What is it that you want out of your summer? Is it beaches or culture? Nightlife or history? Good food or good shopping? If your answer is “all of the above”, then inter-railing is the perfect way to spend a few weeks of your summer. The brilliant thing about Europe is that only a train journey separates the history of Berlin from the outstanding architecture of Vienna, the beautiful lakes in Slovenia from the pebbly beaches of Croatia and the nightlife of Prague and Budapest. Inter-railing allows you to experience a huge diversity of countries and culture in a short period of time, and in this way, it really is the pinnacle of travelling experiences.
During our trip, we stuck mostly to Eastern Europe in the hope that this would lessen the monetary blow. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to escape the fact that Europe is extremely expensive, especially with the current value of the pound. We ambitiously budgeted at £35 per day, although on most days we managed to persuade ourselves to spend more than this…
On average, hostels cost between £10 and £20 per night, and rumour has it that if you’re inter-railing during peak season, then it’s wise to book ahead to avoid sleeping rough for a night, but that’s definitely not true. Whether or not you want to book ahead depends entirely on the type of trip you want — if you’re happier planning ahead then book a hostel, but if you want more flexibility when you’re moving from place to place then you’re bound to find somewhere to stay. Having said this, when you’re coming to the end of a six hour train journey, it’s a relief to know that you’ve got somewhere to sleep that night, and after trooping around Budapest with a 12kg backpack for two hours in the dead of the night, looking despairingly for a hostel, I would definitely recommend booking ahead if your train arrives after about 5pm. But if you arrive in a city earlier then that you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a hostel, so no worries there!
We started our trip in Berlin, where we took a free walking tour of the city (although you pretty much have to tip the guide something to avoid a horrifically awkward situation). The tour was outstanding; we saw all of the main tourist attractions in about five hours and learnt some of the history behind the important sites. German sausages (all jokes aside) are a must for any tourist — you can buy a huge range from street vendors, and whilst you should definitely try the classic bratwurst, my personal favourite is the currywurst (sausage doused in curry ketchup and curry powder).
If you plan on going to Münich, then your first stop should be Hofbräuhaus, the famous beer house that will most definitely live up to your wildest German expectations. The beer is served in litre tankards, the men are clad in lederhosen, the women wear dirndls and it houses the most typically German music performances that you could ever imagine!
After that, Vienna will give you a dose of more ‘refined’ culture. The architecture is truly outstanding, but if you’re not interested in visiting museums, you probably won’t want more than a day or two here. When sightseeing becomes slightly wearying, it’s nice to take a break in a cosy coffee shop and sample the highly acclaimed Viennese coffee and sachertorte — not the most delicious cake, but you’re bound to feel very cultured after eating it.
Slovenia is the undiscovered gem of Eastern Europe. The capital, Ljubljana, is a bustling city with a surprisingly cosmopolitan lifestyle, but even better are the spectacularly scenic lakes a mere half hour train journey away. The glacial Lake Bled is quite simply picturesque and well worth a day trip — the water is perfect for a swim and a walk around the lake is a must!
When all the must-see sights of the cities become a bit monotonous, Croatia could not be more perfect; you can relax with a cocktail on the (unfortunately pebbly) beaches, take an occasional dip in the sea, and have an ice cream (or more likely three). Nightlife in Croatia isn’t too shabby either, ranging from huge clubs on islands that can only be reached by boat, to small and lively bars — you’re bound to find a place to suit your tastes! Croatia gives you the perfect, relaxing beach-holiday part of your trip.
After you feel well-rested, head to Hungary for some more culture and some stodgy beef goulash. Budapest really is a beautiful city with many historical sites and a good nightlife — but for me the highlight has to be the aforementioned goulash! The low point? The abundance of shops selling creepy puppets which look like they’ve come off the set of Chucky…
And then we have Bratislava, which actually was where Hostel was filmed (if you haven’t already, don’t watch that before going inter-railing). To be honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. The old town in Bratislava is nice, but the rest of the city really isn’t the best place I’ve been to.
On the other hand, Krakow is brilliant. It’s great to just wander around, visit the old town, the Jewish quarter, have a cheeky shot of vodka after lunch, and compared to Germany and Austria, it seemed amazingly cheap. We also visited Auschwitz for a day, which was very intense and moving and definitely well worth the money.
We ended our trip in the beautiful city of Prague, and after visiting the bridge, the castle, and the famous clock, we found the ‘Absintherie’. Prague is famous for its absinthe, and sampling absinthe ice cream was definitely an experience — surprisingly, it tasted very nice. Prague also has the largest nightclub in Europe (five storeys), and although I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to visit it, I’d love to go back for this particular experience as other travellers raved about it!
– Don’t try and pack in too many countries! Although it’s tempting to visit all of the ‘big names’ of Europe, you risk spending more time on trains then actually in each place. If you want a relaxing trip, stay longer than two nights in each place, to fully experience each city you visit without rushing.
– Three to four weeks is the perfect amount of time to spend inter-railing. You can experience the majority of what you want without spending too much money or becoming too sick of sightseeing.
– Try to go when it’s going to be hot — or at least less rainy. Obviously it’s out of your control, but the weather does make a huge difference! If it’s sunny, you can wander around a city all day long and experience its culture, but if it’s raining you’re doomed to run from café to café, desperately trying to see the sights but not enjoying the actual experience.
– English people really are overtly polite; so don’t be surprised by the generally abrasive European manner!