walks along the coast. We stayed with a family friend here, so thankfully we were able to avoid having to pay for accommodation. We didn’t do that much in Antibes — we took in the nature, rested, and went to this beach. I’d still recommend visiting it, though. Besides Antibes, there are many other places along or near the French Riviera worth your time: Nice, Cannes, Monaco and Grasse are a few of them.
Milan — We didn’t love Milan, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. And even if you don’t know whether you’ll like it or not — go. Travelling to new countries isn’t only about experiencing the places that you know you will love. Those that you do not end up loving are just as important, because they help you assemble a more complete picture and come to a more genuine overall appreciation of the experience. Milan had a lot to offer, without a doubt. Although the cuisine is great, the city didn’t feel very vibrant to us. Nevertheless, the Duomo is one of the most architecturally beautiful structures I have ever seen. The Expo 2015 is also currently underway until October 31, 2015. We had the best breakfast at Pavé and the best pizza at Galleria Restaurant & Pizza. Also, you cannot leave Milan without having the local snack of choice, a Panzerotti. We had these at Luini Panzerotti. The only thing we missed out on in Milan was seeing Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Budapest — Neither of us had thought much of Budapest before visiting. We left with a newfound appreciation for this beautiful city, and a longing desire to go back. Budapest surprised us both — the people were warm, the streets were friendly, the prices ridiculously cheap. Budapest has character. It is raw around the edges, a city embellished with centuries of history that have mostly done it well. Anthony Bourdain couldn’t have said it any better:
Block after block of what is simply an incredible mix of styles, the imaginations of the creators gone wild during the city’s years of empire. It is really something to see. And I felt like a total rube arriving so late. What took me so long!?
Exactly. What took us so long?! Budapest has an excellent public transportation system, and was by far the cheapest out of all the cities we visited. We could both eat a nice lunch with a drink for $3.50. Our Airbnb in this city, an entire apartment near the center of the Pest side, cost us about $35 per night. We had an absolutely unforgettable dining experience at Comme Chez Soi (reserve in advance), the best baguette sandwiches at Bors Gasztrobar, and great coffee at California Coffee Company. We didn’t leave before going to the Gellert Spa Thermal Baths and taking a tour of the Hospital In The Rock. We’ll be back, without a doubt.
Vienna — Vienna was another city that left us slightly disappointed. I’m still happy that we saw it, though. The food was excellent, but the people weren’t the most welcoming at times. I was born in Zürich, so I was already anticipating this to some extent. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a must, and so is eating a Wiener Schnitzel. You can also visit the world’s oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn. If you’re in the mood for some roller coasters and carnival fun, go by The Vienna Prater. And if you’re a Third Man film fan, you cannot miss out on this tour of Vienna’s sewer canals. Beware, it’s in German by default, so you’re better off contacting them to see at what time of the day they do it in English. Vienna is also known for its open-air market, Naschmarkt. We did all of this, and pleasantly enjoyed it. I had my Wienerschnitzel at Cafe Central, a long-standing institution of Vienese culture that has been converted into a restaurant. If you’re feeling sweet, Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel are the other local specialties. If you’re looking for a different cuisine, ra’mien does great ramen.
Prague — The center of Prague looks almost like a fairy-tale. Its people are warm and welcoming, and it is almost as cheap as Budapest. We didn’t know much about Prague before coming here, so we went on a free walking tour with Sandemans. It’s free in that you only leave a tip at the end if you enjoyed the walking tour. We certainly did, and we came out of it with a pair of sore legs and more informed about the history of this beautiful city. The Czechs are very proud of their beer, so have a Pilsner Urquell while you’re there. The trains from Vienna to Prague have a “happy hour” and all drinks on the train’s food carriage are slashed in half. It’s as if they want you to drink. 11am? It’s never too early for a beer. The Czech Republic has its fair share of odd long-standing traditions, such as spanking women on Easter to ensure good health and celebrating your name day. They also have a hilarious prime minister than enjoys stealing pens and getting drunk. While we were in Prague, we went on a 3.5–4 hour bike tour with BIKO. We thoroughly enjoyed this and were able to see another side of the city and the culture on the Communist Blocks & Parks Tour. 98% of Biko’s reviews on Tripadvisor are 5-star reviews. It’s a great way to see the city from another angle. And if you’re craving lunch after the tour, go to U Kroka which stands right across the street. I had one of their lunch specials, a large beer, and a dessert. $6 for all of it. They also have one vegetarian special a day. If you’re looking for other great food places in Prague, I highly recommend Coffee Cube for your daily dose of caffeine, Pizza Nuova for your Neapolitan pizza cravings, and Palanda if you’re feeling like having a burger.
