TRAVEL

The Beginner’s Guide to Europe Interrail Routes

Fifty sovereign states. 10,180,000 sq km. 738,200,000 people. The word ‘Europe’ does little to convey the diversity found within, which can make it a bewildering place to travel. Europe is amazing and with its abundance of cultures, cuisines and access to transport, it’s no wonder every man and his wife is heading off on a two-week itinerary to Europe at the moment. It is the place to go, with the continent being as big as Europe, there being over 50+ countries to explore and cultures varying over a few hundred miles and you can use these top tips for interrailing on a budget.

Travelling is all about finding yourself in a new place and learning the culture. It doesn’t matter whether you have a few years of basic language skills from high school or you have to use a mixture of interpretive dance and enthusiastic pointing at a map to communicate; it doesn’t matter whether you have been here before a long time ago or you are a total newbie; it doesn’t matter whether you are taking a well-deserved gap year after college or a long break during retirement. Travel is still the best way to encounter the extraordinary.

But while you might tend to favour sitting by a pool ordering half pints and soaking up the sun, the best way to travel – especially in Europe – is to treat the whole experience as your holiday, not just the part between flights. And there is no better way to achieve this than by going interrailing through Europe.

For a long time, trains were the best way to get from A to B but with the introduction of lines such as the Orient Express, going on the train became a holiday in itself. The train lines that cross Europe grant travellers a similar freedom to roadtrippers in the USA, with a single golden ticket offering plenty of destinations to explore. Here is my beginner’s guide to my favourite Interrail Routes…

3 days in Copenhagen

Plan Where You Can

One of the great joys of interrailing Europe is that you can choose a starting point and then plan as you go along. However, if you are new to the experience and looking for a more structured trip, planning ahead is going to reduce your stress, even if you can’t follow your curiosity to the same extent.

The best way to plan your trip in its initial stages is to look at a map of Europe and put pins in the places you want to go and see. Once you have all your pins, you should then look at the train lines and figure out a route that will take all the destinations in without sending you back and forwards all the time. A good option is to work West to East (or vice versa) or taking a circular route.

During your planning stage, you might find that it is actually cheaper to book flights between some destinations. This is fine if the prospect of a long train ride will take too much out of your trip but do be aware that some train journeys are incredibly beautiful and worth the extra time travelling. You’d be surprised how much you can see out of a window!

Accommodation

When you know where you are going, you should then look into accommodation. Sites like hotels-n-europe are great for finding places at the last minute as well as in advance so definitely worth looking at. You might also like to check out recommended hostels as they can be cheaper – just be aware that you might have to share your room with other travellers and while a room of 20 people is a lot cheaper, you won’t get a great night’s sleep!

Of course, a longer train ride can actually be used as a way to mitigate the costs of accomodation. Choosing a sleeper train is a great way to fall asleep in one destination and wake in a new one, saving you hostel money along the way. It may not be the best night’s sleep of your life, but there is something quite magical about the gentle rocking motion and the countryside whipping by.

When you are on a sleeper train it pays to be prepared. Have a small kit bag of the things you will need in the night such as an eye mask and earplugs and make sure that you know what time you need to wake up for your destination. Do be aware that other people will be getting on and off at various points so try to keep your valuables close (this is a good tip for travellers anyway).

Explore Less Popular Destinations

Europe is simply full of incredible destinations and if you are looking to get a feel for each country, it is tempting to go for the major cities: Rome, Madrid, London, Berlin. The only problem is that these cities tend to be the most expensive to travel to and aren’t necessarily where the action is. In every country, each destination has its own culture and vibe – don’t assume that the capital is where you will find the heart of the country.

More intrepid travellers will always tell you that the less popular tourist destinations are always the most authentic. As these places are not trying to lure travellers with the same tricks, they are more true to their local characteristics. So, while Italy, France and Germany are definitely countries you should see, don’t rule out places like Montenegro or Poland just because they are not at the top of your Google Search.

While you are researching your trip, read up on the various places you can go and follow links to places that would never have occurred to you before. The joy of interrailing is that it is a whistlestop tour so even though you are only in one place for a couple of days, you can decide where to come back to for a longer trip (or which places assured you that a day was more than enough!).

Interrailing Europe is a really exciting way to get around Europe and though you might be feeling more spontaneous, a bit of planning and research goes a long way. Figure out what your priorities are for this trip and don’t worry if you simply want to discover something new. Going travelling without fixed expectations of what you will find is a really healthy attitude to have and is ideal for the classic interrailing routes of discovery.

