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Backpacking Europe Routes: From Classic to Off-the-Beaten-Path

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: February 23, 2023

Backpacking in Europe is a rite of passage for many travellers. With its rich history, diverse cultures, and stunning landscapes, Europe offers endless possibilities for adventure and exploration. Whether you’re a first-time backpacker or a seasoned traveller, there’s a route for everyone. From classic routes to off-the-beaten-path destinations, Europe has something to offer to all backpackers.

Classic Routes

Some of the most well-known routes for backpacking in Europe include the Interrail route, the Grand Tour of Europe, and the Eurail route. These classic routes are popular for a reason, offering a mix of iconic destinations, diverse cultures, and convenient transportation options.

The Interrail route is a popular choice for backpackers, offering unlimited train travel across Europe. With an Interrail pass, you can hop on and off trains as you please, visiting as many destinations as you want. The route covers 33 countries and offers various itineraries to suit different interests and timeframes. Whether you want to explore the cities of Western Europe or discover the natural beauty of Scandinavia, the Interrail route has something for everyone.

The Grand Tour of Europe is another classic backpacking route, popularised by 18th-century aristocrats seeking to experience the art, culture, and natural wonders of Europe. Today, backpackers can follow in their footsteps, visiting iconic destinations such as Paris, Venice, and Rome. The route can be tailored to individual preferences, with options to add or subtract destinations based on time and budget.

The Eurail route is similar to the Interrail route, but it’s aimed at non-European residents. With a Eurail pass, you can travel across 33 countries in Europe, enjoying unlimited train travel. The route offers different pass options to suit different budgets and travel styles, making it a popular choice for backpackers looking to explore Europe by rail.

Off-the-Beaten-Path Routes

While classic routes offer a great way to explore Europe, off-the-beaten-path routes offer a chance to discover hidden gems and lesser-known destinations. These routes may require more research and planning, but they can offer unique experiences and cultural insights.

One of the lesser-known backpacking routes is the Balkans route, covering countries such as Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. This route offers a chance to explore the rich cultural heritage of the Balkans, from Ottoman-era architecture to Byzantine churches. The route is also known for its stunning natural beauty, with national parks such as Durmitor and Plitvice Lakes offering a chance to hike and explore.

The Eastern European route is another off-the-beaten-path option, covering countries such as Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. This route offers a chance to discover the lesser-known side of Europe, from mediaeval castles to Soviet-era monuments. The route is also known for its affordable prices, making it a popular choice for budget-conscious backpackers

young hipster tourist man looking through metal coin operated binoculars on sea, sky and city, horizontal lifestyle stock photo image

Specialty Routes

For backpackers with a specific interest in mind, specialty routes offer a chance to tailor the backpacking experience to individual preferences. Whether you’re interested in wine, hiking, or art, there’s a specialty route for everyone.

The wine route is a popular option, covering countries such as France, Italy, and Spain. This route offers a chance to explore the world’s most famous wine regions, from the vineyards of Bordeaux to the wineries of Tuscany. The route also offers a chance to taste local cuisine and learn about the history of winemaking in Europe. In France, for example, you can follow the Route des Vins d’Alsace, which winds through charming Alsatian villages and offers a chance to taste the region’s famous Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines. In Italy, you can follow the Strada del Vino e dei Sapori del Friuli Venezia Giulia, which covers the wine regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia and offers a chance to taste local delicacies such as prosciutto di San Daniele and Montasio cheese.

The hiking route is another specialty option, covering destinations such as the Swiss Alps and the Pyrenees. This route offers a chance to explore some of Europe’s most stunning natural landscapes, from snow-capped peaks to alpine meadows. In Switzerland, you can follow the Via Alpina, which covers five different trails and offers a chance to hike through stunning scenery, such as the Aletsch Glacier and the Jungfrau region. In the Pyrenees, you can follow the GR10, which covers over 800 kilometres and offers a chance to explore the rugged terrain and stunning vistas of the Pyrenees.

The art route is a great option for backpackers interested in exploring Europe’s rich cultural heritage. This route covers destinations such as Paris, Florence, and Madrid, and offers a chance to discover some of the world’s most famous art collections. In Paris, you can visit the Louvre, which houses over 35,000 works of art, including the iconic Mona Lisa. In Florence, you can visit the Uffizi Gallery, which houses works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. In Madrid, you can visit the Prado Museum, which houses works by Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco.

No matter what your interests are, there’s a specialty route for everyone. These routes offer a chance to delve deeper into specific areas of interest and gain a greater understanding of Europe’s diverse cultural heritage. When planning a specialty route, it’s important to do your research and plan ahead, as some routes may require special permits or reservations. It’s also a good idea to look for local guides or tours that can offer a more immersive experience and a chance to connect with local communities.

No matter which route you choose, the key to a successful backpacking trip is to keep an open mind and a sense of adventure. Embrace the unexpected and be open to new experiences, whether it’s trying a new type of food, exploring a hidden alleyway, or striking up a conversation with a local. By doing so, you’ll not only have a memorable trip, but you’ll also gain a new appreciation for the diverse cultures and landscapes that make Europe such a fascinating destination. Happy travels!

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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