Berlin — Berlin was another one of our favorite cities. Just like London, it’s very hard to attribute one overall feeling to Berlin. Its people are so far-reaching and diverse, and its identities so complex, that we left Berlin with a much deeper understanding of the great divide that this city was faced with up until the wall fell in 1989. In some ways, the city is undergoing a creative, culinary, and sociopolitical revolution. Posey at times, but ultimately refreshing, neighborhoods like Neukölln are at the forefront of this movement. With independent bookstores like Topics and Pequod, and cozy cafe/pubs like Nathanja & Heinrich, this neighborhood is as enthralling on a sunny day as it is in a downpour. We visited this neighborhood after biking through Tempelhofer Field, a 20th century airport turned recreational field in 2008. We rented our bikes at Rent a Bike 44 for only €4 and spent a good chunk of that day cycling through the airport’s runways. The now unused main building of the airport is off-limits, but there are tours available. Regardless of your interest or knowledge about Germany’s contributions to world history, you absolutely must visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the remains of the Berlin Wall at the Topography of Terror, and Checkpoint Charlie. You can also visit the Palace of Tears, the former crossing from East to West Berlin. If you want to try Currywurst, I recommend Curry at the Wall — they have a vegetarian option.
Amsterdam — Ellie had been to Amsterdam before. I hadn’t. It’s a fun, enjoyable city with much to do. Seeing Anne Franke’s house was very moving, and I walked away with a much more genuine understanding of her importance in world history. The lines to get in were ridiculous, topping 250 people at times. If you’re planning on going, I don’t recommend going as soon as it opens, as that is when the lines are the longest. Heck, I don’t recommend standing in line in the first place — we didn’t and we booked our tickets on the day of. Email me and I’ll be happy to tell you how we did it.
We’d eat our breakfast in Amsterdam at Bagels and Beans, a cozy chain that is as good for a morning meal as it is for lunch. Although we did visit the Rijksmuseum, we didn’t pay the entrance fee and settled instead for seeing the building’s lobby and the IAMSTERDAM sign that is outside. While you’re in Amsterdam, you should definitely rent a bike or a water bike. We rented a water bike through Canal Company. It’s as tiring as it is enjoyable.
Copenhagen — It was my idea to visit Copenhagen. I have always felt this weird attraction to the Nordic countries’ sense of style, design and place. The New York Times had done a very interesting piece on it, and Anthony Bourdain’s visit for a Parts Unknown episode piqued my interest even more. We stayed in the Vesterbro neighborhood, the once derelict red light district that has recently seen an influx of hip, independent boutiques and coffee shops. We both loved Copenhagen — it is clean, organized, and everyone is simply at ease. Although it can feel very quaint, it is never boring. It’s a very interesting place to explore, and righteously expensive. Copenhagen is one of the most bike friendly cities in the world, with the lanes at times being just as wide as the cars’. We rented bikes at Baisikeli, which we found to be the bike rental business that had the largest and most reasonably priced selection. You want to arrive early, as 90% of them will be gone by midday. By far one of our favorite activities in Copenhagen was kayaking through the canals, which are disturbingly clean. We rented our kayaks at Kayak Republic. I believe that no visit to Copenhagen is complete without a visit to Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of Copenhagen. If you’re a foodie and like me can’t yet quite afford to eat at Noma, Copenhagen Street Food is your place.
Now that I am reaching the end of this post, I want to mention some tips that will make your trip run more smoothly. Whether it’s an application, a travel “hack” or anything along those lines, I hope that it helps you in some way or another.
- Interrail Pass — Your Interrail pass has a section for you to scribble in what trains you will catch that day. It’s there for a reason, and if you don’t fill out your journey details, your pass is not valid. Fill them in before getting on the train to avoid any problems.
