Interrailing - a Gap Year rite of passage
It’s also a great way to forget about the A-levels and to enjoy an education free summer before the ‘work’ restarts at uni or to really kick-start your gap year.
An interrail global pass is the ultimate gateway to Europe: cheap, simple and a whole lot of fun. Every one of the 30 countries the pass covers has its own charms and is well worth a visit.
However, unless you’re planning to interrail for your whole year off (not our recommended option as variety is the key to any great gap year), then your first step to planning the perfect trip is choosing an area of Europe to explore.
I’d recommend aiming to see four to six countries in a month rather than rushing from place to place. This way you’ll avoid ending up seeing more of the train networks of each place you visit than the incredible sights on offer.
I’ve come up with 4 parts of Europe to travel around and a popular route for each. Hopefully, it’ll give you a few ideas for when you start planning your interrail adventures.
Top tip: if you're feeling adventurous break the mould and inter-bus or inter-fly... find out more -->
Great for:A chilled summer break, beautiful beaches, stunning ancient cities and tonnes of history.
Prague (Czech Republic) - Krakow (Poland) - Warsaw (Poland) - Vienna (Austria) - Bratislava (Slovakia) - Budapest (Hungary) – Bucharest (Romania) - Belgrade (Serbia) - Zagreb (Croatia) – Split (Croatia), Dubrovnik (Croatia)
Must sees and dos:
Prague – Prague Castle and Old Town Square are both mandatory sights of a visit to Prague.
Krakow – Experience the stunning Wawel Castle and Cathedral or take a sobering trip to nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Warsaw – Discover more of Poland’s wartime history at Warsaw Rising Museum, the Jewish ghetto and the Pawiak Prison Museum.
Vienna – Just enjoy the endless cultural delights and coffee shops.
Bratislava – There’s something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds with plenty of restaurants offering traditional Slovak and fusion foods or pop into one of the city’s many sidewalk and river front cafes.
Budapest – Relax and unwind amongst beautiful architecture at one of Budapest’s natural hot spring baths.
Bucharest – Romania’s top museums sit in the capital and cover everything from the rural life of peasants to the communist developments of the late 20th century. Also, drop by the world’s second largest administrative building the ‘Palace of Parliament’.
Belgrade – Voted the world’s best party city in 2009 and it’s still got it.
Zagreb – A great destination for culture, arts and music – don’t miss the lakeside concerts in the summer.
Split – Beautiful beaches, unmissable dive spots and magnificent scenery and waterfalls in nearby Plitvice.
Dubrovnik – Walk the magnificent old city walls by dusk.
• Possibly the cheapest area of Europe – plenty of hostels around.
• Great cheap flights to start in both Prague or Budapest.
Great for:Incredible landscapes, kind-hearted welcoming people, ornate architecture, great food and barrels of beer.
Route:Copenhagen (Denmark) - Goteborg (Sweden) - Oslo (Norway) - Stockholm (Sweden) - Helsinki (Finland) - Stockholm - Copenhagen
Must sees and dos:
Copenhagen – stroll along the stunning waterfront packed with shops, restaurants and great museums. When night falls, enjoy the light shows of the charming, old-fashinoned Tivoli amusement park. Two fantastic day trips from Copenhagen allow you to see the impressive cathedral and Viking boat museum at Roskilde and Hamlet’s epic castle at Helsinger.
Goteborg – Art and fashion! As well as Liseberg fun park: dazzling heights, great thrills and panoramic city views.
Oslo – Munch’s work. Long but very scenic day includes the Norway in a Nutshell rail trip to Flam and a combination of boat/bus journey along the Sognefjord to Bergen, Norway’s prettiest town. World-class museums and art galleries as well as forests, hills and lakes awash in adventure activities.
Stockholm – Tour the urban waterways and wander the magical, labyrinthine Old Town.
Helsinki – Visit the quirky harbourside for the latest in Finnish fashion, dining and nightlife!
• Most expensive region.
• Cheap flights in and out of Copenhagen so a circular route is a good option.
Great for:Historic architecture, parties and nightlife, great music, majestic cathedrals and more beer.
Must sees and dos:
Paris – There are 101 ways to tick off the Eiffel tower from your bucket list: pedal beneath it, hike up or take the lift for panoramic city views, buy a crepe from a nearby foodstall and picnic before it, take the ultimate selfie in front of it, ascend at evening amid twinkling lights and more… The Louvre and a day watching the buzz of the world go by from a rooftop café are musts too!
Brussels – Seek out the enticing cafes and chocolate shops before savouring the ‘world’s most beautiful square’, Grand Place.
Amsterdam – Stroll the canals and soak up beautiful, vibrant and off-beat Amsterdam. Of course there are funky and mellow bars, brown cafes full of life and a ranging nightlife too.
Cologne – Cathedral central! Visit Dom for the Germany’s biggest and the world’s most gargoyle-festooned Gothic cathedral.
Berlin – Leave the sleeping for the train journeys as the parties continue day and night and the sights are never-ending. Definitely pay a visit to the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag building and the Holocaust Memorial (all free) as you wander around attempting to cure that hangover.
Munich – Sunbathe nude (it’s pretty much obligatory) in Englischer Garten park or join the merriment at one of the park’s chilled beer gardens.
Zurich – Hip, quirky bars can be found all across the city and a relaxing stroll along the city’s sublime lake is a daytime must.
• Most popular interrail route so lots of like-minded travellers to hook up with along the way.
• There are loads of super accessible places to start from, from Luxemburg to Manchester, but I’d probably suggest Berlin or Paris for a trip of the western highlights!
Great for:Mediterranean sun, culture and cuisine galore and all kinds of nightlife.
Must sees and dos:
Lisbon – Bar hopping in Bairro Alto.
Madrid – Explore the old streets, soak up the culture in a number of galleries and museums and then hit the party area for Madrid’s legendary nightlife.
Seville – Tour the Moorish Palaces.
Barcelona – Wander down Spain’s most famous boulevard: La Rambla. Exploding with life, there are street artists, news stands and vendors selling everything from mice to magnolias!
Marseille – Discover the charms of the souq-like markets, ancient port and marvellous coastal roads.
Nice – Waterski, paddleboard, paraglide and more on Nice’s shimmering shorelines. Don’t forget to indulge in the very best of Mediterranean food too!
Milan – Ogle at Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, the immense Duomo church and the world-famous La Scala opera house.
Venice – Lap up the city’s unique and magical atmosphere on the obligatory gondola ride through the streets.
Florence – Marvel at the Medicis’ art collection in the Uffizi Gallery.
Rome – A day at the iconic Colosseum and Roman Forum before a sunset picnic on Palatine hill.
Naples – Pizza, pizza, pizza. Perhaps explore the baroque backstreets to work up an appetite.
• City specific guidebooks could keep you for a month in each of these cities.
• Great transport around and within the city on buses, metros and more – perfect for day trips a little further from your base.
Now you’ve just got to gather your mates, buy your interrail ticket and get that backpack packed.
It’ll be an adventure of a lifetime wherever you choose to go. How much of it you’ll remember, however, is a whole other story.
Top tip: if you've got a full gap year then use your summer to inter-rail and explore with friends not on a gap year, then you'll have the confidence and travel bug to keep exploring and venture out beyond Europe - we've got you covered!
Feeling brave? Check out our guide to adventurous alternatives to interrailing Europe to find out how to jazz up your inter-railing ideas.
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on 25 / 04 / 2017