 

Read more: 5 European Destinations for Female Travellers

READ MORE: What is the relationship between transport and tourism?

 

Day 1-3 (3 days, 2 nights) – Barcelona

Highlights 

  • Visit the magnificent Sagrada Familia – it is massive with a unique style. Considered the absolute must-see in Barcelona
  • Admire the architectural work of Gaudi with his emphasis on natural curves and patterns, creating the catalan modernism movement
  • Enjoy the light and music show at the Magic Fountain
  • Go to the top of the Tibidabo Mountain to admire Barcelona from above
  • Visit the Joan Miro Foundation to discover some of the artist’s most iconic work

Useful words in Catalan

Good morning : Bon Dia
Hello – Hola
Thank you – Merci (similar to French with with emphasis on e)
Please – Por Favor

 

Day 3 – Travel to Madrid

  • Path – Barcelona to Madrid
  • Time on train – 2h 45m
  • Type of train – Choose the “directs” with High speed trains
  • Suggested time – Morning departure for arrival mid afternoon or beginning of afternoon departure for arrival in the evening

 

Read More: How Much to Budget for Backpacking Europe

Day 4-5 (2 days, 2 nights) – Madrid

  • Tickle your tastebuds at a gourmet food market
  • Go (tapas) bar hopping
  • Get the inside scoop on flamenco
  • Row, row, row your boat

 

Useful words in Spanish

Good morning : Bon Dia
Hello – Hola
Thank you – Merci (similar to French with with emphasis on e)
Please – Por Favor

 

 

Day 6 – TRAIN Madrid to Paris

  • Path – Madrid to Paris Gare de Lyon station
  • Time on train – 6h
  • Type of train – Choose the “directs” with High speed trains
  • Suggested time – Morning departure for arrival mid afternoon or beginning of afternoon departure for arrival in the evening

 

Day 6-8 (2 days, 2 nights) – Paris, France

Highlights

  • Admire the iconic Eiffel tower and its impressive structure
  • Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and travel back in time
  • Visit the underground world at the Catacombs
  • Admire the stained glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle
  • Get up to the Sacré-Coeur to look over Paris
  • Watch a show at one of the cabarets
  • Enjoy an evening cruise on the River Seine to see the lights of Paris
  • Feel royal at the Versailles Castle

 

Useful words in French

Good morning : Bonjour
Hello – Salut
Thank you – Merci
Please – S’il vous plait

 

Overnight Day 9-10 – Travel to Venice via stop

  • Path – Paris Gare de Lyon to Venecia Santa Luzia
  • Time on train – 14 hours 25 minutes
  • Type of train – Thello Night Train to get a train without connection
  • Suggested time – 7:10pm departure

 

Day 10-11 (2 days, 2 nights) – Venice, Italy

Highlights

  • Marvel at Saint Mark’s Basilica
  • Enjoy a Gondola ride on the canals
  • Get up the Campanile di San Marco

Useful words in Italian

Good morning – BuonGiorno
Hello – Ciao
Thank you – Grazie
Please – Per favore

 

Day 11 – Travel to Rome 

  • Path – Venezia S Lucia to Roma Termini (the most central of the 2 stations)
  • Time on train – 3h45
  • Type of train – Regional Train
  • Suggested time – Morning or afternoon depending on if you want to see more of Venice or Rome

 

Day 11-14 (3 days, 3 nights) – Rome, Italy

Highlights

  • Imagine ancient games at the Colosseum
  • Imagine how life was as you explore the Roman forum
  • Make a wish at the Trevi Fountain
  • Admire the many historical buildings, especially the pantheon
  • Visit another country: the Vatican

 

Useful words in Italian

  • Good morning – BuonGiorno
  • Hello – Ciao
  • Thank you – Grazie
  • Please – Per favore

 

WHICH PASS TO BUY

The Interrail Europe Pass best matching your trip is, drum roll please… 5 Days within 15 Days – £660

INTERRAIL EUROPE GLOBAL PASS

You can use this Interrail Europe Pass on 5 days of your choice during a set period of 15 days. Travel on back-to-back, consecutive days, or spread them out during the fortnight. It’s up to you. On each day, ride on as many trains as you like between midnight and midnight.

  • Get a taste of a city in a couple of days, before boarding a train to your next destination.
  • Take 5 long-distance rail journeys to 5 European countries.
  • Perfect if you only have 2 weeks to hit the highlights.

 

So, do you fancy spending two weeks in Europe? Make sure you use this itinerary to plan your trip!