- Staying hydrated — Some travel days can exceed 10 hours, and you don’t want to find yourself unprepared when it comes to taking care of your thirst and hunger. Always pack extra water and extra food for that day. A baguette, a pack of salami, some carrots and a couple of bananas will hold you up more than you think. Candy and potato chips won’t! Staying hydrated on these long journeys will keep you from falling ill.
- Wash your hands — I carry disinfectant wet wipes with me every single time that I travel somewhere. They’re excellent for cleaning my hands before eating, but also for wiping down those inconspicuously looking tray tables.
- Keep a diary — No matter how tired you are, write in a diary at the end of the day to speak about how a certain place made you feel and about what you did that day. Technology is great, but I recommend writing in a physical notebook. You will thank yourself 50 years from now, when you’re sitting down with your grandchildren and telling them about your younger days. I’m also certain that you’d rather hand them down a notebook instead of an Evernote account.
- City Maps 2Go — This app will become your best friend during this trip. It allows you to download maps of any given city and view them while you are offline. It also allows you to see where on that map you are located, just in case you get lost. No data needed!
- Tripadvisor App — Tripadvisor lets you download a specific city so you can view it when you have no data available. This is great when you find yourself not knowing where to eat that day, or wanting to see what attractions are closest to you. Reading other people’s reviews before going somewhere is also great.
- Uber in Europe— Uber is surprisingly cheap in some cities across Europe, specifically in Budapest and Prague. In these two cities, it can be almost as cheap and much more convenient to Uber somewhere (if you’re two people), than to take public transportation. In order to use Uber in a city like Budapest or Prague we purchased a data only SIM Card from any local cellphone carrier.
- Currency Conversion— If you’re like me, you won’t want to pay your bank a single dollar for a foreign transaction fee. I have a Charles Schwab account; they don’t charge foreign transaction fees and their exchange rates are excellent. Nomadic Matt does an excellent job of explaining how to get the most value for your money here.
- Takeout & Delivery — Each city we visited had some type of food delivery service that allowed you to order online. When we weren’t in the mood to cook or go out for a meal, we’d do this. In most cities we visited it is called Just Eat.
- Public Transportation — You will very likely be using public transportation in every single city. Depending on the length of your stay, 24, 48, or 72 hour pass will give you the best value for money. Just make sure that it includes all the public transportation you are planning on taking that day.
- Google Maps — Most likely, you won’t have an internet connection when you’re navigating around a new city. If you don’t speak the local language, you might also have a hard time finding out which mode of public transportation will get you to where you want to be. Google Maps is your best solution for this. Before leaving your apartment or hostel, or at a café with wifi, get directions from how to get from one point of interest to the next. Even if you don’t know exactly whether you’ll end up there that day, it’s good to know how to get there. Google Maps should let you look up directions using only public transportation, which is particularly useful for this.
Getting Out There
That’s it. If you’ve read this far, you must be serious about doing this.
Travelling somewhere new can be as intimidating as it is thrilling. It can ultimately also make you grow and learn unlike anything you have ever done before. At the time of doing this trip I was 20, and my girlfriend was 21. If I would’ve done this at 17, straight out of high school, I would’ve probably sought out an entirely different experience. I’m happy I did at 20, though — mature enough to know what I want, but young (and safely foolish) enough to completely throw myself into a new experience. You will experience new places, new cultures, and new people. YOU will be the defining element of this experience. If you are already planning on doing an Interrail trip, you will not regret it. If you feel that the world is a vast and intimidating place and you have never even considered doing this type of trip before, I want you to ask yourself: what is the worst that could potentially happen?
Money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it gives you the freedom to choose these experiences. To me, $3,500 is a very approachable number for a month that could completely change the course of who you are. Be open, friendly, and respectful, and you will likewise be treated with acceptance, kindness, and respect.
30 days and 10 cities later — I know for certain that I will still be speaking about this trip in 50 years. If you seek out to fully immerse yourself in a new city, three days is enough to make you feel like you were a part of its soul and essence. Even if only for a brief moment, you will never look back.
Do you have any questions? Anything you’d like to share? Did I forget something critical? Comment below and I’ll be happy to help you out.
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Michael Maurer is a 21-year-old photographer. He’s currently finishing his last semester of university in Tampa, FL. You can see his work on his website and on his Instagram page. You can contact him at email@example.com